For me, 2017 was a year of expanding my horror horizons. A lot of films on this list are wholly uncharacteristic of my usual go-to formula. Whether it was a big theatrical release or a small indie flick, I saw quite a few things outside my normal comfort zone, and I’m glad that I gave them a chance. The Overlook Film Festival was a big reason for this, as it allowed me to catch quite a few new films all at once in a setting where I could enjoy them alongside my own Frightday team members as well as fellow horror fans. Although it may have required a bit more digging than usual, the year was certainly peppered with new and exciting genre films, so here are a handful of my personal 2017 favorites.
13. The Girl with All the Gifts
A very unique take on the typical zombie plague film, this story focuses on a young girl who is somehow able to resist full ‘zombification’ despite being infected. When the outbreak threatens the secure facility where she is being held, she must find a way to survive on the outside despite strong mistrust from those who do not have the virus. While I don’t know that I completely understood the ending, and some of the plot may have been a bit convoluted, a strong performance from our lead child actress sold me on this film. It was exciting and refreshing to look at such a played-out genre from such a different perspective. Not having read the novel, I can’t speak to whether the on-screen adaptation did it justice, but I’d like to think it was a noble effort either way, and I appreciated it.
12. I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore
Oh boy, did I relate to this film. When an average woman becomes the victim of a burglary, she teams up with her neighbor in order to track down the thieves, along with her lost possessions. And of course, it wouldn’t be on this list if things did not go horribly awry. I have to say, I had not seen Elijah Wood in any horror films prior to this, and my, what a delight he is. His performance as the eccentric neighbor is a perfect complement to Melanie Lynskey’s no-nonsense, determined and fed-up joe-average. Give it a watch and you, too, will be completely exasperated with humanity as a whole.
11. Get Out
While it may not rank as high on my year-end-favorites list as you might expect, there’s no denying that this was one of the most impressive films of the year. Peele’s unexpected horror break-out caught the world by storm and sparked some serious thought and discussion amongst casual and diehard fans alike. The reasons it doesn’t rank higher on my list have to do with some out-of-place comedic elements and unoriginality with the overall concept (personally, it had a very The Island feel, but I understand why you might disagree), but I do realize these are more personal preferences than overall qualms with the film itself. But I’m very happy that something so powerful within the horror genre reached such a wide audience, and I hope this opens a door for similar films in the future.
Probably the only theatrical release I caught this year, I had very low expectations for this remake going in to the theater. Having seen the horrendously long made-for-TV adaptation of the Stephen King novel years ago, I had no desire whatsoever for a follow-up. That said, I’m very glad we got one. It feels odd to say, but this film was just plain…cute? The group of kids vs the big bad monster gave it a very Stranger Things vibe which I very much enjoyed. While there were certainly more jumpscares than genuine frights, there was also much more blood and viscera than I was expecting. Surprising all around, It definitely did not disappoint.
9. The Bar
One of the more enjoyable watches of the year, I caught this one on Netflix after missing it at The Overlook. When mysterious events trap a group of total strangers at a bar in downtown Madrid, they must work together to figure out how to escape, lest they fall victim to their own paranoia. Much more light-hearted and fun than many of the films on this list, I found myself laughing aloud multiple times throughout the course of the movie. As long as you’re cool with subtitles, I would highly recommend adding The Bar to your queue immediately.
Probably my most surprising top 13 pick, I fully expected to hate this movie. As someone who is not a fan of arthouse flicks or overtly gross subject matter, I had no intention of watching. But effusive praise from my fellow staff members caused me to give it a shot, and I’m very happy I did. When hazing for a new vet student goes a bit too far, she discovers a family secret that may make her college experience even more hellish. Stomach-churning, sure, but charming nonetheless, this little foreign flick was certainly an unexpected treasure.
7. The Devil’s Candy
A random Netflix pick turned new favorite, The Devil’s Candy was my first Ethan Embry film, and color me impressed (Get it? Color? Because he’s a painter?). When a struggling artist moves his family to a new home where, unbeknownst to him, a murderer roams free, feelings of unease which manifest in his paintings warn of imminent danger. Is the threat real or imagined? Well, it’s a horror movie, so take a guess. The family dynamic gives it a lot of heart, which may or may not have caused me to actually tear up at a couple key points. Definitely worth a watch.
Interestingly enough, this is a film I actually passed up on at the Overlook Film Festival because rape-revenge flicks are typically not my bag. If mishandled, this subgenre tends to be a bit too leery for my taste. But MFA is a different story. While the rape scene itself is certainly hard to stomach, you can tell that special care was given to make this film come off as empowering rather than exploitative. The fact that the team behind this film is primarily female could certainly be a contributing factor. While maybe not the most fun watch, MFA is an incredibly powerful film and I truly hope it reaches a wide audience, especially considering current events.
5. Stakeland II: The Stakelander
Okay, I get it, this film is a bit of an outlier from the rest of this list, but I have such a huge place in my heart for the original Stakeland, it was only natural to pay homage with this year’s sequel. Though not incredibly strong plot-wise, it’s the characters that do it for me. Glass Eye Pics and Dark Sky Films truly knocked it out of the park with the character-building in this world. Even though sequels usually don’t hold up as well as originals, I was so emotionally invested in the lives of Martin and Mister, I honestly didn’t care. Give it a chance, and I think it will surprise you.
4. Creep 2
Certainly my most anticipated film of the year, I was so psyched to experience the follow-up to Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass’s fabulous indie horror flick that delighted the entire Frightday staff just a few years back. And what a fulfilling follow-up it was. Mark Duplass reprises his role as the world’s most loveable serial killer who is experiencing a bit of a mid-life crisis, as it were. Until, that is, he finds a potential apprentice in an aspiring social media documentarian. Beat for beat, Creep 2 is just as disquieting as the original, even if it is tonally a bit more melancholy as we find out more about Josef—I mean, Aaron, as a person.
3. It Comes at Night
I was lucky enough to catch the premiere of this film at the Overlook Film Festival in April, and, as the film itself was kept a secret from the festival-goers until the time of its screening, I went in completely blind. I would encourage everyone else to do the same. Though the title is a bit misleading, I truly don’t think any other film this year has made me feel quite as tense. I was so genuinely unsettled even at times where not much was happening on screen. After the screening, when the director explained that this film was written after he lost his father, it really drove home the overall theme for me. Bleak, heartwrenching, and beautiful, I was very happy to experience It Comes at Night in the way that I did.
2. The Bad Batch
Another Overlook watch, this film is a psychedelic and surprisingly heartwarming romp through an alternate reality where prisons are done away with, and the worst of the worst are simply left in a desert wasteland where they must fight the elements (and each other) in order to survive. I have to admit, I went in exclusively for Jason Momoa, not thinking much of the concept as a whole, but I came out very pleasantly surprised. Ana Lily Amirpour’s creative genius truly shines in this unexpected gem of a movie.
As someone who’s day-to-day is spent in an office environment, this irreverent Battle-Royale style horror comedy filled me with absolute glee from the moment I sat down to watch it. Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving form a perfect duo as they unleash, well, mayhem, on some corporate scumbags with the help of a dangerous virus that removes all inhibitions. I got to see this on the big screen at Overlook as well, and have watched it a shameful amount of times since it came out on VOD. And that is why this film tops off my list as my number one favorite of 2017.