2017 may have sucked in a lot of ways, but 2017 was a great year for horror. From clear standouts like Get Out to darkhorse surprises like Split, I enjoyed a great deal of 2017 horror. Even the not-so-great horror films failed to make me want to claw my face off.
Admittedly, I avoided tragic and terrible movies like Rings and Wish Upon because I didn’t need to pay to know they sucked. And I didn’t see every single horror 2017 film because, as I mentioned, 2017 was a difficult year.
At any rate, I’ve identified five movies in three categories—Favorites, Surprises, and Disappointments. Do my ratings match up with yours?
This category is straightforward—these films were my favorite horror films of 2017.
Shocker, right? This tense and thoughtful horror film about a young black man who makes an ill-fated visit to his white girlfriend’s family home was a runaway hit. Get Out was nearly universally praised upon its release and has recently been nominated for a bunch of awards, including a Golden Globe! It has been included in tons of Top Ten lists. My blog is no different. It deserves its acclaim as a socially conscious horror movie that deftly and sharply explores the perils of being black in America. As I mentioned in my review, Get Out was well-acted, tightly written, and pointedly directed. Get Out pushed the boundaries of horror and demonstrated the potential of the horror genre.
Hounds of Love
This slept-on Australian horror indie made a big splash at numerous film festivals, though not always in a positive way. The Hounds of Love is a difficult film to sit through, but it is well worth the watch for the film’s exploration of two women who strive to carve their own identities apart from their male partners. Despite my queasiness with particularly realistic, unsettling serial killer movies, I was impressed by nearly everything about The Hounds of Love. In fact, I wrote a whole review about it, which you can check out here.
Raw has the distinction of being one of two horror movies this year that made me so sick to my stomach that I almost passed out. But that doesn’t mean this is one of those horror movies that’s all splashy gore and no substance. Au contraire mon frère, because Raw continues the work of New French Extremity, with a more thoughtful approach. Raw belongs in that distinctly French cinematic tradition of thoughtful, provocative, and carefully crafted horror movies that just so happens to use gore as a useful storytelling device, but with more focus on character development and plot. Urge to faint in the theater aside, Raw transfixed me with themes of transitioning into adulthood, navigating sibling relationships, exploring female sexuality, and finding one’s place in society at whatever cost. Read my full review here.
The Shape of Water
Now, The Shape of Water isn’t a very scary movie (though Michael Shannon delivers). The gross and creepy parts were tame compared to what Guillermo del Toro has served up in the past. And the Monster is the good guy here. But that’s the point. The strange-looking fish man has never been the real threat, especially when numerous monsters hide in plain, normal, respectable sight.
The Shape of Water dissects and subverts old monster-movie tropes, elevating taboo and forbidden love stories to a new kind of poignant, poetic cinema. It’s clever of del Toro to tell this story this way. He weaves together racism, sexism, toxic masculinity, and war—everyday horrors if you will—with a subgenre traditionally used to identify and punish the semi-human “other” threatening conventional society.
On top of that, The Shape of Water is true del Toro—beautiful, sad, dreamy, poignant, and compelling.
I don’t care what anyone thinks, I really liked this movie.
Hear me out—even if you’re a little shaky with your understanding of Kabbalistic mysticism or Gnostic notions of the divine masculine and feminine, mother! is a striking treatise on pursuing creativity at the expense of one’s relationships. Who can say how much of their art belongs solely to an artist? What about those who assist him in everyday tasks, who inspire and soothe him? How much credit and privacy are they owed? mother! is an indictment of selfish artists as well as those who consume the art and the lives of artists. The film’s use of biblical allegory is merely a piece of the puzzle and draws an uncomfortable comparison between God and selfish artists hellbent on pursuing fame and adoration while also pointing out how religious devotion bears a striking resemblance to modern celebrity worship.
mother! had its flaws, for sure. It was challenging. It was audacious. It was horrific and batshit and philosophical and personal. And Lord knows we need more of that in the horror genre. I pondered mother! for days after watching it, which hasn’t happened to me in a long time.
While I excluded the following films from my favorite horror films of 2017 due to certain flaws, I had to praise them for taking risks and creating a group of great films.
Split (suggested alternative title—How M. Night Shyamalan Got His Groove Back)
I confess: I didn’t bother to watch this movie until almost the end of the year. Can you blame me for mistrusting M. Night Shyamalan after such “thrillers” as The Happening or After Earth? Have you forgiven him for The Last Airbender? Me neither.
However, I can admit that Split marks a return to suspenseful horror movie form for Shyamalan. I couldn’t look away during the film, I found it utterly engrossing. Whether that’s due to Shyamalan’s script, the strength of his directing, or James McAvoy’s formidable performance is up for debate (hint: it’s because of James McAvoy). Regardless, Split was a nifty horror treat.
Apparently, my assertion that It was a good movie but not a good horror movie proved controversial. I stand by that decision. You can read more about that in my review of the film, though I want to make clear that I enjoyed It. The child actors were great, the reenvisioned character design for Pennywise was pretty good, and it did an excellent job at boiling down the immense novel into a 2-hour movie.
Therein lies the problem—It has always been too detailed and too structured to be a film. Limited cable series or bust.
A Dark Song
I think witches and black magic are severely underrepresented in horror right now, which is why I was so excited for A Dark Song. How many movies are there about black magic where the focus is on the spells and the cost of performing them? Not many. And even fewer dive into the mechanisms of the spells themselves, exploring all the dangers along the way.
A Dark Song was creepy and unsettling. The magic and spells were engrossing and captivating. The two leads (really the only two actors in the movie) turned in excellent performances. I r wanted to make this one of my favorites for the year, but that ending…ugh, that ending!
I don’t want to spoil anything. I liked the idea of the ending on paper, but it was a mistake to execute it in that way. Surely there was a better, more budget-friendly way to convey the emotional impact of that scene without making it look like…that. The final product lost its emotional punch and took me out of the movie. For that reason, I couldn’t list this as one of my favorites.
Happy Death Day
I had zero expectations for Happy Death Day, but I was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it was. The movie struck a great balance between jump scares, violence, and black humor, an obstacle many horror movies never surmount. I have to add a special shout-out to lead actress Jessica Rothe, who succeeded in the difficult task of making her bitchy character likable. The film had obvious flaws and some significant plot holes, but it’s fun enough that you don’t really notice if you turn off your brain. Happy Death Day delivered a straightforward horror comedy blast. Sometimes that’s all I want.
I’m going to take this opportunity to stress the importance of openly communicating with your sexual partner(s) about bedroom fun. It’s just respectful to discuss ahead of time that you want to handcuff your wife to the bed and then take too much Viagra.
I enjoyed the acting, especially Carla Gugino, who carries the movie. I also loved how the film adapted and streamlined Stephen King’s short story, though it could have executed the ending better. (Gerald’s Game was disqualified from being one of my favorite horror movies because of the lazy, cheesy epilogue.)
The focus never wavered from Jess’s development and pain. That might turn off some horror fans, but don’t worry—all the character development pays off in an intense, revolting, and nerve-shredding scene. If you’ve seen it, you know that scene. After Raw, Gerald’s Game is the only other film to make me feel very ill.
Here’s the thing, I don’t like saying that a movie was worthless and a terrible waste of time. Even bad movies have some bright spots, you know? The following 2017 horror movies were disappointing, squandering strong casts, intriguing concepts, and amazing visuals. These are the movies that made me stare wistfully out the window, wondering what might have been.
I don’t trust Ridley Scott anymore with the Alien Franchise.
Alien Covenant was an improvement over Prometheus, but that’s not saying much. As much as I wanted it to happen, doubling Michael Fassbender’s screen time, making David a fascinating character/villain, and throwing in loads of lit nerd references was never going to be enough to make Covenant work. Yeah, it had some okay scenes of horror, but it was hard to focus on that when confronted by the redundant plot, the unexplainable stupidity of characters, and the lack of meaningful character development for much of the cast.
Read more about Alien: Covenant here.
I was hyped for this anthology, but I set myself up for disappointment. Only 1.5 short films out of the four are successful. None of the short films were straight-up bad, though there was an overwhelming sense of what I can only describe as “meh.” “The Box” had serious pacing problems which made the film drag instead of slowly unfurling horror as it intended. “Her Only Living Son” was an uneven mess plagued by a low-budget. “Don’t Fall” was the one film that was effectively scary, but it felt like a re-tread of already camping horror movie tropes. “The Birthday Party” was the only one I liked, though it was more macabre than scary.
Hell, the credits and short bumpers binding the anthology were creepier than the actual films.
Little Evil started off with promise, flipping The Omen on its head and making it funny. There’s a lot of fertile, hilarious ground to cover by finding the humor and humanity in the relationship between a man and his spawn-of-Satan stepson. To that end, Adam Scott and his onscreen son Owen Atlas created a sweet, realistic relationship. But Little Evil was not scary, lagged in stretches, and had way too many flat jokes. Rehashing evil child tropes does not a movie make.
A Cure for Wellness
I don’t know if I will ever be over this movie or the potential it squandered. The trailer was so pretty and eerie and cryptic! It had Lucius Malfoy as a handsome creep! And that guy from the new Spiderman as a younger Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island! I allowed my imagination to run wild with thoughts of a noir horror-mystery.
Alas, A Cure for Wellness was a muddled (but beautiful) mess. It was way too long, mostly because it abandoned in the last act the story arc it had hinted at and built up for the first two thirds. Why? Seriously, I don’t know what the point was.
Good lord, where to start? Wait, I know!
- Cutting out and stitching together elements and scenes from better horror movies (seriously, was this the Mummy or Frankenstein? I apologize, that was a terrible joke).
- Regressing to dated and sexist tropes about female characters.
- Refusing to give any characterization or depth of any kind to the Mummy other than “She’s evil, bro.” Either make her an enigma or make her a true villain.
- Allowing Tom Cruise to forget how to act.
- Using unnecessary and CHEAP-LOOKING CGI
- Tormenting the audience with TERRIBLE jokes
- Dragging the legacy of Universal’s Classic Monsters through the mud
- Try so hard and failing even harder at balancing scares and action and laughs
- Shoe-horning the Knights Templar in, somehow
I could go on. Hey, at least Russell Crowe had a lot of fun, right? And some of the action scenes were pretty good. I laughed and laughed at how ridiculous it all was.
What were your favorite and least favorite horror movies of 2017? Were there any movies that surprised you? Let me know in the comments!