After a COVID-disrupted year in 2020, the first half of 2021 has slowly seen theaters open in select locations. And with theaters opening their doors, studios have started releasing all those delayed movies we’ve been dying to see. To date, Godzilla vs Kong, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, and A Quiet Place Part II have finally seen the light of day. And indie horror has continued to step up for horror fans. In particular, horror-streaming platform Shudder has continued to introduce audiences to smaller movies. Now that we’ve reached the halfway point of the year it’s time to list off The Abominable Dr Welsh’s 10 early favorites.
10 – Bloodthirsty (Director: Amelia Moses)
When an indie singer travels to a remote mansion to work with a big-name producer, she slowly undergoes an unsettling series of changes. Finally, horror filmmakers have started using the werewolf as a monstrous vehicle for social commentary like the zombie. Had Bloodthirsty nailed its digs at the music industry and the hunger for fame it might rank higher. However, Bloodthirsty doesn’t quite do for werewolves what Starry Eyes did for occultists. Nonetheless, Amelia Moses’ psychological approach to the material is consistently haunting and often unnerving.
9 – Caveat (Director: Damian McCarthy)
True, Caveat’s premise of an amnesiac drift agreeing to be chained in a house on a remote island with a disturbed woman stretches credulity. But Damian McCarthy’s directorial debut is just so damn scary, it’s easy to forgive the premise. Some audiences will grow frustrated with Caveat’s ambiguous storytelling. Still McCarthy effectively blends atmosphere with disturbing imagery and a handful of excellent jumps. The cat-and-mouse game that ensues delivers genuine edge-of-your seat tension. And the story’s gaps in exposition create enough mystery to engage in the those quieter moments.
8 – Violation (Director: Dusty Mancinelli, Madeline Sims-Fewer)
After years apart, Miriam’s visit with her sister and brother-in-law leads to an ultimate violation that sets her on a path of vengeance. Simply put, Violation is a challenging movie that you’ll likely not want to watch again. On one hand, Violation is beautifully filmed, brilliantly acted, and an immediately imperative movie. Like another Shudder production, Revenge, Mancinelli and Sim-Fewer subvert the rape-revenge narrative, resulting in a uniquely feminist horror movie. But Violation is also unrelenting, uncomfortable, and necessarily unsatisfying. Trauma lingers in real life and, thus, Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer leave with you no resolution. Additionally, the movie’s violence may be too much for many viewers.
7 – Godzilla vs. Kong (Director: Adam Wingard)
C’mon, how was this movie not going to be on this list? After a year delay due to COVID and some mixed responses to Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the ‘Monsterverse’ finally delivered on its promise. Despite some minor grievances, Godzilla vs Kong is the monster showdown that the 10-year-old in all of us were anticipating. Not even the puny human characters can derail the giddy fun for too long. Wingard and his creative team treated audiences to some of the most spectacular big monster action ever put up on a movie screen. Though it’s not completely satisfying Godzilla vs Kong gets the important stuff right.
6 – Anything for Jackson (Director: Justin G Dyck)
When a couple loses their grandson in a car accident, they turn to the occult with a sinister plan to bring him back. After some darkly fun winks and nods in the early going, Anything for Jackson proves to be one of the scarier movies in recent memory. Smarts twists on familiar tropes with inventive scares and practical effects alongside great performances delivers a surprise gem for horror fans. Even if Anything for Jackson’s final act leans towards the expected the overall result is still one of 2021’s better genre movies. With so many takes on ‘dark wishes’ and Satanist cults, there’s a refreshing feeling to this low-budget outing.
5 – Psycho Goreman (Director: Steven Kostanski)
When a brother and sister dig up a mysterious glowing gem, they gain control of an evil galactic monster that must do their bidding. Yes, the premise sounds stupid. And it’s supposed to be goofy. Simply put, Psycho Goreman is the horror-comedy you didn’t know you needed. Yes, it’s a little long. And no, not all the humour works. Fortunately, Kostanski avoids beating a dead horse with some of the more spotty jokes. Besides Psycho Goreman is so insanely fun that you won’t really mind spending the time with its title character. In fact, Kostanski’s bizarro creation begs for a sequel. Though horror and comedy are tough genres to mix, Psycho Goreman nails it perfectly. Come for the over-the-top bloodletting, stay for the 90’s-infused rap song over the credits.
4 = Saint Maud (Director: Rose Glass)
Once again A24 Films puts another movie up on a ‘Best of’ list here. Saint Maud tells the story of a disturbed nurse who slowly believes that God has tasked her with saving a terminally ill patient’s soul. While there’s no doubt it’s an A24 movie, Saint Maud presents a more urgent story with almost relentless tension. In true slow-burn fashion, writer and director Rose Glass allows the audience to see where things may go. There’s also a sense of dread to the movie’s story. And this is where Glass’ use of an ‘unreliable narrator’, provision of limited background information, and tapping into deeper themes widens Saint Maud’s impact. Bottom line, that last shot is one of the more disturbing images in recent horror movie history.
3 – The Power (Director: Corinna Faith)
One of several strong feminist horror movies from 2021 – and the second on this list – The Power represents director Corinna Faith’s feature-length debut. On her first day a new nurse works the night shift in a nearly empty hospital during a city-wide power outage as an unseen force haunts her. All in all, Faith accomplishes quite a feat with this extremely confident horror movie. Rather than relying on telegraphed jump scares, Faith sets an ominous tone that she maintains throughout the movie. For its first half, The Power trades in a quiet sense of unease, making full use of its decrepit hospital setting. Simply put, The Power soaks itself in haunting atmosphere from its opening scene. All of the scares run deep. And as a writer and director, Faith delivers a satisfying resolution that doesn’t betray the build-up.
2 – The Vigil (Director: Keith Thomas)
And here’s yet another religious horror movie on our list. Except this one’s rooted in Jewish theology. Though he is estranged from his Jewish community, Yakov agrees to keep a vigil over a recently deceased over whom a demonic presence lurks. As Keith Thomas’ directorial debut, The Vigil is a triumph of horror filmmaking. Straight out of the gate, The Vigil establishes a tone of increasing dread that’s omnipotent throughout the movie. The soundtrack, cinematography, and performances transcend the movie’s more limited budget. Moreover, a steady grasp on atmosphere alongside a ‘less is more approach’ ensures The Vigil succeeds as pure horror, even when some elements feel familiar. One trip into the basement and a FaceTime call should have audiences squirming.
1- A Quiet Place Part II (Director: John Krasinski)
It’s been so long since we’ve had a big studio horror movie. And this one absolutely delivers. As far as sequels go, A Quiet Place Part II exceeds all expectations. John Krasinski expands his world and increases the monster action without losing the tension or emotional core from his original vision. Rather than re-hashing what worked the first time around, A Quiet Place Part II feels like a natural extension of Krasinski’s story where his characters continue to grow into their respective arcs. And Cillian Murphy’s character never feels like a superfluous addition. Instead, Krasinski gives Murphy a fleshed out arc that compliments the Abbott family and parallel’s the sequel’s story and themes. Bottom line, A Quiet Place Part II delivers more tense monster thrills alongside a moving story about survival.