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Friday, December 24, 2021

Bloody Disgusting’s Top Ten Horror Movies of 2021

Year two of an ongoing pandemic made for another fascinating year in horror. Last year’s delayed theatrical titles finally saw release in 2021, many of which experimented with day-and-date release strategies. Streaming services and VOD markets continued to bring an insane selection, and more film festivals joined the virtual space. All of which felt like 2020 bleeding over into 2021 in a peculiar way.

The result is a year where horror continued to cross over and dominate in the mainstream. The ongoing trend of serious, adult horror got broken up by an emerging new trend of crowd-pleasing horror. Audiences made it clear that the movies that resonated most were the titles that allowed them to escape these unprecedented and stressful times, whether through light-hearted escapism or comforting franchise returns. 

Once again, the genre delivered much welcome catharsis, comfort, escapism, and chills, and not always where expected. The year’s best induced bone-deep scares and crowd-pleasing thrills viewers couldn’t stop talking about, showcased originality, and spotlighted a new wave of remarkable debuts by filmmakers to watch going forward.

These are our picks for the Top 10 Best of 2021. 

10. Malignant

James Wan set clear boundaries on what kind of madness to expect from the bonkers opening scene with his polarizing return to horror. Channeling the spectacle of late ’90s Dark Castle, the opening sequence sets up an outlandish plot that feels lifted from the ’90s both in tone and bloodletting, signaling a wild ride ahead where you’re on its outrageous wavelength, or you’re not. It’s a relentlessly entertaining riot, from the prison cell massacre featuring a mullet-wearing Zoë Bell to Maddie Hasson’s doe-eyed line delivery of “You’re adopted?!” Wan and screenwriter Akela Cooper delivered a breath of fresh air, and the movie’s wild reception also solidifies its spot here.

9. The Night House

Writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski (Super Dark Times, SiREN) and director David Bruckner (The RitualSouthbound, V/H/S) explore the potential for an existence beyond the grave in a haunting portrait of loss and grief. What’s more, Bruckner delivers a constant level of pulse-pounding terror with one unsettling, spooky atmosphere. Emphasis on constant; The Night House begins its nonstop barrage of intense scares almost immediately, and it never ceases. Bruckner once again demonstrates a talent for scare crafting and an unsettling atmosphere.

8. The Medium

Producer and co-writer Na Hong-jin’s follow-up to The Wailing continues the exploration of faith and clashing beliefs. Only this time, it’s a documentary-style nightmare set in Thailand. Co-writer/Director Banjong Pisanthanakun (Shutter) bides his time, letting audiences get attached to the family at the center of a possession case. Then he layers in the fear. At first, the scares are subtle. Then it builds. Eerie found footage-style video of Mink’s nighttime activity grows more disturbing. Even still, it can’t prepare for the absolute insanity of the climax, an onslaught of spiritual exposition and gruesome horrors. It’s gory, shocking, and unpredictable. It’ll also break your heart.

7. The Power

Writer/Director Corinna Faith uses the late 1973 rolling blackouts that plunged London into darkness every night, caused by a miners’ strike, as a backdrop for this hospital-set haunter. Faith uses a familiar period ghost story as a foundation to create a psychologically powerful tale full of claustrophobic dread and nyctophobic-induced scares. Rose Williams’s vulnerable performance as the young nurse targeted by the darkness and the duality of the film’s title delivers an emotional sucker punch that lingers.

6. Candyman

Every facet of the production is stunning. The bold color palette, Cara Brower’s production design full of mirrors and reflective surfaces for the eponymous boogeyman to lurk, and the tricky shots and framing that Nia DaCosta employs to navigate around those mirrors hold you firm in this movie’s grip from the outset. There’s even an art to the horror. Gore is used thoughtfully and with purpose, and restraint on the bloodletting is just as impactful. All of it makes for a rich visual feast that reexamines a horror legend and leaves you clamoring for DaCosta to helm another horror feature as soon as possible.

5. Titane

Once again, Julia Ducournau finds unique, transgressive ways to use body horror that trigger instant revulsion yet garner instant empathy. Thanks to her shocking acts, Alexia is an anti-heroine, borderline sociopathic, and thoroughly magnetic. Those incredible acts never really stop; they only transform into something else as she finds a bizarre father figure. Titane throws everything at its audience in an aggressive style. Visceral, cringe-worthy violence, tenderness, and even more bizarre sexual encounters. Ducournau makes all of it, visually and narratively, remarkably coherent. It’s anchored by a pair of leads who are fully committed to their oddly charming yet profoundly flawed characters.

4. The Vigil

Writer/Director Keith Thomas brings a new perspective to a familiar setup without sacrificing any scares. The ominous atmosphere and unsettling moments deliver the chills. The filmmaker also takes significant measures to ensure that this story is told in an accessible way. A familiar tale of demonic possession becomes enriched by its subtext of inherited generational traumas, and its core themes of guilt and religious obligation are inherently relatable regardless of beliefs. They’re universal. A long untapped corner of religion and folklore finally gets explored excitingly and elicits goosebumps in the process.

3. The Green Knight

Writer/Director David Lowery’s adaptation of the anonymously written, 14th-century poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” makes for one epic feast of a movie. Lowery deconstructs it, creating an intensely robust sword and sorcery feature thematically, visually, and narratively. The Green Knight doesn’t just ensnare you in its captivating spell piecemeal; it consumes you wholly from the opening frame. It’s an intoxicating, eerie atmosphere, whether foggy landscapes, haunted houses nestled in the woods, stately castles, or sprawling battlefields adorned in corpses. It’s a triumphant cinematic experience that crosses multiple genres with an emphasis on sword and sorcery, which is the sole reason it’s not a little higher on this list.

2. The Boy Behind the Door

Filmmakers David Charbonier and Justin Powell plunge straight into the heart of evil for their unrelentingly suspenseful thriller that fearlessly pushes boundaries. They know how to block a scene and use sound design to maximize suspense and how to keep applying the pressure at a steady clip. It’s a taut white-knuckle thriller, made even bolder by the hero’s age. Lonnie Chavis carries a lot on his young shoulders throughout, made even more impressive by the dark subject matter. The intense thriller tosses the home invasion concept on its head while leaving you at the edge of your seat and breathless.

1. Censor

Prano Bailey-Bond’s feature debut is an atmospheric plunge into the Video Nasty era, resulting in a creative and nightmarish critique of the moral scrutiny and censorship that fueled it. Niamh Algar excels as a stern, old-fashioned woman slowly unmoored by seismic shifts in her safe little bubble. Neon hues of frenzied nightmares bleed over into the drab colors of reality, signaling a visually stunning descent into madness. Bailey-Bond crafts a potent love letter to the genre that’s intricate, gorgeous, mesmerizing, and uninterested in hand-holding. Censor makes for a phantasmagorical warning that you can’t edit out past traumas, lest they come back and bite you.


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