[Images from The Purge Election Year courtesy Universal Studios; Images from The Witch, The Shallows, and Don’t Breathe courtesy Official Facebook pages; Box Office figures courtesy BoxOfficeMojo.com.]
Another year, another bumper crop of horror movies. While horror continues to provide truckloads of cash receipts to studios, 2016 also saw some great quality among the quantity. Here’s some that rose above their genre brethren.
5 – Don’t Breathe
Director – Fede Alvarez
Written by – Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues
Cast – Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Stephen Lang, and Daniel Zovatto
Worldwide Box Office Gross (US Dollars) – $153,219,180.00
(Home Invasion) Don’t Breathe is the standout “home invasion” horror movie of 2016. It followed the standard beats every fan expects from this sub-genre, and executed them to perfection. What sets Don’t Breathe above the other movies of this type? Two things.
A third act twist that can honestly be called jaw-dropping; even fans who can see every twist coming most likely did NOT guess this one. I sure didn’t.
Characters that (like the film itself) stay true to “types” we’re used to seeing – the helpless victim (Stephen Lang), the unwilling criminal (Dylan Minnette), the unrepentant scumbag (Daniel Zovatto), and the feisty Final Girl (Jane Levy), but who manage to become actual people we hate, love to hate, or hope will make it to the credits alive.
4 – The Purge Election Year
Director – James DeMonaco, from his script
Cast – Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Mykelti Williamson
Worldwide Box Office Gross (US Dollars) – $118,416,945.00
(Dystopia/Survival Horror) The Purge series sure has changed. The first Purge was a smart, compact Home Invasion thriller set in a vague, non-specific American future. Director/Writer James DeMonaco expanded The Purge universe in the second movie The Purge Anarchy to flesh out the “why” underlying the situation; in The Purge Election Year the canvas broadens to include the fate of the United States.
For me, The Purge series is like a version of Escape from New York where the main character cares about something besides himself and displays some actual character development.
3 – The Shallows
Director – Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by – Anthony Jaswinski
Cast – Blake Lively and Sully “Steven” Seagull
Worldwide Box Office Goss (US Dollars) $119,100,758.00
(Survival Horror) I could go on and on about all the great parts of The Shallows – the sustained atmosphere of dread and suspense, the moments that actually made me gasp in shock, an “ewwww” inducing DYI surgery scene that makes Noomi Rapace’s high tech operation in Prometheus look like a relaxing massage – but there’s one aspect of this shark attack thriller that no other movie on this list can match.
Sully “Steven” Seagull.
Yes, we all hope that Nancy (Blake Lively) survives her battle with the elements and a gigantic, very hungry shark. But at the end of the movie, I actually yelled “Is the bird ok? Did Sully make it?” at the TV.
That’s great acting.
2 – The Invitation
Director – Karyn Kusama
Written by – Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Cast – Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michael Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi, and John Carroll Lynch
Worldwide Box Office Gross (US Dollars) $231,737.00
Director Karyn Kusama, along with scriptwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, created in The Invitation a unique inversion of the locked house mystery, and it’s worth every horror fan’s time to find it on DVD/Bluray or streaming to discover for themselves.
1 – The Witch
Director – Robert Eggers, from his script
Cast – Anna Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, and Harvey Scrimshaw
Worldwide Box Office Gross (US Dollars) $40,423,945.00
In The Witch, moviegoers got a horror film that went back to America’s beginnings to uncover truly primal horrors. The Witch uses all the elements – sight, sound, composition – to put the viewer in to the 17th century – not just in how people talked or what clothes they wore, but the beliefs and terrors of their souls and the daily struggles of survival. Of all the movies on this list, The Witch may be the most likely to be regarded as a classic of movies in general, not just as a great horror movie.
And my award for last least satisfying horror movie of the year goes to … The Conjuring 2.
Director – James Wan
Written by – Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, James Wan and David Johnson
Cast – Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, and Frances O’Connor
Worldwide Box Office Gross (US Dollars) $320,270,008.00
Yes, it made endless boatloads of money. And nothing in The Conjuring 2 is intrinsically awful. My main problem with the highest grossing horror movie of the year is simple. It’s two very scary movies smashed together to make an unsatisfying, and not very scary, whole.
A movie about ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren confronting a haunted portrait of a scary nun? Great! I’d love to see that movie!
The story of the 1977 Enfield Haunting? A real (maybe) poltergeist story set in late 70’s England? Yes, please!
The actual story of the Enfield Haunting is a fantastic ghost story on its own. Track down The Enfield Haunting (2015) on Hulu (I have it my DVR queue from A&E’s airing last October) to watch a disturbing, unsettling ghost story – without Ed & Elaine Warren and the Demonic Nun shoehorned into the story.
Both stories on their own sound amazing. I found the results of cramming them together in one movie rather disappointing.