In the last episode of the We Are Indie Horror podcast, Tea Time of Terror (episode published on 12/23/2016) Brian, Neil, and “The Menjivar Maniac” sat down and talked about the best indie horror films of 2016. Although the list was near complete, there wasn’t a definitive top 10, but it definitely opened up the discussion as we reminisced on the year in film and talked about the indie horror movies we were most passionate about in 2016.
To recap in the fewest words possible, let us just say: what a year! We’re lucky that horror is such a multi-headed beast and that there is a type of horror for everyone. As the following 10 films will reveal, horror is diverse and constantly changing. This year we traveled to an economically derelict Detroit, colonial-era New England, a hellish stretch of highway, a steamy and noirish bayou, and a neo-nazi enclave in the Pacific Northwest– to name just a few locales. Now, here we go, from the trio over at We Are Indie Horror, these are our favorite films of 2016.
10. Fear, Inc. – Dir. Vincent Masciale
Connecting with the horror lover in all of us, Fear, Inc tells the tale of one man who is fed up with the run of the mill haunted house and seeks more intense scares in his everyday life. Mirroring society where extreme haunts and immersive theater took over this year, Fear, Inc takes the audience on a fun journey where the obvious is not quite so obvious. Is it real life? Is this part of the game? Constantly throughout the film those two questions are being asked. The film presents itself as a game where the audience has to find all the horror nods. As a fan of horror, this film starring Lucas Neff and produced by Lone Suspect, this is one fun ride. With an intense third act which takes the story further than you could imagine, it is an honor to open the list with Fear, Inc. It is available on all VOD platforms right now so check it out for a great time!
9. The Neighbor – Dir. Marcus Dunstan
Years ago Marcus Dunstan surprised everyone with a gruesome slasher in The Collector. This year Dunstan and Josh Stewart rejoined forces and added Alex Essoe and Bill Engvall to the mix in the tense thriller The Neighbor. Searching for his missing girlfriend, a man sneaks into his secretive neighbor’s house and finds several kidnapped people in the cellar. He must lead them out of the house of horrors before his neighbor returns. Bill Engvall puts his comedy chops to the side for this one, and goes pure bad guy. His performance combined with Essoe’s and Stewart‘s is a perfect combination for a tense in your face thriller. Once the second act gets into full swing, this one becomes a nail-biter until the very end. The Neighbor is available for purchase or rent through all VOD services including iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.
8. Ava’s Possesions Dir. Jordan Galland
Based on this film’s prologue one can easily fall under the impression that this is just another movie about a woman being possessed by an outside force. But Ava’s Possessions is not just another possession movie. In fact, it begins with the tail-end of a demonic possession and its violent outcome and emotional destruction. Writer and director Jordan Galland’s film uniquely and imaginatively captures the aftermath, and the previously unexplored consequences, of a possession with a stylish eye and a wit to match. The film begs the question, how the hell does one go back to normal society after such a tumultuous and life-changing event like a demonic possession? No one thought to ask or make a film about it, until now. (Available on Netflix. Rent or purchase: Itunes, Amazon, Vudu, and Google Play).
7. SiREN – Dir. Gregg Bishop
SiREN is a phenomenal and intense adaptation of “Amateur Night,” a segment in the anthology film V/H/S, that far surpasses the short in tone and action. Much like the original, SiREN follows a soon-to-be-married man, Jonah (Chase Williamson), and his bachelor party, and thus final hurrah before marriage. Things go wrong when they end up at a mansion straight out of Eyes Wide Shut with the promise of women, fun, and thrills. The film’s traditional narrative (instead of the found footage approach of the original) allows for the film to breathe and further expand on its own mythos rather than restricting itself to the format of the former. It also allows for the filmmakers to cast someone as talented as Chase Williamson, whom you might recognize from John Dies at the End and this year’s Beyond the Gates. Recasting Hannah Fierman (who is in “Amateur Night”) as Lily was a good call as this physically demanding role has become all but her own. Lighter in tone than “Amateur Night” the dynamic between Jonah, his brother, and friends works well as they quip back and forth making what transpires later in the evening that more jarring and unexpected. Although “Amateur Night” benefits from mystery and relies on a twist for its maximum effect, SiREN stands on its own and is a must-see– a fun and thrilling film that will please audiences. (Available to rent or purchase: Itunes, Amazon, Vudu, and Google Play).
6. Don’t Breathe – Dir. Fede Alvarez
I know what you’re thinking: Don’t Breathe is technically a studio film. However, there is no way that Sony Pictures’ Don’t Breathe doesn’t make this list. Made with just under $10 million the film features a few sets (and takes place largely over one location) and a handful of actor’s (one of them Stephen Lang in a chilling performance as The Blind Man), and is the best thriller film of the year. A trio of friends plan to rob a blind man (Lang) who is sitting on a hefty amount of cash in his blight ridden and lonely neighborhood in the Detroit suburbs. Despite his blindness, the military vet is no fool and is ready to take on the thieving younglings in what unleashes into a battle where the predators become the prey. Don’t Breathe grips you and never, ever, lets go. Once the film sets into high gear, the pedal remains floored as we are thrust into a film that is terrifying, suffocating, and exceedingly thrilling. Very few films promise on their titles and this one will have you feeling like you are in the home of The Blind Man. Fede Alvarez directs with command and control offering a taut thriller that is full of surprises and is destined to be a classic in the thriller/horror genre. (Available to rent or purchase: Itunes, Amazon, Vudu, and Google Play).
5. Southbound – Dir. Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, Radio Silence
Southbound gives the anthology film a run for its money especially in a year that saw these flicks in fruitful abundance. The film offers five stories that take place on the same long and sadistic stretch of highway. Although separate, the stories are not standalone, but instead, the film works like a baton race with the first story giving way to the next, and so on and so forth. The individual stories are interlocked and exist within the same universe with characters from one story unwittingly handing off nightmarish occurrences from one to the next. Southbound is concisely centered despite its restricting plotting that in the end works to its advantage, especially when the whole story comes together neatly in the final moments. None of the stories or transitions ever feel forced, instead they feel well thought out and expertly crafted. The stories involve a car accident and an abandoned hospital, two men on the run from something sinister, a bizarre small town, and a man’s search for his missing sister gone awry. (Available on Amazon Prime. Rent or purchase: Itunes, Amazon, and Vudu).
4. Green Room – Dir. Jeremy Saulnier
One of two A24 films on this list is Green Room, a visceral and claustrophobic experience that features one of the final performances from the late, and talented actor, Anton Yelchin. Green Room follows the Ain’t Rights, a punk band who end up playing in front of an enclave of skinheads and neo-Nazis, at a bar in the middle of the woods. When one of them accidentally witnesses a murder, things begin to spiral out of control for the band members, and must now fight for their lives to escape. The film is a unique take on survival horror that builds up to a thrilling cat-and-mouse game. It sets itself up to a backdrop of racism hidden deep in the woods of America, an issue that seems to pervade the country even now. What follows is a shocking and tense tale of survival that will have you gripping your seat and squirming at the sight of horrifying moments. What works in writer and director Jeremy Saulnier‘s film is the brutal shock value that never lets up and is still able to surprise. The film is brutally gruesome and violent yet doesn’t feel tasteless or overdone but keeping in line with the brooding mood the film has hitherto set up. (Available for Amazon Prime members. Rent or purchase on VOD: Itunes, Amazon, Vudu, and Google Play).
3. Darling – Dir. Mickey Keating
Darling is an exquisite film and cinematic experience that reminds the world that auteurs exist out there and that horror can be just as engaging and fascinating as any genre. This film leaves you wanting more, but offers an undeniable satisfaction, that very few films can match. It follows “Darling” (Lauren Ashley Carter) as she descends into madness in an old-fashioned apartment in New York. Darling is a complex and energetically directed masterpiece that is visually stimulating as it is psychologically probing; this one is destined to become a cult-classic. Apart from the film’s technical superiority the star of the show, Lauren Ashley Carter, proves to be more than adequate in portraying her character’s madness, with her raw and impressive performance. Carter has no problem with the film’s lack of dialogue which allows for her to exude a range of emotive facial expressions as her mental faculties deteriorate. She plays the role like a subdued silent film star, underpinning the tendency to exaggerate madness with great balance and reserve. (Available on Netflix. Rent or purchase: Itunes, Amazon, Vudu, and Google Play).
2. Abattoir – Dir. Darren Lynn Bousman
We are Indie Horror had a chance to see this film over the summer of 2016 at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Christmas came early when the announcement came that the film would release to audiences in December as we were collectively blown away by this artfully gorgeous film. Abattoir is a beautifully realized sumptuous visual feast that will both captivate your aural and visual senses. It follows a reporter (Jessica Lowndes) and a detective (Joe Anderson) teaming up to solve a murder case that goes deeper than we are initially led to believe. Matched with highly-stylized dialogue, that serves the film’s style, this horror noir stands out as a magnificent film, that is both unique and captivating, and a refreshing and daringly ambitious modern horror, with a killer third act. Apart from being a visual beauty, Abattoir is full of wonderful performances. Dayton Callie shines with his enchanting and enthralling voice as Jebediah. Lin Shaye has a small appearance, but her presence is grand and monumental,– resonant even– her lines delivered with such a calm and collected sense of humor and mystery. Our lead protagonists Jessica Lowndes and Joe Anderson are the brilliant partners who encompass that duality of man and woman in the films of classic Hollywood, with Joe Anderson appearing comfortable with the stylized dialogue of the film, delivering his performance with ease and cool. (Available to rent or purchase on VOD: Itunes, Vudu, and Amazon Video).
1.The Witch – Dir. Robert Eggers
A24 has had a successful run in the last two years as its becoming an awards powerhouse releasing a slew of independent films that have gone on to critical and awards acclaim. They are also responsible for two of the year’s best horror films. One of those is The Witch, the best horror film in the last 20 years, and perhaps, maybe even longer– and definitively the best horror film of 2016. Beautifully shot and accompanied by an unsettling amalgam of music (Mark Korven) and sounds the film is a technical and exemplary achievement in the horror genre and film in general. This visual and aural nightmare paces itself in revealing layers of complex narrative as a family in colonial-era New England is exiled by their religious community and forced to live in isolation. The power of the film lies in its sophisticated technicalities– it’s eerie use of sound, atmospheric cinematography (Jarin Blaschke), and tight and confining framing that offers terrifying and unsettling moments as well as communicating the film’s religious overtones as imprisoning. The Witch is a thought provoking film that is both a beautiful and terrifying achievement from writer and director Robert Eggers, and one that will stay with you long after the screen goes black. (Available on Amazon Prime; DVD/Bluray, and VOD: Itunes, Amazon, Vudu, and Google Play).
It goes without saying that it has been a great year of diverse horror. Although these are our 10 favorites of the year, by no means are these the only films worth checking out. There are plenty of films out there that did not make the cut, like RWD, Dead Body, Hush, The Autopsy of Jane Doe to name just a few. As we move on into the new year we can only hope that 2017 brings us many great films as this past year has so graciously done. Cheers to another great year in horror and many more to come!