Moviegoers and critics alike have started submitting their picks for the scariest films of 2021 in anticipation of the terror that awaits this year, with high expectations for Scream and Nope, among others. The aggregation of Rotten Tomatoes has prepared a list of horror films that garnered the most accolades (and hair-raising) upon their initial release.
The following certified-fresh films had their world premieres in 2021. While A Quiet Place Part II and Psycho Goreman aren’t on the list because they’re due out in 2020, there are plenty of other films of that caliber that may have gone under the radar. These are the most critically acclaimed horror films of 2021, according to Tomatometer.
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Censor is a cleverly diabolical clip of slow-building psycho-horror from debut director Prano Bailey-Bond. This superbly made period piece, shot in 35mm, Super 8, and VHS, depicts the mid-80s in the United Kingdom, when exploitative films dubbed “video nasties” created a public outrage.
Niamh Algar, who won an Oscar for her role in The Virtues, plays a film censor who, despite her commitment to eliminating violent imagery, is having difficulties concealing her own. As the suspenseful thriller heats up, Bailey-Bond and editor Mark Towns (Saint Maud) employ methods like altering the aspect ratio, not only paying homage to the films that inspired it but also placing the viewer completely in the protagonist’s head. As the perspective glitches in and out of reality, post-production techniques were used to create spine-tingling scares.
Coming Home In The Dark (92%)
Coming Home in the Dark is a spooky journey that progressively gets worse as it takes sudden left turns. Critics and spectators agreed that James Ashcroft’s nerve-wracking Kiwi thriller was uncompromisingly violent when it premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
This joyless voyage will surely be a controversial experience, even if it is well received. The film’s bleak subject matter, as well as its direct lesson on complicity: silence is violence, and violence breeds violence, is tough to shake. The amazing cinematography and acting, particularly from Daniel Gillies as a frightening vagrant with a heartbreaking discovery, make this nightmare holiday worthwhile to endure.
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Fear Street Part Three: 1666 (90%)
In the final and best chapter of the Fear Street trilogy, Leigh Janiak whips up a stew of surprises. Viewers are brought even further back in time to discover about Sarah Frier’s beginnings, as well as the curse that was cast upon the doomed town of Shadyside.
The first half of the film depicts the religious persecution of women accused of being witches in the seventeenth century, featuring a disturbing sequence staged in a cathedral. The last entry shifts gears and eras, building to a violent climactic showdown between a slew of zombie serial killers. Despite the fact that this threequel feels like a mash-up of two independent films, the intertwined stories come together in a satisfying way.
Fear Street Part Two: 1978 (88%)
Director Leigh Janiak continues to unravel the mystery of Shadyside in the second episode of the Fear Street trilogy, based on a series of books by R.L. Stine, by rewinding the plot to the late 1970s. Janiak pays homage to the grainy grittiness of popular horror films of the time by drawing inspiration from Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Sleepaway Camp.
Despite being part of a multi-part epic, this gruesome horror sequel works well enough on its own to be called a stand-alone film. The shift in characters and setting keeps the story new and intriguing while keeping the greater picture in mind. Fear Street Part Tw0: 1978 is shockingly mean-spirited for a film based on a YA novel, and it isn’t hesitant to take a few hard swings…at youngsters, no less.
Gaia is a bold statement about the visual grandeur that may be achieved on a shoestring budget. Director Jaco Bouwer and c inematographer Jorrie van der Walt employ the densely forested environment to create a psychedelic, frightening atmosphere in this film shot in South Africa’s prehistoric Garden Route region.
As a park ranger who becomes engaged in a cultish conspiracy to appease unknown elemental powers, Monique Rockman lights up the screen. The fungi, which look like the Clickers from The Last of Us, were created using a combination of practical makeup effects and minimal CGI. Even the hideous visuals in this hallucinatory eco-freakout is beautifully attractive.
Jakob’s Wife (86%)
In this amusing throwback to oldfangled horror cinema, the stakes are upped when a vampire comes between a bumptious minister and his wife, Anne, who seeks an adventurous existence outside the humdrum of suburbia. Due in part to renowned, cult-classic actress Barbara Crampton, the romantic story is given a feminist edge (Re-Animator, Chopping Mall).
As the pair works through their marital troubles, Crampton and co-star Larry Fessenden (Habit, Wendigo) have bloody great chemistry. In terms of its horror-adjacent elements, its modern sentimentalism is contrasted with a more conventional vibe. The ratlike master vampire, for example, bears a striking resemblance to Count Orlock from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu.
The Cannes Un Certain Regard Prize For Originality went to Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Icelandic folk-horror fantasy. The melancholy fable portrays the story of a lonely married couple torn between the structure that new fatherhood provides them and nature’s anarchic order.
Outstanding performances, not only from the principal characters but also from a cast of live animals, contribute to the film’s abiding sense of dread. Through a cat, a dog, and a herd of sheep, Jóhannsson eloquently depicts the fear of being alone in the wilderness. Lamb, like the central character in the novel, is a strange hybrid that triggers a wide range of emotions.
The Djinn (87%)
During quarantine, David Charbonier and Justin Powell, the writing/directing combo behind the critically acclaimed 2020 thriller The Boy Behind the Door, were able to achieve an impressive feat. The Djinn is a dark folklore about a grief-stricken kid with a speech impairment who calls a malevolent djinn to provide him a voice in payment for his soul.
Even though the ancient supernatural monsters of Arabic and Muslim mythology have been dealt in horror before, the execution of its single location setup and Ezra Dewey’s great performance combine for an emotionally gripping fantasy horror drama. This demonic house invasion thriller is a hilarious mix of Wishmaster and Home Alone, suspenseful and, perhaps, ludicrous at moments.
There are a lot of moving pieces behind Julia Ducournau’s Titane’s hood, but it’s impossible to say what fuels its engine. Ducournau’s work transcended genre, and she became the second woman to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2021 for her frightening vision.
This constantly bizarre drama (and one of the most horrifying realistic French horror films ever) examines layers of identity, eventually coming into its own, much like its dangerous protagonist. An undertone of sweetness runs alongside the outbreaks of horrifying violence and physical horror, thanks in part to the captivating lead performances of Agatha Rouselle and Vincent London. It isn’t the first film to depict auto-eroticism, and it has moments of Cronenberg-inspired discomfort, but rest assured, this custom-made vehicle shifts gears unlike any other.
Werewolves Within (86%)
In this amusing parody of the whodunnit paradigm, a group of comedy actors led by Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntraub are pitted against a local lycanthrope. Werewolves Within, based on the Ubisoft VR game, is now the highest-scoring film based on a videogame according to the critical Tomatometer.
This beast, which is equal parts creature film, murder mystery, and dark comedy, has a lot of bite, especially because the villagers of Beaverfield are paranoid. The gorier portions, on the other hand, are generally performed for laughs due to the overall cheery tone. Fans of werewolf mythology will appreciate filmmaker Josh Ruben’s mix of genres, as well as his iconic “Wolfman-Esque” approach to the monster’s design.
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