Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

Dominic Corry: Why horror is so hot right now

A scene from the movie Ouija: Origin of Evil.
A scene from the movie Ouija: Origin of Evil.

Hollywood is not known for its creative risk-taking. It is an entity driven forward by one simple rule: follow the money. Of late, that singular mentality has resulted in a mainstream film marketplace increasingly dominated by blockbuster tentpoles and Oscar-bait dramas, with fewer and fewer "mid-sized" movies being released.

Which is why the 2016 horror boom is so encouraging. Marked this week by the release of the surprisingly awesome Ouija: Origin of Evil, 2016 has seen a rash of medium-budget horror films do well at the box office, especially in relation to their production costs.

These kinds of films used to be Hollywood's bread and butter. The studios would throw a lot of genre movies into the marketplace, then see what stuck. Nowadays, more often than not, studios are placing all their eggs in fewer and fewer giant baskets.

A scene from the movie The Conjuring 2.
A scene from the movie The Conjuring 2.

Although these horror successes aren't delivering the billion-dollar-plus grosses of a superhero tentpole, profit is profit, and the 2016 horror boom looks like its getting major studios excited about making interesting horror movies again instead of simply churning out sequels with diminishing creative returns.

The best thing about the horror films in question is that they have all demonstrated a knowing affection for the horror genre, and aren't trying to be all things to all people. They are smarter than the average Saw or Paranormal Activity sequel, and audiences are responding to that. And hopefully the studios are noticing that aspect of the films.

The 2016 horror boom kicked off in June with the release of the film that remains the highest grossing horror of the year: The Conjuring 2, directed by Aussie/Malaysian horror maestro James Wan (Saw, Fast and Furious 7).

It continued in July with the release of my favourite horror of the year, Lights Out, which was followed by the latest Purge sequel, Election Year.

A scene from the movie Lights Out.
A scene from the movie Lights Out.

The trend appeared to be solidified with the rapturous audience response to the disturbing Don't Breathe in August. Of these films, only The Conjuring 2 broke $100 million at the US domestic box office, but the relatively small budgets mean they all made very healthy profits nonetheless.

September saw the release of Blair Witch, the only high profile horror movie to really fall on its face this year, suggesting that audiences won't something a little fresher in their horror than a reboot of a 17-year-old film. Also found footage is fully over now.

That brings us up to Ouija: Origin of Evil, which is being positioned as the major Halloween 2016 horror offering. At first glance, it looks like a pretty blah film: a prequel to a little-seen 2014 horror, which was the officially-licensed adaptation of a Hasbro board game.

Clunky subtitle aside, Ouija: Origin of Evil is actually pretty great, with a sustained atmosphere of dread and plenty of well-earned jump scares. Like The Conjuring 2, it benefits from a stylised period setting (in this case, 1967), and committed performances from the leads: Elizabeth Reaser (Twilight), Henry Thomas (E.T.), and two really amazing child actors, Lulu Wilson and Annalise Basso.

Jane Levy stars in the horror movie Don't Breathe.
Jane Levy stars in the horror movie Don't Breathe.

As with Lights Out and Don't Breathe, there's nothing revolutionary happening here. It's a simple case of talented filmmakers showing respect and enthusiasm for the genre. Director Mike Flanagan also made the recent home invasion thriller Hush, which is currently on Netflix and well-worth checking out.

Mid-range horrors on the horizon that have the potential to further the trend of popular, decent horror movies- or curb it for that matter, horrors do tend to mostly suck, after all - include a new film (the eleventh!) based on the infamous Amityville hauntings. This one starring the great Jennifer Jason Leigh alongside Bella Thorne. The fact that the trailer came out two years ago doesn't bode especially well, neither does the early January release date. A straight-to-DVD and VOD fate seems to await this movie in New Zealand.

The Bye Bye Man displays some potential in its trailer, and Annabelle 2, a follow up to the 2014 Conjuring spin-off, is due next year, and could be interesting.

Sequels to both Lights Out and Don't Breathe are of course also in development, but the upcoming mid-range horror I'm most excited to see is Jordan Peele's racially-charged Get Out, which has a simply fantastic trailer.

- NZ Herald

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