The 15 Best Horror Movies of 2017 (So Far)

Movies Lists best of 2017 so far
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The 15 Best Horror Movies of 2017 (So Far)

So far, the best horror movies of 2017 have cut a wide chasm between extremes—between films that explore the limits of obscenity and the quietest of character musings, between well-tuned homages to old-fashioned thrillers and those that feel completely, breathlessly new. And yes, some of us have weathered Flying Lotus’s Kuso —if “weather” is even the right word to use in this case.

Now in August, it’s clear that, however much we have and have yet to lament, 2017 is yielding plenty of great—maybe classic—films in a genre (or genre inherently open to a mash-up of genres) typically friendlier than most to giving a voice (and budget) to underrepresented filmmakers toiling at the fringes of the industry. In other words: Horror movie-making is important, now more than ever:

Here are the best horror movies of 2017 so far.

alien-covenant-poster.jpg 15. Alien: Covenant
Director:   Ridley Scott  
Alien: Covenant starts out mostly swimmingly as Scott guides his characters and the crowd into his film’s visual abattoir: The sheer volume of blood spilled here, CGI or not, can’t be overstated, so let’s be clear that Alien: Covenant isn’t for the faint of heart (though the faint of heart probably aren’t lining up to see this sucker anyways). Put as vaguely as possible to avoid spoiling its gruesome pleasures, let’s just say that things go into things, and that things come out of things, and also that these things are things that should neither go into nor come out of other things. This is precisely the draw of Alien movies from a visceral standpoint, of course, and as long as Scott melds paranoiac body horror and gun-toting action without drawing attention to backstory, the film works. It even has subtext. (You think you know someone until they unexpectedly vomit bile in your face. If that’s not a metaphor for modern political dialogue, then what is?) —Andy Crump


girl-with-all-gifts-poster.jpg 14. The Girl With All the Gifts
Director: Colm McCarthy
M.R. Carey’s novel The Girl With All the Gifts plays coy with its zombie (or “hungries,” as they’re called here) trappings, drawing readers in for dozens of pages before revealing its flesh-eating premise. The film adaptation, released last year in the U.K. before making its U.S. debut in February, bares its teeth right away. If viewers aren’t burnt out on zombie offerings (and they shouldn’t be, with such recent standouts as 2016’s Korean hit Train to Busan proving that the genre has plenty of life left in it), they’ll find that The Girl With All the Gifts is less concerned with the initial overwhelming outbreak than with the moral lines survivors in the military and scientific community are willing to cross. Director Colm McCarthy, working from a screenplay by Carey himself, doesn’t skimp on the swarming carnage, often rendering attacks in brutal, fully lit scenes, but the most frightening tension comes from a menacing, single-minded Glenn Close as a scientist with few scruples. Young actress Sennia Nanua as Melanie, the “hungry” most in control of her impulses, gives the crowded zombie genre one of its only truly heroic performances, enshrining The Girl With All the Gifts as the bloody heir to George Romero’s misunderstood-at-the-time classic Day of the Dead. —Steve Foxe


life-movie-poster.jpg 13. Life
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Suppose you’re in Space. Go ahead, suppose it. Now suppose you’re on a Spacewalk, nothing between you and the infinite but a braided steel tether and the best Spacesuit human minds could fathom. Then something goes wrong. Your helmet starts filling up with liquid and you don’t know why. In Space, the liquid is everywhere, floating in your eyes, blinding you. This actually happened to astronauts Chris Hadfield and Luca Parmitano, when emergency suit leaks almost caused disaster. They didn’t panic—but they’re not us. Life, a gripping space station horror movie somewhere between The Martian, Alien and Event Horizon, uses this scientific unfamiliarity to its terrifying advantage. There’s already so much extra to consider in Space, so much outside the layman’s understanding, that there’s also so much extra to fear. We’re afraid of things we can’t quite grasp, and in Space we’re sure of so little that, when done well, weightless—metaphorically and literally—events can feel like lead in our stomachs. And Life nails the fundamentals of that fear.

It’s also just a generally beautiful movie whose visuals embrace both the wonders of technology and the intensity of isolation—not by, like Alfonso Cuarón does in Gravity, opening up to the cold loneliness of space, but instead by countering gorgeously rendered ISS shots with an Earthly backdrop. Daniel Espinosa emphasizes the responsibility placed on the space station by all of us here on the ground. Those astronauts are the best of us and, dammit, they’re not going to let us down. —Jacob Oller / Full Review


the-void-movie-poster.jpg 12. The Void
Directors: Steven Kostanski, Jeremy Gillespie
Viewers should grade writer-directors Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie’s The Void on a curve: While the low-budget Canadian production earns an “A” for ambition, its mélange of The Thing-inspired body horror, ‘80s nostalgia and Lovecraftian cosmic terror doesn’t quite cohere into a satisfying whole by the time its chief antagonist peels away his skin to reveal a bodysuit that looks like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’ Lord Zedd. The first half of the film demonstrates much more restraint, building tension as triangle-branded cultists isolate a mismatched group of (mostly) innocent people—led by Aaron Poole as an out-of-his-depth small-town cop—in a (mostly) vacant hospital. Kotanski and Gillespie build in too many potentially conflicting twists—who, exactly, is impregnated with what?—but the grotesque practical effects and descent-into-Hell structure at times pass for a solid Silent Hill adaptation. Some of horror’s most recent, popularly memorable features (say: It Follows, The Babadook) have wisely employed relatively narrow scopes. Instead, The Void attempts to push audiences into another dimension, but manages at least a few successful frights along the way. —Steve Foxe


the-lure-poster.jpg 11. The Lure
Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska
In Filmmaker Magazine, director Agnieszka Smoczynska called The Lure a “coming-of-age story” born of her past as the child of a nightclub owner: “I grew up breathing this atmosphere.” What she means to say, I’m guessing, is that The Lure is an even more restlessly plotted Boyhood if the Texan movie rebooted The Little Mermaid as a murderous synth-rock opera. (OK, maybe it’s nothing like Boyhood.) Smoczynska’s film resurrects prototypical fairy tale romance and fantasy without any of the false notes associated with Hollywood’s “gritty” reboot culture. Poland, the 1980s and the development of its leading young women provide a multi-genre milieu in which the film’s cannibalistic mermaids can sing their sultry, often violently funny siren songs to their dark hearts’re content. While Ariel the mermaid Disney princess finds empathy with young girls who watch her struggle with feelings of longing and entrapment, The Lure’s flesh-hungry, viscous, scaly fish-people are a gross, haptic and ultimately effective metaphor for the maturation of this same audience. In the water, the pair are innocent to the ways of humans (adults), but on land develop slimes and odors unfamiliar to themselves and odd (yet strangely attractive) to their new companions. Reckoning with bodily change, especially when shoved into the sex industry like many immigrants to Poland during the collapse of that country’s communist regime in the late ’80s, the film combines the politics of the time with the sexual politics of a girl becoming a woman (of having her body politicized). And though The Lure may bite off more human neck than it can chew, especially during its music-less plot wanderings, it’s just so wonderfully consistent in its oddball vision you won’t be able to help but be drawn in by its mesmerizing thrall. —Jacob Oller / Full Review


blackcoats-daughter-movie-poster.jpg 10. The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Director: Osgood Perkins
Looking at his first two horror features, it becomes clear that director Osgood Perkins seems to have a distinct distaste for both plot and film convention. His films defy easy description, as anyone who watched I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House on Netflix could attest. The Blackcoat’s Daughter, meanwhile, was completed and exhibited as early as 2015 under the title February, but has been floating around in limbo ever since until A24 decided to finally give it a limited release this spring. Compared with Pretty Thing, Blackcoat’s Daughter is at least easier to grasp and marginally brisker, which makes it more effective overall. Perkins’ style is languid, atmospheric and deliberate, favoring repetition and a slowly multiplying sense of unease and impending doom. The story follows two high school-aged students who are both left relatively alone at their uptight Catholic boarding school over break when their parents fail to pick them up. As one descends into what is implied to be either madness or demonic possession, the events are interwoven with another story about a young woman journeying on the road in the direction of the boarding school. The two stories inevitably intertwine. The film’s pace sometimes leaves something to be desired, but patience is largely repaid by its final third, which contains several moments genuinely disturbing in their violence and transgressive imagery. In the end, The Blackcoat’s Daughter comes together significantly more neatly and logically than one might consider while watching its first hour, rewarding careful attention to detail throughout. —Jim Vorel


split-movie-poster.jpg 9. Split
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Split is the film adaptation of M. Night Shyamalan’s misunderstanding of 30-year-old, since-discredited psychology textbooks on Dissociative Identity Disorder, but if we deign to treat it with scientific scrutiny, we’ll be here all night. Suffice it to say, don’t go looking at anything in this film as psychologically valid in any way. But do go see Split, because it’s probably M. Night Shyamalan’s best film since Signs. Or maybe since Unbreakable, for that matter. And if there’s one way that Split reinvigorates Shyamalan’s stock most, it’s as a visual artist and writer-director of tension and thrilling action. The film looks spectacular, full of Hitchcockian homages that remind one of Vertigo and Psycho, to name only a few. It’s a far scarier, more suspenseful film in its high moments than Shyamalan’s last film, The Visit, ever attempted to be, and it may even be funnier as well, although these moments of levity are sown sparingly for maximum impact. Mike Gioulakis deserves major props for cinematography, but the other thing that will stick in my mind is the unexpectedly great sound design, full of rumbling, groaning metallic tones. After so many films that relied on the kind of overwrought twist ending that made The Sixth Sense so buzzy in 1999, it seems like Shyamalan has finally gotten over the hump to make the kinds of stories he makes best: atmospheric, suspenseful potboilers. Here’s hoping that this newfound streak of humility is here to stay. —Jim Vorel / Full Review


transfiguration-movie-poster.jpg 8. The Transfiguration
Director: Michael O’Shea
Michael O’Shea’s The Transfiguration refreshingly refuses to disguise its influences and reference points, instead putting them all out there in the forefront for its audience’s edification, name-dropping a mouthful of noteworthy vampire films and sticking their very titles right smack dab in the midst of its mise en scène. They can’t be missed: Nosferatu is a big one, and so’s The Lost Boys, but none informs O’Shea’s film as much as Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson’s unique 2009 genre masterpiece. Like Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration casts a young’n, Milo (Eric Ruffin), as its protagonist, contrasting the horrible particulars of a vampire’s feeding habits against the surface innocence of his appearance. Unlike Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration may not be a vampire movie at all, but a movie about a lonesome kid with an unhealthy fixation on gothic legends. You may choose to view Milo as O’Shea’s modernized update of the iconic monster or a child brimming with inner evil; the film keeps its ends open, its truths veiled and only makes its sociopolitical allegories plain in its final, haunting images. —Andy Crump


we-are-the-flesh-movie-poster.jpg 7. We Are the Flesh
Director: Emiliano Rocha Minter
Emiliano Rocha Minter’s death-gurgle provocation We Are the Flesh is successful because it provokes not for the sake of provoking, but to an end. The list of would-be shockers lurking at the edges of horror history is long: A Serbian Film, August Underground, Martyrs, all the way back to Cannibal Holocaust and Nekromantik. Few of these movies have a purpose beyond revulsion— which, look, is totally useful in its own right—and We Are the Flesh takes its sweet time getting to its point, wallowing in the kind of fluid-soaked, perverse murder-fucking that fills Georges Bataille’s transgressive literature staple Story of the Eye. Not coincidentally, Bataille, along with Andrzej ?u?awski, gets a shoutout in the film’s credits, offering a window into Minter’s politically agitated thematic preoccupations. The unsimulated sex, the full-view throat-slittings, the only close-up in cinema history of a scrotum gently contracting—these images are wielded to enrage as much as to disgust, and even if you don’t buy into the undercurrents, We Are the Flesh’s furious obscenity is galvanizing on its own. At a tight 79 minutes it immediately abandons you in its vaguely defined, possibly post-apocalyptic world and doesn’t let up until all is over, climaxing with a scene which echoes Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s beguiling 2015 Evolution (or, um…The Village) in its abrupt reorientation of everything you’ve just seen. Immerse yourself in filth. —Zach Budgor


a-dark-song-movie-poster.jpg 6. A Dark Song
Director: Liam Gavin
In Liam Gavin’s black magic genre oddity, Sophia (Catherine Walker), a grief-stricken mother, and the schlubby, no-nonsense occultist (Steve Oram) she hires devote themselves to a long, meticulous, painstaking ritual in order to (they hope) communicate with her dead son. Gavin lays out the ritual specifically and physically—over the course of months of isolation, Sophia undergoes tests of endurance and humiliation, never quite sure if she’s participating in an elaborate hoax or if she can take her spiritual guide seriously when he promises her he’s succeeded in the past. Paced to near perfection, A Dark Song is ostensibly a horror film but operates as a dread-laden procedural, mounting tension while translating the process of bereavement as patient, excruciating manual labor. In the end, something definitely happens, but its implications are so steeped in the blurry lines between Christianity and the occult that I still wonder what kind of alternate realms of existence Gavin is getting at. But A Dark Song thrives in that uncertainty, feeding off of monotony. Sophia may hear phantasmagorical noise coming from beneath the floorboards, but then substantial spans of time pass without anything else happening, and we begin to question, as she does, whether it was something she did wrong (maybe, when tasked with not moving from inside a small chalk circle for days at a time, she screwed up that portion of the ritual by allowing her urine to dribble outside of the boundary) or whether her grief has blinded her to an expensive con. Regardless, that “not knowing” is the scary stuff of everyday life, and by portraying Sophia’s profound emotional journey as a humdrum trial of physical mettle, Gavin reveals just how much pointless, even terrifying work it can be anymore to not only live the most ordinary of days, but to make it to the next. —Dom Sinacola


raw-movie-poster.jpg 5. Raw
Director: Julia Ducournou
If you’re the proud owner of a twisted sense of humor, you might tell your friends that Julia Ducournau’s Raw as a coming of age movie in a bid to trick them into seeing it. Yes, the film’s protagonist, naive incoming college student Justine (Garance Marillier), comes of age over the course of its running time; she parties, she breaks out of her shell, and she learns about who she really is as a person on the verge of adulthood. But most kids who come of age in the movies don’t realize that they’ve spent their lives unwittingly suppressing an innate, nigh-insatiable need to consume raw meat. “Hey,” you’re thinking, “that’s the name of the movie!” You’re right! It is! Allow Ducournau her cheekiness. More than a wink and nod to the picture’s visceral particulars, Raw is an open concession to the harrowing quality of Justine’s grim blossoming. Nasty as the film gets, and it does indeed get nasty, the harshest sensations Ducournau articulates here tend to be the ones we can’t detect by merely looking: Fear of feminine sexuality, family legacies, popularity politics, and uncertainty of self govern Raw’s horrors as much as exposed and bloody flesh. It’s a gorefest that offers no apologies and plenty more to chew on than its effects. —Andy Crump / Full Review (for a slightly different take on the film)


prevenge-movie-jpg 4. Prevenge
Director: Alice Lowe
Maybe getting close enough to gut a person when you’re seven months pregnant is a cinch—no one likely expects an expecting mother to cut their throat—but all the positive encouragement Ruth’s (Alice Lowe) unborn daughter gives her helps, too. The kid spends the film spurring her mother to slaughter seemingly innocent people from in utero, an invisible voice of incipient malevolence sporting a high-pitched giggle that’ll make your skin crawl. “Pregnant lady goes on a slashing spree at the behest of her gestating child” sounds like a perfectly daffy twist on one of the horror genre’s most enduring contemporary niches on paper. In practice it’s not quite so daffy, more somber than it is silly, but the bleak tone suits what writer, director, and star Lowe wants to achieve with her filmmaking debut. Another storyteller might have designed Prevenge as a more comically-slanted effort, but Lowe has sculpted it to smash taboos and social norms. Because Prevenge hates human beings with a disturbing passion—even human beings who aren’t selfish, awful, creepy or worse—in it, child-rearing is a form of real-life body horror that’s as smartly crafted and grimly funny as it is terrifying. —Andy Crump / Full Review


it-comes-at-night-poster.jpg 3. It Comes at Night
Director: Trey Edward Shults
It Comes at Night is ostensibly a horror movie, moreso than Shults’s debut, Krisha, but even Krisha was more of a horror movie than most measured family dramas typically are. Perhaps knowing this, Shults calls It Comes at Night an atypical horror movie, but—it’s already obvious after only two of these—Shults makes horror movies to the extent that everything in them is laced with dread, and every situation suffocated with inevitability. For his sophomore film, adorned with a much larger budget than Krisha and cast with some real indie star power compared to his previous cast (of family members doing him a solid), Shults imagines a near future as could be expected from a somber flick like this. A “sickness” has ravaged the world and survival is all that matters for those still left. In order to keep their shit together enough to keep living, the small group of people in Shults’s film have to accept the same things the audience does: That important characters will die, tragedy will happen and the horror of life is about the pointlessness of resisting the tide of either. So it makes sense that It Comes at Night is such an open wound of a watch, pained with regret and loss and the mundane ache of simply existing: It’s trauma as tone poem, bittersweet down to its bones, a triumph of empathetic, soul-shaking movie-making. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review


personal-shopper-poster.jpg 2. Personal Shopper
Director: Olivier Assayas
The pieces don’t all fit in Personal Shopper, but that’s much of the fun of writer-director Olivier Assayas’s enigmatic tale of Maureen (Kristen Stewart, a wonderfully unfathomable presence), who may be in contact with her dead twin brother. Or maybe she’s being stalked by an unseen assailant. Or maybe it’s both. To attempt to explain the direction Personal Shopper takes is merely to regurgitate plot points that don’t sound like they belong in the same film. But Assayas is working on a deeper, more metaphorical level, abandoning strict narrative cause-and-effect logic to give us fragments of Maureen’s life refracted through conflicting experiences. Nothing happens in this film as a direct result of what came before, which explains why a sudden appearance of suggestive, potentially dangerous text messages could be interpreted as a literal threat, or as some strange cosmic manifestation of other, subtler anxieties. Personal Shopper encourages a sense of play, moving from moody ghost story to tense thriller to (out of the blue) erotic character study. But that genre-hopping (not to mention the movie’s willfully inscrutable design) is Assayas’s way of bringing a lighthearted approach to serious questions about grieving and disillusionment. The juxtaposition isn’t jarring or glib—if anything, Personal Shopper is all the more entrancing because it won’t sit still, never letting us be comfortable in its shifting narrative. —Tim Grierson / Full Review


get-out-poster.jpg 1. Get Out
Director:   Jordan Peele  
Peele’s a natural behind the camera, but Get Out benefits most from its deceptively trim premise, a simplicity which belies rich thematic depth. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) go to spend a weekend with her folks in their lavish upstate New York mansion, where they’re throwing the annual Armitage bash with all their friends in attendance. Chris immediately feels out of place; events escalate from there, taking the narrative in a ghastly direction that ultimately ties back to the unsettling sensation of being the “other” in a room full of people who aren’t like you—and never let you forget it. Put indelicately, Get Out is about being black and surrounded by whites who squeeze your biceps without asking, who fetishize you to your face, who analyze your blackness as if it’s a fashion trend. At best Chris’s ordeal is bizarre and dizzying, the kind of thing he might bitterly chuckle about in retrospect. At worst it’s a setup for such macabre developments as are found in the domain of horror. That’s the finest of lines Peele and Get Out walk without stumbling. —Andy Crump / Full Review

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