Well friends, another year has come and gone, and it’s tough to look back on the highs and lows of these unsettled times. But, one thing that is certain is that there are two conditions that can affect a genre; the political climate, and global hardship. Those effects have definitely been plentiful and have shined through in the horror genre for the past five years. Horror has definitely excelled this year, from hidden gems in the underground, to the international market, the blockbuster circuit, and in the ever-growing world of streaming. From us at HorrOrigins, here are the shining examples of 2021. Some we have previously discussed, and some may take you by surprise.
The directorial debut of screenwriting favorite, Simon Barrett, asks the question… “Which is scarier; dead girls, or mean girls?” When the popular clique of an elite boarding school attempts to make contact with the ghost girl that haunts the school grounds, they cause more tragedy, and awaken an even worse threat. Though it may rely on safe horror tropes, Séance successfully blends genres into a supernatural slasher/revenge flick, that almost tricks you into thinking you’re watching a new take on The Craft. Expertly shot by Karim Hussain, this early summer offering from Dark Castle shouldn’t get lost in the crowd.
Encompassing the best of the modern B-movie, Elza Kephart’s Slaxx is ridiculous enough that it spins full circle and becomes original. Shudder’s Canadian export toes the line between horror and comedy with, none other than a possessed pair of jeans that attack the employees of a clothing store it resides in. With some inventive gore and lighting, plus a satirical stab at consumerism, corporate culture, and the fashion business, Slaxx packs a lot of fun into its 77-minute runtime. Not to mention, the killer jeans have some sick dance moves when the needle drops.
Some genre fans have compared it to the 2010 film, Buried. Oxygen goes beyond, combining claustrophobia with a hard sci-fi horror edge. Waking up somewhere in space, post malfunction, a woman remains trapped in a cryo-pod with limited oxygen levels, and the panic that comes with it. Her only companion, for the time she has left, is the ships AI that is ready to sedate her for her own good. The always welcome Alexandre Aja returns to his French roots with this cold, Netflix offering, with layered twists that will leave you gasping for breath.
7. Jakob’s Wife
Any horror fan who catches word of a film starring Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden should be taking notice. When the wife of a small-town minster has a chance encounter with an ancient “Master,” she’s given a new lease on life that places above the doleful housewife she’s become bored with. This follows, of course, with the cost of a high body count, because nothing comes without sacrifice. Travis Stevens Jakob’s Wife, delivers a humorous and twisted take on the mid-life crisis, with some good-ole’ vampire mythology to spice things up.
This is A24’s Icelandic folk horror film and the debut of Valdimar Jóhannsson. A rural farm couple discovers that one of their sheep has given birth to a human sheep hybrid. Grieving the loss of their own child, they decide to raise the hybrid as their own. It’s a very matter of fact approach in this unconventional family drama that plays out like a story a grandparent would tell. Lamb never shakes its uneasy voyeuristic feel, as if something is always looking in on the new parents, whether it be a troublesome relative, the sheep that birthed the hybrid, or the mysterious entity from the mountains that has its own agenda.
This is definitely the best B-movie offering of the year, as Steven Kostanski continues the spirit of his Astron-6 collective. What do you think would have happened if the plot of E.T. remained the horror film it was allegedly pitched as? Well, you either get Mac and Me, or you get PG: Psycho Goreman. When a couple of siblings find a deadly alien, and also have the gemstone that controls it, shenanigans ensue. Gloriously 80’s with rubber suits, Saturday morning cartoon dialogue, and a plot ripped straight out of a table-top RPG, this is a film that’s fun, nostalgic, and true to its namesake...a bloodbath!
4. Mad God
The reported 30 year longs passion project from visual effects icon, Phil Tippet, the man behind some of the 80’s most memorable go-motion, and some of the more terrifying bugs and dinosaurs of the 90’s. An assassin descends into a ruined city, and journeys into a labyrinth of creatures at war with each other. With so much incredible detail, there’s plenty of material to be mined from multiple viewings. Tippet’s classic stop-motion creates a timeless, otherworldly experience that’s bound to burn an image into your memory. Mad God is an entire creator’s legacy on full display that should be watched immediately upon availability.
In this divisive new cult-favorite, James Wan, proves he’s still a complete madman when the opportunity arises. Following the loss of an unborn child, a woman forms a psychic link with a seemingly inhuman killer. From there, the film explodes like a love-letter to Giallo, and Troma films, and the 42nd Street theater experience, all at the expense of Warner Brothers. Malignant is a joyfully, mean-spirited horror film made by a filmmaker who basically knows he’s critic-proof, appreciating he has the fallback of the four franchises that his name is on. Whatever expectations you have going in, this is a film that horror fans will be talking about for years to come.
2. Saint Maud
First premiering in at TIFF in late 2019, before getting released in its native UK over a year later, and before making its international debut in January. Saint Maud follows the titular Maud, a born-again Christian working as a hospice caregiver for a terminally ill atheist. Maud’s own misguided views on a belief system she doesn’t fully grasp, drive her to insanity as she strives to save the soul of her patient, while shutting out her previous checkered past. Rose Glass’ debut will leave you in awe that she hasn’t directed before. A slow-burn about blind faith and mental health, where guilt and repression swell before getting engulfed into a vortex.
You maybe could have guessed this. This year’s winner of the Palme d'Or; Julia Ducournau’s Titane. Sadistic killer, Alexia, is living with a titanium alloy implant. On the run, she takes on the appearance of a cold-case victim in order to shelter with the boy’s father, fire-chief Vincent. If the dangers that come with now being a firefighter don’t kill her, an abnormal pregnancy will. This is an unconventional body horror film that like its lead, is successfully hiding as a different movie. Genuinely heartwarming moments are hard cut to the state of the character’s physical metamorphosis. During this, you feel genuine concern for the real star of the film, a fire chief scarily obsessed with preserving his physical image and his legacy. Check this one out if you have the stomach for it.
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