2021 horror films guide - cultural hater

A Complete Guide To 2021 Horror Movies

In the hindsight, 2021 provided us with a handful of solid horror movies. However, no major revelation emerged as was the case in 2020 with Remi Weekes’ His House (2020) and Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019).

Reinforcements from 2020’s delayed releases – or post-covid discharges as others might call those – came in strong in 2021. Leading this pack was John Krasinski’s sequel to his wildly successful A Quiet Place (2018), and Scott Cooper’s ominous Antlers. But the true winner in this category is David Bruckner’s grisly horror-drama The Night House.

What comes as a mighty surprise was the fairly ambitious endeavor helmed by Leigh Janiak – the Fear Street trilogy, conceived in the cinematic laboratories of Netflix. Throw in a sample of 80s nostalgia, give an injection of slasher tropes, and a whole lot of frivolous energy and you get one of the best horrors of 2021. Another notable mention here is a horror flick made specifically for the same platform, No One Gets Out Alive by Santiago Menghini.

While we’re discussing straight-to-streaming productions, a plethora of bad apples also hid in the basket. I was particularly curious about Zack Snyder’s The Army Of The Dead, but the final result’s a rather mixed bag, with little to cheer for. A bunch of well-known horror sagas also returned in 2021 – Wrong Turn, Halloween Kills and Spiral: From The Book Of Saw all made it to cinemas this year.

Keep on reading to find out more on the best horror movies of 2021, as well as those… worse.

2021 Horror Movies Worth Your Time

Here’s the creme de la creme of 2021 horror films. Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for the thrills!

Rebecca Hall in the poster of The Night House (2020)

Night House

Director: David Bruckner

Watched: cinema distribution

Verdict: One of the best, if not the best horror movie of 2021. Period.

Building on top of the themes explored in The Ritual (2017), David Bruckner finds an even more hollow void in the life of a recently widowed Beth (phenomenal Rebecca Hall). While Beth struggles to find herself in the world without the rock and strength she’d lost, unexpected – and hurtful – suspicions emerge, all leading to her husband’s secrets. Bruckner’s Night House (2020) deploys gruesome images, but it’s the overwhelming pain of Beth that amplifies the devastating hopelessness of the protagonist’s situation. It’s a very self-aware film too, paced incredibly well and without unnecessary gimmicks. One of the best films of 2021.

Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place II (2020)

A Quiet Place II (2020)

Director: John Krasinski

Review: A Quiet Place II (2020)

Watched: cinema distribution

Verdict: John Krasinski plays his cards safe in the follow-up to his breakout horror/sci-fi bonanza. If you come in expecting an entirely new take on the alien invasion, don’t bother. Still, the sequel will suffice for the fans of the first part.

The post-invasion world that John Krasinski introduced back in 2018 hasn’t changed much. Emily Blunt returns as Evelyn, mother of two smart kids who survive in the world dominated by outer-space predators. The sequel does, to an extent, provide answers as to what happened – mainly through its blissful opening sequence. Sadly though, Krasinski refrains from interfering with what worked well before. Hence the abundance of alien encounters, as well as lots of action-packed moments, with a warm welcome for Cillian Murphy’s arrival to the franchise. I had higher hopes, but nonetheless, A Quiet Place II (2020) delivers on its promise.

Akelarre (2020) - women dancing around the fire - film still

Coven of Sisters

Director: Pablo Aguero

Watched: streaming (Netflix)

Verdict: Through torture, captivity and fire, Pablo Aguero tells a suave folk tale that is destined to become a classic of occult horror.

This Basque horror paints a visually bonkers story of prejudice, and backward thinking rooted in the Middle Ages. A bunch of young girls play in the woods, and when the word gets out, they’re instantly accused of witchcraft. Soon, the exquisite representation of the Holy Inquisition arrives to conduct a full investigation. While director Pablo Aguero smuggles a disturbing captivity-themed horror film in Coven of Sisters (2020), there’s also a daring, phantasmagorical aspect to it, blended with seductive charm of the whole ensemble, fiercely led by Amaia Aberasturi.

Fear Street: 1994

Director: Leigh Janiak

Watched: streaming (Netflix)

Verdict: The first installment in the Netflix horror saga is arguably the least impressive.

Leigh Janiak’s Fear Street trilogy commenced with its 80s slasher type, where a group of teenagers comes across a bunch of sadistic haunts who make the entire city of Shadyside tremble. It’s a finely crafted effort, with Janiak’s affection for the likes of Scream series visible right away. Arguably though, it’s very clear that 1994 was making grounds for cooler things to come.

Fear Street: 1978

Director: Leigh Janiak

Watched: streaming (Netflix)

Verdict: Thanks to the stand-out roles of Emily Rudd and Sadie Sink, the second part of the Fear Street series has been a major revelation of 2021.

The next part of the Fear Street trilogy takes us back to 1978. Its story set-up is a spitting image of Friday The 13th (1980). Kids from Sunnyvale and Shadyside meet at Camp Nightwing, yet their summer camp quickly turns into survival of the fittest when one of the kids turns out to be possessed. While keeping the story smartly entwined with the 1994 part, the 1978 film raises the stakes and amps up the tension. Blending slasher with occultism, and featuring a superbly dedicated ensemble of actors, Fear Street: 1978 (2021) has the wits of a self-aware campy entertainment, with heartfelt moments that make only some horrors go beyond the silly popcorn fun (which we, horror bufs, also love).

Fear Street: 1666

Director: Leigh Janiak

Watched: streaming (Netflix)

Verdict: With its own voice and artistic form, the last part of the series concludes the story in a fashionable, inventive way, proudly joining the ranks of top occult horror movies of all time.

While many trilogies struggle with their last chapters, Leigh Janiak leaves with a bang. Drawing from both classic occult-themed horrors, as well as Robert Eggers’ works, Fear Street: 1666 (2021) has its own soul and charm to work as a standalone film. On the other hand, it’s a very satisfying conclusion to an unusual horror trilogy. From costume designs to yet another great collection of performances, all the pieces fit together.

Carel Nel starring in environmental horror Gaia (2021)

Gaia

Director: Jaco Bouwer

Review: Gaia (2021)

Watched: SXSW Festival

Verdict: One can’t deny Gaia (2021) its own creepy allure, and a timely plot that fitted into the coronavirus pandemic. Jaco Bouwer works with both atmosphere and jump scares, and succeeds effortlessly at both.

Telling a story about empowered nature that gets back at humans sounds like a trope, doesn’t it? Luckily, Jaco Bouwer didn’t stop at giant anacondas, sharks or any other basic scares we’ve seen before. oh no. His indie darling Gaia (2021) is a complex narrative about both the embrace of nature’s sovereignty, and the drive to understand it. Drawing from various cosmic horrors, Bouwer arrives at an unsettling combination of green hell and cabal rituals. His style is confident, while the psychedelic effects he serves break through an ordinary low-budget indie film.

Still from The Conjuring III (2021)

The Conjuring III: The Devil Made Me Do It

Director: Michael Chaves

Watched: cinema distribution

Verdict: Michael Chaves clears his name after “La Llorona”. He provides the worn-out franchise with a few refreshing ideas and a phenomenal opening scene that joins the best exorcism scenes in cinematic history.

Fans of The Conjuring franchise should find this newest film quite appealing. Michale Chaves sticks to what the saga has been praised for – its blood-chilling effects and effective jump scares. These proper scares are peppered by the real-life case of Arnie Johnson, who weaved possession into his line of defense in court when accused of homicide. It’s the combination of true crime and supernatural horror themes that guarantee a satisfying watch.

Still from Netflix Movie No One Gets Out Alive (2021)

No One Gets Out Alive

Director: Santiago Menghini

Watched: streaming (Netflix)

Verdict: More than watchable! Menghini understands where Ari Aster’s success comes from. Although it’s not the same league as Hereditary (2018), this is a finely-crafted, bloody flick.

Santiago Menghini’s directorial debut surpasses many haunted house horrors thanks to its broader socio-economic themes. The story follows a young Mexican girl who illegally crosses the border and settles on a low-paid job in Cleveland. Her struggles with making ends meet are accompanied by strange things happening in the old-manor-turned-guesthouse, where she rents a room. Partly a monster movie, partly a slasher, No One Gets Out Alive (2021) has enough tricks up its sleeves to keep a variety of viewers intrigued.

Kid sketch of Windigo from Antlers (2021)

Antlers

Director: Scott Cooper

Review: Antlers (2021)

Watched: cinema distribution

Verdict: Antlers (2021), the grisly horror with major dramatic interests, suffers from pacing issues, and its build-up to the great reveal is significantly better than the last 40 minutes of the film. Fans of gore shall find a few worthwhile moments; even the very image of Scott Haze gives me goosebumps till today.

There’s a lot to praise Scott Cooper for in Antlers (2021), and yet the film still doesn’t reach its full potential. The story follows a neglected boy, and an investigation into his father’s sudden disappearance while the whole town is shaken by a streak of horrible murders. Cooper bets on very graphic images, with horrifying bits of grim body horror and Cronenbergian influences. Disturbing images populate this film in great numbers, although Cooper’s story always keeps its pointer at the broken system that allows for neglecting and marginalizing.

Max Minghella in Spiral (2021)-2

Spiral: From The Book Of Saw

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Review: Spiral: From The Book Of Saw (2021)

Watched: streaming

Verdict: A semi-successful reboot of the dying Saw franchise, Spiral (2021) feeds off Chris Rock’s energy, and therefore it’s mainly his dedication that keeps the film’s momentum.

Spiral: From The Book Of Saw (2021) marked an entertaining return of the Saw franchise. Bousman stylized the film in the same way as the rest of the franchise was – quick cuts appear in abundance, so do gratuitous pieces of torture porn and the concept of a blood-soaked whodunit pattern. While some critics, as well as horror buffs, found the film’s comfort zone slightly off-putting and wasteful, I welcomed its over-the-top character.

The Watch-To-Kill-Time Horror Films Of 2021

While providing significantly less entertainment for genre fans, the titles below still remain on an acceptable level. It’s not a waste of time, but not a must-have on your 2021 watchlist.

Still from Mike Nelson's Wrong Turn (2021) reboot

Wrong Turn

Director: Mike P. Nelson

Watched: streaming

Verdict: Wrong Turn (2021) boldly refuses to reboot the hillbilly franchise by implementing the same ideas, and the lore it conjures up serves it well. But the entire effort lacks a confident punch.

Some self-convincing was need to give Wrong Turn (2021) a chance, mostly because I’ve never been a fan of this particular franchise. Frankly, Mike P. Nelson’s flick, while tied to the main theme of hillbilly-elegy-gone-wrong, devises a much different look. With a less repugnant approach, and a more complex narrative to follow, Wrong Turn (2021) stands out. Yet despite such a positive turn, it’s also missing the high stakes, with some of its contrivances destroying the legitimacy of the events. Less disgusting works for me, but less riveting does not.

Nicolas Cage in Willy's Wonderland

Willy’s Wonderland

Director: Kevin Lewis

Watched: streaming

Verdict: I’m clearly in the minority here (judging by the low IMDB score), but Nicolas Cage beating the crap out of mechanical, human-sized puppets is exactly what I want to watch. I guess it says a lot about my terrible taste in movies.

Willy’s Wonderland (2021) belongs to the both ridiculously bonkers and a bit-too-bizarre trips from Mr. Cage, therefore the divisive reception of the movie. Weirdly though, the maestro of overdoing is surprisingly calm for the most part. Nonetheless, director Kevin Lewis keeps the film busy with outstanding idiocy of all the rest of appearing character. Sliding constantly near the border of pastiche and comedy, Willy’s Wonderland (2021) appeals mostly to die-hard Cageheads, as well as those who get freaked by giant killer animatronics. If you, just like me, love the casual idiocy of Killer Clowns From Outer Space (1988), you’re gonna like this one too.

Cast of Army of The Dead (2021)

The Army of The Dead

Director: Zack Snyder

Watched: streaming (Netflix)

Verdict: A basic film made by a director whose prime has been left in the past, lightyears behind 2021. Snyder’s zombie apocalypse has a few gritty moments, but it’s arguably just another record in the long list of Netflix misfires.

I can hardly grasp the reasoning of how such a profoundly mediocre film like The Army of The Dead (2021) got to be in top 10 most searched films of the year on imdb. Neither it is a good film, nor it is scary or even original as far as zombie movies go. Snyder gathers his own suicide squad that ventures into the heart of the post-apocalyptic Las Vegas to face off hordes of flesh eaters that are only slightly above the mediocre IQ of their kind. This flick’s pretty much everything you either love or hate about Snyder.

Agnes - Tribeca Festival

Agnes

Director: Mickey Reece

Review: Agnes (2021)

Watched: Tribeca Festival

Verdict: None of the “catholic” horrors manage to go beyond the ordinary, and Agnes (2021) remains faithful to the pattern.

A wobbly piece of artsy horror, Agnes (2021) tells a story of two priests who arrive at a convent to investigate the case of possession of one of the nuns. As you may imagine, Reece’s film has all the goodies of every other horror in the possession horror subgenera. And yet, the director makes a bold move to change the whole dynamic of the story halfway through, turning Agnes (2021) into a legitimate drama film. These two aren’t, however, well tied together, and without the compound that would cement them, it’s a weird amalgamation that’s just too much of a hotpot of ideas.

Neill Maskell in Bull (2021)

Bull

Director: Paul Andrew Williams

Watched: Splat! Film Fest

Verdict: A revenge tale with a well-executed twist at the end, which offers nothing more than lots of bloody mess and a list of cliches.

Neill Maskell has blessed us with a few performances that went down in history, and he does conjure them up in Bull (2021). The story follows a merciless killer who goes rampage on a vengeful crusade against a bunch of British hillbillies who played him years ago. Now, angry and deadly, the titular muscle guy Bull leaves a trail of blood in a manner that often feels heavy and uninventive. It is also filled with gratuitous violence unlike some of the films that Paul Andrew Williams’ feature has been compared to – like Ben Wheatley’s infamous Kill List (2011) which also starred Maskell.

Abdul Yahya-Mateen II in Candyman (2021)

Candyman

Director: Nia daCosta

Watched: streaming

Verdict: While Nia DaCosta checks all the boxes of Jordan Peele’s racial-based horror films, this is a surprisingly lifeless sequel to a great genre classic.

Even when all things are in correct order, some horror films just don’t work. That’s the case of Candyman (2021) that has been one of the biggest disappointments of the year for me. Despite it’s well-paced story, as well as the dedicated performance of Abdul Yahya-Mateen II, Candyman (2021) pushes its anti-gentrification and anti-pretentious art agenda too hard. I can’t shake the feeling that DaCosta tried make a film as significant and eloquent as Get Out (2017) was. DaCosta struggles to ooze the creepiness of the original films too. Nnone of the scary moments feel compelling or particularly gripping (flashy editing doesn’t help in that matter). If you’re looking for a horror set in the world of contemporary art – and one that actually makes use of its strangeness – tune into Dan Gilroy’s Velvet Buzzsaw (2019).

Anabelle Lewis still from Malignant (2021)

Malignant

Director: James Wan

Watched: streaming

Verdict: As an exercise in paying tribute to over-the-top Gallo films, Malignant (2021) succeeds only to a certain degree. Its merits are countered by the laughable plot twist that seems strange for such a horror veteran as James Wan.

To be fair, I’m still not sure as to why James Wan’s Malignant (2021) didn’t end up in the category of the worst horror films of 2021. Might be my sentiment for the director or whisky speaking here. Anyway, Anabelle Lewis stars as a dark-haired weirdo who has peculiar visions of a black-dressed murderer on the loose. Featuring a perfidious, divisive plot twist and a bunch of gory moments, Malignant (2021) can surely find its niche, not only among adamant fans of Wan. Nonetheless, its alleged romance with giallo stinks of fake artistry, seen through the number of jump scares and Wan’s directorial trademarks. It’s not bold enough to claim a cult status, and I doubt that the second viewing – one you get trolled by its grand reveal – has anything to give.

The Worst Horror Movies Of 2021

While some films were either great or passable, the list continues with a gourmet selection of the most undercooked failures of the year. Bon appetit.

Still from Polish horror movie Nobody Sleeps In The Woods Tonight 2 (2021)

Nobody Sleeps In The Woods Tonight 2

Director: Bartosz Kowalski

Watched: Netflix

Verdict: One thing is a funny horror movie, but a boring one is always, in any circumstances, and by all means – a no-go.

Bartosz Kowalski’s Nobody Sleeps In The Woods Tonight (2019) arrived as the first Polish slasher ever. Branded by Netflix, the movie received critical praise, despite being a cheesy flunk with wooden acting, and uninventive style of gore. So, building on top of that success, the sequel directly relates to the first part – that is right after the chubby dudes who turned out to be vivious killers ended in prison. Some of Kowalski’s creative decisions stand out – a certain change of the point of view for instance – but the sum of such novelties brings even less fun than its predecessor. The proceedings of the story feel forced, acting’s cringeworthy. A complete disaster.

Still from Demonic (2021) by Neil Blomkamp

Demonic

Director: Neil Blomkamp

Watched: streaming

Verdict: The fact that the same man directed District 9 (2009) and Demonic (2021) is beyond my cognitive apprehension. A terribly, terrible film that has no target audience, and nothing going on to sell it.

There was a time when Neil Blomkamp was heralded as the enfant prodige of science fiction. Yet Demonic (2021) proves the Soul African director has lost somewhere along the way. It’s a crappy mix of cheap sci-fi concepts hard-wired into a ghost story. Perhaps the idea’s just botched by the technical incompetence and plot holes, the size of a cannon blast. Or maybe it’s just that Demonic (2021) was destined to be forgotten and terrible, and Blomkamp should move on as quickly as possible? We’ll never know.

Allora Torchia in Ben Wheatley's horror film In The Earth (2021)

In The Earth

Director: Ben Wheatley

Review: In The Earth (2021)

Watched: streaming

Verdict: More tiring than entertaining, In The Earth (2021) marks a failed back-to-the-roots attempt for British auteur Ben Wheatley.

Rumor has it that Ben Wheatley grew tired of all the experiments of the last few years, and planned to return to his filmmaking roots with In The Earth (2021). Once you lose your mojo, it might be hard to gain it back though. For Wheatley, this return to horror ended up being a muddled, psychedelic trip of a movie, but one that lacks coherence and structure. The film finds a researcher and a forest ranger venturing into the woods where they’re supposed to find broken equipment. While the film offers a timely setting of a world demolished by an unknown virus, Wheatley struggles with dull exposition and, without much of a seamless transition, proceeds with mind-tiring extravaganza of blinding light, cacophony of sounds and overall chaos.

Still from False Positive (2021) horror movie

False Positive

Director: John Lee

Watched: Tribeca Festival

Verdict: Everything about this flick screamed for an immediate classic. Sadly, the film only occasionally manages to keep a firm grip over its form, letting the chaos roam around. A wasted opportunity.

Advertised as a creative take on Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), False Positive (2021) looks at a woman who, after serious troubles, finally gets pregnant only to get involved in some shady business of a fertility clinic that helps her. Through a series of frames and concepts so heavily stylized to look like an A24 movie, this film’s entire crew – from DP PaweĊ‚ Pogorzelski to all the cast and director – plays their own fiddle without a singular goal of one unified melody. The result is a complete mess of ideas, tone-deaf jokes and awkward moments that have nothing to do with horror. Ugh.

Still from Netflix film Things Heard And Seen

Things Heard & Seen

Director: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini

Watched: streaming (Netflix)

Verdict: The most bland, uninspired film released by Netflix in 2021. Horror movies – and fans – deserve better.

The thing about Things Heard & Seen (2021) is that despite watching this film, I cannot reminisce even a single scene from it. Not a single one. Hence I shall refrain from writing more, because it’s the best reason for naming this film as one of 2021’s worst horrors.

Annys Elwy in The Feast (2021)

The Feast

Director: Lee Haven Jones

Review: The Feast (2021)

Watched: SXSW festival

Verdict: A messy piece of artsy horror, where a thin plot barely manages to find an understandable ending.

Yeah, I get it. It’s a film made in Welsh (a superbly rare gem in that sense); it’s bizarre, often to a degree that you’re not sure what’s going on. Despite many positive opinions concerning Lee Haven Jones’ The Feast (2021), I found the film’s stretched-out plot designed for a short film. The proceedings – based on the idea of a young stranger who observes how things unfold over one dinner in order to find the moment to reveal her true intentions towards he new employers – are lacking suspense for most part.

Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff in Old (2021)

Old

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Watched: cinema distribution

Verdict: My guess is that one sunny beach day, M. Night Shyamalan noticed the wrinkles after swimming in the sea. Woah, he thought, that’s quite a thing – I should make a horror movie about it!

Shyamalan’s record of flops just got bigger thanks to Old (2021). After Glass (2019), the petty follow-up to his ingenious Split (2016), the director collected an A-class cast to make a B-class crap. A group of people find themselves getting stuck on a beach where for strange reasons, “time flies when having fun” saying has a whole new meaning. The marketing campaign revealed way too much to make the twist work, and the finale, Shyamalan’s favorite mindfuck – comes late and without slight conviction. Too many talented actors were wasted here.

Want more compilations of 2021 movies?

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