Alright, it is that time of year again. The time of year where I try to convince you that these are the top horror movies of 2021, despite the arbitrariness of the entire exercise. That being said I hope that you read this with the understanding that while these represent some of the very best of the genre for 2021 they are all mostly my favorites and the list is far from definitive and it probably shouldn’t be regarded as such.
2021 saw the rise, decline, rise, decline, and eventually rise again of the movie going experience. For the second straight year most of the movies I watched ended up happening in front of my laptop or living room television. There were SO many movies made and released in 2021. Like a lot. An impressive amount. As with all things during the pandemic if you were a filmmaker who managed to create and distribute your art this past year no ones bullshit list should discourage you from doing what you are doing. You are killing it. Figuratively and at least for a few on this list literally.
5. Nia DaCosta’s Candyman
Nia DaCosta’s Candyman is the type of movie that will continue to age well as long as the landscape of America continues to struggle with race, class, and gentrification. So like probably forever. Candyman will continue to resonate with generations of horror lovers as our monsters continue to reflect our problems. Candyman is hardly perfect. It is one of the few films I wanted to be longer. However what it does for the franchise (and I am convinced it is a franchise) is innovative and fresh, giving us a peek into a new urban folk horror that will continue to drive the cultural discourse. The strength of bees comes in their ability to create hives and swarms. The hive that the new Candyman has created will bear fruit for generations to come.
4. The Sound of Violence
Getting its premier at South by Southwest The Sound of Violence should be on everyone’s radar. Anyone who is remotely familiar with psychedelia is also familiar with synesthesia, a condition where a person experiences sensations in a concomitantal way. 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 movie with absolutely devastating and gruesome kills. Jasmin Savoy Brown is an absolute star who works incredibly hard to make Alexis sympathetic and terrifying. If the best art comes out of our pain than Alexis is proof that intentionally creating more pain might just make better art. This pain and art are on full display which makes The Sound of Violence one of the top horror movies of 2021.
3. The Djinn
So the last time I became obsessed with a djinn I spent an entire day exploring the gloriously campy and completely terrible (I say that with the upmost love and affection) Wishmaster series. While that djinn offers up monkey’s paw like gambits to his victims he looks and acts more like the leprechaun than an actual monster. 2021’s Djinn ain’t messing around with clever or pithy ways for people to die. IFC Midnight’s The Djinn offers a very real monster (albeit this monster looks a bit more like the smoke monster from Lost than the monster of myth and legend) who stalks Ezra Dewey around his apartment. Dewey may be young but he carries this film from start to finish and anchors his performance in a grief that feels authentic. The entire film takes place in a SMALL apartment which makes it feel even more intimate. I am a sucker for a horror movie that could easily be adapted for the stage and The Djinn would be right at home at The Beacon Theatre.
2. The Night House
I found David Bruckner’s The Night House to be both emotionally devastating and terrifying. Rebecca Hall plays Beth a teacher dealing with the recent death by suicide of her husband. Not to make this list too personal but there is a collective grief within the teaching community right now. Torn between our love of teaching and an increasing public hostility to what and how we teach most of us have learned to live with the schizophrenia that this conflict breeds. So when Beth is beset upon by a parent who wants a grade change days after her husbands funeral she seems to embody every teacher’s feelings right now. The entire movie is worth that scene.
The Night House’s monster creates itself out of negative space. We see it in the profile of architectural flourishes throughout Beth’s house. We see it in the lingering areas that use to be full of life. The entire movie feels deeply influenced by Clive Barker and the imagery of the Hellraiser franchise. This is perhaps the scariest movie of the year for me. The combination of setting and monster creates an atmosphere that explores grief and the holes in our life that it creates.
1. The Vigil
If you thought that the 2007 film 1408 needed more Jewish folk horror than The Vigil might just be for you. Another IFC Midnight entry, The Vigil follows Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis) as he sits vigil over a deceased member of his Jewish community. Ostensibly Yakov’s job is to sit with the dead and make sure their spirit moves on successfully. However, as the night progresses it is clear that his job is going to be more complicated than previous assignments. He must confront a demon that makes it impossible for him to leave. While the movie was created before the pandemic its claustrophobia feels ripped from the collective experiences of our individual quarantines. When we can’t leave everyday items start to feel sinister. I might also add that if The Night House is the scariest film of the year The Vigil contains the scariest scene of the year. Doorways will never feel the same and its this type of fear that places The Vigil atop my top horror movies of 2021.
I liked a ton of movies this year so here are a few that just missed out as one of my top horror movies of 2021.
The Green Sea, Malignant, Broadcast Signal Intrusion, The Stylist ( I put this on last years list but as bad ass Kansas City people it bears mentioning again), Titane, and Last Night in Soho.
Tyler has been the editor in chief of Signal Horizon since its conception. He is also the Director of Monsters 101 at Truman State University a class that pairs horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle and high school students learn critical thinking. When he is not watching, teaching or thinking about horror he is the Director of Debate and Forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.