The best horror films of 2021

·Contributor
·8-min read
2021 has been a banner year for the horror genre (MUBI/A24/Altitude)
2021 has been a banner year for the horror genre (MUBI/A24/Altitude)

2021 has been a fantastic year for horror, so-much-so that we could fill this list several times over.

The crowd pleasing likes of James Wan and Edgar Wright returned to the genre with fun flicks, there were acclaimed debuts from a whole host of impressive newcomers, while the film that tops this list took also home the acclaimed Palme d’Or in Cannes.

Read more: The best movies of 2021

So with horror in good health, the following are 10 of the best from the last year…

10. Malignant

Annabelle Wallis as Madison in Malignant (New Line/Warner Bros.)
Annabelle Wallis as Madison in Malignant (New Line/Warner Bros.)

Malignant split audiences and critics alike when it hit screens in September, and it’s either the best-worst horror movie of the year, or the worst-best. First, the bad. There are plot holes and jumps in logic, while the mystery and police procedural passages last way too long.

But when the movie finally gets where it’s going, Malignant is hugely entertaining, with the thrills coming thick and fast. James Wan’s direction is slick, the action impressive, and the villain — while ridiculous — is also bloody amazing, and will hopefully be the focus of many more Malignant movies to come.

Malignant is available to rent or buy on PVOD now, and available on Blu-ray™ and DVD on 27 December.

9. Sound of Violence

Writer-director Alex Noyer’s feature debut combines bright colours with disturbing audio for an unsettling study of the fallout from childhood trauma. The incident in question occurs during the film’s prologue, when Alexis — who is deaf — witnesses something terrible in her family home. Cut to the present day, and our anti-hero is now studying, teaching, and spending her spare time searching for terrifying sounds.

That journey takes her down a dark path that leads to bloody torture and creative kills, yet Alexis remains sympathetic to the end, which is a testament to Noyer’s writing, and Jasmin Savoy Brown’s remarkable central performance.

Sound of Violence is available to rent or buy on PVOD now.

8. The Night House

A horror film that’s as much an examination of grief as fear, The Night House stars Rebecca Hall as Beth, a recently widowed teacher desperate to know why her husband took his life. Her investigation coincides with things going bump in the night at the lake-house they shared, and Beth soon starts suspecting that something supernatural was responsible for his death.

The pace is stately and the tone melancholy, but The Night House slowly and deliberately draws you in before delivering its climactic knock-out blow.

The Night House is available to stream on Disney+ now.

7. Candyman

Candyman, in silhouette, in Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta.
Candyman, in silhouette, in Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta.

This sequel to the 1992 horror classic stars the immensely talented Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony McCoy, an artist who is struggling to find his voice. Inspiration strikes in the shape of Candyman, first when Anthony hears the legend which gets his creative juices flowing, then when he investigates the story, and horror starts pouring from his paint-brush.

Read more: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: 'It’s always funny until Candyman is standing behind you'

A good deal of the run-time is spent going over old ground, but when Nia DaCosta’s film strikes out on its own, the result is mesmerising. The atmosphere is ominous, the visuals beautifully realised, and the story filled with rage concerning racism, police brutality, and the ways in which truth can be twisted to suit a horrifying narrative.

Candyman is available to rent or buy on PVOD now, or on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD.

6. A Quiet Place Part II

Regan (Millicent Simmonds), left, and Lee Abbott (John Krasinski) brave the unknown in
Regan (Millicent Simmonds), left, and Lee Abbott (John Krasinski) brave the unknown in "A Quiet Place Part II.”

As actor, director, and co-writer, John Krasinski did triple duty on A Quiet Place in 2018, turning the tale of a family doing battle with sound-sensitive aliens into the surprise hit of the year. He’s all over A Quiet Place Part II too, directing, writing solo, and appearing in a brilliantly staged flashback revolving around the arrival of the creatures.

The story then pushes proceedings forward, with the surviving members of the Abbott family adjusting to life without Dad, and Cillian Murphy increasing their number as a recluse with a dark secret. Bigger, if not better, than its predecessor, Krasinski nevertheless makes brilliant use of cross-cutting to eke every ounce of tension from the premise, in the process delivering 2021’s most crowd-pleasing horror.

A Quiet Place Part II is available to rent or buy on PVOD now, or on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD.

5. Censor

Prano Bailey-Bond’s feature debut kicks off with a credit sequence that details the state of censorship in the UK in the early 1980s, when the so-called ‘video nasties’ were making national news. That’s the backdrop for this tale of a woman slowly losing her mind while working for the British Board of Film Classification.

Niamh Algar plays the censor in question, troubled by the disappearance of her sister, and struggling to make sense of her work. It’s dark material, but Bailey-Bond’s film has a great sense of time and place, and truly comes to life when fantasy and reality merge in Enid’s mind, and the browns and greys of Thatcher’s Britain give way to lurid reds and greens.

Censor is available to stream on MUBI.

4. Coming Home in the Dark

Dream holiday becomes horrifying nightmare in this adaptation of a short story by Owen Marshall. Though that tale only really covers the first 20 minutes of Coming Home in the Dark, with writer Eli Kent and writer-director James Ashcroft using Marshall’s words as the jumping off point for a story about dark secrets in New Zealand’s past.

The plot itself concerns a pair of drifters taking a family hostage, and what follows is an exercise in unbearable tension and pure terror, dominated by a grandstanding performance from Daniel Gillies, whose multi-faceted villain manages to be as funny as he is scary.

Coming Home in the Dark is streaming on Netflix.

3. Last Night in Soho

Last Night In Soho (Universal Pictures)
Last Night In Soho (Universal Pictures)

A love letter to Swinging Sixties Soho, Edgar Wright’s new film — much like its protagonist — has one foot in the present, and one in the past. Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) is the character in question, an aspiring designer who heads to the bright lights of London’s West End to pursue her fashion dream. But she also possesses a gift that sends her back in time, where that sixth sense tethers Eloise to a young singer falling prey to the city’s sordid underbelly.

Read more: Edgar Wright pays tribute to Dame Diana Rigg

Co-written by 1917 scribe Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Last Night in Soho is a darkly entertaining marriage of style and substance that’s powered by a soundtrack to die for. But while nostalgia drips off every frame, it’s also a cautionary tale about the dangers of putting the past on a pedestal.

Last Night in Soho is coming to digital download soon.

2. Lamb

Lamb was one of the most talked about films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is Iceland’s entry for the next Academy Awards, and has already become the country’s most successful film. Which means that Vladimar Johannsson’s movie – which he co-wrote with Sjon – has much to live up to.

Mercifully, Lamb delivers, as both disturbing family drama, and fantastical folk horror. The location is a remote farm where a sheep gives birth to something unexpected, and farmers Ingvar and Maria decide to raise the new-born as their own. To reveal more would do a disservice to Lamb, but the result is a film that grips from strange start to devastating denouement.

Lamb is in cinemas now, and will stream on MUBI from 25 February, 2022.

1. Titane

Titane: Following a series of unexplained crimes, a father is reunited with the son who has been missing for 10 years. (Altitude/Film4)
Titane: Following a series of unexplained crimes, a father is reunited with the son who has been missing for 10 years. (Altitude/Film4)

Another Cannes favourite, Titane took home the big prize in the shape of the Palme d’Or, making writer-director Julia Ducournau just the second woman to win that award. And it’s a wild ride, tackling issues of misogyny and gender identity, and combining body horror with serial killer thriller before transforming into a domestic drama that’s both twisted and tender.

Agathe Rousselle delivers a startling performance as Alexia, who — thanks to a car accident — has a titanium plate in her skull, and an obsession with automobiles that quickly takes a shocking turn. Vincent Lindon is similarly impressive as the fireman who invites her into his home, seeing a kindred spirit in this lost soul. Like Ducournau’s feature debut Raw, Titane isn’t for the faint-hearted, with the visuals distressing and the horror extreme. But it’s also an unconventional love story that ultimately offers a message of compassion and hope.

Titane arrives in UK cinemas on 26 December.

Watch a trailer for Titane below

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