• Maxwell J.

Best Horror Movies of 2021

Updated: Jan 4

2021 Year in Review Posts:

Best Missed of 2020

Personal Year in Review


This decade is off to an interesting start isn’t it? Between 2020 and 2021, horror found a unique cultural niche as a way to safely navigate feelings of anxiety and uncertainty amidst a global pandemic. Horror did this without getting any recognition for its impact, both on examining societal conditions or helping keep movie theaters alive. This year blessed us with plenty of fantastic films for fans of any subgenre, mood, or interest. All of this happened despite people claiming that horror has been “dead” since the pandemic began. Yes, we saw plenty of sequels, remakes, and re-imaginings come through this year. We’ve also had new franchises bloom into existence, powerful films with unique cultural commentary pop up, and surprise hits come out of nowhere. 37 films caught my attention more than any others this year, so I want to highlight my top 10 along with the rest of the pack.


So, what’s left? Let’s find out! Scroll down to see what made my top 10 list for 2021, along with plenty of honorable mentions, out of the 120 horror films I watched, and which films I included that make you either celebrate, question, or discount my taste in horror!


Guidelines:

1) Film genres are fluid. Movies can fall into multiple genres. Individuals can have different interpretations. That is okay!

2) Official film release dates are difficult to pinpoint due to rising popularity in movie festivals. A film’s release date will be considered its first wide release in any country.

3) This list will be updated for longevity and consistency purposes moving forward should films viewed after the fact qualify in the writer’s eyes.



10. Fear Street Part One: 1994 (Director: Leigh Janiak; United States/Canada)

Deena lives in Shadyside, a town where everything sucks and no one gets out. She recently broke up with her girlfriend Sam after finding out that she moved to Sunnyvale, the rich and prosperous suburb next door. Soon their teen angst will be interrupted by the news that another group of Shadysiders were killed by another Shadywside maniac. Deena, Sam, and their friends eventually learn the hard truth about their hometown and the curse that dooms their friends and neighbors to poverty or murder, and that they are set to be the latest victims of the next killer. Fear Street Part One: 1994 is an excellent start to one of the most consistent and exciting franchises that have popped up in the new millennium. With characters that are easy to invest in, great kills and wicked gore, and exceptional world building this inaugural film sets up the Fear Street universe as refreshing, well-made, and scary. Aside from some complaints about the period setting and soundtrack, it doesn’t have that much going against it. The lore is fun, the chase scenes are tense, and it subverts a lot of issues that most slashers traditionally fail to avoid. A great beginning to a wonderful franchise, take a trip to Shadyside if you’re looking for a good time.


Full Review: See Here

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9. Last Night in Soho (Director: Edgar Wright; United Kingdom)

Eloise is accepted into her dream fashion program and moves to London to pursue her dreams of becoming a designer. An old soul at heart, she finds herself struggling to fit in with her more boisterous and socially manipulative classmates besides fellow outcast John. After a dorm party forces her to sleep in a common lounge and nearly miss her first class, Eloise decides to rent a room from an old woman in a quieter part of the city. Much more rustic and comfortable than her previous lodgings, she begins to fall into the rhythm of the city life while she dreams of an up-and-coming singer who may have lived there previously. Things take a dark turn when the mysterious young woman’s dark past intertwines with Eloise’s reality. A wavy and dream-like horror experience, Last Night in Soho is a technical marvel that awes crowds with its wonderful artistic and technical direction. Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy deliver excellent performances that capture the strength and vulnerability of the leads. On top of some beautiful designs and shots, Last Night in Soho is an absolute blast, and a thrilling one at that. The nightmare sequences are top notch horror, and the story is fantastically unique considering modern day offerings. Don’t worry about finding great horror here, everything’s waiting for you downtown in Last Night in Soho.


Full Review: See Here

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8. The Night House (Director: David Bruckner; United Kingdom/United States)

Days after the sudden death of her husband, Beth struggles to pick up the pieces of her life. As she navigates losing the love of her life to suicide, Beth begins to feel a presence in her house. Her friends are sympathetic but do their best to assure Beth that moving on is the best thing she can do for herself, and for the memory of her husband. Her doubt turns into certainty the more she picks and prods inside the house, unpacking away secrets her husband left behind that make her question who he really was in the first place. Heartbreaking and disorienting, The Night House tackles grief and loss in such a poignant and terrifying way. Rebecca Hall delivers a powerful performance that captures the complexities of guilt and self-destruction that follows. Dazzling art direction and dizzying storytelling makes The Night House one of the most thoughtful and engaging films of 2021. David Bruckner has solidified his presence as a force to be reckoned with in horror and I look forward to watching his career grow from here. A slow-burn descent into paranoia and madness, nothing will keep you glued to your seat the better than The Night House.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here



7. Blood Red Sky (Director: Peter Thorwarth; Germany/United States)

Nadja is on a transatlantic flight from Germany to New York City with her son Elias so she can get life-saving treatment from a local doctor. Unfortunately for them their plane is taken over by terrorists who are planning on hijacking the plane and detonating a bomb to influence the stock market. Everything is going to plan until Nadja reveals her true colors. She has been moonlighting as a vampire ever since she was bitten in the attack that killed her husband years ago. Desperate, with only one chance to get to New York City for treatment and with an urgency to protect her son’s life, Nadja realizes that the only way to survive is to let the evil inside her come alive. After reading the synopsis, I truthfully didn’t have high expectations for Blood Red Sky. Had I known that it was such a fun, inventive, and kickass vampire film I would have made it more of a priority. The mythology behind vampirism utilized here differentiates Blood Red Sky from other recent efforts. It adds just enough to be different without taking too many liberties. With a little bit of heart and a whole lot of gore, this German film is easily one of the brightest spots of the year. So kick back, relax, and enjoy your flight; it’ll be one to remember.


Full Review: See Here

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6. Malignant (Director: James Wan; United States/China)

One night after Madison finds herself facing the wrath of her abusive husband, a home intruder breaks in to violently murder him before knocking her out cold. Reeling from the trauma she experienced, she tries to make sense of what happened while fighting the paranoia it has instilled in her. Soon, she finds herself having detailed visions of the killer offing new victims only to wake up the following morning perfectly fine. Will Madison, her sister, the lead detective, and his partner able to uncover the truth behind this string of killings or will it be too late? The controversy surrounding this film is so annoying because this is truly one of the best first-time viewing experiences I had this year. Despite misleading marketing, Malignant is camp personified. Once expectations are set appropriately, it becomes a blast. The cast is clearly in on this, hamming up their performances and making choices to add fuel to the fire where others might wrongfully pull back. I love James Wan’s interpretation of what a modern giallo could look like and I am on board if he wants to make fifty more. This is what good B-horror looks like and should aspire to be. After watching, Malignant is likely to stick on your brain for a long time.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here



5. Army of the Dead (Director: Zack Snyder; United States)

After a horrible accident, Las Vegas has been overrun by a horde of zombies. The U.S government has managed to contain them over the years by walling the city and establishing quarantined communities around the perimeter to ensure the infection doesn’t move forward. In just a few days, Las Vegas will be wiped off the face of the world with a nuclear bomb to rid the country of their undead problem. Scott, a former soldier turned restaurant cook who helped in that containment process, is approached by a billionaire about a job. He needs Scott to set up a team of mercenaries to venture into the heart of the city and retrieve $200,000,000. Strapped for cash and pushed by a desire to confront demons of their past, the group assembled begins their journey into Sin City for the ultimate gamble. A high octane and spirited zombie-fest, Army of the Dead weaves energetic action set pieces with plenty of laughs, scares, and undead carnage. Memorable characters make standard losses feel like tragedies, expert worldbuilding makes the zombie phenomenon feel real rather than contrived, and ridiculous directorial choices to feature moments like zombie tigers biting someone’s head off make the film outrageously entertaining. There’s something special about a tour-de-force, big budget zombie film being made and released deep in the heart of a pandemic that has made worlds like the ones in this story feel a lot closer to reality. Substandard quarantine facilities, incompetent politicians, and a never-ending pathway that always seems to fall back to money and greed highlights those moments. I look forward to future adaptations and hope that this is only the beginning of a franchise that will run, not shamble its way into pop culture relevancy.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here



4. V/H/S/94 (Director: Simon Barrett, Chloe Okuno, Ryan Prows, Jennifer Reeder, Timo Tjahjanto; United States/Indonesia)

A SWAT team is conducting a drug raid on a large compound when they discover mass casualties and mysterious video tapes depicting unspeakable terrors. “Storm Drain” follows a news reporter and her camera man investigating an urban legend in their city’s sewer system. A young funeral home worker discovers the dead are never truly dead in “The Empty Wake.” A mad scientist experiments on “The Subject” before he is surprised by the authorities. And lastly, a plot to blow up a federal building with a monster they’ve been holding captive in “Terror” goes awry. A vast improvement on the previous third entry, V/H/S/94 returns the series to form with four wildly fun segments and a disturbing wraparound segment that brings found footage terror back in the public eye. While each segment builds up its own unique horror through fantastic effects and tight scripts, Tjahjanto’s “The Subject” stands out from the rest. Dark and nasty, this anthology features some of the most iconic moments in the franchise and manages to out-punch classic segments from the past. One may not expect much from a franchise that utilizes a forgotten form of home entertainment, but V/H/S/94 delivers on its spooky premise and is deserving of your time.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here



3. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 (Director: Leigh Janiak; United States/Canada)

Deena and Josh confront C. Berman, the only survivor of the Camp Nightwing Massacre sixteen years ago, on how to save Sam from the throes of Sarah Fier’s curse. Berman relents to revealing her secrets when offered the chance to rid the town of the scourge shackling it to the floors of mediocrity and ennui. The flashback takes us to 1978 where sisters Ziggy and Cindy Berman fight about Ziggy getting in trouble, yet again, and jeopardizing Cindy’s chances of keeping her job and at getting out of Shadyside. Little did they know that their world would change when one of their friends goes on a homicidal rampage with an axe. From its excellent characters to its hazy summer camp setting to its fantastic world building, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is a love letter to all the 70s and 80s slasher that checks every note for veteran horror fans and young adults wading into the genre. Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, and Ryan Simpkins give excellent performances and have an almost sparkling presence onscreen. They bring to life some of the most endearing and layered characters I’ve seen in a slasher film in the last decade. I had such an amazing time watching this movie and found it to be the lightning in a bottle horror experience of falling in love, consistently on edge, and overall being engrossed in its magic. Make sure you pack everything for camp and make your way to Netflix now to check out this fantastic slasher.


Full Review: See Here

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2. The Sadness (Director: Rob Jabbaz; Taiwan)

Debates surrounding the threat posed by the Alvin Virus culminate in the day a strong mutation arises and begins spreading through cities like wildfire. The effects of this variant showcase in its hosts by attacking their limbic system which pushes them to perform the most grotesque and depraved acts upon their fellow citizens. Capable of basic cognizant thoughts but overwhelmed by the desire to inflict pain, the masses ravage the city within hours. Amidst the chaos and violence, a young couple fights to reunite and leave before they become victims to the scourge. This pick out of Fantastic Fest is by far the most memorable and attention-grabbing film of the year. A blistering portrayal of humanity at its worst, this nihilistic vision of terror wallows in the filthiest nightmares we can conjure up in our dreams. Eye-popping gore effects and pulse-pounding action sequences make this the perfect film to watch if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush or to simply be uncomfortable. Be warned this is a very intense film, filled with the most unsavory things humans can do to one another including rape, genital destruction, cannibalism, and torture. It isn’t for the faint of heart nor for those who may find any of these circumstances too much (and rightfully so!) While it’s lighter on plot and character development, The Sadness plays to some of humanity’s most primal fears in the most insidious of ways. If this sounds up your alley, keep your eyes out for it while you still have them.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (TBD)



1. The Medium (Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun; Thailand)

A camera crew is making a documentary on shamans and chooses to follow Nim to learn more about her life and practices. Whilst filming, they meet others involved with Nim’s life including her sister Noi and her daughter Mink. Originally, the spirit Bayan, an ancestral God, possessed Noi who rejected her when she converted to Christianity. Instead, Nim took on the role of shaman. Years pass and it’s not until several mysterious deaths in the family when Mink starts exhibiting the same symptoms of possession that Nim and Noi had. Except, something is wrong, terribly wrong. By far the most intense and terrifying film of the year, The Medium brings mockumentary scares back to the forefront in 2021. As the characters descend further down a dark path of discovery, we find ourselves falling with them. An arduous slow burn with tremendous payoff, The Medium has no qualms about consistently throwing scare after scare to the audience while building a profound sense of unease. Once we get to the third act, it becomes clearer that happy endings are a thing of the past and that whatever transpires will serve to leave the viewer in a state of disarray. The Medium has plenty to say about faith and salvation, and how beliefs have the power to save or kill you. I cannot recommend this film enough and am positive that it will get the love and worship that it deserves.


Full Review: See Here

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HONORABLE MENTIONS (in Alphabetical Order)


A Quiet Place Part II (Director: John Krasinski; United States)

Picking up where the first film left off, the Abbott family must leave their home after it was destroyed by the vicious creatures that hunt by sound. Now knowing how to better fight them, the family decides that it is time to leave. Embarking on a journey to find a new home, the Abbots discover that there is more to fear in this new world than the monsters that lurk in the shadows. Eventually, the eldest daughter, Regan, discovers a hidden signal in the radio that may be leading the family to promises of a normal life. The first mega-hit since the beginning of the pandemic, A Quiet Place Part II continues the world-building of a terrifying future infested by monsters. There’s something to be said about pulling off a great sequel, and John Krasinski knocks it out of the park with this white-knuckle apocalyptic alien film. The Abbotts are as daring and resourceful as ever with Cillian Murphy adding a new dimension to the film’s emotional center. Excellent sound design, clever camerawork, and exciting set pieces make A Quiet Place Part II a well-executed sequel that fans will love, and new viewers will find gratifying. A scary and captivating sequel, A Quiet Place Part II proves that starting with a bang doesn’t mean a franchise needs to fizzle out in a whisper.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here



Antlers (Director: Scott Cooper; United States, Mexico, Canada)

A middle-school teacher returns to her small Oregon mining town after a twenty-year absence following the death of her abusive father. She and her brother find themselves recognizing patterns of abuse with one of her students: Lucas. Lucas lives a tough life. His mother is dead, his father is embattled with the law, and he must look after his younger brother. Everything gets worse when his father returns home from work with his younger brother while exhibiting signs of a mysterious illness. Soon, Lucas and the townsfolk will learn of the terrifying legends surrounding this disturbing sequence of events. Antlers has a bad rap and I fully blame its extended state in cinematic limbo. Expectations were way higher than they should have been and only because it had been delayed by the pandemic for so long. Antlers is a straight-to-the-point creature feature with a vicious bite. The creature effects, while limited, are inspired, the action is tense and exciting, and the metaphor for abuse and trauma plays out mostly well. It’s a nice turn-off-your-brains kind of movie and I am very happy that I supported it in theaters. It clearly won’t set the world on fire, but it will dish out the pain for as long as it remains in circulation.


Full Review: See Here

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Blood Conscious (Director: Timothy Covell; United States)

Kevin, his sister, Brittney, and her fiancé Tony arrive at their parent’s lakeside vacation cabin to find it surprisingly abandoned. While investigating they discover a grim scene. Kevin and Brittney’s parents have been gunned down alongside every one of their neighbors. Before they have time to process what happened, the mass shooter who killed them all confronts them, explaining that he had to kill them because they became demons. The trio will have to decide if he is a sick man that gets off on hurting others or if his claims might be true. Blood Conscious is a tense indie slasher with a demonic twist that delivers handily on its terrifying premise. Leaning into paranoia and suspicion rather than straight-up slice and dice antics or excessive cheese, Blood Conscious walks the tightrope of telling a compelling story with fleshed out characters against the backdrop of a certifiably heart-pounding experience. There is even some subtle socio-political themes bubbling underneath the surface on mass shootings and race relations that add just enough texture to create an overall well-balanced horror film. I know that Blood Conscious more than likely won’t be on your radar unless it gets a deal from a streaming giant, but please don’t sleep on this excellent indie gem.


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Broadcast Signal Intrusion (Director: Jacob Gentry; United States)

A video archivist falls down a rabbit hole while parsing through conspiracy theories related to a series of pirate broadcasts throughout the 90s. Convinced that they are related to the disappearance of his wife, he makes it his mission to uncover the truth no matter the cost. As he uncovers more about the incidents, he finds himself getting tangled in a series of confusing encounters and dangerous situations. Are the people he meets along the way truly helping him or are they muddying the waters further? He’ll find out this and just how far he’ll go to get closure for his loss. You have likely not seen a film quite like Broadcast Signal Intrusion. With a unique and captivating story, it sucks you in on its perilous and surreal journey into the craziest rabbit holes you can imagine. Harry Shum Jr. gives an incredible leading performance, truly selling his grief, rage, and one-track mind. Unpredictable and terrifying, this commentary on conspiracy theories and those who fall victim to them will leave you paranoid and begging for more. Fantastic direction, gripping tension, and an undeniable sense of fear make this indie film a must watch. Tune in to Broadcast Signal Intrusion and find yourself questioning everything.


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Candyman (Director: Nia DaCosta; Canada/United States)

Anthony is an up-and-coming artist living with his partner, Brianna, when he stumbles upon the legend of ‘The Candyman’ while seeking inspiration for his latest show. This legend tells the tale of a man who was killed by police officers on suspicions he was giving kids candy with razorblades in it. Something clicks and suddenly Anthony is creating art that he feels connected and passionate about, something he has felt lacking in recent years. Unfortunately, after the first day of his show two of his coworkers are found dead at his exhibit. Soon, Anthony will find out that not only is the myth true, but there’s so much more to the story for him to discover. A stylish and well-crafted reboot, Candyman dissects the dark history of the original through a modern lens with exceptional results. Anchored by brilliant lead performances, stunning cinematography, and nauseating effects, Candyman is a visual show that is sure to impress even the harshest of critics. Effective in its critiques on gentrification, police brutality, and the cyclical nature of violence and trauma in low-income Black neighborhoods, Candyman dares its audience to “tell everyone.” More than an example of modern ‘elevated horror’, Candyman is a deliciously brutal and cathartic tale of reclaiming the narrative.


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Caveat (Director: Damian Mc Carthy; United Kingdom)

A young man named Isaac, who has a blurry and mysterious past, is asked to watch his friend’s sister at their family home for a week. What starts as a promising way to make a quick buck turns to something more sinister when Isaac discovers that his friend was not completely honest about the conditions of this favor. Isolated by distance, an island, and no transportation home, Isaac is convinced to be chained to the wall via a bulky leather harness as to not upset the sister’s debilitating fear that she will be assaulted in the night by strange men. Now, alone with a stranger, Isaac will learn the truth behind the crumbling home and mysterious disappearances that have plagued the family. There’s a lot to like in this import from the UK. By focusing on atmosphere and a pared down plot, Caveat manages to get under the skin more than outright scare you. Little things like moving pictures and animatronic bunnies make for a more muted horror experience that is often not represented well in current genre output. There’s no warning here, Caveat is a creepy little indie flick that is certain to catch you off guard and chain you to the screen.


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Coming Home in the Dark (Director: James Ashcroft; New Zealand)

While on a road trip together, a family decides to have a picnic in a scenic yet remote park. As they are enjoying their meal, two drifters appear setting into motion a terrifying sequence of events throughout the night where the family must endure a road trip from hell. The father of the family becomes their primary target once he reveals that he is a schoolteacher and that he may have a past that’s worth questioning. The further they continue, the more past secrets and transgressions come to life. What justice will come from the night and who will reap it? I had the pleasure of catching this film as a secret screening at the Chattanooga Film Festival and was instantly enamored with it. The entire cast is on their A-game here. Every painful traumatic memory, both physical and mental, are exhumed and put on display. Touching on themes of betrayal, abuse, and revenge, nothing is sacred and no one is safe. Thanks to an unpredictable script and tight direction, everything feels earned and unbearably tense. Backroad thrillers tend to fall into conventions and thankfully this one subverts all expectations. Coming Home in the Dark will leave you hopeless and crumpled on the ground: exactly how it should be.


Full Review: See Here

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Fear Street Part Three: 1666 (Director: Leigh Janiak; United States/Canada)

Once Deena successfully reunites Sarah Fier’s hand and body, she is transported back in time to 1666. Sarah Fier shows her what really happened and the origin of the curse that has plagued Shadyside for centuries. There, Deena interacts with the townsfolk who resemble her friends and acquaintances from Berman’s stories. Once Deena learns the truth, she returns to the present with all the information she needs to put a stop to the curse and hold the person responsible accountable for their continued crimes against Shadyside. Between her, Berman, and Josh, do they have what it takes, or will Shadyside be doomed to eternal misery? The third entry in this trilogy of terror sags a little bit compared to its predecessors. While it still has the fun energy and intense thrills associated with the franchise, it lacks the panache of the former two. Considering the first two are incredible, that still means it’s still pretty damn good. The further we fall into the curse of Sarah Fier and come to realization of the horror underneath Shadyside, Janiak takes the series full circle with its satisfying conclusion. There is plenty of masked killer mayhem, pulsating organs, and teen angst to warm the hearts of even the most jaded horror fan. Take a turn on Fear Street before you get burned at the stake for missing out on the Netflix horror event of the year.


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In the Earth (Director: Ben Wheatley; United Kingdom)

Martin journeys to a remote outpost before making an even more lengthy trip to bring equipment to a scientist working deep in the forest. Park scout Alma guides him on the journey. It’s not long before they experience the worst that the forest has to offer and are beaten and robbed their very first night. They seek shelter in the tent of a wizened old hermit who seems kind at first before showing a more sinister side. They soon learn his intentions with them are far more terrifying than anything they can predict and must work to survive their experience. A wonderfully weird and wavy film, In the Earth is eco horror that knows how to get inside the viewer’s head. Favoring a slow burn approach to its terror, the horror evolves over the course of the film as more information is learned about the perilous dangers located within the woods. Strong performances, hypnotic cinematography, and dazzling visuals make In the Earth stand out when compared to its contemporaries. Surprisingly brutal and unforgivably tense, this horror film will have you questioning everything in the end. You won’t have to journey far to find In the Earth spicing up your streaming queue or physical media collection.


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Meander (Director: Mathieu Turi; France)

Lisa accepts a ride from a stranger named Adam. Not long after, she realizes that he is a wanted serial killer when a radio show broadcasts details that suspiciously fits his profile. A struggle ensues and she blacks out. She awakens in a metallic room and begins panicking. Just when she believes all hope is lost, an opening forms which reveals a tunnel. Not wanting to take any chances, Lisa decides to make a crawl for freedom. Traps, monsters, and other survivors won’t stop Lisa from surviving. Or will they? Claustrophobic nail-biting suspense and a sleek sci-fi veneer make Meander one of this year’s most fun and frightening films. Horror has a habit of placing unfortunate souls in seemingly impossible traps with the goal of escaping. Meander does this justice by finding more meaning behind Lisa’s imprisonment and how much of it is self-inflicted. Her journey through the tunnels and what she finds out about herself is almost as satisfying as her navigation around the various traps. The metaphors may not wholly land but they are provocative enough to help propel this feature to one of the of best of the year. Test yourself to see if you can handle what this French film has to offer.


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Midnight (Director: Oh-Seung Kwon; South Korea)

After a long day at work and trip out to get drinks with her company’s clients, Kyung-mi is on her way to pick up her mother and return home. She’s feeling particularly heated after taking the abuse of her clients with a smile despite them mocking her Deafness and muteness. As she is parking her car, she inadvertently crosses paths with a serial killer in the process of deciding his next victim, which turns out to be So Jung, who is on her way back from a date and not returning her older brother’s calls. With no one to listen, Kyung-mi must rely on her strength, resilience, and intellect if she intends to survive and save those she loves. A non-stop thrill ride, Midnight merges societal woes faced by the Deaf community with the terrifying concept of battling a serial killer. Featuring dynamic chase scenes, plenty of tension, and a little bit of comedy, Midnight succeeds in making a few changes to an otherwise ordinary setup with maximum results. Wi Ha-Joon steals the show as the charismatic and manipulative serial killer hellbent on tying up all loose ends of his night of terror. As soon as this film is made available in the States, I urge you to stream it the second it drops at Midnight.


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Where to Watch: See Here (TBD)



Oxygen (Director: Alexandre Aja; France, United States)

Waking up in an enclosed cryogenic freezing pod, a woman struggles to remember who she is and how she ended up there. Unfortunately for her, it seems that whatever reason she is stuck in this predicament is only getting worse now that her chamber is depleting oxygen at a rapidly alarming pace. Utilizing nothing more than her instincts, she works to figure out a solution to her impending doom while seeking answers to why she is placed in this position in the first place. Oxygen is a wonderfully twisty sci-fi mystery with a horror bent that is both captivating and engaging. As we learn with the truths behind her containment, we realize what is at stake with her survival and that the answers lie within her fingertips. Not much in the way of heady social commentary or over-the-top set pieces, Oxygen works because of the contained and claustrophobic experience it creates for viewers. Working much like a updated version of the 2010 hit Buried, Oxygen also surprises by introducing more dialogue and movement than one may anticipate in this type of film. If you’re looking for something to keep you on the edge of your seat, anticipate this feature to leave you breathless.


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Sator (Director: Jordan Graham; United States)

Adam lives in solitude out in the woods with only his dog for company. Every now and then his brother Pete visits him. Adam suspects something is amiss in the woods as he picks up strange phenomena on the various deer cams he placed around his house. Is Adam paranoid or is he being stalked by the entity that his grandmother Nani claimed visited her? His family is worried about him, but they can’t seem to talk any sense into him. Time passes and Adam fights to stay alive and keep his sanity as he is relentlessly pursued by specters in the forest. Can he do anything to save himself and his family or is his fate already sealed? Sator is an incredible feat in indie filmmaking. A simmering slow-burn psychological tale filled with freaky visuals and stretches of pointed silence, Sator conjures a very specific feeling of existential terror in viewers that show patience. Additionally, I cannot commend the production story of this film enough. Jordan Graham is responsible for the bulk of the nonacting related tasks on this film and the consistency shows. Trust me when I say that Sator is worth the worship and to follow him from the woods and on your favorite streaming service.


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Séance (Director: Simon Barrett; United States)

The untimely death of a young woman opens a spot at a prestigious boarding school for Camille to attend. She’s greeted by Helina, a kind yet shy student who shows her around the school and to her dorm room, the same room occupied by the dead girl. Not long after she makes her appearance Camille picks a fight with Alice and her clique of mean girl friends. Things can’t get worse than this, right? Wrong. After attempting to contact the spirit of their deceased friend during detention, the girls find themselves getting picked off one by one. A spooky slasher set at an all-girl’s school with a devilish cast of cutthroat and backstabbing teens, this movie was made specifically for me. Despite a familiar setup, Séance boasts some fun sequences and a riveting enough mystery to keep its audience engaged. Suki Waterhouse gives an exceptional performance as the mysterious and questionably out-of-place final girl who gives everyone a run for their money once all is revealed. Inspired by gothic horror and Italian cinema, Séance does place more emphasis on style over substance but it’s all in good fun. It won’t be for everyone but if you are willing to buy into the silliness of the plot, you’ll have an A plus time.


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Slumber Party Massacre (Director: Danishka Esterhazy; South Africa)

A group of friends on their way to a cabin in the woods get stuck in a Podunk town in the middle of nowhere due to car maintenance issues. Not wanting to let that stop the party, the crew decide to set up shop at another cabin just for the night while they wait for their replacement parts to arrive. Immediately, they bust out the party playlist, heat up some pizza and brownies, and dance the night away before they have to turn away the guys from across the lake. It’s all fun and games until the Driller Killer comes out of hiding to finish what he started years ago. Walking into the screening of Slumber Party Massacre at Fantastic Fest, I didn’t know what to expect. I am so happy to share that this remake knocks it out of the park, serving as a love letter to the films that came before it and a champion of the material moving forward. The characters are fun, if a little too meta, and make for some interesting character clashes and commentary on gender. Filled with great chase sequences, hilarious gags, and plenty of gore, Slumber Party Massacre is the feel-good film of the year we all need.


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The Advent Calendar (Director: Patrick Ridremont; France/Belgium)

When Eva, a paraplegic ex-dancer living alone in the city, gets a surprise visit from her friend Sophie on her birthday, she is gifted a mysterious advent calendar. Sophie admits that she stole the curiosity from a shopkeeper, and they open the first few cabinets together, revealing what look to be simple chocolates with three rules tied to eating them. As each day passes, Eva soon learns that each present bequeathed by the advent calendar has the power to change her world for the better, but also for the worse. A holiday surprise of the most welcome magnitude, The Advent Calendar tells a timeless tale of well-intentioned wishes going awry. Eva has such an interesting journey, and this is highlighted by the choices she makes. It’s almost like an anti-Christmas film in a way. There’s no feel good here. I appreciate the trippy visuals, smart plot advancement, and badass protagonist who doesn’t lay down and die. The French are well known for their extremities in film, and The Advent Calendar reminds its audience of that frequently, featuring some unexpected gore that should satiate anyone hoping for some good splatter. If you’re looking for hope during the holidays, it’s best to steer clear of this one. If you’re hoping to enjoy the grittiness, feel free to unwrap this bloody surprise.


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The Block Island Sound (Director: Kevin McManus, Matthew McManus; United States)

Audry is sent back to her hometown to report on the abnormalities in the local fish population where she finds her father, Tom, in an unstable mental state and her brother, Harry, trying to determine what is happening to him. Tom is sleepwalking, losing track of time, and disappearing in the middle of the night on the family fishing boat. Things come to a broil when he disturbs his granddaughter during one of his late-night strolls. He doesn’t get the chance to apologize, because he does not return. In his wake, a spiraling series of events comes to grips within the family as they cope, grieve, and search for answers, before it happens to Harry next. An atmospheric and tense experience, The Block Island Sound trades brash scares for emotionally charged familial horror with a sci-fi twist. Dripping with mystery and dead oceanic creatures, The Block Island Sound is loudest when the horror is left to the viewer’s imagination. Strong characters and performances solidify the film’s emotional appeal while the chilly cinematography and mundane set pieces ratchet up the horror of familiarity. Fans of slow-burn and more creeping horror will appreciate this muted experience in the cyclical nature of intergenerational mental health and family dynamics.


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The Boy Behind the Door (Director: David Charbonier, Justin Powell; United States)

Bobby and Kevin are on their way to a baseball game when they are abducted by an unknown attacker and thrown in the back of a car. Once they reach their destination, Kevin is dragged into a house while Bobby is left alone in the trunk. Bobby manages to escape from the vehicle and is only a few steps towards freedom before he turns and hears Kevin screaming from the house. In that moment, Bobby decides he will not leave Kevin and makes his way back hoping that he’s able to save his friend, and himself, from what awaits inside. A heart racing exercise in adolescent resilience and friendship, The Boy Behind the Door is chock full of plenty suspense laden scenes that will unnerve even the most seasoned of horror buffs. Outstanding performances from two young talents make Bobby and Kevin excellent heroes to root for with wholly realized motivations and character arcs. The antagonist gets a bit cartoonish in dialogue and physicality by the end, but The Boy Behind the Door holds its cards close before its stunning reveal. While it isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, The Boy Behind the Door makes for an excellent child abduction film that will live on in the worst nightmares of any parent who happens across it.


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The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (Director: Michael Chaves; United States)

Arne Johnson helped save his girlfriend’s little brother from a terrible demonic possession only for the parasitic entity to take over him instead. Not long after, he murders his boss in a fit of supernaturally induced terror and is locked up shortly afterwards. Convinced of his innocence, Ed and Lorraine Warren are determined to find a paranormal connection to the case to save Arne from getting the death penalty. On their journey to exonerate him they find themselves engulfed in a terrifying mystery that pushes them past their paranormal comfort zone. Another slam dunk for The Conjuring Universe, this most recent installment brings things back to the God-fearing, all-American demon hunting couple that the nation has grown to love these last eight years. While it doesn’t quite frighten the way the first two in its direct sequence do, this entry adds a different layer to the story by raising the stakes in new and interesting ways. As usual there are some delightfully memorable scare sequences sewn together between moments of tenderness shared between our protagonists. Excellent effects work, stunning visuals, and a deep dive into the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, the haunting cinematic universe of Ed and Lorraine Warren expands to new horizons.


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The Deep House (Director: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien David; France/Belgium)

Ben runs a channel online that allows him to share his passion of exploring ruins and other historical sites with the world. Tina is his girlfriend who tags along reluctantly for the ride if only to help get him out of the library. Both historians, they are constantly on the move for the creepiest attractions. After arriving in South France, they make their way to a popular lake which was created by destroying an old village in the 1980s. Initial disappointment in the tourist trap turns to excitement when a local guide agrees to take them to an intact house hidden underneath the water in a more remote part of the lake. Curiosity turns to terror when the true nature of the house is revealed to them. A high concept found footage hybrid film; The Deep House unsettles with its terrifying premise. Acclaimed genre filmmakers Alexandre Bustillo and Julien David hit another one out of the park with this tense underwater haunter. While it doesn’t change up the formula and goes light on plot, The Deep House provides excellent scares alongside its truly captivating set. Fear runs deep and you’ll find plenty of reasons to hold your breath while watching this one.


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The Green Knight (Director: David Lowery; Ireland/Canada/United States/United Kingdom)

Dev Patel stars as Gawain in this re-telling of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, a classic medieval fantasy story. On Christmas Day, Gawain is celebrating at a royal party when a mysterious knight arrives and challenges any of the knights to strike a blow on him. The caveat is that whatever someone does to the Green Knight must be repaid in exactly one year in the same manner. Gawain takes on the challenge, decapitating the visitor, who immediately regenerates and reiterates the terms of his condition before riding off into the night. Now nearly one year later, Gawain begins his journey to fulfill his end of the deal. Admittedly not exactly a horror film (I’d classify it as Fantasy and Adventure first, and Horror as a distant third) The Green Knight is a dark and twisted epic that delights in its visuals and rich symbolism. Patel gives an exceptional performance as Gawain, making his journey to glory double as a quest for maturity and coming-of-age. Horror fanatics will delight in the dark fantasy of the film, which is teeming with ghosts, mysterious creatures, and a terrifying interpretation of the Green Knight himself. Adventure is out there for you, if only you take a chance on The Green Knight and go forth.


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The Old Ways (Director: Christopher Alender; United States)

Cristina is brought to her childhood home in Veracruz for a work assignment. There, she hopes to cover the mystical origins of a cave deep within in the rainforest. The next thing she knows, she awakens to find herself in a witch doctor’s home, chained to a bed. She manages to convince her captors to contact her cousin Miranda to get her. Miranda breaks the news to Cristina that they believe there is a demon inside of her and they must exorcise it out of her before it is too late. The Old Ways is a well-executed possession film that changes up the formula just enough to be a captivating and suspenseful film. Bridgitte Kali Canales delivers a fantastic performance and showcases a beautiful strength and vulnerability to Cristina as she navigates the horrors of being taken over by a demonic presence. Sharp cinematography, great visual effects, and a puzzle-like story structure aid in creating this unique flavor of Mexican American folk horror. Interconnecting themes of grief, suicide ideation, and drug abuse are woven together creating a heartfelt and powerful story about connecting with one’s roots. The Old Ways doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does inject new life into a subgenre notorious for its dependency on tired tropes.


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The Power (Director: Corinna Faith; United Kingdom)

A newbie nurse to a large hospital that serves low socioeconomic patients, Val, gets on the bad side of her new boss and is forced to work the night shift. Set in 1974, rolling blackouts set off by striking miners plunges the hospital into total darkness at night. Alone and vulnerable, Val must take care of her patients, navigate hostile coworkers, and figure out why one little girl keeps running away from medical care she desperately needs. It doesn’t help that the dark practically paralyzes Val and something supernatural is stalking her throughout the rundown hospital. It’s up to Val to figure out how to survive the night and save those around her from succumbing to the terror of the dark. The Power is a dark gem of a supernatural horror film with solid performances and quiet scares. I appreciate how deeply metaphorical the film is and how it doesn’t hit all of the conventional beats in the end. Its unique period setting, and narrative structure make it stand out from countless efforts that lack the ambition and finesse in storytelling that The Power holds. However familiar parts of The Power may be, its overall production and engaging story give it enough crossover appeal to entertain genre fans and casual viewers alike. Give it a chance, I have a feeling you won’t want to turn off The Power.


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Till Death (Director: S.K. Dale; United States)

Emma is celebrating her anniversary with her husband Mark at their lake house. They have been going through a rough patch recently and Emma has been secretly dating one of his co-workers, Tom, though she recently ended things. After a night of rekindling their romance, Emma wakes up handcuffed to Mark who, after exchanging a few words, shoots himself in the head, dying instantly. Tethered to his body, Emma realizes that all means of communication and all tools have been taken from the home and that someone from her past has come to finish Mark’s plot of revenge. A silly and over-the-top revenge thriller, Till Death hits the right notes to play out its tense and disturbing tale of betrayal. A high-concept piece, Till Death works hard to find reasons to keep Megan Fox chained to her dead husband, and for the most part it works. It verges into the unbelievable at times but remains engrossing the entirety of the film. Relying on both the isolated location and unique set pieces provided, Till Death engages its audience with enough twists and turns until its action-packed finale. It won’t set the world on fire, but Till Death is a competent horror film that will make it feel difficult for you to part ways with once it ends.


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Vicious Fun (Director: Cody Calahan; Canada)

Certified loser and small-time horror movie critic stumbles into a serial killer support group one night after drinking too much at a dive bar. Once he realizes what he’s gotten himself into, he tries to weasel his way out of the situation by passing as the newest member of their group. Unsurprisingly, he’s made rather quickly and has seriously angered the already volatile group of maniacs. He’ll half to face off against the killers with the help of a powerful ally and the girl he loves who doesn’t quite feel the same way. This is a delightfully fun film that never fails to forget its purpose. The jokes are varied and pack a punch with many thanks to an exceptionally gifted cast playing colorful and memorable characters. There’s enough violence and bloodshed to satisfy the gorehounds too. It’s impressive that even when you think Vicious Fun plays its cards too early, it shows you just how wrong you are. All around a great time, it's a film that I recommend to anyone who wants to feel good and have fun while watching their horror. With its appropriate title, Vicious Fun will engender you to its chaotic story of finding yourself.


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Werewolves Within (Director: Josh Ruben; United States)

Ranger Finn Wheeler takes up post at a sleepy cottage in a small mountainside town that is even more sparsely populated due to the winter season. As Finn gets settled in and meets the menagerie of cooky townsfolk, he learns of the stark divide amongst the residents over a proposed pipeline that would change the landscape of the town and kick all of them out with a nice payout. That night a dog is attacked, and Finn finds himself embroiled in a murder mystery when the corpse of another townie is found underneath the inn. This is no ordinary whodunnit though. The killer amongst them isn’t just a fellow member of their community but a full-fledged werewolf. Fresh off the heels of his 2020 debut of Scare Me, Josh Ruben has taken steps to further perfect his formula of creating great comfort horror movies. Werewolves Within is a delightful treat loaded with sidesplitting jokes, memorable characters, and some unexpectedly violent and hysterical death scenes. On top of that, it’s just a well-made film featuring tight editing and exceptional shots. A who-dunnit with heart, Werewolves Within needs to be the top of your watchlist. And if it isn’t you’re probably the werewolf.


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Willy’s Wonderland (Director: Kevin Lewis; United States)

After experiencing car trouble, a man is offered the chance to pay off his debt to the body shop by agreeing to clean a broken-down entertainment center, Willy’s Wonderland, overnight. Meanwhile, Liv is arrested by her adoptive sheriff mother for trying to set fire to Willy’s Wonderland and subsequently handcuffed to the radiator of her mobile home. Shortly after, her friends bust her out so she can carry out her plan to destroy the place that she knows is evil. How does she know it is evil? She watched her parents succumb to the malevolent animatronic cartoon animals that rule the dilapidated sideshow attraction many years ago. It’s up to the kids to warn the janitor from his impending doom and save him from the evil robots. Or is it? Willy’s Wonderland is a pure popcorn and octane thrill ride that captures the outrageousness of grindhouse films and repackages it for a modern audience. Nicholas Cage gives a memorable performance as yet another unhinged man, this time without uttering a single word. Possessed children’s animatronics, stupid teenagers, and montages of Cage cleaning and re-cleaning a run-down, off-brand Chuck-E-Cheese make Willy’s Wonderland a rip-roaring good time for everyone. If you’re looking for dumb fun and not much else, come on down to Willy’s Wonderland.


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