2016, cinema, Dusk, Fairlane Road, film reviews, films, Forsaken, He Never Died, JeruZalem, Mark of the Witch, Martyrs, mid-year report, mid-year review, Movies, personal opinions, Restoration, Sacrifice, Smothered, The Before Time, The Boy, The Forest, The Offering, The Sacrament, Uncaged, worst films of 2016, year in review
With June now behind us, we’ve officially reached the midpoint of 2016: what better time to take a look at the best and the worst horror films released in the first half of the year? As part of my goal to see as many 2016 horror films as humanly possible (both wide-released big budget affairs and straight-to-VOD indies), I’ve managed to screen 66 of the 113 released films thus far. I’ve still yet to see a few of the wide-released studio horror, such as The Neon Demon, The Conjuring 2 or The Shallows, but a 58% viewing ratio makes me confident enough to be able to provide a (fairly) decent appraisal of what’s out there.
While I’ve managed to see plenty of good films and even a handful of great ones, there have also been plenty of stinkers in the batch. These have ranged from creatively bankrupt, cookie-cutter snoozers that jump on whatever happens to be the trend of the moment (witch and possession/exorcism films are currently “it” in this game of tag) to thoroughly inept exercises in bad filmmaking. I’ve seen films that were laughably bad and films that failed to even check that particular box off their lists.
Out of 66 films, however, there were always going to be some bad apples: that’s just the law of averages. There were also lots of exceptional films and we’ll get to those, too. With no further ado, then, here are my thoughts on the sixteen films that I consider to be the worst horror films of 2016 (thus far). For purposes of brevity, I’ve tried to restrict my thoughts to a sentence or two. There is also no particular order to the list below, although certain films were certainly worse than others. Will any of these make it on to my ultimate Worst of the Year list? Only time will tell but I’ll tell you what: a few of these are early and easy contenders.
Restoration – Written, directed by and starring one of my favorite actors (Zack Ward), this managed to be one of the most aggressively stupid films I think I’ve ever seen. New home owners find a teddy bear in the walls and mass over-acting ensues.
Uncaged – 1st-person-POV horror, teens and werewolves should have been a great combo but this overly earnest indie just limped around for a while, waiting for someone to put a (silver) bullet in it. I’ll stick with Teen Wolf, thanks very much.
Sacrifice – A rather dumb take on The Wicker Man, minus any of that film’s genuine mystery or otherworldy allure, Sacrifice is more of a mystery than an actual horror film. This snoozer about ritually-murdered bodies found in a peat bog is also much more interesting in theory than it ever becomes in execution.
Fairlane Road – I never like to unduly shit on indie horror films but it was hard to find anything to extoll in this particular instance. This tale of a nephew going to see his loner uncle in the desert unfolds pretty much how you expect it to, right down to the “twist” ending, devoid of anything approaching a surprise and full of some downright amateurish performances.
The Offering – Combining lame “Americans in a scary foreign place” films with even lamer possession films and adding dumb cult elements, for spice, The Offering is sort of like making a gumbo with rocks, dirt and spider webs and then expecting it to taste like anything but muck: it won’t. Another film that seems to think foreigners are inherently creepy, just, you know, because.
Sacrament – This tale of crazy, small-town Texan carnivores and their cult-like ways had its heart in the right place (hell, Texas Chain Saw’s Marilyn Burns even makes an appearance!) but not much else. If intentions were outcomes, however, this would have been a real gem.
JeruZalem – Another aggressively stupid film (another 2016 theme?), this managed to squander the colossally rad idea of a Biblical catastrophe befalling modern-day Jerusalem by saddling us with obnoxious characters and at least 666 jump scares too many. The 1st-person-POV was explained via Google Glass, which was clever, but almost everything else was painfully vanilla and remarkably tedious.
Smothered – I really wanted to like this film and its genuinely clever concept (real-life horror icons get picked off, one by one, at a sinister trailer park) but one thing held me back: it’s a complete and total mess. Helmed by Dukes of Hazzards’ John Schneider and featuring lots of all-in performances, this was clearly a labor of love but, unfortunately, not of brains.
The Forest – One of few 2016 horror films to receive wide distribution in multiplexes, The Forest is also one of the year’s very worst films: go figure. Cobbling together a moldy fruitcake out of tedious J-horror clichés, childhood trauma tedium and the bizarre notion than elderly Asian people are absolutely terrifying for no reason whatsoever (is there a name for that phobia?), The Forest looked good but was completely hollow and pointless, like a wax banana.
The Boy – Another wide-released horror film, The Boy was another complete stinker: before the obvious twist turns the film into a complete joke, we’re left with a fairly standard “young woman in a creepy house where doors open and close film” crossed with a very standard “creepy doll” film. Neither “fake” film is particularly interesting but they’re both better than the “real” one, by a wide margin.
He Never Died – I didn’t hate this oddball horror-comedy but I sure as hell didn’t love it, either, especially when it wasted both an original concept and Henry Rollins as an immortal flesh-eater. There’s some genuine pathos and dark humor that gets completely obliterated by tone-deaf cornball comedy and eye-rolling indie-action dumbassery, which kind of hurt my heart.
The Before Time – Paint-by-numbers found-footage horror that did nothing interesting with its Southwest desert location whatsoever except show us yet another shot of someone being dragged backwards by an invisible “something.” Throw in an entire cast of hateful, obnoxious “characters” and this was a complete chore to finish.
Dusk – Very rarely do I hate films but I actively hated this dunder-headed bit of idiocy by the time the credits rolled. This is definitely a mystery/thriller, rather than a horror film, but that’s easily the least of my beefs with it: the entire film is predicated on a twist that is so awe-inspiringly awful and stupid, it almost needs to be seen to be believed. Almost.
Forsaken – Another painfully bad, generic possession/exorcism film, this gem revolves around a priest who purposefully gets his wife possessed by a demon in order to cure her illness. Pretty sure his HMO won’t cover that.
Mark of the Witch – This wanted to be a nod to Itallo horror-surrealism but was saddled with a pretty awful lead (and I’m being rather kind), along with a fairly terrible script (again, kind). Lots of nice visuals and evocative cinematography, however, so not a complete wash, I suppose.
Martyrs (remake) – This glossy, generic remake of the genuinely powerful and important French New Wave of Horror classic is a complete enigma: never as disturbing, graphic or impactful as the original (the entire mind-blowing cosmic implications of the gut-punch original finale are reduced to a dumb action scene, for one thing), Martyrs (2016) seems to exist solely for those folks who simply can’t stomach the original but want to know what it’s about. Couldn’t they have just Googled it?
Coming up: the best horror films of 2016…so far, that is. Stay tuned!