2017 was another great year for film, but in a movie landscape densely populated by thrillers and Marvel’s slew of interconnected superhero blockbusters, it’s easy to miss a stellar horror hidden beneath the surface. Luckily that’s what lists like this are for, so without further ado, here are our picks for the best horror movies of 2017.
1. It Comes at Night
It Comes at Night is a psychological horror film directed by Trey Edward Shults. It stars Joel Edgerton, Riley Keough, and Christopher Abbott and focuses on two families with an uneasy alliance at the end of the civilised world.
With a title which points to an unfortunately absent villain and a misleading trailer It Comes at Night didn’t connect with fans upon its release. However, a dubious marketing campaign doesn’t take away from the fact that this is an impressive film with understated performances and a whole heap of tension.
It’s a slow-burner, and truthfully it won’t be for everyone, but it’s one of the most polished genre films of the year and it oozes quality throughout.
On the surface Split is another M. Night Shyamalan thriller with a twist in the third act, but in this instance accomplished cinematography from It Follows’ Mike Gioulakis elevates it to heights that Shyamalan hasn’t seen in some time.
The real twist with this one was that Shyamalan managed to write a film which was focused without being boring, wacky without being stupid, and entertaining without a reliance on a swerve at the end. Of course, the reveal in the last few moments is as shocking as you might expect, but Split doesn’t depend on it to work and its inclusion doesn’t feel like a cheap trick designed to hide the faults of a flawed script.
Superb lead performances from Anya Taylor-Joy and James McAvoy keep the film on track, with the latter carrying the movie for the majority of its runtime. It’s the most mainstream movie on this list but that’s because it’s a diverting, fun and well-acted movie which is constantly engaging.
1922 is a Netflix original horror movie based on the Stephen King novella of the same name. On paper, 1922 tells a fairly standard ghost story – man kills wife, wife’s spirit wants revenge, things don’t end well for anyone involved – but what makes this concept work is that writer/director Zak Hilditch uses the story to delve into the human psyche. This approach creates an experience which has more depth than the standard horror film.
It’s a faithful adaptation of the novella (which is found in Full Dark, No Stars if you’re interested) and the lead performance from Thomas Jane is as commanding as you’ll see. It isn’t flashy or easy to consume but it’s visually polished and narratively complex.
4. Gerald’s Game
Gerald’s Game is the second Stephen King adaptation distributed by Netflix to find its place on this list. Directed by Mike Flanagan, the mind behind Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil, it revolves around the unforeseen consequences of a sex game played by a man (Gerald) and his reluctant wife.
Carla Gugino gives a powerful performance as Jessie (Gerald’s wife) and although the story is contained this only makes the movie more compelling. The logic throughout the movie is sound and quiet scenes in the bedroom are intelligently broken up by flashbacks to Jessie’s childhood, with almost every decision seeming thoroughly considered. My only gripe with this film is that it marginally overstays its welcome, but that doesn’t significantly detract from the overall experience.
Mother! is a polarizing film. Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream), it revolves around the exploits of a couple whose lives are disrupted by unwelcome visitors.
Technically Mother! is fantastic, using its cinematography to dazzle and disorientate its audience in equal measure. The camera relentlessly centres on Jennifer Lawrence’s face, forcing you to enter her character’s perspective and experience the events of the film alongside her. This is an arduous task but it perfectly fits the symbolic nature of the plot and highlights Lawrence’s pedigree as an actor.
Every choice that Aronofsky made with this film suited the vision that he had for the story, so although the narrative is admittedly obtuse there’s a sense of assurance to the production that rightfully invites intrigue. It’s an acquired taste, but Mother! is the most inventive and ambitious horror film of 2017.
6. Hounds of Love
From the most inventive horror film of 2017 to arguably the most uncomfortable to watch, Hounds of Love is an ugly but brilliant movie.
Centring around the kidnapping and subsequent torture of a 16-year-old girl in Perth, Australia, the plot is made all the more distressing by the fact that it’s inspired by true events. The performances of all three leads are astounding and the film is wonderfully paced, taking as much time to flesh out the nature of its villains as it does to generate sympathy for its protagonist.
The end result is a film which again won’t be for everyone, but from a filmmaking perspective it’s almost faultless.
7. Personal Shopper
Personal Shopper stars Kristen Stewart as a woman who is living in Paris in an effort to make a connection with the ghost of her dead brother. It was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, but its UK release came in February 2017.
As you would expect given the filmography of its lead actress and the plot synopsis that I just provided, this is a film which viewers can’t agree on. Some people think that it’s a mesmerising piece of cinema, whereas others think that it’s a tepid and largely uneventful thriller.
The reason that it finds itself on this list is that Olivier Assayas has a command of the movie’s tone, making Personal Shopper a film which has your attention from start to finish regardless of the substance of what’s happening on screen. The story builds slowly but the conclusion is worth the wait as a haunting sequence towards the end validates the laborious pacing.
8. Get Out
It seems like everyone who saw Get Out back in February wanted to champion it as a film of the year candidate. Whether or not those people still feel so passionately about it today remains to be seen, but it’s a movie which lives long in the memory and melds comedy and horror almost seamlessly.
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is one of those rare films which does almost everything right. The cinematography is great, the script is filled with clever lines that marry to the movie’s themes, and it subverts your expectations at every turn. It’s a tremendous film regardless of genre and it’s one which deserves to be seen.
9. The Cured
The Cured is the only film on this list which did not receive a wide release in 2017. Screening at the BFI London Film Festival, The Cured is an Irish zombie film from first time director David Freyne, starring Ellen Page.
Comparable to the BBC drama In The Flesh, the story that this movie tells provides a refreshing change of pace for fans of classic zombie films like Dawn of the Dead and the ever-present The Walking Dead.
Focusing on the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse rather than the monotonous grind of surviving it, Freyne uses the themes of his film to consider societal prejudice in an age of migrant crises and Brexit. His timing couldn’t be more apt and the movie’s story couldn’t be more engaging, making it a must see when it becomes available in 2018.
Amazingly, IT is the third Stephen King adaptation to feature on this list. Demonstrating the lasting impact of his work, Tony Muschietti adapted the first part of King’s novel with an admirable level of care and enthusiasm.
Taking inspiration from the popular Netflix original television series Stranger Things, Muschietti created a film with a terrifying villain which felt more like an adventure than a full-on horror. The sense of fun that this movie displayed was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2017, with performances from the child actors which betrayed their fledgling years.
The visuals were good, the dialogue was great, and the end product was the best English-speaking horror film to get a wide cinematic release this year.
Raw is a French-speaking horror film about a lifelong vegetarian who eats meat for the first time during a hazing ritual at university. Following this experience she develops a taste for flesh, with her affliction being used for comedic effect and gruesome body horror.
The synopsis may initially seem eccentric or peculiar, but what makes Raw so compelling is that it’s presented as a coming-of-age movie rather than an outright horror. Julia Ducournau doesn’t treat the audience like they’re stupid or disrespect her premise, instead she embraces the nature of the movie that she’s making and she gives the audience the experience that they would expect having read the plot summary.
In many ways Raw is a beautiful film. The lead performance is exceptional, the story is simple but fascinating, and every single scene works perfectly, making it the best overall horror experience of 2017.