We've had a great few years of horror recently, so can 2021 be any better? It's certainly on its way...
...We're halfway through the year, and already there have been a ton of genre films ranging from good to great, which is pretty astounding when you think about it, because we've only just begun to hit the point of the year where big theatrical releases, both scheduled for this year and films that were pushed back from last year, are becoming available. A Quiet Place Part II just hit theaters, with The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It coming tomorrow. We still have a plethora of exciting films to look forward to, such as Halloween Kills, Last Night in SoHo, Romero's The Amusement Park, Candyman and a new Resident Evil film...just to name a few.
Below are ten horror films that have stuck with me more than others so far this year. Keep in mind, these are only my personal favorites, and I say favorites because these are not all the "best" of the year, but the films I've enjoyed the most. My list will likely be different than yours with so many exceptional titles this year, so let me know what you've loved that's not listed here!
That being said, here are my ten favorites of 2021 so far, in no particular order:
Written/directed by: Steven Kostanski
Midway through the year, we’ve had all sorts of great horror films. In the time of social media and ever-changing “movies of the week” or even day in many cases, a lot of them get lost in the fold. Which is how I know that writer/director Steven Kostanski’s Psycho Goreman has already reached cult status, because it’s the only genre film I’ve seen constantly being discussed throughout the year.
A tribute to Saturday morning cartoons of the 90s and the Super Sentai series, PG follows the ultimate brat child, Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna), who uncovers a gem that controls an all-powerful being hell-bent on destroying every living thing in the universe. It’s an ultra-violent, hilarious riot unbounded by logic and full of entertaining charm. As a horror fan, it’s impossible not to gush over the multitude of monsters and practical effects that soak the film in gore. This film delivers on everything it promises and then some. Throw in loveable characters, loads of crude jokes, and a dodgeball battle to the death, and PG is the ultimate hunky boy of a movie.
Available on: Shudder
Written/directed by: Keith Thomas
When I first watched The Vigil during a festival sometime last year, I pegged it as potentially being one of the scariest horror films of 2021. Now, with the rise in anti-Semitic hate, it’s also one of the most unfortunately relevant.
The feature debut from writer/director Keith Thomas, it follows a Jewish man in a crisis of faith who is convinced to act as a shomer for the night, which is the tradition of watching over a body the night before burial, only to encounter a demon that threatens to destroy him. Full of spine-tingling scares with confident direction from Thomas, The Vigil goes beyond just being “scary”, letting the audience into the trauma of Jews who are still subject to all types of hatred, physical and mental, and the effect that can have on someone’s outlook on their culture and themselves. An important film not to be missed.
Available on: VOD
Written/directed by: Rose Glass
The next time someone questions why religion freaks you out, all you need do is point to the debut feature from Rose Glass, Saint Maud. This chilling story of an ultra-religious caregiver who decides it’s her mission to “save” the dying woman she’s caring for is one that is a chilling exploration of the sort of madness that comes with believing such a thing. Morfydd Clark is magnetic as Maud, delivering a raw and powerful performance that you won’t soon forget, especially with scenes like Maud putting nails into her shoes and walking around town, bleeding and sporting an unnerving, content smile.
Saint Maud is a purely psychological horror film by way of A24, which means it certainly won’t be for everyone. It’s the very definition of a slow burn that doesn’t turn up the heat until the final seconds, but holy hell, is it an ending that has continued to haunt me for months.
Available on: Prime, Hulu
Directed by: Jill Gevargizian
Written by: Jill Gevargizian, Eric Havens and Eric Stolze
With many horror fans often considered to be outcasts themselves, it’s no wonder that we tend to gravitate towards stories that follow socially troubled people, such as one of my favorite films, May, and Jill Gevargizian’s The Stylist is a film that’s received rave reviews because of how well it sucks in its audience. I’d even go as far as to say it’s sort of like May meets Maniac with a modern bent reflecting on how much we strive to live the perfect lives we see on social media all day.
Najarra Townsend is astounding as a hair stylist with a murderous habit and desperate for friendship, and like May, The Stylist consistently forces you to get uncomfortable in looking at her character, Claire, as both deeply sympathetic and straight up repulsive. The Stylist tackles loneliness in a way that has stuck with me, but if the themes don’t get you, the grotesque kills/effects surely will.
Available on: Arrow
Directed by: Natasha Kermani
Written by: Brea Grant
2021 has seen a number of unique horror films already, but few are as succinctly original as Natasha Kermani’s Lucky. Following a woman (Brea Grant) who is stalked by a killer that returns to her home each night, with everyone from her partner to the police disbelieving her, Lucky is a poignant examination of the very real horror in which women are often dismissed, and the result is a shocking, tense home invasion slasher that pulls the ear plugs out and forces everyone to listen up.
Star Brea Grant wrote the script, and it shows in a performance that feels deeply connected to the material. Grant is electric in the role, and there is a strength to her delivery that should (at least I hope), convince male-identifying audiences that we need to hear women when they speak up.
Available on: Shudder
In The Earth
Written/directed by: Ben Wheatley
I don’t think anyone would blame you if you were to take a look at the effects of Global Warming, the pandemic, and social unrest and think to yourself…we’re fucked. Well, writer/director Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth touches on all three with a folky eco-horror story for an earthy blend of trippy terror with a whole lot of cool ideas.
Revolving around researchers who encounter horrors of both man and nature while in the woods, In the Earth is this strange combination of beautiful imagery and cringe-worthy violence that plays like a warning to mankind that we are all connected to the Earth, and therefore must treat it better or face the consequences. Wheatley introduces philosophical concepts, an underground god that may or may not be real, and some hallucinogenic sequences that make this one of the weirdest and most unique horror films of the year.
Available on: VOD
Boys from County Hell
Written/directed by: Chris Baugh
I don’t mean to knock Twilight, but it would be safe to say that vampires lost their fangs for a bit due to that series and others, yet thanks to films like Chris Baugh’s Boys from County Hell, vampires are back and fiercer than ever.
Taking place in the Irish countryside, the film follows a bunch of alcoholics with nothing to do but drink and waste their lives away, much as vamps do with blood, so when an ancient vampire is accidentally awakened and begins sucking the town dry, there’s some irony in that they finally have some excitement in their lives. Boys from County Hell isn’t a film that will blow your mind, but it’s that perfect blend of comedy and horror that gets you laughing and crying, sometimes in the same scene. Not to mention, it toys with all sorts of vampire tropes, resulting in a batty flick that aims to reshape how we see the creatures while injecting some new bite into the genre.
Available on: Shudder
Benny Loves You
Written/directed by: Karl Holt
I know, I know, some of you may roll your eyes on this one, but look: Karl Holt's Benny Loves You is not a perfect movie. And there are certainly “better” movies that could have taken its spot. But this tale of a man’s childhood plushy coming to life and killing anyone that gets in the way of their love is also one of the most adorable horror films of the year. This movie dares you not to smile at least a few times as Benny giddily runs around with a knife, and that’s a dare that every one of you will lose. I’m already begging for a sequel, because we could all use more Benny in our lives.
And for those who aren’t into their horror turning cute, don’t worry. For every cute moment, Benny Loves You couples it with some bloody, demented depravity, making this an entertaining win for all kinds of horror fans.
Available on: VOD
Written/directed by: David Charbonier and Justin Powell
As a budding monster kid, I cannot stress how important films such as The Gate or Silver Bullet were to me when I was younger, movies that offered a sort of stepping stone between safer horror and more adult titles, and most importantly, featured kids I could relate to battling some pretty terrifying odds. Directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell’s The Djinn is one of those films that is so utterly vital for the next generation of horror fans.
A chilling tale following a mute boy who accidentally unleashes a monster in his apartment and must face it alone, The Djinn is an intense, claustrophobic nightmare that is as scary as it is tragic, with a profoundly moving performance from its young star, Ezra Dewey. This is a dark film, and the perfect sort of flick for those horror kids ready to watch something a little more frightening.
Available on: VOD
A Quiet Place Part II
Written/directed by: John Krasinski
With the first A Quiet Place, director John Krasinski proved that he was a filmmaker to be reckoned with. With A Quiet Place Part II, he has shown that he is well on his way to becoming a master of suspense, if he isn’t already there. Picking up directly after the first film, this sequel does everything just as well as the original, if not better, with sequence after sequence that takes your breath away. The opening scene alone is a depiction of such heart-pounding carnage, that I would be shocked if we’re not all still talking about it by the end of the year.
Admittedly, I may be just slightly bias here since this film marked my return to theaters after a year of pandemic hell, but in another sense, it’s also the perfect horror film for that first time back. A Quiet Place Part II is a non-stop thrill ride, and nothing compares to the feeling of sitting in a theater as your seat shakes with each growl of the creatures while the audience screams. It’s the sort of film theaters were made for.
Available in: Theaters
By Matt Konopka