On many fronts (both personal and political) 2017 was a dumpster pile of a year. But, just like many years in the past, art has saved me. Nearly every day of the year I could strut up to the cinema, or fire up my streaming subscriptions, and find an amazing film to whisk me away from this awful existence. The changing tide of film distribution has admittedly watered down the horror options for us (I’ve sat through some major clunkers recently), but it has also opened up our options for finding new films we might not have been able to find in a post video store world.
With that sentiment, I am happy to present my top 10 horror films of 2017. (My top 10 overall films of 2017 can be found in my BOFCA ballot). This year it was difficult to cull down the list, but unlike last year I felt it was necessary to feature just the best.
As usual, these appear in no particular order.
GET OUT. What a tour de force of horror! Not only does this film so astutely make personal horror political, it does so with a strong voice from a new director. Following a young black man’s adventures in meeting his white girlfriend’s family for the first time GET OUT brings his worst nightmares to life. Though in the moment the film balances some of the scares with humor (and who could expect less from Jordan Peele?), it is the fundamental horrors within the core of the film that truly terrorize the audience. For anyone who cares to pay attention, the horrors of this film are intrinsically tied to America’s embarrassing history with race, and these issues do not end when the film ends.
mother! This may easily be the film I have discussed the most in 2017. Given the allegorical method of Darren Aronofsky’s storytelling the film is open to much interpretation and criticism. There is no one way to watch the film, and nearly every person watching it seems to be having an individual experience. Isn’t that exciting? To see a film that pushes narrative boundaries, and the notion of genre and gender all at once? mother! suffered from some terrible marketing (the trailer makes it look like a slasher or ROSEMARY’S BABY, and neither do it justice), but it is also not easy to watch for audiences going in without preexisting expectations. Its veracity and nihilism make me love it, and I doubt people will stop talking about it any time soon.
HAPPY DEATH DAY. Hear me out on this one. HAPPY DEATH DAY is a pretty dumb movie. But for a wide-release, PG-13 movie on a Friday the 13th in October, it is just the type of dumb, fun, horror tryst you hope to find for a mindless night at the cinema. The elevator pitch for it must have been a quick one because the film is just essentially GROUNDHOG DAY as a horror film, subbing in a blonde sorority sister for Bill Murray. It has loads of logical issues and pet peeves that should anger the horror lover in me. The camera cuts away before all of the kills (hence the lowly PG-13 rating). The ending wraps everything into a neat and bloodless bow. The plot gets all muddled with kindness and romance. But somehow, HAPPY DEATH DAY settles into its own superficiality and asks you to do the same.
XX. My favorite horror anthology of 2017 just so happens to be directed exclusively by women. The cinematic powerhouses Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent), and Jovanka Vuckovic all created their own entries to this cohesive collection. THE BOX is a haunting and reserved tale along the lines of The Twilight Zone. THE BIRTHDAY PARTY skews more toward black humor than horror, but that might be my strong stomach talking. DON’T FALL is tense and an apt exercise in folk horror. HER ONLY LIVING SON creates new terror from older gods and demons, but brings them into the home. Overall XX is the rare horror anthology that manages high quality from one section to the next. Now, why aren’t there more women directing? Hmmm?
CREEP 2. CREEP is still one of my favorite films of the past five years. It is unsettling. It feels incredibly real. And it is the ultimate trump card in any argument either against found footage or for big budgets. It could have conceivably been shot over a weekend with a skeleton crew and a couple thousand bucks, yet it still gives me the heebie-jeebies. All of this made my expectations sky high for CREEP 2 and I am amazed to say that Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass have done it again. This film takes place within the same world as the original film, and even revisits those incidents, but moves the saga forward. Sara (Desiree Akhavan) is trying to keep her YouTube channel afloat when she encounters an intriguing Craigslist post from Aaron (Duplass). This is when it starts to get interesting. Fans of the original film will be happy to see Peachfuzz once again, and those who have not yet seen the first absolutely must go back to that before watching CREEP 2. It’s worth it.
THE DEVIL’S CANDY. Finally! I first saw this way back in 2015, and thought it would surely get distribution in 2016. Well, we waited another year, and it was worth the wait. THE DEVIL’S CANDY is possession film, but it stands apart by presenting a family you actually grow to care about. Jesse (Ethan Embry), his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby), and their daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) all live in a small apartment in Austin. When they are able to finally afford a fixer-upper house out in the suburbs they jump at the chance. Mind you, the house is at an even greater discount because of the brutal murders that occurred there very recently. So recently, the killer is still possessed by the demon that drove him to kill and he is stalking the house still. The young family is loving and affectionate. There is a genuine respect and support for each of them, and it is easy to see how Jesse and Astrid were able to stick together through such tough times. It’s also great to see positive representations of metalheads on screen too.
PREVENGE. Written, directed, and starring Alice Lowe (SIGHTSEERS) the film is from a singular voice, which comes across in the film’s offbeat tone and pacing. The film wavers between horror and black comedy with relative fluency; the kind of fluidity that can only be created from a self-assured filmmaker. One minute the film has a painfully awkward doctor’s appointment, and the next scene is filled with literal pain. Lowe plays Ruth, a very pregnant woman with some very significant emotional baggage. The father of her child is not in the picture. Alice is awkward, and keeps to herself. Also, she kills the owner of a rare pets store within the first five minutes of the film. From there the rest of the film allows us to get to know Ruth, with all of her anger and possession. She seems like a sweet, young, pretty mom-to-be, though slightly aloof. But as we see her get closer to term with her pregnancy, we see her grasp on reality start to slip between her fingers.
RAW. If you like your horror foreign, slow, visceral, and fucked up, then RAW is for you! The film has a strong focus on coming of age and the relationship between two sisters, but more specifically on the problems that can emerge when elements of horror disrupt either of those. Justine (Garance Marillier) joins her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) at veterinary school, only to discover that their reunion is not all that she thought it would be. The shy Justine’s dedication to their family’s veganism proves to be a dividing force between her and the more rebellious Alexia. As the film progresses, and Justine comes into her own womanhood, it becomes clear that this is not a typical coming-of-age tale.
HOUNDS OF LOVE. Talk about brutal. Australian horror has a long history of brutality and mean-spiritedness, and HOUNDS OF LOVE is no exception. When a young woman sneaks out of her parents’ house to go party she quickly becomes the type of statistic that makes parents keep their children in at night. Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) is picked up by a friendly couple who promises her some weed and a ride. Of course, they turn out to be a terrible example of the depths of humanity, and they kidnap and torture Vicki. The story is nothing new (in fact, it is a little too close for comfort to a true Australian crime), but the film itself is incredibly sensitive to the victim’s experience. But focusing so acutely on her experience and her physical pain HOUNDS OF LOVE is elevated above mere exploitation.
THELMA. Yet another college woman finding herself (and her queerness) at college, despite her tight relationship with her family. Even with these obvious similarities, THELMA isn’t just another RAW. Telekinesis, religion, and insomnia all complicate this Norwegian tale of leaving the nest for the first time. Eili Harboe’s nuanced performance as Thelma really sells the young woman’s complicated situation. The film’s plot takes more than one left turn, and its beautiful cinematography and haunting score make it worth a rewatch or four. If more female focused, supernatural horror is where contemporary European horror is headed, I will happily go along for that ride!