Best Horror of 2021
With a few more films to watch before I finalize my best and worst lists for the year, I really wanted to celebrate all the great horror films that came out in 2021! This last year was incredibly stacked for horror with some decent contenders (Candyman and Don't Breathe 2) even being left off the list and other gems I'm hearing about that I'll have to wait to discover next Halloween. But since I couldn't see them all, I had to start some place! So with that, let's get to the list.
Initially, when I saw this a year ago at Sundance last year, I was a little let down due to my incredibly high expectations...but the more I've thought on it since the more Censor has grown on me over time. While it's very slow and incredibly restrained, I really respected its aesthetic and all that it attempts. It's the definition of a slow burn as the final fifteen minutes or so is basically where everything happens. But the closing imagery is just so haunting and truly makes the whole film worthwhile.
9. THE EMPTY MAN
The Empty Man is pretty much a greatest hits of the horror genre and you can practically find all your favorites right here. Creepy cults? Check. Deadly curses? You got it! Supernatural occurrences? Yep. The Empty Man blends these all together with ease and somehow it all just works! I love the prologue to this film and how long it goes on, making the viewer double-check the summary of this film 3 or 4 times to make sure they're actually watching what they signed on for. My only complaint is it ended with more of a fizzle than a bang as far as a horror ending goes, but the journey was definitely worth it. If the ending had been tweaked just a bit more this could have been one of the horror greats of the decade.
Antlers benefits from an unceasingly moody atmosphere that fills the viewer with all kinds of dread. It also helps to have an always reliable Keri Russell as your leading lady. helping the viewer accept some of the more far-fetched aspects of the plot. While I would have loved even more backstory on her character, I appreciated the depth she brought to the character. Jesse Plemons was also solid as well, though I'm not sure what casting agent ever thought we'd buy them as siblings. While I wish overall Antlers was scarier and had more payoff, there is definitely enough creepy imagery to haunt my nightmares for a long time to come.
7. IN THE EARTH
Another Sundance alum, In the Earth plays it really slowly until all insanity breaks loose. While the cast is small (only four actors), everyone here gives their all. The standout though has to be Reece Shearsmith as Zach who gives an unhinged performance. The finale gives major folk horror vibes and I loved it, even if they used a bit too much strobe effect so my husband who has epilepsy had to close his eyes and miss out on pretty much the entire ending.
6. EIGHT FOR SILVER
While technically this one is due to release wide later this spring, Eight For Silver was my favorite horror movie from 2021's Sundance Film Festival, so I'm allowing it to creep onto the list. Eight for Silver perfectly mixes a period piece with one of the most classic subgenres of horror (no I'm not going to reveal which one, but maybe the title might give you a clue), and the results are deliciously wicked. Featuring some killer practical effects, I absolutely cannot wait to watch this one again with an audience to hear all the inevitable groans.
EDITORS NOTE: Eight for Silver has now been retitled The Cursed (terribly generic name change!!!) and will be released in February 2022, so yeah I cheated putting it here.
5. THE QUIET PLACE II
Okay, I'll be honest, it almost feels like a cheat to put The Quiet Place II on this list because while the first definitely felt like a horror film, the sequel feels more akin to an action-adventure monster flick such as Jurassic Park. A Quiet Place II was my first trip back to cinemas in 2021, and my first big film since Tenet in 2020. It was such a delight and reminded me how great it is to see a big movie on a big screen with amazing sound. Still, it gets a spot on the list because John Krasinski is coming even more into his own here perfectly balancing the tension between the different subplots during the film's climax. Its cliffhanger ending leaves us wanting more and honestly, I can't wait to see what happens next.
4. LAST NIGHT IN SOHO
There seems to be two different camps for people who have seen Last Night in Soho--those who love it and those who hate it. Count me in the love category because this movie totally worked for me on every level, especially as things get more horrific during the final act. Both Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy are fantastic, and in the hands of less capable actresses, this just might not have worked. I love how Soho shows its horror both in the supernatural form, but also in the form of the past itself. Maybe it's a bit on the nose, but I dug it.
3. THE NIGHT HOUSE
Rebecca Hall gives an absolutely stunning performance in The Night House, which premiered at Sundance 2020 but finally saw a wide release last summer. I didn't have a chance to revisit it last year, but it's definitely stayed with me since I first saw it back in January 2020. The sound design is so brilliant here, creating some of the most effective jump scares I've had in a good while. While I would have loved it if the film went even more in-depth with its final reveal, it's otherwise flawless.
Malignant might be the greatest fun I've had with a horror movie in YEARS. It is so ridiculous, so absurd--it's the type of movie I'm amazed and grateful exists. There reached a point in this film where early on I wasn't quite so sure what to make of it, but then suddenly I knew I was along for the ride wherever it would lead. And boy does it lead to some pretty crazy places. Malignant is basically fearless cinema--it's James Wan having the confidence to do whatever he wants and very wildly succeeding.
1. SAINT MAUD
While Malignant was probably my favorite horror film of the year, another film edged it out in terms of horror to reign atop this list. Saint Maud is one of the creepiest, most unnerving horror films I've seen since The Witch. Though I listed quite a few slow-burn horror films on this list, Saint Maud is the most effective of them all because it puts its viewer in a state of uneasiness right from the start that only grows as the film goes along. By the end, our anxiety almost feels unbearable. With help from the hauntingly dread-filled score, and the muted color grading, Saint Maud makes you feel agitated and apprehensive about every move Maud makes. But so much of the credit is due to the chilling performance of Morfydd Clark, whose pious Maude feels almost otherworldly in her creepiness. But all of the turmoil Saint Maud puts you through, pays off in the end with a stunner of a horror ending.
Well, that's it for this list, but keep an eye on my best and worst lists of 2021, coming soon to a blog near you!