The Best Horror Movies of 2017 So Far
When it comes to horror cinema, 2017 has a lot to live up to. The genre has been on an uphill trajectory in recent years, with a regular string of modern classics from around the world, and 2016 was an especially abundant year for horror. Fortunately, as we come to the end of the summer season, 2017 has been up to the challenge so far.
This year has cast a wide net as far as your options are concerned, packed with critically acclaimed indies and festival hits, studio franchise releases, and surprise box office juggernauts that have made 2017 one of the most profitable years for horror in recent memory. The subgenres have been equally wide-ranging, and 2017 has served up everything from cannibals and eco-zombies to the arrival of the so-called “social thriller”, with occult and serial killer narratives being particularly popular. We’ve still got plenty left to see, especially as we head into the Halloween holiday season, but so far this year has been a doozy. Check out the best horror movies of 2017 so far below.
Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Bill Skarsgard, Sophia Lillis, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer
Anticipation couldn’t have been higher for the long-awaited, R-rated film adaptation of Stephen King‘s beloved novel IT, and Andy Muschietti’s film did not disappoint. Easily one of the best King adaptations of all time, IT captures the heart and spirit of King’s best works, and by bisecting the narrative to focus on the kids’ arc IT becomes a focused, beautiful coming-of-age tale with just enough time and space to make you fall in love with the Losers Club and learn to fear their hometown of Derry, Maine. And then, of course, there’s Pennywise. Muschietti and actor Bill Skarsgard wisely steer clear of any imitation harkening back to Tim Curry’s iconic performance in the 1990 miniseries, creating instead something entirely new but equally terrifying. Beautifully shot by Chung-hoon Chung with a haunting score from Benjamin Wallfisch, IT is a technically impressive film on every level and Muschietti directs the hell out of it, making for just about the best case scenario for wildly challenging material. Energetic and scary, and elevated with earnest sentiment, IT truly floats.
A Dark Song
Director: Liam Gavin
Cast: Catherine Walker, Steve Oram
Tightly-wound and intricately paced, A Dark Song is a tale of grief and forgiveness told in the confines of one hellish magic ritual. The film stars Catherine Walker as Sophia, a woman stuck in the pits of vengeance-fuelled grief after the murder of her son when she hires Joseph Soloman (Oram), a bad-tempered occultist with a spotty track record to perform a dangerous and demanding incantation that will grant them both anyone wish if it goes right… and could cost them their soul if it goes wrong. Gavin, who also wrote the script, treats magic as painful, rigorous and intricate as the unlikely duo seal themselves in a remote house for the six-month ritual that will very literally demand their blood, sweat, and tears among other feats of sacrifice and determination, all of which come from Sophia who is tested endlessly while Soloman shouts curt orders and reprimands at her. The power dynamics at play between them, and they way they come to both despise and depend on each other in the midst of the maddening spiritual journey make the bulk of the film a fascinating subversion of occult thrillers, and while your mileage may vary on the far out ending, it cements A Dark Song as one of the most original and unpredictable horror films in recent memory.
It Comes at Night
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harris Jr., Christopher Abbott, David Pendleton
It’s a shame that a misleading marketing campaign soured moviegoers on this one because if you came waiting for some monster that literally comes at night, you’re in for a disappointment. Trey Edward Shults’ Krisha followup is a psychological art house horror flick that demands patience from its audience in a slow-burn tale of two families fighting to maintain a semblance of safety and sanity in a world where social order has collapsed. Fueled by nerve-rattling tension and a simmering sense of impending doom, It Comes at Night is a flavor of existential dread that isn’t for all tastes, but if you’ve got the disposition, it’s a beautifully shot pensive tale of mortality and trauma that will leave you with plenty to mull over long after the credits role.
Hounds of Love
Director: Ben Young
Cast: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry, Susie Porter
More character drama than horror but undeniably horrific, Ben Young’s Hounds of Love is an intimate spin on the serial killer subgenre that gets up close and personal with its monsters and the victim who might just tear them apart. The follows a pair of lovers and predators, Evelyn (Booth) and John (Curry), who kidnap, rape, and torture young women for pleasure. When Vicki (Cummings) falls into their trap, we get an insight into the twisted dynamic of the deadly couple its most mundane and despicable form. Young follows a wise restraint when it comes to the violence, focusing instead on the build-up and the aftermath of the horrific deeds and how they shape the psychology of all three parties. He strips bare that myth of the serial killer, showing us their literal dirty laundry and the pathetic deference they have to their base instincts. At the same time, Hounds of Love has tremendous empathy for the victim and Vicki is painted a clever, careful young woman who’s all too recognizable and real. Young steers clear of exploitation and cheap thrills in favor something much more compelling, and even harder to watch. Hounds of Love isn’t quite a horror film in the conventional sense, but it conjures a fear much darker, more familiar, and lasting than your standard slasher.
Director: Michael O’Shea
Cast: Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine
The Transfiguration is either a vampire film or a serial killer movie and the fact that you never quite know which one is what makes it so hard to shake. The film certainly points to the grimmer, less fantastical reality but writer/director Michael O’Shea never calls it a case closed for the audience. Either way, The Transfiguration is a riveting, visceral portrait of a young boy enthralled by murderous impulses he can’t or won’t control. Proudly and openly pulling from the tradition of films like Martin and Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration abandons the vampire mystique in favor of a subdued character study. Milo is the maybe-vampire in question, a schoolboy stuck in a desolate, lonely routine. He lives with his PTSD-afflicted brother in a Brooklyn housing project, grieving his mother’s suicide and bullied by the local gangbangers. He’s also a killer. Once a month, Milo sneaks out by night, hunts a victim, and drinks their blood. The Transfiguration is deliberate and sustained, something that may put off those with a taste for more fast-paced fare, but O’Shea executes his moments of startling brutality with tactical precision, luring you into empathy for Milo before confronting you with an unflinching portrait of his capacity for brutality and violence. Ultimately, The Transfiguration is a classic vampire film — that of a soul stuck between salvation and damnation — but it’s inlaid with the cultural commentary and character excavation that places it among the best of its kind.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula
I’ve had a lot of great times at the movies, but few cinematic experiences can compare with sitting in the audience of Split‘s premiere Fantastic Fest screening and listening to the audience completely lose their shit in the final scene. I’ll never forget screaming along with the packed theater, a resounding chorus of “What?!” and “Holy Shit!”, as Shyamalan fully revealed his hand. While Split‘s ending is the stuff of legend, the rest of the film is pretty damn delightful as well. Split follows a trio of young women who are kidnapped by a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder (aka split personalities), who is host to 23 different identities. We don’t meet them all, but we meet quite a few, and James McAvoy dives into camp territory with relish, delivering a fantastic and consummately entertaining performance as Dennis and Patricia and Hedwig, and his other various inhabitants, all of whom he embodies with flair and scenery-chewing charm. A blast of a B-movie with studio sheen, Split has a refreshing current of empathy for its characters, including McAvoy’s villain, and it’s a fantastic return to form for Shyamalan.
The Girl with All the Gifts
Director: Colm McCarthy
Cast: Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Dominique Tipper, Paddy Considine
A lot of you probably won’t have heard of The Girl with All the Gifts, and that’s a damn shame. McCarthy’s clever update on the stale zombie narrative was quietly dumped in America despite heaps of positive festival reviews and a solid UK opening, but it’s well worth seeking out. Based on Mike Carey‘s hit YA novel, from a screenplay he penned himself, the film takes place in an apocalyptic dystopia where the world has been ravaged by mold-covered zombies called “Hungries”. We pick up with the survivors of a military camp, where they’re searching for a cure by experimenting on different, trickier kind of monster — human/hungry hybrid children who look, think, and act like your average school kids… until they catch the scent of live flesh and the monster comes out. When one of the test subjects, a precocious young girl Melanie (Nanua, who is phenomenal in her feature debut), demonstrates an aptitude for self-control, she’s thrust into an uneasy alliance with her beloved teacher (Arterton) and a team of soldiers as they venture beyond the confines of the camp and discover a new world, no longer dictated by human rule. A potent blend of horror with sci-fi just enough philosophical musing to elevate it beyond a campy romp, The Girl with All the Gifts is the perfect zombie film for the post-Walking Dead age.
Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Lakeith Stanfield, LilRey Howery
What is there to say about Get Out that hasn’t already been said? Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is the undisputed horror breakout of the year, and deservedly so. Any fan of Key and Peele could have told you that the comedy star also had a knack for genre, but no one could have predicted that he would have such an assured hand as a director and feature-length screenwriter. Get Out follows Kaluuya’s Chris Washington on a weekend visit to meet his white girlfriend’s family for the first time at their suburban estate. What starts out as politely awkward quickly takes a turn toward sinister as Chris starts noticing the strange behavior of the family’s black servants and a series of increasingly odd events start to make him question his own sanity. Get Out winds up in a familiar spot for any horror fan, a blood bath, but its greatest moments of horror are far removed from the traditional cinematic violence of its conclusion. Horror is usually best when it serves as a metaphor and Peele proves himself a master of subtext with insightful commentary on the so-called “post-racial America” is chilling in a way that doesn’t dissipate when the lights come up.
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup, Amy Seimetz, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir
You know that old saying “you either love it or you hate it”? Well, a lot of people love Alien: Covenant and a lot of people hate Alien: Covenant. But there’s also a lot of people who think it’s just OK. And a lot of people who think it’s half brilliant, half dreadful… but they don’t agree on which half sucks. Basically, nobody can seem to agree on a damn thing about Alien: Covenant, and any film that riles up that much debate is worth paying attention to. And one thing’s never been in question is Ridley Scott knows how to direct the hell out of sci-fi horror. Covenant is a gorgeous, complex film hobbled by infuriatingly stupid characters and CGI that allows Scott to show way too much of his monster (and as each Alien prequel proves, the more we know about the Xenomorph, the less scary it becomes). All the same, it’s got some of the best-looking and well-orchestrated set pieces of the year, along with Scott’s keen eye for visual detail and all-around stellar performances from cast that just doesn’t quit.
The Blackcoat's Daughter
Director: Oz Perkins
Cast: Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, Emma Roberts, James Remar, Lauren Holly
Like too many good horror films, The Blackcoat’s Daughter (previously titled February) sat on the shelf for a few years before it finally reached audiences so you may already be familiar with director Oz Perkins from last year’s ambiance-fueled haunted house chiller I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, despite the fact that The Blackcoat’s Daughter is technically his directorial debut. Perkins shows that same skill for hypnotic dread in his first film, an enigmatic occult drama that conjures a spellbinding, nightmarish thrall of Satanic menace. Amidst the creepy slow-burn and punctuating moments of violence, there’s a melancholy undercurrent of loneliness and remorse that pays off big in the film’s blistering final moments. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is cryptic and methodically paced, but each moment of subdued action preserves inertia for when that final blow arrives, and when it does, though it may not be entirely surprising, it is a searing blow straight to the solar plexus that leaves you reeling. The film’s evasiveness demands patience, but there are moments of brilliance that scratch at the subconscious with a wicked edge, leaving a raw and hollow feeling long after the film has ended.
The Devil's Candy
Director: Sean Byrne
Cast: Ethan Embry, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Shiri Appleby, Kiara Glasco
The Devil’s Candy is a fuck-yeah heavy metal satanic panic with a big beating heart. If you’ve seen The Loved Ones, then you’ve spent the last seven years eagerly awaiting what director Sean Byrne would do next with his eye for unconventionally unnerving approach to horror and his truly wicked sense of humor. What he did next is the occult family drama The Devil’s Candy (a delicious title that ties in beautifully with the film’s most depraved elements), which earned earned enthusiastic praise during the festival rounds before sitting on the shelf for a couple years. The film stars a tatted-up, straggle-haired Ethan Embry as Jesse, a doting husband and father struggling to support his family through his art. When they find a gorgeous countryside home for a bargain, naturally it comes at a horrifying hidden cost — Jesse begins to feel the pull of a dark influence that distracts him from his family, driving a wedge in his friendship with his head-banging kindred spirit daughter. At the same time, the dangerous, deranged man (Vince) who used to live in their house starts showing up on their doorstep in an escalating series of confrontations. Byrne embraces his thrilling, devilish humor as he subverts genre conventions gleefully and playfully until the final act raises the stakes and everything gets deadly serious in a hurry. Byrne seems to dance along the tonal tightrope with ease, creating a film that is singularly heartfelt and disarming, while also being a twisted, visually compelling dive into the occult.
Directors: Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski
Cast: Aaron Poole, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Kathleen Munroe, Ellen Wong, Mik Byskov
The Void is about as ambitious as indie horror gets. The film comes courtesy of co-writers and directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, who earned their industry stripes as an art director and special effects artist, respectively, with impressive credits to spare (Hannibal, Pacific Rim, and Suicide Squad, for example). As you might expect, it looks fucking fantastic. The Void is a retro-tinged showcase of style and special effects, a VFX-fuelled neon and Technicolor nightmare that swings for the fences with a bat signed in big bloc letters by John Carpenter, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft and Lucio Fulci, among others. Gillespie and Kostanski wear their love of their creative forbears on their sleeves, freely homaging the classic works that inspired them with a film that delivers big ideas, big set-pieces, and a big, multi-dimensional world of hellish terrors.
Director: Julia Ducournau
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella
Raw made quite a splash when it debuted at TIFF last year to reports of fainting moviegoers, but the enduring legacy of Julia Ducournau’s coming-of-age cannibal film will prove much more than that of a gross-out gore flick. It’s bloody, to be sure, and Ducournau has a gift for framing queasy violence so that you think you’re seeing much more than you are, but what makes Raw exceptional is the fascinating and complex tale of conformity, sisterhood, and inherited tradition told through the story of a virginal vegetarian who discovers a craving for flesh, and the pleasures thereof, after enduring the brutal hazing rituals of her veterinary school. Sensual, scary, and weirdly sexy, Raw will test your stomach, but there’s a lot more to chew on than pure carnage.
Honorable Mentions: Sweet Sweet Lonely Girl, Lake Bodom, A Cure for Wellness, XX, Prevenge