Arrow in the Head's Top 10 Genre Films of 2016!
2016 was a particularly strong year for genre fare, with Hollywood products and independent features alike making strong impressions on the gang here at Arrow in the Head. While we all saw a large amount of movies, none of us can see them all - our brains might melt if that were the case. So the main staff at Arrow in the Head - Jake Dee, Cody Hamman, Brennan Klein and yours truly - attempted to bring our noggins together to come up with a single Top 10 list that more or less reflects our opinions. The order may be in dispute, sure, but these are the films that had the biggest effect on us, collectively. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to let us know where we got it right and what we left out! (Special shoutout to director Mike Flanagan, who has TWO films on the list!)
Honorable mentions: 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Wailing, Nina Forever, Desierto, Nocturnal Animals, The Invitation, Under the Shadow.
One of the surprising horror hits of the year - both critically and commercially - is Mike Flanagan's carefully constructed and respectfully handled OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL. Look, for a moderately budgeted, PG-13 studio horror sequel, the material is conducted with such a deft hand and obvious affinity for halcyon-day horror that true fans of the form felt genuine rejoice. With a nifty throwback look to the 1960s, the time in which the evil board-game was spawned, we get a true glimpse at a well-conceived origin story. Throw in some credible practical FX, convincing CG augmentation and a hell of a performance by a mostly young cast, and yeah, leaps and bounds better is OUIJA 2 than its awful 2012 predecessor. It's also a movie that not only largely avoids rote horror cliches, it actually mocks them in both dialogue and diegesis. - Jake Dee
"Blake Lively is stranded on a rock in the ocean, has only a seagull for a companion, and is being relentlessly stalked by a shark. Sounds like entertaining cheese, sure, but who expected Jaume Collet-Serra's THE SHALLOWS to be as nail-bitingly effective as it turned out to be? Taut, simple, humorous and terrifically realized (most of it was shot on a sound stage but the result is seamless), THE SHALLOWS is thoroughly engaging from start to finish - even that utterly ridiculous finale is a whole lot of fun. Doesn't hurt that Lively gives an intensely strong performance all by her lonesome, imbuing her character - whom we barely know outside of her plight - with an abundant amount of heart and strength. - Eric Walkuski
THE EYES OF MY MOTHER chilled me to the bone, there's just no other way to put it. An eerie character study focusing on a lonely woman whose search for companionship leads her to do unspeakable things, Nick Pesce's movie slowly but surely crawls under your skin and remains there until the startling conclusion. Boasting a handful of haunting images that I won't soon forget, and a subtle but nightmarish central performance from Portugeuse actress Kika Magalhaes, EYES is a horror movie for folks who think horror movies can't disturb them anymore. - Eric Walkuski
Director James Wan's THE CONJURING was my favorite genre film of 2013, and with the follow-up he delivered my second favorite horror movie of 2016. Occasionally suffering from "bigger is better" sequelitis, THE CONJURING 2 isn't quite as effective as its predecessor and Wan sometimes strays too close to INSIDIOUS territory with its evil spirits, but the story and scares are executed with such style and skill that this second look into the case files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren is still a fantastic entry in the haunted house sub-genre. The most powerful weapons in the CONJURING arsenal are the performances of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine, a pair so good and so deeply in love that they're adorable to watch. I'd go for a CONJURING sequel that was just two hours of them talking and singing to each other, but if ghosts and demons are included, all the better. - Cody Hamman
A woman is trapped in an isolated home that sits in a wooded location while a masked assailant, who has chosen her at random to be their next victim, stalks the grounds with sharp implements. HUSH is already highly appealing to me just from the basic description; blending the slasher and home invasion sub-genres, this is exactly the sort of horror that I love to watch. Director Mike Flanagan, who I find to be one of the most intriguing filmmakers working in the genre today, takes those elements and crafts a simple, captivating, involving film that delivers 81 minutes of thrills. The film is further boosted by the performance of Kate Siegel, who is amazing in the role of the stalked woman in question, a deaf novelist. The fact that the character can only communicate through sign language and the written word makes her predicament all the more interesting and harrowing. - Cody Hamman
Although I don't rhapsodize about GREEN ROOM as wholeheartedly as many a horror fan, there's no denying that it's a visceral, full-throttle experience from frame one. Jeremy Saulnier's combination of devastatingly casual bloodletting and lush cinematography is truly brutal, and the story is brought to life by the incredible cast, including Patrick Stewart in his much-ballyhooed villain role, the late great Anton Yelchin, and Imogen Poots giving the best performance of her career to date. - Brennan Klein
ARRIVAL may not be a horror movie, but it contains enough thought-provoking science-fiction and frightening "what if?" scenarios that it more than earns a spot on this list. (And, let's face it, the choice Amy Adams' character ultimately makes at the end of this film is scary and devastating.) Intelligent sci-fi that genuinely harkens back to the greats of the genre - Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury - is always welcome, and ARRIVAL feels like it belongs in the same conversation as some of the classic tales about how humanity would introduce itself to an alien race. Finally, the film cannot be talked about without swooning over Adams' incredible performance; as the face of the human race, Adams is simply breathtaking. - Eric Walkuski
Sometimes all a genre movie has to do is hit the proper beats and add a couple new elements for flavor. The Korean flick TRAIN TO BUSAN might not be the most original zombie movie, but it hits those beats with expert precision and that's exactly why it's so thrilling. I'm a sucker for fast zombies, and this flick has some of the best of the bunch, brought to life by expert physical performances that you don't doubt for a second. The claustrophobic train setting ratchets up the terror, and the characters are well-etched, providing effortlessly convincing drama and some pretty great comic relief. It's such a electric fun experience, it even survives being almost two hours long, which is usually a punishing run time for genre movies. - Brennan Klein
If there's one film in 2016 that will leave you gasping for air, indeed, it's Fede Alvarez's aptly titled DON'T BREATHE. Or, if you'd like, one might say Alvarez breathed new life into the well-worn home invasion template. Not just in terms of using a blind man (brilliantly conveyed by Stephen Lang) as both victim and unsuspecting assailant, but in terms of the false sense of well tilled territory Alvarez lays out. DON'T BREATHE starts out in a way that makes you think you've seen this kind of movie before, that you know exactly where it's headed. But the truly remarkable thing about the flick, aside from just how relentlessly grueling the action is all the way through, it's the unforeseen twists and turns that completely undercut that aforementioned sense of the familiar. All you can do is sit back, allow your senses to be utterly marauded and simply enjoy the ride. If you DON'T BREATHE by the time the credits roll, the movie has succeeded! - Jake Dee
What can we say about THE WITCH that hasn't been echoed ad nauseam. Robert Eggers' assuredly deliberate, slow-roasting folkloric brew of abject evil is the kind that takes its time seeping into your pores, festering under your skin, and when all is said and done, it's the kind of lasting horror tale that leaves an indelible scar on your mind, soul and spirit. Moodily atmospheric, hypnotically entrancing, brilliantly acted, this story about a New England farm-family dwelling on the outskirts of a puritanical town is the kind built on ancient lore, campfire stories and the like. Yet Eggers makes the movie wholly his own through the slow mounting dread and undeniable tension he's able to craft as the movie unfolds. Then of course there's the eerie performances elicited from the various animals in the film - rabbits, rams, ravens - all of which lend a level of authenticity to the story that cannot be discounted. Simply put, THE WITCH is one of the most memorably haunting movies of all of 2016! - Jake Dee