THE BEST OF 2021
2021 has been another tumultuous year but at least cinemas opened up again and some of the postponed titles we'd been looking forward to in 2020 made it to the big (and small) screen. Not that all of them were as good as we'd hoped mind you. As the year draws to a close it's only right that we do the usual 'best of' list (hey, everyone else is doing them) and sing the praises of the best genre fare this year offered up.
Director: James Wan Madison is paralyzed by shocking visions of grisly murders, and her torment worsens as she discovers that these waking dreams are in fact terrifying realities.
When it's good, it's very, very good, and when it's bad… it's just bonkers! A fruity mash-up of horror tropes and the daftest "Giallo" thriller you can conceive of. Wallis shines, the score is superb, and there are some great slasher sequences. The plot is absurd and there's a chance that the throw-everything-at-you tactic won't work on some. However that last act...well, it deserves some credit for even attempting it.
Director: Nia DaCosta A sequel to the horror film Candyman (1992) that returns to the now-gentrified Chicago neighbourhood where the legend began
Whilst Nia DaCosta's eagerly anticipated addition to the Candyman franchise wasn't quite the masterpiece we were hoping for, it was still an important genre film for 2021, even if it didn't quite make as many waves as producer Jordan Peele's Get Out and Us. An intelligent screenplay and powerful performances work well with some cool scares and some great visuals. The plot is a bit slight, and some aspects seem at odds with the final message but on the whole this is a sweet evolution of the franchise. The pretentious and vacuous nature of the art industry also gets a damned good kicking, and rightly so.
8. THE BLOCK ISLAND SOUND
Director: Kevin McManus, Matthew McManus Something lurks off the coast of Block Island, silently influencing the behaviour of fisherman, Tom Lynch. After suffering a series of violent outbursts, he unknowingly puts his family in grave danger.
The Block Island Sound is a disquieting sci-fi that is full of mood and mystery. Combining cosmic dread with human drama, it also includes a terrific central performance from Chris Sheffield. It successfully manages to traverse several sub-genres, morphing between eco, psychological and aquatic horror with relative ease and the result is rather intoxicating at times. The budget is small so the film eschews grand visuals and big effects and instead puts most its energy and focus into trying to engender a creeping sense of anxiety and dread. A smart ending leaves us with plenty to ponder too.
Director: Christopher Landon After swapping bodies with a deranged serial killer, a young girl in high school discovers she has less than 24 hours before the change becomes permanent.
After helming high-concept teen horror Happy Death Day (And its sequel), Christopher Landon gifted us another fun-filled romp with Freaky, a bodyswapping horror that sees Vince Vaughn play a serial killer and a teenage girl. What's not to like?! Although it can be a bit mawkish and over sentimental at times, this is a funny and gory love letter to classic slasher films, with some Mean Girls snark as a side order. Those genre fans who picked holes in Happy Death Day for PG-rated violence will have no such complaints here either. It doesn't hold back on the gore!
6. HIS HOUSE
Director: Remi Weekes A refugee couple makes a harrowing escape from war-torn South Sudan, but then they struggle to adjust to their new life in an English town that has an evil lurking beneath the surface.
You'd do well to find a directorial debut more accomplished and well crafted than Remi Weekes' His House. This is a film about immigration and assimilation. It's a film about humanity and the real life horror that some people in the world endure every single day. It's also a film about hope and shame and acceptance too. But as good as all of this is, Weekes is ultimately successful because he manages to combine these worldly anxieties with affecting supernatural horror. Special praise should be reserved for Sope Dìrísù and Wunmi Mosaku, who expertly convey the hopes and dreams and sorrow and pain of the couple looking for a new life in a foreign land.
5. The CONJURING: The DEVIL MADE ME DO IT
Director: Michael Chaves The Warrens investigate a murder that may be linked to a demonic possession.
The Conjureverse is an ever expanding beast and whilst there are a couple of lesser entries in there, on the whole it's a pretty solid gang. The movie that kicked it all off, James Wan's The Conjuring is perhaps still the best and whilst the sequel was fine, it had its problems. And whilst Michael Chaves effort is still flawed, it's a definite improvement on its predecessor. It's not that the film does anything particularly new or astounding. But it does what it does well. Take the "true story" element with a bucket full of salt, and it's a solid and enjoyable entry. There are some very neat touches; you'll never lay on a water bed again or listen to Blondie's "Call Me" in the same way. It's nowhere near perfect, but it is accomplished and entertaining and delivers on slick scares. The franchise has legs yet…
4. A QUIET PLACE PART II
Director: John Krasinksi Following the events at home, the Abbott family now face the terrors of the outside world. Forced to venture into the unknown, they realize the creatures that hunt by sound are not the only threats lurking beyond the sand path.
How do you follow up on one of the most beloved and well-executed horror-suspense films of the last three years? Well, AQP2 does all the things a good sequel should; it expands the mythos, evolves the characters, and takes the narrative in interesting directions. It manages to retain the heart and hope of the original whilst considerably upping the tension and action. Although we’ve seen them in their full glory by now, the Venom + Cloverfield critters have lost none of their savagery or creepiness. Expect expertly timed jump-scares aplenty. It’s one of those films that speeds through its running time and leaves you wanting more. Krasinski deserves a shot at other horror projects or big-budget thrillers given by what he has accomplished here.
Director: Damien Mc Carthy A lone drifter suffering from partial memory loss accepts a job to look after a psychologically troubled woman in an abandoned house on an isolated island.
Babysitting has always been a bit of a thankless task. Especially in horror movies. And in this one in particular. Although the budgetary restraints mean that Caveat's single location threatens to become a little wearisome at times, Mc Carthy exploits it for all its worth and manages to create a horror film that is, at times, genuinely unnerving. In many ways, Caveat is the perfect antidote to the horror blockbusters that usually make big money at the box office. It's not high concept, it's not full of star names and it's not a rollercoaster ride. It's slow and subtle and takes its time to draw you in and will stay with you perhaps a little longer too after the credits have finished rolling.
2. MIDNIGHT MASS
Director: Mike Flanagan An isolated island community experiences miraculous events - and frightening omens - after the arrival of a charismatic, mysterious young priest.
Horror TV has come a long way over the course of the last few years. But Director Mike Flanagan is responsible for three of the best since the turn of the century. Hill House and Bly Manor were both haunting, creepy adaptations of classic ghost stories but Midnight Mass is an altogether different beast. Mixing religion, supernatural horror and those Stephen King small town vibes that most of us all know and love, it's an ambitious and visually arresting exploration of death and grief and faith. It's also got a palpable sense of unease that is tough to shake off and an ending that you won't forget in a hurry too. As with most of Flanagan's work, it's the work of the central cast that really elevate the material to another level though. Some may get a little tired of all the speeches and sermons, but we personally can't get enough of them...
1. THE NIGHT HOUSE
Director: David Bruckner A widow begins to uncover her recently deceased husband's disturbing secrets
We all know that Rebecca Hall is one of the best actors out there but in The Night House, she really gets the opportunity to show off - she's basically in every shot of the film. And boy does she shine. However her performance is only one of the things that makes the film so bloody good. David Bruckner seemingly treats the whole film as an exercise in tension building and to great effect but this suffocating atmosphere is occasionally punctuated with some first class jolts too. It somehow manages to feel stripped back and yet mature and complicated at the same time. It's psychological horror at its best and although the ending may not sit well with everyone, for us it is the perfect conclusion to an emotional and intellectually compelling ordeal. Best watched home alone, late at night with all the lights off.
Honourable Mentions: Antlers, No One Gets Out Alive, The Forever Purge, Anything for Jackson