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Thursday, June 17, 2021

The 12 Best Horror Films Released in the First Half of 2021

It’s that time again; we’re halfway through another year. Luckily, 2021 holds much more promise, at least compared to last year. The world is slowly opening up again, and the theatrical slate returns to normality just in time for the summer blockbuster season. While that means that the first half of the year was scarce on the theatrical front, it held no shortage of fantastic horror releases. The genre has proven time and time again that it thrives on every format, and offerings have become downright overwhelming on VOD and streaming platforms.

The back half of the year looks stacked, especially heading into the Halloween season. As a refresher, and to ensure great movies don’t fall through the cracks, here are the best horror titles of the year so far. In no particular order…

The Power

Young nurse Val (Rose Williams) gets off on the wrong foot with her supervisor on her first day on duty. As a result, she’s assigned the night shift to watch over the remaining patients in the ward of a crumbling hospital. With most of the staff and patients already relocated to a new facility, it leaves Val almost entirely alone in a strange building nearly enveloped by darkness thanks to the city’s rolling blackouts. Struggling with her paralyzing fear of the dark proves extra tricky when it seems an evil presence thrives in the shadows of the hospital’s corridors. Writer/Director Corinna Faith builds a chilling atmosphere and injects this haunter with triumphant catharsis.


Writer/Director Jordan Graham crafts a singular tale inspired by personal inherited trauma. Graham nearly constructs the entire feature by hand, serving as producer, cinematographer, editor, sound designer, composer, set decorator, and beyond. The result is a mood piece that won’t be for everyone, but for fans of occult horror heavy on ambiguity and creepy atmosphere, it’ll get under your skin. It follows a family nestled deep within the woods, confronting their grandmother’s history with a supernatural entity. Sator offers a dreamlike depiction of mental illness consuming a family from within, executed with a strange, wholly unique vision.


Andi Matichak (2018’s Halloween) stars as Laura, the single mother of an eight-year-old son, David (Luke David Blumm). Their everyday life gets upended one night when a group of strangers shows up in David’s room. The detectives who answer her call don’t suspect foul play, but detective Paul (Emile Hirsch) stays to help when David falls violently ill with a mysterious affliction that stumps his doctors. Laura’s convinced it’s related to the cult she fled from long ago and discovers how far she’s willing to go to protect him from her dark past. Kavanagh once again delivers potent chills and an ominous atmosphere, transforming a familiar setup with flair and style.


Rape and revenge films, by nature, offer one of the most uncomfortable and extreme subgenres of horror. They tend to follow a distinct formula, which Violation promptly tosses out the window. Instead, co-writers/directors Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer apply Lars von Trier-like auteurism and realism to the rape-revenge story, refusing to offer any tidy catharsis. Sims-Frewer stars as Miriam, a troubled woman looking to reconnect with her sister over a weekend trip. Instead, trust is irrevocably broken, and a disturbing sexual assault spurns a devastating quest for revenge. Violation eschews linear storytelling in this extreme rape-revenge tale. Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer have created a strange, slightly dreamlike psychodrama with spurts of grotesque, graphic violence. 

In the Earth

While a deadly virus ravages the world, Dr. Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) heads deep into the woods to locate Dr. Olivia (Hayley Squires) with park scout guide Alma (Ellora Torchia). They’re attacked in the middle of the night and left shoeless. It leads them to Zach (Inside No. 9’s Reece Shearsmith), a hippie type living off-grid. Getting in and out of the forest won’t be easy anymore, as reality ceases to hold meaning. Ben Wheatley crafts a wild, hallucinogenic descent into abject terror and includes folk horror mythology and references to witchcraft. It’s a voyage through insanity that doesn’t skimp on the horror or violence, including cringe-worthy body horror moments.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw

Eight entries deep into the popular Saw franchise meant dizzying levels of history; time jumps, character reveals, mythology, deadly traps, and twists aplenty. Director Darren Lynn Bousman returns to usher the series in a different direction for the ninth installment without the complicated mythology. Chris Rock stars as Detective Zeke Banks, a deeply cynical cop that’s amassed an impressive number of enemies during his tenure. Saddled with a rookie partner (Max Minghella) he doesn’t want, Zeke gets assigned a throwaway case that turns out to be something far more significant and grislier than anyone anticipated. A new Jigsaw-inspired copycat unleashes a new game of lethal justice, and this time their target is the police. The traps bring the pain, but this sequel bears more in common with a police procedural. Spiral brings style and substance, with a few chuckles to balance the gore. 

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

The third entry in the core Conjuring franchise takes Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) out of the familiar haunted house setting and gives them a much larger playing field. James Wan passed the baton to Michael Chaves, who injects a lot of Easter eggs and homages to classic horror as horror’s favorite couple embarks on a quest to prove the existence of the devil before their newest case ends in a death sentence. The sequel goes lighter on scares but firmly establishes Farmiga and Wilson as the true heart of this franchise. It’s a warm reunion with romance, stakes, expanded mythology, and a thrilling new villain.

PG: Psycho Goreman

During a particularly grueling game of Crazy Ball in the backyard, Siblings Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and Luke (Owen Myer) uncover a strange gem that awakens an evil intergalactic conqueror. The being, which the siblings’ dub Psycho Goreman, is eager to continue his path of destruction. Too bad for him that the gem allows the overbearing Mimi to bend PG to her will. Writer/Director Steven Kostanski checks off every nostalgic box in his evocation of the ’90s live-action fantasy fare. Psycho Goreman delivers the schlocky space operas of our youth but injects hyper-violence and splatstick mayhem to liven things up. It’s a no-fuss, straightforward story that showcases the special effects and creature designs. In short, it’s a blast.

The Djinn

The Djinn follows mute twelve-year-old Dylan Jacobs (Ezra Dewey), who has moved into a new apartment with his dad, Michael (Rob Brownstein). Being the new kid on the block means Dylan has yet to make any friends, and he’s still struggling with the loss of his mother. Then he discovers an old Book of Shadows left behind by the previous tenant, which contains a ritual that promises to grant the performer’s greatest desire. Getting that wish comes with a catch; an evil Djinn will only give it if you follow specific rules, lest it takes your soul. Dylan becomes trapped and embroiled in an intense battle for his life. Directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell display an uncanny ability to wield tension like a weapon and create potent chills from a sparsely decorated apartment. This talent and the fearless way they put their young lead through the emotional and physical wringer elevate a modest feature into something thrilling.

Come True

Anthony Scott Burns delivers a gorgeously haunting synth nightmare. High school student Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone) is a runaway struggling in all aspects of her life, including the ability to get a decent night’s sleep thanks to troubling nightmares. The solution comes in the form of a sleep study, except the longer Sarah participates, the worse her nightmares become. Burns brings the dreams to life through brilliant artistic vision and a foreboding synth score to match. The dreamscapes are eerie and full of disturbing entities. It’s a sumptuous visual feast full of narrative mystery, preferring to keep viewers in the dark as much as its effective lead.

The Vigil

Possession-based horror movies tend to feature a central protagonist suffering a crisis of faith, thanks to the massive success of The Exorcist. However, what sets this chilling tale apart is its approach, refreshing shift in religion, and distinct demonology. This spooky tale takes place over one frightful evening, with its lead confronting both his guilt and a demonic entity. That lead is Yakov (Dave Davis), a former Orthodox Jew attempting to adjust to the secular world after tragedy sucked away his faith. Yakov also struggles financially, prompting him to accept the overnight job of standing vigil over a recently deceased Holocaust survivor. Yakob tangles with a demon that feeds off guilt, transforming a simple job into a fight for his soul and survival.


Prano Bailey-Bond makes her directorial feature debut with Censor, an atmospheric plunge into the Video Nasty era, resulting in a creative and nightmarish critique of the moral scrutiny and censorship that fueled it. Enid Baines (Raised by Wolves’ Niamh Algar) takes great pride in her work as a thorough and strict film censor. Her tidy, sanitized life threatens to unravel entirely when her parents finally declare her long-missing younger sister as dead—the nature of the disappearance remains a blank space in her memory. Then, a Video Nasty she was responsible for censoring, Deranged, turned out to not be so scrubbed clean after all and has inspired a murder. It puts her in the spotlight of public scorn and outrage. When a new Video Nasty falls in her hands, the lines between reality and fiction blur in increasingly disturbing ways. Full of trippy dream logic and rich themes to be mind, it’s intricate, gorgeous, and mesmerizing.


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