HomeHorrorMary Beth McAndrews' Top 10 Horror Films of 2021

    Mary Beth McAndrews’ Top 10 Horror Films of 2021

    Editor-in-chief Mary Beth McAndrews looks at her top 10 favorite horror movies from 2021.

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    It’s been a weird year. None of us can deny that. But, despite it all, it’s been an incredible year for horror. We saw franchise reboots, incredible genre TV, big-budget swings, and stunning indie features. A lot of festival favorites from 2020 finally got the releases they deserve, meaning the rest of the world could experience their magic. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of these releases and bask in the glory of genre filmmaking in 2021.

    With so many films, it made narrowing down this list incredibly difficult. That’s why I’m including my honorable mentions at the bottom of the article because I’m frozen with indecision and don’t want to leave anyone out! But, without further ado, here are my top 10 horror movies from 2021.

    My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To

    MY HEART CANT BEAT UNLESS YOU TELL IT TO feature - Mary Beth McAndrews' Top 10 Horror Films of 2021

    I love a good emotionally devastating horror movie. And Jonathan Cuartas’ My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is just that. Patrick Fugit plays Dwight, who lives with his sister Jessie and sickly younger brother Thomas. As one of Thomas’ caretakers, Dwight is tasked with helping keep Thomas alive by whatever means necessary. And for Thomas, that means providing him with a fresh supply of blood. Yes, Thomas is a vampire, but he’s a very sickly creature of the night. He can’t leave the house and is incredibly weak. So, his siblings must provide for him. The film dives into the horrors and trauma of taking care of a dying loved one and what it means to give up your life for their health. There are no easy answers here but the subject is handled beautifully and with nuance.

    The Feast

    THE FEAST Still 3 2 1024x683 - Mary Beth McAndrews' Top 10 Horror Films of 2021Courtesy of IFC Midnight

    Lee Haven Jones’ The Feast is a combo of environmental and folk horror that had me screaming “good for her” during the film’s closing act. Filmed entirely in Welsh, the film follows a wealthy family having a dinner party for a few business associates. They hire a local girl, Cadi (Annes Elwy), to help prepare and serve the meal. But something is off with Cadi. She barely says a word, stares vacantly at the family, and seems to trail dirt behind her even though her shoes are clean. It’s a delicious slow-burn that never lulls you into a false sense of security. Instead, you’re on edge for the entire runtime, waiting for the next horrific thing to happen, whether it’s puke in a casserole dish or an infected leg full of maggots. It’s disgusting, it’s gorgeous, it’s everything I want in my horror movies.


    Malignant Gabriel  - Mary Beth McAndrews' Top 10 Horror Films of 2021

    I’d be hardpressed to name a film I had more fun watching this year than James Wan’s Malignant. It’s got everything: leather-clad villains, incredibly cheesy one-liners, a ridiculous twist, and our villain absolutely wrecking an entire police station. I watched every second of this bonkers ass movie with a giant smile on my face. This is Wan at his best, trusted with a ridiculously high budget to make whatever he wants. And I’m so glad he threw all caution to the wind because it is an incredible experience. Sure, some may think it’s stupid or too over-the-top, and that’s totally fine! But for me, this was perhaps my favorite movie-watching experience of 2021.


    VHS94 01 4PRESS 1 - Mary Beth McAndrews' Top 10 Horror Films of 2021

    If I haven’t made it clear before, I am a found footage queen. The DIY subgenre can elicit fear like no other, placing the viewer in the subject position of the filmmaker. You are part of the fear, and your level of participation influences just how scary the film can be. V/H/S/94, the fourth installment in the found footage anthology franchise, does just that. It breathes new life into the franchise with three new filmmakers to the series. It also marks the first V/H/S films to feature female directors (finally). Each segment is incredible, from Simon Barrett’s zombie film “The Empty Wake” to Timo Tjahjanto’s take on Frankenstein, “The Subject”. But the standout is Chloe Okuno’s “The Storm Drain” which gave us the creature of the year: Raatma. With fresh voices and perspectives, V/H/S/94 put the series back on the map, stretching the boundaries of what you can create in the world of found footage.


    Sator 1 jpeg 1024x429 - Mary Beth McAndrews' Top 10 Horror Films of 2021

    Speaking of found footage, Jordan Graham’s Sator is a fascinating experiment in form, utilizing actual family videotapes to augment a story about family trauma. It’s a quiet, sneaky film that doesn’t want to scare you outright; it wants to haunt you. It wants you to second guess what’s happening in front of you. Nothing about Sator is conventional and that’s why I love it so much. The more you surrender yourself to Graham’s world, the deeper in it pulls you. Is Sator real? Is it a figment of a broken family’s imagination? You’ll have to watch to find out.

    The Wanting Mare

    TheWantingMare STILL 019 - Mary Beth McAndrews' Top 10 Horror Films of 2021

    This is how you do a sci-fi/fantasy epic on a budget. I truly haven’t been able to get The Wanting Mare out of my mind since I saw it last year. In his feature film debut, Nicholas Ashe Bateman builds the complex and fascinating world of Anmaere, a world where there was once magic but it has since disappeared. Here, three generations of women pass down a shared dream that haunts them. That’s all I’ll say for now but it’s such a huge world with such an intimate love story at its center. Bateman’s film is a testament to indie filmmaking and what can be accomplished regardless of budget size. I mean, Bateman did a majority of the special effects himself in Adobe AfterEffects. But that also means more studios should give directors like Bateman the big bucks to fully realize their dreams.

    The Medium

    MEDIUM 100 0005 RT 1024x683 - Mary Beth McAndrews' Top 10 Horror Films of 2021Sawanee Utoomma as Nim – The Medium – Photo Credit: Sasidis Sasisakulporn/Shudder

    Yes, of course there’s another found footage horror on my list. This time, it’s Banjong Pisanthanakun’s Thai pseudodocumentary, The Medium. It follows Nim (Sawanee Utoomma), a medium who serves as a vessel for local goddess Bayan. It’s something that’s been passed down through her family and she loves her job. But, it seems like her niece Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech) may be next in line to be Bayan’s vessel. Yet Nim realizes something is wrong and Mink may be possessed by something else. Under the guise of being a documentary, Pisanthanakun is able to utilize beautiful cinematography and keep away from the shaky-cam approach. He also is able to really play with scale here, both in how the environment is framed and the growing size of the rituals.


    Titane still - Mary Beth McAndrews' Top 10 Horror Films of 2021

    Julia Ducournau’s second feature film Titane is body horror, a serial killer thriller, and a tale about found family. It’s disgusting, beautiful, touching, and deeply sad. Titane navigates identity, queerness, and what the idea of the self really means. Yes, Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) has sex with a car, but that shocking scene at the film’s beginning only scratches the surface of Titane’s complexity. Frankly, it does Ducournau a disservice to reduce it to the car fucking movie. It’s so much more tender than I ever expected. It also features my favorite needle drop of the year, when Future Islands starts to play and the fire brigade dances together under purplish-pink neon light.

    Saint Maud

    saintmaud - Mary Beth McAndrews' Top 10 Horror Films of 2021

    Let me tell you, the literal last second of Rose Glass’ Saint Maud is perfect horror storytelling. And the rest of the film is pretty damn good, too. Glass takes the expectations of a religious, specifically Catholic, horror and creates something quite blasphemous (I mean that as a high compliment). Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a holier-than-thou lover of God who thinks her way is the best, and only, way to worship. And that involves a lot of religious ecstasy (read: orgasms) and self-flagellation. She’s our unreliable narrator, walking us through her world and making us see a place full of miraculous possibilities, but not without a little pain along the way. We question her every move until that infamous last second, where Glass blows it all up in our faces with a throat-ripping scream.


    violation 1 - Mary Beth McAndrews' Top 10 Horror Films of 2021

    Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dustin Mancinelli made something so special with Violation. Their film furthers the work of those looking to reclaim the rape-revenge movie as something more than just exploitation fodder. Here, sexual assault and the revenge we seek is not so simple and not so cathartic. Sims-Fewer plays Miriam, a not-so-nice but still sympathetic woman who is raped by Dylan, who’s both her childhood best friend and her sister’s husband. Her revenge is unrelenting and violent, a harrowing sequence of events that make you feel unbearably nauseous. This is the reality of revenge. It’s not so simple. It’s grotesque, it’s heartbreaking, it’s virtually impossible. Violation perfectly captures the deeply complicated nature of revenge and shows that it doesn’t mean catharsis. Plus, it has one of the best representations of sexual assault-related PTSD I’ve ever seen in a horror movie.

    Rape-revenge films directed by women are a must, especially now as survivors try to reclaim their narratives and parse through them in a controlled space. Violation is a shining example of how to do just that without being worried about placating audiences or watering down the truth. It’s one of the hardest movies to watch of 2021, and it’s also one of the year’s best.

    Honorable Mentions

    I still have to give a shout-out to a few other films that just barely missed my top 10. First up is Ryan Glover’s The Strings, a cosmic horror ghost story perfect for watching in the deep of winter. It’s creepy, it’s cold, and features the incredible vocal and acting talents of Teagan Johnston. Then, there’s the delightful big swing The Empty Man, a wild two-and-a-half-hour epic about urban legends, tulpas, and, again, cosmic horror.

    Devereux Milburn’s Honeydew is one nasty, and darkly funny, experience featuring cannibalism and a wild celebrity cameo. Gabe Theis made another incredible found footage film with his tale The Curse. of Professor Zardonicus. And, lastly, Prano Bailey-Bond’s take on the time of video nasties, Censor. It’s such a self-assured debut and I cannot wait to see what’s next for her.

    Tags: Best of 2021

    Categorized: Best of 2021 Editorials News

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