If you’ve read the other Shock Waves lists by now you know the basic rules: Only films released in 2016, no festival only screenings and keep it subjective. This is not a “Best of” but a “Favorites of” list as there is no objective way to experience cinema.
I will add to this something I’ve noticed being debated about every year when lists are posted, “Is it Horror” or is it “Horror enough?” – let’s keep this simple. Horror is a feeling and that feeling extends way beyond simple genre categories. This is a good thing. So if it felt like horror to you, then it’s horror. Don’t over think it. Feel it.
Finally, this was one of the strongest years in horror I’ve experienced since making “Best of” lists. I literally changed my number 10 spot while on air recording the show. I’ve mentioned a few honorable mentions at the end that came very close and in any other year would’ve likely made the cut. I also wanted to do something fun so I’ve also listed a film recommendation that pairs well with the film on my list. This way if you liked the film you can seek out something older and watch even more horror.
10. DON’T BREATHE – Dir. Fede Alvarez
While the characters are pretty unlikable and the plot paper thin there is something delightful about being in the hands of a master craftsman, dare I say manipulator. Fede is able to pull you in, shake you around and make you feel the tension and violence experienced by the characters. This is beyond rare in contemporary horror films for me and only the #1film on my list created a more visceral experience. I can’t wait to see what Fede could do with a great script.
Rec – KIDNAPPED (2010) Dir. Miguel Angel Vivas
9. EVOLUTION – Dir. Lucile Hadzihalilovic
I waited 12 years for this follow up from Hadzihalilovic’s visionary ‘INNOCENCE’ (Which was stylistically like SUSPIRIA yet completely unique) and it was worth the wait. It’s one of those films that you have no idea how it could have gotten made as it’s so otherworldly and strange it doesn’t feel constructed but like it just appeared from the same ocean that it is set. This one is definitely more for fans of “Art Horror” but if your patient it is well worth it as you will literally never see anything quite like it.
Rec: INNOCENCE (2004) Dir. Lucile Hadzihalilovic
8. HUSH – Dir. Mike Flanagan
The first film that I really noticed the new distribution model for, as it played a major festival and only weeks later I was able to watch it streaming on Netflix. This really helped not to over hype the film and let it still feel like a discovery. Flannagan very nearly had two films on my list with his Ouija sequel also being brilliantly made but this film feels so simple and stripped down to the essentials of a great suspense / slasher film that it had the edge. I can’t wait to see what he does with King’s ‘GERALD’S GAME’.
Rec: WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967) Dir. Terence Young
7. THE INVITATION – Dir. Karyn Kusama
The most adult horror film of the year was also the most dread inducing. The dread builds from the start of the film and never lets up. Its dread built from tragedy and grief that make it feel incredibly intimate while ending with a more universal feeling of horror. In this respect it feels very close emotionally to ‘DON’T LOOK NOW’ and what happens to parents in the aftermath of unknowable loss. A true return to form from Kusama who shows that she is one of the most exciting voices in cinema.
Rec: DON’T LOOK NOW (1973) Dir. Nicolas Roeg
6. THE EYES OF MY MOTHER – Dir. Nicolas Pesce
The most beautiful and haunting of this year’s films, Pesce crafts an intimate tale of rural darkness that felt like a lost Jack Ketchum story. Beyond its craft it raises interesting questions about serial killers and whether the darkness is learned or already somewhere inside them looking for permission to be unleashed. The film feels like it was set in the 1950’s but then you realize the setting is modern, it’s the girl who’s not. This is a great contrast that really makes this take on the Ed Gein like myth really stand out.
Rec: REPULSION (1965) Dir. Roman Polanski
5. THE WAILING – Dir. Hong – jin Na
The most wildly original, at times baffling and horrifying film of ‘16. It’s rare that I feel out of my depth watching a film but there were cultural traditions and references that were way over my head in this film, yet I was never let off its hook. The tonal shifts from humor to sadness are astounding and it has one of the best “Exorcism” sequences in the history of film. Watch it on the biggest screen possible as it’s a film that demands your attention to truly be effective.
Rec: THE HAUNTING OF JULIA AKA FULL CIRCLE (1977) Dir. Richard Loncraine
4. THE WITCH – Dir. Robert Eggers
A horror masterpiece and one of the best debuts ever. I suspect once I rewatch it, it will climb my list even higher. The authenticity to period makes this one of the few effective period piece horror films as for me I usually find it distancing to watch characters in another era. Eggers ability to make you feel almost like a time traveling witness to these dark events is truly magical and will stand the test of time.
Rec: WITCHFINDER GENERAL AKA THE CONQUEROR WORM (1968) Dir. Michael Reeves
3. DEMON – Dir. Marcin Wrona
This film came so close to being my favorite film of the year. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to the tone and craft of vintage Polanski which makes sense given that both are Polish filmmakers.
It’s a mysterious and at times hilarious take on the Jewish ‘Dybbuk’ legend, but it’s always deeply unsettling. You never feel comfortable watching the film as it’s impossible to know where things are heading and who to trust. Ultimately I found the films ending slightly underwhelming and that’s why it’s number 3 but even so it’s an incredible debut and sadly also Wrona’s last film as he committed suicide shortly after the film premiered. It’s hard not to watch the film without this information haunting the events on screen and imbuing it with a troubling sadness.
Rec: CREMATOR (1969) Dir. Juraj Herz
2. THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE – Dir. Andre Ovredal
Hands down the most fun I had watching a horror film in a theater this year. We always make the roller coaster analogy about movies but this was my horror rollercoaster of ’16 and to experience that with the great crowd at Beyond fest was magic. I only mention the audience as integral to my experience because the film is largely only getting a VOD release and even though I think it will still be great it’s a shame to lose what makes horror my favorite genre, the communal viewing experience. Hearing certain lines or scares that bring a room to life is like nothing else and this felt like the perfect ‘TALES FROM THE CRYPT’ like story delivered with A list talent and a great director. Sadly, the trailer completely ruins the many twists and layers of the film which reflect the layers of the human body and stages of the autopsy itself. Go in blind and it will be the perfect ride.
Rec: DEAD & BURIED (1981) Dir. Gary Sherman
1. GREEN ROOM – Dir. Jeremy Saulnier
My favorite film of the year. The only film I saw that when it ended I realized I had literally gnawed away at my fingernails. This never happens to me but the way Saulnier sets up the characters makes you feel like a participant, one of the band before dropping you all into the middle of hell. This film pulsates. You feel the film. The violence, the shock the true terror of feeling trapped in an impossible but potentially real situation. It’s visceral and has more suspense then anything I saw all year. Forget trying to categorize the film and just let yourself get beat up by it. This is a horror film and it’s a horror film perfect for today’s America.
Rec: SHOCK WAVES (1977) Dir. Ken Wiederhorn
Honorable mentions: (Any other year and these would’ve made the cut)
I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER
BEYOND THE GATES
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
TRAIN TO BUSAN
Fav Soundtrack: THE NEON DEMON
Fav Blu Ray: BLUE SUNSHINE
Fav Short form / Anthology Segment: Father’s Day (from HOLIDAYS) Dir. Anthony Scott Burns
Fav Performances: Ella Ballentine – MONSTER, Jena Malone – THE NEON DEMON, Richard Brake – 31, Itay Tiran – DEMON, Anton Yelchin (RIP) – GREEN ROOM, Anya Taylor-Joy – THE WITCH.
Fav Horror TV show: CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE
Fav Horror Experience (Haunts, Mazes, concerts etc): The Tension Experience