The Top 10 Best Horror Films of 2017
By: J. Carlos Menjivar
Hello 2018! We are in you. But before we proceed with the year, let’s burst out of 2017 with a top 10 list (fashionably late is my kind of thing). Here is a list of the best horror film’s from 2017 as selected by me (J. Carlos Menjivar). This year brought us great independent horror, but also some great studio stuff as well. Featured below is a mixed bag of the two and films that range from zombies to vampires; from post-apocalyptic nightmares to ones brewed right at home; some feature killer men and others killer women (and film’s directed by men and women). They may be an eclectic bag of differing works of art, but what they all have in common is this: they express what can be done within the horror genre. These films breakdown boundaries and dare to entertain and explore new ideas and methods, proving that the genre is not merely naked bodies and bloody spectacle, instead they are a naked display of our fears and desires and the reminder that the blood we spill is what makes us equal and human; Death is the most democratic of phenomena and, ultimately, we all exit from the same door. These are the exemplary specimens of the year that was 2017; these film’s will move the genre forward and serve as a reminder that horror can never die and will survive as long as there are people willing to dabble in the format and keep that macabre life force alive– these are the artists that paint with blood, who shade the corners in shadows, confront fear, and remind us that the ugliest of things can be the most revealing, truthful, and humane.
10. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (Dir. Osgood Perkins)
It’s no easy to task to describe director Oz Perkins’ atmospheric and eerie The Blackcoat’s Daughter. The director astutely chooses to build on tone, something audiences may find tedious and ultimately pointless, however, there is a lot at play here with most of the action happening in the details. Perkins offers some gorgeous visuals and mounting tension that entraps the audience into a sense of dread, but the mastery of Perkins’ work is in the silences and the darkest corners of the frame. If you don’t pay attention, or simply check out, you’re missing the answers within the work. Simply put, the film is about two girls (played by Kiernan Shipka and Lucy Boynton) who are left behind at their boarding school over winter break as something lurks within the halls and desolation of their snowy vacation– is it a corporeal threat or something more ethereal and/or demonic? Meanwhile, the mentally unstable Joan (Emma Roberts) hitchhikes to the aforementioned boarding school for reasons that may or may not become clear later on in the film. The film’s visual subtlety is anchored by the distant and alienating performances of its two stars Emma Roberts and Kiernan Shipka. (Full Review) [Amazon Prime]
9. The Ice Cream Truck (Dir. Megan Freels Johnston)
Mary (Deanna Russo), a freelance writer, moves back to her suburban hometown, and despite her past familiarity with suburbia, she is a stranger in a strange land; moving back is starting anew for her. Alone (as her husband will meet her in two days), Mary navigates small-town gossip circles, hidden secrets, and a potential candidate for an extramarital affair. The Ice Cream Truck appears as a slasher film, but feels more Twin Peaks than it is a blood-and-guts slasher. However, that shouldn’t deter you from watching this impressive second feature from writer and director Megan Freels Johnston. The film is a breeze to watch and filled with great dialogue and a wonderfully bumbling performance from Deanna Russo as the lonely wife with a two day pass from her responsibilities as a mother and wife. Mary winces and squirms in dire and mundane situations alike and Russo pulls off the sexy, but quirky, introvert type very well. The melodrama here is subdued– unlike David Lynch’s explorations of small town America– and kept under wraps, merely scratching the surface of small town machinations and scandal. The Ice Cream Truck is quite the cinematic feat that will leave you with a thought provoking and engaging finale that you won’t see coming. (Full Review) [Available to rent: iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play]
8. Happy Death Day (Dir. Christopher Landon)
Bless the good people at Blumhouse. They have proven time after time that they seem to possess powers of premonition, picking up great films that go on to become sleeper, or outright, hits. In 2017 they deliver a fresh, if albeit, slightly too obeisant, take on the slasher film with Happy Death Day. Happy Death Day is led by Jessica Rothe as a college student, channeling her inner Phil Connors (Bill Murray in Groundhog Day), in a sick and twisted Twilight Zone-esque flick. Rothe has to relive the day of her murder over and over with the only way of breaking that cycle by figuring out the identity of her murderer. Although we are going through a Golden Age of indie and studio horror there is one thing that most of these hit films– like The Witch, Get Out, etc. — have been lacking, and that is a sense of fun. The serious, and art-horror has dominated, however, the fun horror flick, has scarcely made a splash. Happy Death Day is hopefully the harbinger and gateway to playful and entertaining horror, and Landon’s film is never short of any of that.
7. Better Watch Out (Dir. Chris Peckover)
During this past holiday season you might have been on the search for a new holiday flick to watch and by accident, or serendipity, you might have come across Better Watch Out. You might also been, like me, shocked at how much fun, and good, this film actually is. Starring Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould (who play siblings in The Visit), Better Watch Out is a twisty and devilishly clever film about a night gone awry for Luke (Levi Miller) a twelve-year old with a pathetic crush on his babysitter, Ashley (DeJonge). On her final gig before she moves out of state a home invasion takes place in Luke’s residence and it’s up to her to preserve Luke and herself from the invaders. But things are not what they seem when details of the break-in slowly begin to surface and paints an entirely new picture for everyone involved. Better Watch Out is fascinating, fresh, exhilarating, and an instant holiday hit; it’ll keep you on your toes. (Shudder)
6. The Girl With All the Gifts (Dir. Colm McCarthy)
The Girl with all the Gifts is unlike any zombie film you’ve ever seen and it bothers me that I have to preface the film by describing it in generic terms as a “zombie flick.” Director Colm McCarthy takes us to new places, humanizing the undead through its child characters, who are both victims of human callousness and the zombie epidemic. These children, led by Sienna Nanua who plays the wide-eyed and curious Melanie, a girl held prisoner, along with other children, in a military complex because they are a human-zombie hybrid. These special infected are not unlike the swarms of zombies on the outside. They were infected in utero, and appear normal until they are consumed by violent hunger pangs for flesh. When the military base is comprised Melanie is taken on a journey by a sympathetic teacher, Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton), a by-the-book and harsh soldier, Sergeant Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine), and the focused and cold Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close), who’s working on a cure at any cost. The film subverts the zombie genre in a freshly needed take that is both compelling and entertaining. The dystopian world created by McCarthy is visually stunning, yet simple, digging deep in its own lore to tell a fascinating story of humanity lost. Based on the novel by Mike Carey. (Amazon Prime).
5. Raw (Dir. Julia Ducournau)
In this French-Belgian co-production, a first-year veterinary student, Justine (Garance Marillier), is forced to eat raw meat in a hazing ritual at her school. Justine is a vegetarian, and is not so as an act of rebellion, but instead tied to family tradition. It’s the way Justine was raised, as was her older sister who also attends the same school and previously underwent the same process of indoctrination. This cruel and gross moment of Justine’s young educational career proves essential to her growth and exploration and, ultimately, a turning point in her life. Justine is now overcome with a desire for flesh, and not just any kind, but more specifically, human flesh. Marillier’s performance is mesmerizing as she succumbs to this new appetite previously unknown to her. Julia Ducournau’s film is a riveting character study and exploration of youth culture, sexuality, and the impulse of desire. A parable on human desire via the taboo of cannibalism, Ducournau’s film makes for a compelling and grotesque visually evocative, and certainly one of the most, profound, horror films of 2017. (Netflix)
4. Prevenge (Dir. Alice Lowe)
In Rosemary’s Baby the titular baby never actually commits nor compels Rosemary to commit atrocities on the outside world. However, in Prevenge, Ruth’s (Alice Lowe) unborn child is taking a headstart and compelling the widow to commit murder all around town. Written, directed, and starring Alice Lowe, Prevenge is a crowning achievement in storytelling and bravado filmmaking. You’re never quite sure if you should laugh or feel bad for the absurdity that unfolds in the film, but the blend of comedy, horror, and drama works at every moment. The dilemma at the center of the film is Ruth’s fight against an inner voice (the voice of her unborn child), but is everything what it seems? Is it possible that Ruth justifies her murder by some sort of psychosis or is there really some credence to her claims? Nevertheless, the film is strangely comical, at times touching, and sometimes heart wrenching. Lowe plays the role with great pathos and directs with great care and conciseness, yielding one of the most bizarre and entertaining films you’ll ever witness. (Shudder)
3. Get Out (Dir. Jordan Peele)
There hasn’t been a film this important, timely, or unique in this genre in some time. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is a scathing look at race relations in the United States. Peele pulls this off in an odd tongue-in-cheek manner with the hanging cloud of seriousness, a residual style from his popular Key & Peele sketch comedy show. Get Out is an important film, and one which will be talked about for years to come. The film perfectly encapsulates the zeitgeist and never comes off as preachy or overt. Peele opts for a detailed and subtle look at the power structure and the hypocrisy of it all and centers it around the idea of a white woman (Allison Williams) introducing her black boyfriend (Daniel Kaluuya) to her affluent and liberal family for the first time. What transpires is a slow and precise dissection of race and cultural tropes that is full of surprises at every turn.
2. Mother! (Dir. Darren Aronofsky)
Mother! is a bold, allegorical film about a woman (Jennifer Lawrence) and her poet husband (Javier Bardem) and their tenuous relationship, one that is under constant threat from invaders who take residence in their home much to the chagrin of mother (Lawrence). Darren Aronofsky’s film is an open free-for-all arena for debate, a contemplation, and antithesis to film and its form and one that boldly goes where many filmmakers would never, or could never, imagine. It might not appear so but Mother! is an accessible, albeit abstract, film that could be watched by even the most astute traditionalists. It is a film that is meant to be debated and argued and mined for meaning. The film features religious overtones that are more humanist than they are ecclesiastical featuring familiar tropes and narratives. But overall, the film’s environmentalist angle is the thematic glue that keeps much of the film focused and intact. Mother! is thought provoking, controversial, and a piece of cinematic art.
1.The Transfiguration (Dir. Michael O’Shea)
The honor of best film of the year, at least according to this writer, has to go to The Transfiguration. The film is a gritty revisionist vampire story following antisocial teenager Milo (Eric Ruffin), an African-American kid, from the wrong side of town, obsessed with everything vampires. He’s also convinced that he’s transforming into one. The film’s opening sequence of Milo stalking and sucking the blood of a victim makes for a convincing case. Milo meets an equally, if not more so, troubled girl, Sophie (Chloe Levine) and they strike up an unlikely friendship that doesn’t feel forced and is rather touching and authentic. O’Shea’s film is an unflinching look at inner city life and disadvantage while at the same time weaving in a phenomenal and impressive vampire story. There are moments where The Transfiguration will not feel like a horror film at all, but as a viewer, it doesn’t matter because the story and characterization are so compelling that the vampire elements feel ancillary to the overall tale being told. The Transfiguration is spellbinding and heart wrenching exuding a humanity oft lacking in films of the horror genre. (Netflix)
Keep the Fear Alive!