Top 21 Horror Films of 2021

by Larry Dwyer

Well folks, it’s now time to put the strange year of 2021 in our rearview mirror and try our best to not look back at its burning embers. But…I guess maybe we’ll have to squint our eyes and peer back through the smoke at least one more time so we can take a look at my 21 favorite horror movies from the past year. Since the nuttiness of 2021 hit me kind of hard (as it did so many of you), I admittedly didn’t get to see as many of this year’s crop of films as I normally would, but I was still able to catch well over a hundred of this year’s horror offerings.  Some notable ones that I haven’t gotten a chance to see yet that may have cracked my Top 21 include Madeleine Sims-Fewer’s Violation which I hear is incredible as well as Sonny Mallhi’s Hurt and Keith Thomas’ The Vigil; I’m sure I’ll get around to seeing them soon and will realize that they should have made the list.

Okay, now on to the yearly disclaimer: while I know that the title of the article is “Top 21 Horror Films…”, keep in mind that these are just my favorites, so I’m sure that you’ll disagree with some of my choices – as well as some of my intentional omissions. And as always, the order of the below films is alphabetical, not ranked…but if you absolutely MUST know, I will say at the end which of the 2021 horror films was my absolute favorite.


A QUIET PLACE PART II

I can’t believe we’re starting off my list with a sequel; damn you, alphabetical order! ::shakes fist:: That’s okay, because AQP2 is a worthy sequel. Was it as good as the first? Absolutely not, but it was a worthy successor full of great performances and genuinely creepy moments. I also loved that they gave us a bit of prequel which doesn’t always work but definitely added to the story.

 

ANTLERS

So uncomfortably dark and dreary. I’ve been waiting for this film for a while and it did not disappoint. Although only produced by Guillermo Del Toro, it felt like his film, especially when they show the first glimpses of the creature. Director Scott Cooper does a brilliant job getting great performances out of the cast and his team does an excellent job of making the gloomy backdrop seem even more desolate.

 

CENSOR

I’m not ashamed to tell you that I was in complete awe when I found out that Censor was the very first feature film of writer/director Prano Bailey-Bond. When I read that the film had ties to the infamous “video nasties” of the 1980’s, I was already sold but then my expectations were shattered by the haunting yet fantastic story playing out on my television; and all this from a first-time filmmaker? Bravo.

 

COME TRUE

As a kid, A Nightmare on Elm Street made me fear the power of sleep and dreams (just like ANOES Part 2 made me fear exploding parakeets). In Come True, what seems to be a simple sleep study proves to be so much more for Sarah (played masterfully by Julia Sarah Stone). This one is a wild, if sometimes confusing, ride that I recommend.

 

FEAR STREET (PART ONE: 1994, PART TWO: 1978, PART 3: 1666)

Alright, so I counted these as three separate movies in my count but I’m rolling them all up under one post here. I really enjoyed this series as a whole; some great performances and a really fun story. Since I cheated and added them all as one, I will rank them though: my favorite was Part Two:1978 – I dug the camp vibe and Sadie Sink really brought it home. Second favorite was Part Three: 1666 – I really like that they re-used known characters in the roles for the flashbacks to 1666: I was afraid it wouldn’t work but it did. Part One: 1994 was my least favorite; I found the characters a bit annoying and I felt like I was bashed over the head by the ultra-90’s soundtrack.

 

IN THE EARTH

Writer/Director Ben Wheatley (High-Rise, Kill List) absolutely knocked it out of the park with this highly hallucinogenic shot-during-the-pandemic film about scientists…in a pandemic. Without trying to spoil it, In The Earth serves as a not-so-gentle reminder that their are forces in nature that we don’t understand and shouldn’t fuck with. Oh yeah, and don’t trust medicine and wound-care to random dudes you meet in the woods either. Check it out.

 

LAST NIGHT IN SOHO

Chalk it up as an “I didn’t see that coming”. I love being surprised by a film. For some reason, I didn’t expect much out of LNIS but I was quite wrong. I also didn’t expect it to be a horror film…wrong again! Edgar Wright, of Shaun of the Dead and Baby Driver fame, wrote and directed this chilling gem with a stellar twist and trust: it’s more than worth your time. Expectedly great performance out of Anya Taylor-Joy (as always) but Thomasin McKenzie steals the show.

 

MY HEART CAN’T BEAT UNLESS YOU TELL IT TO

If you know me at all, or have followed my reviews, you know that I absolutely adore outside takes on the vampire genre. Ever since the first time I saw George Romero’s non-zombie masterpiece Martin, I was hooked on vampire films that that featured “different” vampires; vampires who maybe weren’t even sure they were vampires at all but still had a thirst for blood (see: The Transfiguration, Midnight Son, etc.). Alright, enough talking – watch it for yourself.

 

NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE

Based on a novel of the same name by UK author Adam Nevill, No One Gets Out Alive is about a young female Mexican immigrant with no identification who is basically doing the best she can with what she has…but what she has isn’t much. Since she is in the country illegally, she has no ID and can only work a shitty illegal job which only pays enough for her to afford a room in a crappy boarding house. You’d think that living in a crappy boarding house is bad enough but then there’s the ghosts…that always leads to issues. And then the guy who runs the boarding house is a bit of a psycho so yeah…another problem. NOGOA didn’t seem to get much love from a lot of people that I know but I thought it had great tension, good scares and an absolutely fucking phenomenal creature design towards the end. Give it a whirl.

 

THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC

Having completely loved Joko Anwar’s 2020 Impetigore (it didn’t make my “top” list of 2020 because I didn’t see it in time), I was psyched to hear that he had written this re-imagining of the 1981 Indonesian film of the same name.  Want to be terrified and/or grossed out for a little while? Here you go.

 

SATOR

If you’re looking for a gore-filled jump-scare fest, Sator isn’t your movie. This one’s a slow but satisfying atmospheric supernatural yarn about an evil spirit who speaks to a family’s grandmother who is also suffering from dementia (the grandmother, not the evil spirit). Breathtaking imagery, which is often repeated for effect, and an unsettling score add to the overall package.

 

SON

Listen, religious nuts freak me out (no offense). Doesn’t matter what religion, or cult; anyone willing to kill, or die, for a religion scares the bejeebus out of me (pun intended). So yeah, single mom and her young son are being bothered by a cult…or are they? And why is the son randomly puking blood? Great performances by Andi Matichak, Emile Hirsch and Luke David Blumm are just icing on the cake. Dig in.

 

THE ADVENT CALENDAR

Yes, I’m well aware that the whole “be careful what you wish for or you might get it” trope is as old and tired as they come, especially in the horror genre. BUT, this little French film took a really interesting and refreshing stab at that old “Monkey’s Paw” and delivered on the scares, gore and the story. Get into it.

 

THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR

Being a dad, movies with kids as the victims hit quite a bit harder than they did when I was younger. That said, The Boy Behind The Door is rock solid. Two best friends get kidnapped but one escapes and it’s on him to rescue his friend and get them both home. The tension here is dense and while the ending isn’t all that I may have hoped for, the journey there more than makes up for it.

 

THE LAST MATINEE

I said above when talking about Sator that if you were looking for a gore-fest, you were at the wrong movie. Well, now you’re at the right one. The Last Matinee is an absolute gore-fest and a throwback to those Italian slashers that we all know and love…and one this one takes place in a cinema! It’s not particularly well-acted and we learn next to nothing about the characters but that’s not what we’re here for – we’re here for jars of eyeballs! And we got ’em! Dig in!

 

THE NIGHT HOUSE

David Bruckner who proved with 2017’s Ritual that he knew how to deliver the spooky goods, proves it again with this creepy-as-fuck ghost story starring the always incredible Rebecca Hall. How does a woman dealing with the unexpected suicide of her husband pull her life back together? By learning that nothing is as it seems, of course.

 

THE STYLIST

What? What kind of fuckery am I trying to pull here? I know I had The Stylist on last years “Top 20 of 2020” list but err…I fucked up? I really should have held back since it’s technically a 2021 release so here it is again (and deservedly so). As I said last year (but too early), “…an excellent story that looks beautiful on film with an incredible job by Najarra Townsend reprising her role of Claire.”

 

TITANE

Oh, body horror, how do I love thee. There’s no need for me to count the ways as I’m definitely not the only one…you see, this film won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival making Julie Ducournau the first woman to win the award on her own. If you recognize the director’s name, it’s because her first film (Titane is only her second) was the amazing 2016 film Raw. I’ll add that aside from Titane being incredible, the performance of Vincent Lindon in the film is plain Oscar-worthy.

 

WEREWOLVES WITHIN

Do you like fun? I like fun. Werewolves Within is fun as hell. Apparently it’s based on a video game? I don’t know. What I do know is that WW is a whodunnit type of film about a simple New England town full of way over-the-top townsfolk trying to get through a blackout situation where they may be a werewolf terrorizing the town. Or not.

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Alright! That’s twenty-one! We did it! (Don’t forget to count Fear Street three times)

FINAL THOUGHTS: I did want to mention for those that will surely ask me, “what about Saint Maud?!?” I friggin’ LOVED Saint Maud…but I didn’t really think it a horror film; it felt more to me like a very sad (but brilliant) tale of mental illness. I also know there was a lot of love for Psycho Goreman and The Power out there…I liked them – let’s call them runners up on this list. You know what ALMOST made my list that really surprised the hell out of me? The Wrong Turn remake – I actually enjoyed it more than I did the original Wrong Turn. Please don’t ask why the ‘evil dies tonight’ Halloween Kills or the Candyman-less Candyman movie aren’t on my list – no me gusta. I did, however, promise that I’d give you my favorite horror film of the year and it’s a hard one…I have to say that it’s probably a tie between Censor and Antlers but that may change tomorrow morning. My overall favorite (non-horror) movie of 2021 was Ilya Naishuller’s Nobody.

Onwards to a healthy and happy 2022!

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