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Best horror movies of 2021

January 3, 2022

Alright, it’s that time of year again. The time of year when I try to convince you that these are the best horror movies of 2021, despite the arbitrariness of the whole exercise. That being said, I hope you read this knowing that while these represent some of the best of their kind for 2021, they are all mostly my favorites and the list is far from final and it probably shouldn’t. not to be considered as such.

2021 has seen the rise, the decline, the rise, the decline and ultimately the rise again of the cinematic experience. For the second year in a row, most of the movies I watched took place in front of my laptop or the living room television. There have been SO many films made and released in 2021. I really like it. An impressive sum. As with all things during the pandemic, if you were a filmmaker who managed to create and distribute your art last year, no list of bullshit should put you off doing what you do. You kill him. Figuratively and at least for a few of this list literally.

5. Candyman by Nia DaCosta

Nia DaCosta’s Candyman is the type of movie that will continue to age well as long as the American landscape continues to struggle with race, class, and gentrification. So as probably forever. Candyman will continue to resonate with generations of horror lovers as our monsters continue to mirror our problems. Candyman is not perfect. It’s one of the few movies that I wanted to be longer. However, what it does for the franchise (and I’m convinced it’s a franchise) is innovative and fresh, giving us a glimpse into a new popular urban horror that will continue to guide cultural discourse. The strength of bees lies in their ability to create hives and swarms. The beehive that the new Candyman has created will bear fruit for generations to come.

4. The sound of violence

Getting premiered at South by Southwest The Sound of Violence should be on everyone’s radar. Anyone familiar with psychedelia a bit is also familiar with synesthesia, a condition in which a person experiences sensations concomitantly. In the case of The Sound of Violence, Alexis experiences violence through visual color and sound. As a burgeoning sound artist, Alexis creates a series of escalating soundscapes that explore and discover the sound of violence. Director Alex Noyer manages to create an intimate film with absolutely devastating and gruesome killings. Jasmin Savoy Brown is an absolute star who works incredibly hard to make Alexis likable and terrifying. If the best art comes out of our pain, then Alexis is proof that intentionally creating more pain just might make better art. That pain and art is on full display, making The Sound of Violence one of the best horror movies of 2021.

3. The Djinn

So, the last time I became obsessed with a jinn, I spent an entire day exploring the gloriously campy and utterly terrible Wishmaster series (I say this with the utmost love and affection). While this jinn offers the monkey paw like gambits to his victims, he looks and acts more like a goblin than a real monster. The Djinn of 2021 is not looking for clever or pithy ways to get people to die. IFC Midnight’s The Djinn features a very real monster (although this monster looks a bit more like the smoke monster from Lost than the monster of myth and legend) that stalks Ezra Dewey in his apartment. Dewey may be young, but he carries this movie from start to finish and grounds his performance in genuine heartbreak. The whole movie takes place in a SMALL apartment, which makes it even more intimate. I’m a fan of a horror movie that could easily be adapted for the stage and The Djinn would be at home at the Beacon Theater.

2. The night house

I found David Bruckner’s The Night House both emotionally devastating and terrifying. Rebecca Hall plays Beth, a teacher facing the recent suicide death of her husband. I don’t want to make this list too personal, but there is currently a collective mourning within the teaching community. Torn between our love of teaching and a growing public hostility to what and how we teach, most of us have learned to live with the schizophrenia this conflict engenders. So when Beth is mobbed by a parent who wants a class change days after her husband’s funeral, she seems to embody the feelings of every teacher right now. The entire movie is worth this scene.

The Night House monster is created from negative space. We see it in the profile of the architectural flourishes throughout Beth’s house. We see it in the lingering areas that were full of life. The entire film is deeply influenced by Clive Barker and the footage from the Hellraiser franchise. It might be the scariest movie of the year for me. The combination of decor and monster creates an atmosphere that explores grief and the holes in our life that it creates.

1. The Vigil

If you thought the 2007 film 1408 needed more Jewish folk horror than The Vigil could be for you. Another entry from IFC Midnight, The Vigil follows Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis) as he watches over a deceased member of his Jewish community. Apparently, Yakov’s job is to sit with the dead and make sure their minds move forward successfully. However, as the night progresses, it’s clear that his job is going to get more complicated than previous missions. He must face a demon that prevents him from leaving. While the film premiered before the pandemic, its claustrophobia seems wrenched from the collective experiences of our individual quarantines. When we can’t leave everyday objects, we start to feel grim. I might also add that while The Night House is the scariest movie of the year, The Vigil has the scariest scene of the year. Doors will never feel the same and it’s that kind of fear that puts The Vigil at the top of my best horror movies of 2021.

Honorable mentions

I’ve loved a ton of movies this year, so here are a few that narrowly missed out on one of my best horror movies of 2021.

The Green Sea, Malignant, Broadcast Signal Intrusion, The Stylist (I put it on last year’s roster, but the Kansas City Villains are worth mentioning again), Titanium, and Last Night in Soho.

Tyler unsell

Tyler has been the editor-in-chief of Signal Horizon since its inception. He’s also the principal of Monsters 101 at Truman State University, a class that combines horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle school and high school students learn critical thinking. When he’s not watching, teaching, or thinking about horror, he’s the director of debate and forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.

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