The Best Horror Movies of 2016 (So Far)

As a follow-up to my previous post, I wanted to talk about horror films that have come out over the past eight months. It's a been a great year for the genre, and as a result I've ventured to the theater a lot more than usual to catch these efforts. For simplicity sake, I have discussed them in order of theatrical release below.

The Boy

This is the first horror film to pique my interest this year, and I was not disappointed. Pitched as a haunted doll pic, The Boy is beautifully shot and Lauren Cohan delivers a stellar performance as a nanny hired by an elderly couple to babysit a doll they treat like a son.Critics were a bit hard on the movie--especially its twist--but I argue the film creates genuine suspense, mixes realism and supernatural elements with success, features a strong action set piece, and is anchored by great acting. The Boy is a high quality, classy horror effort that both mainstream audiences and genre fans can enjoy.

The Witch: A New-England Folk Tale

As both a period piece and a witch narrative, this film fires on all cylinders. Some fans may find it a bit slow at the outset or have trouble with the 17th century dialogue, but once you get into picture, it is an engrossing, terrifying work of psychological horror. I don't want to reveal much about the plot, but I will say that I did enjoy the questions Witch raises about religion, family, gender, and truth. Is there really a witch in the woods? Where is the line between religious devotion and disastrous zealotry? Does patriarchy generate evil in women by alienating and manipulating them? It's a fascinating film.

Green Room

Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, Green Room is a siege narrative about a punk band held hostage in a back stage room after witnessing a horrific crime. It is the most difficult to watch film I've seen this year. There is lots of body horror, and the late Anton Yelchin delivers a career-making performance as the unlikely hero in the pic. I was also lucky to have Saulnier at the screening I attended. In his Q and A, he talked about his punk rock past and how that informed the film. He knows about this world, and his love for these characters and their lifestyle shows on screen.

The Conjuring 2

It's really saying something that The Conjuring 2 is my least favorite of the five films I'm writing about today because it is a successful piece of supernatural horror and I (mostly) enjoyed watching it. My stumbling blocks for the pic are the use of a character that too closely resembles the monster in The Babadook and my growing distaste for the Warrens as pop culture figures. The Warrens are difficult people to fictionalize. In real life, they seemed to have earnest belief in their work as paranormal investigators, but they also seemed--according to reports--as interested in celebrity as helping people. The Conjuring films cast an empathetic light on the couple, but I'm having a hard time swallowing that idea. The way The Conjuring 2 draws more attention to their marriage and their alleged generosity doesn't sit well with me. Many people claim to have been hurt by the Warrens as their pseudo-science left collateral damage on their road to fame. I would be lying if I didn't acknowledge that these concerns hurt my enjoyment of the picture. That said, if you like the first film, you will likely enjoy the second.

Lights Out

Based on a great short film, this full length feature succeeds at meeting fan expectations. It expands on the premise in an enjoyable way, while also adding depth to the concept and some commentary on mental illness. When I first saw the film, I tweeted that if you liked The Grudge or The Babadook, you would enjoy Lights Out. I stand by that opinion. The film has good scares and strong performances, which help you care about the cast. Even the doofy boyfriend character has more depth than your average horror pic. If the film has a problem, it's the ending, which may have an unfortunate message on suicide depending on how you read it. (For more on the film's conclusion and its intentions, check out this great interview with the director.)

As usual, thank you for stopping by, dear reader. I promise to have more updates on my forthcoming poetry collection, Men and Music, very soon. I am working with the publisher to get everything ready for the presses, and the book should be out in September. Needless to say, I am very excited! Stay tuned for more information.

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