2013: The Conjuring
James Wan’s third successful horror franchise established Warner Bros’ now incredibly successful cinematic universe.
The Conjuring’s period setting is reminiscent of The Exorcist, and it really captures a nostalgic feeling with its simplicity. What makes The Conjuring great is its execution; it doesn’t do anything novel, but it does everything it wants to do well. Hide-and-clap (a silly game) becomes bait for a jump scare, and it really doesn’t matter how telegraphed it is, you’re going to jump when the movie wants you to. Joseph Bishara also returns with another excellent, chaotic score that unsettles listeners without the visual elements. Say what you will about its sequels, but The Conjuring is a great film, and easily the best of 2013.
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2014: The Babadook
2014 Australian horror film The Babadook was released in limited locations in the US, running mostly at film festivals, and as such became a picture many were drawn to through the growing presence of streaming in the movie marketplace. It was an instant classic.
This $2million Jennifer Kent feature directorial debut managed to convey messages about parenting, grief and guilt while remaining scary throughout. The monster’s design is like nothing else in film, the monster’s book is an amazing prop, and the ending is one of the most fascinating in all of horror. Kent deserves so much more opportunity in the horror industry as her talent and dedication to the craft is evident in every aspect of this film.
2015: The Witch
A period horror piece set in colonial America, The VVitch is a story about the damage caused by superstition and sexism, though its most notable component is the dedication to period authenticity, including the language, accents, lighting and costumes.
The film explores family discord as the result of death, theology and contemporary views of witchcraft. Its bleak landscapes reflect the film’s mood and often leave viewers feeling isolated. It’s also the official film premiere of Anya Taylor-Joy, who does an incredible job as Thomasin, the girl accused of witchcraft. The VVitch shows the talent of director Robert Eggers (who would go on to direct The Lighthouse) and is everything one could dream their first feature film to be.
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2016: The Autopsy of Jane Doe
2016 was a great year for horror, delivering us the likes of Raw, Split, Ouija: Origin of Evil, and Train to Busan, but The Autopsy of Jane Doe was the late-to-arrive ruler of the roost, offering a truly captivating surprise hit at the end of the calendar year.
The film is brilliantly simple: a father and son perform an autopsy on an unidentified victim. What begins as a clinical mystery becomes a gruesome supernatural terror, with visceral moments of horror that rival Saw without the gore. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is the kind of horror film that requires creativity from the filmmakers to captivate audiences in such a small setting, and stands in contrast to studio horrors like The Conjuring or Paranormal Activity franchises.