10 Best Horror Movies Of 2016

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2016 has been a stellar year for horror films. Every year people declare our beloved genre dead due to the tired tropes and cliches, but this year has proven that horror is very much alive and thriving. Below you’ll find my top 10 horror movies of 2016. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to catch Under the Shadow and The Handmaiden, so those titles have been regrettably omitted.

10. ‘Green Room’

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I wasn’t as impressed with Green Room as a lot of people were. The acting was a little strange, the lighting was a dark and there were quite a few slow patches. I did love the dark, grungy atmosphere though and there were some fantastic moments of shocking violence and intensity. It follows a group of young punk rockers who get trapped in a venue run by neo-Nazi skinheads. It’s a fun premise and it does boast some memorable scenes, but it doesn’t deserve the rave reviews it received, which is why I’ve placed it at the lower end of the list.

9. ‘Lights Out’

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Thanks to an effective short film, David F. Sandberg got the chance to debut a fun, feature-length chiller with an original premise. The premise features a family haunted by a crooked spirit called Diane who only appears when the lights go out. It boasts good performances and likable characters, which are all too rare in horror films of today. The scares aren’t entirely effective, but there are moments of genuine suspense, particularly in the thrilling third act, which adds an innovative #supernatural spin on the home invasion sub genre. Despite suffering from some clichés and a sudden ending, #LightsOut stands out as one of the most memorable horror films of the year.

8. ‘Ouija: Origin Of Evil’

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This could possibly be the most surprising film of the year. A prequel to one of 2013’s worst horror films, #Ouija2 was surely guaranteed to be a disastrous abomination. However, talented writer-director Mike Flanagan (#Oculus, #Hush) raised everyone’s expectations and crafted a supernatural horror film that is better than it has any right to be. Yes, it has the usual jump-scares, possessed little girls and #Insidious-inspired demons. It also disappoints in its last act with odd pacing and an all too familiar finale, but Ouija also does so many things right. It focuses on a family that you genuinely end up caring about and has a fantastic eye for detail in its period setting. It also cleverly deconstructs the genre and plays with our extensive horror knowledge while also delivering some scenes of surrealism, which makes for unsettling viewing. Most of all though, it’s just a fun time from start to finish and you can really see that it’s been crafted by an intelligent team who have genuine affection for horror films.

7. ’10 Cloverfield Lane’

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Dan Trachenberg’s film had a strange release. No one had heard about the film until a trailer surfaced just months before the film was set to hit the big screens. People were also confused as to whether the film was a sequel to 2008’s #Cloverfield, even though the trailer looked as though it had nothing at all in common with Matt Reeves’ found footage monster movie. Lots of people (including me) are still confused by the mysterious title, but nevertheless, #10CloverfieldLane is an impressive exercise in suspense and mystery. It features a menacing performance from John Goodman as the enigmatic conspiracist, locking up two innocents with him in his bomb shelter. It’s a film that always manages to engage thanks to the constant, intense atmosphere and intrigue. It also doesn’t opt for a predictable finale, rather, going for something delightfully crazy and different altogether. It never takes itself too seriously and I look forward to seeing where exactly the Cloverfield universe is heading

6. ‘The Conjuring 2’

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Here’s another sequel that managed to surpass expectations. #JamesWan managed to outdo himself with this beautifully crafted supernatural horror film. It follows the (supposedly) true story of a family in England experiencing some spooky activity of the paranormal kind. #Conjuring2 places most of its focus on the family instead of scares, so that we’re totally invested in their story. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have scares though. James Wan’s directing is as effective as ever at building up an atmosphere of almost unbearable suspense. He has also created one of the most iconic horror villains in recent memory with Valek, the terrifying demon nun. It’s a masterful film that manages to unsettle, entertain and emotionally involve its audience in equal measure.

5. ‘The Neon Demon’

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Nicolas Winding Refn’s polarizing look into the fashion industry feels like a natural progression from the criminally underrated Only God Forgives. He’s swapped stunt driving and gun-slinging for gals and make-up. The story itself isn’t anything original — it’s the tale of a wide-eyed girl with big dreams who ends up getting consumed by them; however, the way it’s told is nothing short of masterful. Every shot in #NeonDemon is a work of art that oozes absolute style and beauty, which is exactly what the film is about. It’s full of hypnotic, Lynchian imagery, which makes you feel as if you’re watching a dream unfold. There are several stunning moments of pure visual cinema which is something of a rarity nowadays. The film also ends on a memorably whacky and disturbing note which will have you pondering over for weeks. It’s not a film which everyone will appreciate, but those who are attracted to strange and immersive films will find a lot to love.

4. ‘Don’t Breathe’

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It hasn’t been a good year for the homes of the disabled. We already had a deaf woman getting her home invaded this year in Mike Flanagan’s #Hush, and now Fede Alvarez’s #DontBreathe shows us a blind man getting his house burgled by a gang of youths. Surely the most intense movie of the year, Alvarez makes every shot and sound count in his home invasion horror. Don’t Breathe is masterfully directed and dripping with suspense. It delivers non-stop thrills at every corner as well as featuring a memorable villain in Stephen Lang’s deadly Rambo-esque veteran and a badass heroine in Jane Levy’s Rocky. It’s a terrific experience on the big screen and is pretty much guaranteed to have you holding your breath on several occasions.

3. ‘Train To Busan’

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This Korean undead tale is arguably more of an action thriller than a straight-up #horror movie, but it does have #zombies in it. It’s also great and easily the best zombie flick since Shaun of the Dead. It follows a neglectful father taking his young daughter on a train to a nearby city to see her mother. Unfortunately for them, hordes of the living dead begin to overtake most of Korea just as the train is about to depart, leaving the passengers in a desperate fight for survival. #TraintoBusan is pretty much a non-stop, two-hour thrill ride — no easy task considering that it’s almost entirely set in the confines of a train. It hurtles from set-piece to set-piece in waves of brilliant intensity that leave you gasping for air. The film also packs a surprising emotional wallop thanks to its terrifically drawn-out characters who you end up genuinely caring about. I found myself holding back the tears on more than one occasion.

2. ‘The Wailing’

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The Koreans have been ruling horror this year with Train to Busan, The Handmaiden and now this, #TheWailing. It’s an enigmatic mix of crime, thriller, supernatural horror and dark comedy. It could’ve easily turned into a mess, but thanks to Na Hong-jin directing an unpredictable screenplay we’re left with an unforgettable near-masterpiece. It follows a bumbling yet lovable policeman as he investigates a series of mystifying murders plaguing his tiny village. Does it have something to do with the strange Japanese man who recently moved to the nearby forest? The Wailing keeps you guessing to the very end and always enthralls with its surprising twists and often hilarious comedy. Some may find the film silly, but it has such ambition and engaging characters you can’t help but appreciate what it’s trying to succeed. It’s a fantastic horror film that plays on your mind long after the credits roll.

1. ‘The Witch’

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I can hear the cries of abuse now. For some reason, The Witch didn’t sit well with a lot of audiences after generating a lot of early critical acclaim. There’s no denying though that #TheWitch is the best horror film of the year so far and is destined to become a classic. Someone described it as “a Brothers Grimm fairytale directed by Stanley Kubrick” and that is the most accurate description I could think of. Robert Eggers’s debut film is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking and one if the scariest horror films to hit our screens in quite some time. Everything about The Witch is masterful, from the intense foreboding atmosphere to the bold unsettling score.

The film is set in 1630 and follows a God-obsessed family who suffer a series of tragic events after being banished to an isolated house next to a terrifying forest that is possibly home to a witch. It’s a film laced with horrifying imagery and suspense that explodes into an entirely satisfying finale that left my mouth agape. The Witch isn’t just the best horror movie of 2016 so far, but the best film period. Oh, and let’s not forget that it contains the best performance of the year in the shape of Black Phillip the goat.

So there we have it. Told you it’s been a knockout year for horror! What films have you enjoyed the most?

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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Director: James Wan

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O Connor, Madison Wolfe

Cor, blimey guvner! A sequel actually worth your sixpence piece

I remember being pretty disappointed when The Conjuring first came out. The Internet was building it up to be one of the scariest films ever made and I was getting really excited to be properly scared. I don’t usually get scared in films, but James Wan’s very own Insidious did manage to conjure up (pardon the pun) some genuinely terrifying imagery so I had every right to expect the same from The Conjuring but the film didn’t scare me at all. It wasn’t until I re-watched it recently that I realised that whilst it isn’t a scary film to me, I can appreciate it for being a very well-made horror film. If you take the hype away from it, there’s a lot to love.

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So when The Conjuring 2 reviews came out and were citing similar hype, I tried to put aside the claims of it being even better than the first film and went in with an open mind, almost expecting it to be a disappointment, but it wasn’t. The Conjuring 2 is one of those very rare sequels (even rarer in the horror genre) which manages to better the first. It still has its problems and I still don’t think it’s scary or that it outdoes Insidious, but it is a fine example of haunted house horror which can stand proudly on its own.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s simply more of the same when the film starts as it’s almost identical to the first film. A seemingly unrelated case opens the film and the title flashes up on the screen along with some jargon about the film being true and this case is yet again the scariest The Warrens’ have ever encountered blah blah blah. It’s basic scare tactics that might work for horror virgins but us aficionados will just be rolling our eyes. To be fair, the opening scene is actually very well directed and gives you some idea of the film’s overall quality.

We’re soon plunged into 1970’s England and we’re given constant reminders of this which is something that irritated me. Maybe it’s because I’m English myself but the stereotypes were often quite overwhelming, although amusing. Every car in the driveway is a Mini Cooper, The Queen often pops up on the telly and everyone has a seriously strong cockney accent. I know that it’s set in London but even so it sounds like most of the actors have moulded their accents on Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. I also found Frances O Connor a little wooden and unconvincing at times as well as a few of the kids.

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Overall the acting is terrific though. I was particularly impressed with Madison Wolfe as Margaret, the main girl, who gave off Linda Blair vibes at times. The role asks a lot of such a young actress but she tackles it head on and it’s pretty extraordinary to watch. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are also as excellent as ever as our favourite paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. I really liked how the film focused so much on their relationship so that it became the emotional core of the film. Similarly, Wan takes his time to carefully build the characters in England so that we become invested in them and actually care about what’s going to happen to them. It’s such a rarity these days to find a horror film with characters you feel involved with and this is the main aspect which makes The Conjuring 2 so strong and compelling.

The other great thing about the film is its atmosphere. James Wan clearly has a deep love for the horror genre and The Conjuring 2 is a labour of this love. The whole film is deliciously gothic and over-the-top, it’s a horror fan’s dream come true. There are a lot of spooky scenes crammed into the film and whilst they didn’t particularly scare me, you can’t help but appreciate the stylishness and effectiveness of them. James Wan really is a master behind the camera and knows how to create genuine tension. Like the first film, a lot of scenes are filmed skilfully in one fluid take and it often becomes very intense, especially combined with the striking loud score and sound design.

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Even the typical horror clichés like possession and creaky doors are done in such an effective way that you don’t care that you’ve seen it a hundred times before. With a running time of over two hours, I was still left feeling eager for more. The Conjuring 2 creates a gorgeous world of horror and allows you to sink within it. It will leave horror fans consistently grinning from ear to ear. The demon/ghost designs in this one are also much more creative than the first film. The nun character (played by the same lady who acted as the iconic bum in Mulholland Dr) was memorably creepy and a bizarre character known as the crooked man is weirdly delightful, although some might find him a jarringly out of place.

If you’re a fan of the horror genre then I can’t really see any reason for disliking The Conjuring 2, and if you’re not a horror fan then what are you bloody doing watching a horror film? Recent films like The Witch, It Follows and The Babadook may be better but that doesn’t make The Conjuring 2 obsolete. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of supernatural horror which delivers atmosphere and suspense in spades. Some of it does feel a little contrived towards the end but the finale’s so excitingly pulse-pounding and intense that you’re unlikely to care. It makes sure that the audience actually care about the people on screen so it’s never dull for one moment. A third film will definitely be on the cards and if it carries on being as solid as this one then we might be looking at the best supernatural horror franchise since… Well, ever.

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The Witch (2016)

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Director: Robert Eggers

Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie

A future horror classic

This ain’t no Hocus Pocus kids! Witches aren’t usually the first port of call when coming up with horror film ideas. They work well with family film’s like Nicholas Roeg’s surreal adaptation of Roald Dhal’s The Witches but can cackling old women with pointy hats and broomsticks scare grown adults? After seeing Robert Egger’s striking debut, the answer would seem to be a resounding yes. The Witch is the best horror film since Kill List and is sure to become a future horror classic. I like to think of myself as a hardened horror movie nut but The Witch did actually manage to scare me, more so than the recent It Follows and The Babadook.

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It’s a fairytale for adults and Robert Egger goes down alleys as dark as a film can get. Within the first five or ten minutes, I could tell that I’d be in for a stunning ride as we’re treated to some seriously nightmarish imagery involving a naked old woman smothering herself in the blood of a baby, accompanied by a screeching score which is sure to give you the shivers. Terrifying sequences like this appear sporadically through the film so it never feels overdone, it just adds to the mounting tension in each scene until it explodes into the most wonderfully indulgent finale.

A lot of films set in medieval times can be a bit trying. A Field in England and Black Death both felt like the setting let the film down by getting bogged down in confusing olde worlde Shakespearean-esque language. However, The Witch is never anything more than compelling throughout. The sole focus of the film is the family and all the parts are acted beautifully by the relatively unknown cast. The audience becomes incredibly involved and invested in the characters so you care about what’s going to happen to them. There’s a sense of dread in every scene but you’re never quite sure about what’s going to happen next which makes for unpredictable and absorbing viewing.

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I can’t talk about The Witch without mentioning just how gorgeous the film looks. You could pretty much take any shot and hang it up for display in a gallery because it’s just beautiful to look at. The eerie shots of the deep wood reminded me of Lars Von Trier’s equally unsettling, Antichrist, however The Witch has a more fantastical quality to the images which adds to the Brothers Grimm fairytale kind of vibe. There isn’t a second in the film’s tight 90 minute running time where a shot doesn’t ooze atmosphere. It’s so refreshing to get a horror film which doesn’t rely on a few seconds of gore to shock the audience, but actually takes it time to conjure up genuinely frightening images. There’s stuff in this film which won’t leave my head for a long time after viewing it.

Equally as atmospheric as the imagery is the sound. I can’t think of a more striking score or sound design since The Shining and it helps a lot to generate such an unsettling atmosphere. The exceedingly creepy dissonant violins and loud chants build scenes up to a shattering intensity where I found myself holding my breath. In fact, the whole film has such a strange and unnerving quality to it. It feels like you’re watching something you shouldn’t. It’s no wonder that the film’s even been endorsed by the Satanic Temple itself with the Temple’s spokesperson calling it “a trans-formative Satanic experience.”

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The Witch has to be my favourite film of the year and one of my favourite horror films full stop. I found it absolutely captivating and full of tension from beginning to end. It’s pretty much as perfect as horror can get and exudes the quality of a classic chiller from the 60’s. Robert Eggers is definitely going to be a director to look out for in the future. He’s proven to critics that the horror genre is alive and well and can still genuinely scare the hell out of people. The Witch is a sensational experience for the eyes and ears, it’s cinema at its finest and is a masterpiece.

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It Follows (2014)

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Director: David Robert Mitchell

Stars: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi

A horror masterclass

I’m a pretty hardened horror movie watcher. Very little gets under my skin these days, for example I can quite comfortably sit and watch The Exorcist on my own, in the middle of the night and not feel a teeny weeny bit frightened. Whilst all the kids were losing their heads over The Conjuring, I sat there completely stone-faced, although that could be something to do with the crap cinema I saw it at in Loughborough which had a screen the size of a microwave and subtitles for the hard of hearing. The last film to properly scare me was Sleepaway Camp, but that’s only because of THAT ending… Perhaps I’m not as hardened as I make out though. There have been a few recent horror films which have given me some genuine chills: Kill List, Sinister and The Babadook have all unsettled me greatly. It Follows can also be added to that list.

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I watched It Follows alone last night and once it had finished I ran off to bed with chills tingling along my back, hopped straight into bed and threw the covers over my head like a 14 year-old girl. It’s something I’ve not done for a while, but It Follows really got under my skin! It’s been at the top of my watch list for a while after the buzz it created at all the festivals last year. Once it hit a wider release, all of the critics were raving at how brilliant it was and how it was the scariest film to come out in a decade. It Follows quickly fell into what I call the hype machine. The trouble with this machine is that you often let your expectations rocket to impossible heights which ends up in massive disappointment.

I allowed the hype to die down (and for the blu-ray to become cheaper!) and gave it a watch with lower expectations, and it worked! It’s easy to see how many were disappointed when people were calling it the new Halloween and a new horror classic. I wouldn’t quite go that far, but in an age full of horrendously conventional horror films with bad acting, super-fast editing and unoriginal ideas; It Follows stands head and shoulders above the rest as the superior animal. It grabbed my attention right from the opening shot which is done all in one long take. There’s no shaky camera and no cutting away every two seconds, it’s just one long shot of a girl running away in a panic. It feels grounded, real and completely refreshing. The incredibly cool retro synth score doesn’t do it any trouble either! David Robert Mitchell is clearly someone who knows what he’s doing behind the camera. The opening also culminates in a jarringly haunting image which feels like something from a nightmare. It Follows means business from the start.

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We then follow our hero, Jay who’s a blameless young adult going about her normal boring life until she decides to do a bit of innocent dogging. It results in her being cursed like a girl from Japan, but instead of a long black-haired figure following her, it’s an invisible demon who takes many guises and will follow her relentlessly until she passes it on. It’s an incredibly simple premise to pad out into a 100 minute feature film, but it absolutely works. Every single scene is filled with a strong atmosphere of complete dread because you never know when the demon is going to return, or what form it’s going to take. Even scenes where Jay and her friends are sat talking are suspenseful because you can feel a presence. Someone is always watching and it makes for a nightmarish experience.

When the stalking demon appears, that’s when stuff gets real. The film reaches its most terrifying peak when Jay and her friends stay up all night at her house to watch out for spooky happenings. I don’t want to spoil it for those who are yet to see the film, but suffice to say that it has a couple of seriously nightmarish images that will stay with me for quite a long time. It’s masterfully executed to squeeze out the maximum scares possible. It’s scary in the same way Kairo (Pulse) was. Rather than generating quick jump scares, the imagery slowly creeps under your skin and sends sharp chills all the way up your spine. It’s truly a spine-tingling experience, or at least it was for me!

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Throughout the whole film you’re basically waiting for the demon to make another appearance and because you don’t know when that’s going to be the film was never boring for me. The film does lean towards the arthouse side, so those not familiar with arty, slow stuff might find it a little tedious. It’s not the kind of film you can dip in and out of with your phone and just watch when ‘something happens’. It Follows requires your full attention for it to really work.

It’s not quite perfect though. I have to admit that although the group of characters were likable, I did find them flat. They don’t really say a lot and at one point I was thinking that they could possibly be the most boring group of people you could ever hang out with! Also, I found Maika Monroe, who plays main girl, Jay distractingly attractive. I know it’s my fault for being a hormonal young man but at times when I should’ve been completely focused on the film, I was distracted by how drop-dead gorgeous she is! She also flashed a lot of flesh which didn’t help the situation. She’s in a swimming costume for the thrilling finale for gawd’s sake!

In all seriousness though, It Follows is a modern horror master-class. It’s flawlessly executed and feels refreshing and original. It’s also genuinely terrifying for once! I won’t use the old cliché by saying ‘it’s the scariest film in years’ because lots of scary films pop up every year if you look hard enough. I’d say it’s the best horror film to come out since The Babadook.

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The Babadook (2014)

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Director: Jennifer Kent

Stars: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall

If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, if you’re after great horror, you’re in luck!

“The best horror movie in years” tends to be the key phrase to use when describing a genuinely good horror film. However, I think modern horror tends to get a bad reputation due to the amount rubbish produced. We’ve had endless Paranormal Activity films which seem to make big money and the appalling Human Centipede movies seem to make big noise, but these films aren’t especially ‘good’. Unfortunately though, they tend to overshadow the fantastic horror films we have been getting recently such as: You’re Next, The Sacrament and Cheap Thrills to name a few. The Babadook can now pop itself onto that list. In fact, I’d say that it’s easily the best and scariest supernatural horror film since the underrated Sinister.

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The Babadook still seems to get quite a lot of criticism for some reason though. To be fair, the trailers do make it look like some sort of run-of-the-mill jumpy ghost story, so perhaps audiences were disappointed when they got a film full of rich characterisation, domestic drama and psychological depth. I wasn’t. The Babadook certainly isn’t your typical supernatural horror film though. We’re not even given a glimpse of the Babadook himself until about 50 minutes into the film, but this doesn’t matter because the central themes and characters are so strong.

There seems to be some debate as to whether this is a supernatural or psychological horror film. Some think that it leaves it up for the viewer to decide, but I thought that director Jennifer Kent was making it quite obvious that this was a film about a woman going mad. It’s very much in the same vein of The Shining and Repulsion as our hero slowly descends into a total schizophrenic onslaught of terror. As a result, we’re given a much deeper and character-driven film about grief, motherhood and madness.

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The heart of the film is the relationship between a mother and son. Both actors are pretty extraordinary, especially the mother played by Elsie Davis who gives an incredibly strong and shattering performance. Many have described the boy as the most annoying child to ever appear in a film, which is a pretty bold statement and one which I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with! The decision to make the boy as painfully annoying as chewing a wasp is an extremely conscious one though as we’re put directly into the shoes of the mother. Amelia finds her son extremely hard to love as she subconsciously blames him for the death of her husband. By the end of the film we end up feeling as crazy as Amelia!

The first hour is actually a very sad one as we see Amelia become slowly isolated from people as her life becomes increasingly more hectic. No one seems to understand her grief and no one wants to know her because of Samuel (the impossibly annoying son). Therefore her descent into madness is a wonderfully realistic one. It’s also quite frightening. I’m not one to get scared in horror films, I can watch The Exorcist on my own and feel no fright what so ever, however there were some scenes in The Babadook which made my hair stand on end. The last half hour basically just tries its best to scare the trouser off you and it succeeds! Jennifer Kent is extremely masterful in creating tension and scares. I can’t think of one jump scare in the entire film which is so unusual and commendable. Instead, we’re left terrified from nightmarish imagery and sounds. I dare anyone note to get chilled to the core when the Babadook is hovering over the bed chanting ‘baba-dook-dook-DOOOK!’

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The Babadook is so much more than just a ‘scary’ film though. It carries so much depth if you’re willing to read into it more. It has a genuinely interesting and engaging character at the centre of it and is willing to throw the audience right into the middle of her mental breakdown. It’s also really well-made, especially considering the teeny weeny budget. The production design is pretty outstanding and the infamous Mister Babadook book itself is beautifully made. This is a film which horror fans should welcome to their bosom. It’s genuinely scary, masterfully directed and has a super screenplay to match. What more could you want? It’s also a great advert for contraception if your partner is starting to get broody.

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