Did you keep your eyes open while watching these horror movies?
The horror genre has steadily been going through a kind of renaissance in recent years, with more tasteful and thoughtful horrors being produced spreading its terror beyond the jump scares and the creepy crawlies. 2017 seems to be a year to showcase that as some of the unconventional horrors are slowly taking the lead, it is still sharing space with the more traditional scare tactics that we are so used to torture ourselves with.
While it is already Halloween month, we have already been treated with possibly the best horror that we could ever ask for in 2017, but we still look forward to more shadows and fear to keep us awake at night for the rest of the year.
So far, these are the best performing horrors of 2017 by box office numbers that (almost all) came with critical acclaim.
The Belko Experiment
James Gunn's fevered dream of an office massacre would have laid as a forgotten dream, until he was reminded of it after attaining fame for "Guardians of the Galaxy". Premised on an office complex where employees of a corporation are locked in and instructed to kill each other or their life is forfeit, black horror comedy plays out a bloody battle royale including office supplies and furniture. Released almost as counter programming to "Beauty and the Beast", "The Belko Experiment" had a decent run, making USD 11 million in box office, out from its USD 5 million budget.
Cursed object horror may have fallen into a few clichés, but it really depends on having the object feared for its innocence rather than its peculiarity. "Wish Upon" is centred on a cursed magic box that grants gruesome wishes to its possessor, until it comes to extract the blood price. With an uninspired plot, even one that involves a less than cliché object, "Wish Upon" still managed to do decent business of grossing over USD 20 million against its USD 12 million budget.
It Comes at Night
When the outside world seems to have been ravaged by an unknown threat, a former teacher protects his family by living in their cabin, with strict orders of what they can do in the day, and staying indoors at night. "It Comes at Night" is 2017's demonstration of how horror works well with the 'less is more' approach (admirably demonstrated in 2016's "10 Cloverfield Lane"), and it pays off as a subtle but also chilling thriller, carried almost to perfection by Joel Edgerton as the protective father. Despite making only a considerable success at the box office with nearly USD 20 million, "It Comes at Night" will be director Trey Edward Shults' calling card if Hollywood needs another director with an ever growing fanbase.
47 Meters Down
Horror does not live without its trends. After the unexpected success of Jaume Collet-Serra's "The Shallows" in 2016, tight-spaced shark horrors have enjoyed a relative up-take. So to repeat the success, the formula was repeated in 2017 with "47 Meters Down", this time with a couple of teenage girls being plummeted down to the sea bed, trapped inside a shark cage and surrounded by sharks. Even without the sharp pacing of Collet-Serra, and the nail-biting performance of Blake Lively, "47 Meters Down" still manage to draw on its premise alone from audiences with a taste of shark horrors. The formula proved to be a success, making an exponential profit of over USD 44 million out of its meagre USD 5.5 million, compared to the USD 119 million raked in by the "The Shallows" with its USD 17 million budget.
When a college professor and a girl looking for her missing boyfriend stumbles upon the cursed videotape, they are in a race for time to appease the angry spirit of Samara before she kills them after seven days. For the third instalment in the American take of the "Rings" franchise from Japan, Paramount Pictures had hopes that this would be the next franchise to fill in the gap left by the end of the "Paranormal Activity". Although many critics disliked its rehash and unoriginal twist, the final nail on this coffin is not certain yet, especially when it made over USD 83 million from the box office.
Sci-fi horror is no longer what is used to be, while sci-fi movies of today are more leaning towards the dreadful existential question of artificial intelligence, it is still a little comforting to know that one name still stands tall as the representative of this sub-genre for the horror category. Managing to squeeze in the big questions before letting the gruesome killing commence, "Alien: Covenant" keeps the flame of sci-fi horror strong in the only franchise that we can still think of when it comes to sci-fi horror. A major exercise for director Ridley Scott to explore and rebuild his beloved xenomorphic universe, "Alien: Covenant" is a faithful rethreading of what made the franchise so frightening and bleak some two three decades ago. Costing a monumental amount of USD 97 million to produce, it managed to rank as the fifth highest grossing horror movie of 2017 with a box office gross of $240 million.
The edgier trend of horror nowadays is relying on the cerebral than the creep. Horror has now been recognised by filmmakers out there as a vehicle for social and satirical commentary on current affairs, making the dread felt even more real than it needs to be. No horror this year demonstrated this appeal better than the breakout of "Get Out". Coming from the mind you would least expect, Jordan Peele turned smiles to gaping horror as we witness the descent of one black man into unknowing danger, surrounded by the supposedly friendly company of his fiancée's white and privileged family. While the underlying message on the racial and political climate is still only found by those who are looking beyond its horror roots and influences, it certainly benefited on its own terms to cash in USD 253 million out of a USD 4.5 million budget.
Since making a very brief debut in 2013's "The Conjuring", the Annabelle doll has been granted its own spin-off series, going all the way back to even a origin prequel, like some expanded universe for horror. Even with the new wave of horror emerging, traditional techniques and tactics still pay off when it is done well, even in 2017, and especially when it rides on a much loved (or feared) franchise. Made with a humble budget of $15 million from a studio that likes to keep it small, it showed that there is still strength in giving a good scare to the tune of a whopping $298 million worldwide.
Horror of 2017 is where we also get to see one of the best comebacks that have been awaited. After slipping into a degeneracy of mediocre to even blasphemy the moment he stepped out of his horror mould to adapt a well-loved franchise, M. Night Shyamalan was showing signs that he has once again found his compelling mode of storytelling from "The Visit" in 2015. This return to form is finally cemented with "Split", and believers of Shyamalan could ask for a better comeback that came with a connection to arguably one of Shyamalan's best works. This is not giving less credit to the one man who carried it all; James McAvoy who magnificently maintained the tradition that some horrors are still built on a captivating performance seen in-camera than what we don't see off-camera. "Split" in some ways shattered many expectations as to how well it would do, smashing the box office count at USD 278 million, with only its basement budget of USD 9 million.
The swan song of horror, not only for 2017 but for all of its history in Hollywood. This long awaited and developed theatrical adaptation had more reasons to go wrong than it had to be right. Handed to a director who, while still behind the impressive feature debut of "Mama", many would still consider to be inexperienced to work in the creatively restricted studio system, a young actor who had to fill in some very big shoes left behind by a performance that scarred a generation, and a disappointed fanbase that just survived one of the most underwhelming adaptation of King's magnum opus, the odds were definitely stacked for "It" to be a consolation, if not a terrible flop. But "It" delivered. Matching classical methods of scare with a more cerebral source material, added with an outstanding performance, this is the sort of genre-changing alchemy that executives and critics dream to see happen, and for it, "It" wholly deserved the USD 605 million it made worldwide, while also becoming the highest grossing R-rated horror and the second highest-grossing horror of all time to Shyamalan's "Sixth Sense".
Cinema Online, 29 October 2017