As streaming services diversify and begin to overtake traditional forms of media, horror has always seemed to be an afterthought when it comes to film acquisition. Often opting for the same few staples of the horror genre as well as poorly made, low-budget titles that rarely seem to hit the mark when it comes to pleasing fans. Serendipitously, Shudder has cornered this mostly untapped market, their versatile stock full of cult classics and forgotten masterpieces all available for a new generation to consume, as well as provided access to their extensive catalogue of ‘Shudder Exclusives’ – films that are unavailable on other streaming services.
As such, we at Grimoire of Horror have taken a gander back and chosen our favourite Shudder exclusives from 2021 and compiled a list to illustrate the incredible library of films this service has to offer.
The Dark and The Wicked (2020) By Bryan Bertino
In some circles, the film has been touted as being similar to an A24 production. While I have a particular love for films of that ilk, The Dark and The Wicked is its own beast with a fast pace and more scares than the atmospheric slow burn of an A24 project. This form of categorical praise should be pushed aside to detractors and give the film a chance on its own merit, as A24 has as many vocal fans being unreasonable detractors on social media. Ultimately, The Dark and the Wicked has style in abundance but focuses heavily on scares. At a tight hour and a half, the production is a constant assault of violence and a haunting uncertainty.
While I hesitate to reflect the common statement of this being ‘the scariest’ film of 2020, it certainly has moments that will make you tense up. Additionally, the sheer unforgiving and relentless nature of evil on display should keep audiences on edge.
0.0MHz (2020) By Sun-Dong Yoo
In short, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It is composed with brilliant cinematography and a nuanced sound design, both highly ubiquitous with South Korean cinema. Additionally, with a well paced story, some captivating characters and the inclusion of some comedic scenes, intentional and otherwise, it is a solid foundation which delivers an entertaining experience. Although certain imperfections are observable, the production is a splendid first attempt in the director’s chair for the young filmmaker. I can only look forward to any new releases by the up-and-coming director as Sun-Dong Yoo becomes more comfortable in his role – his filmmaking skill naturally increasing.
V/H/S ’94 (2021) By Timo Tjahjanto, Simon Barrett, Chloe Okuno, Ryan Prows, Jennifer Reeder
So, how does V/H/S compare to the other entries in the series? The only certainty is that audience reactions will vary; however, on a personal note, I can say it is my second favorite in the series (I am not telling you my first). The only aspect that really suffers is cohesion in bringing the concept of retro to life, that makes a great short like ‘The Subject’ more of an unwanted break in the flow. Regardless, fans of the franchise are in for a treat, and can celebrate the return of one of the most shocking film franchises ever crafted.
Alone With You (2021) By Emily Bennett & Justin Brooks
Capturing both terror and confusion, actor Emily Bennet gives viewers a haunting portrait of a woman in mental decline. Other then a brief (and wonderful) cameo from Barbara Crampton as Emily’s mom, a few flashbacks of her lover Emma, and a friend sending video chats, the camera stay center focused on Bennet for the majority of the runtime. This setup, however, does not seem to phase Bennet in the slightest as her acting is free of any sense of uncertainty – it is a riveting performance.
Existing in the realm of metaphysical nightmares, Alone With You resonates a deeply disturbing claustrophobia, taking the confines of a small home and pushing the anxiety down deeper through contorting its protagonist’s sanity. It is a wild trip, and one that audiences need to take – it should hit that wonderful sweet spot of cathartic experience in dealing with modern anxieties while making you squirm in your seat.
Psycho Goreman (2020) By Steven Kostanski
Psycho Goreman is that perfect blend of gore, comedy and absurdity that director Steven Kostanski has been honing over solo projects as well as his work with the (cult) iconic Astron 6. Soaked in 90’s nostalgia, the film is a gore-soaked nightmare with amazing practical effects and impeccable comedic timing. What more could you want?
Warning: Do Not Play (2019) By Kim Jin-Won
Like the character development and what it actually signifies in the larger picture, the film’s twist ending can be interpreted in a lot of ways: it serves as a cautionary tale for the viewer, but also perfectly illustrates what exactly Mi-Jung has lost in her journey of recovering the movie ‘Missing’ and forcing her way into the director’s seat. As such, it is a pitch-perfect ending to a film that manages – in just 86 minutes – to mix urban legends with curses and angry ghosts, while rarely letting go of its characters, their ‘inner world’ and their journey. The film’s structure and approach to scares can be similar to that of ‘Ringu‘ or ‘Ju-On‘, but the whole package feels closer to underappreciated, but ambitious J-horror oddities from before 2010 (like ‘Orochi‘) and the new wave of Western horror movies, because of its metaphorical aspects. Seo Ye-Ji delivers a breakthrough performance here, and the fact that it almost works as a straight-up scary movie – if you choose to ignore the subtext – is a result of director’s Kim Jin-Won’s ambitious grasp.
The Advent Calendar (2021) By Patrick Ridremont
The Advent Calendar may lack bite or originality to make it a fan favorite or invite multiple viewings. Regardless, the film presents itself as a slick thriller backed by a phenomenal performance of Eugénie Derouand and the impressive direction of Patrick Ridremont.
Overall, The Advent Calendar may not have you hooting and hollering in the theaters, but it is a beautifully executed thriller worth checking out.
Vicious Fun (2020) By Cody Calahan
The dark comedic charm comes from both inventive, humorous kills and the chemistry between the two main leads, Evan Marsh and Amber Goldfarb. Marsh’s clumsily put together Joel is not only awkward around the opposite sex, but also lacks the street smarts needed to survive his precarious situation. As luck would have it, he meets Goldfarb’s sexy, black leather jacket-wearing Carrie, who is a vigilante version of a femme fatale with a taste for revenge. The pair manages to support each other during the perilous encounter, despite them being complete opposites of each other. There’s also the noticeably refreshing change in having our would-be hero learn a thing or two from a strong female character.
Slaxx (2020) By Elza Kephart
Not only is the day-to-day drama of working at CCC highly realistic, the gore and make-up effects are fantastic. Honestly, really well done. The cast were all superb as well. With a premise like this, there’s so many ways this movie could have gone wrong but it didn’t. Not only that, it handles the assorted plot twists and reveals in a way that isn’t preachy or heavy handed. Slaxx gets its point across with humanity and wit.
Martyrs Lane (2021) By Ruth Platt
Martyrs Lane takes the traumas of a family and transforms it into a deeply unsettling supernatural horror. It is a film that places family drama at the forefront, any elements of horror meant to advance drama as opposed to frightening the audience. As such, the title will hold greater appeal to those who love classic gothic stories and literature over the familiar genre structure – the audience will be niche.
Ultimately, the focus on a family at the breaking point, explored through the eyes of a child as she faces the supernatural, makes for a deeply engaging story that is gut-wrenchingly tragic. For me, the film excelled in its intended delivery, but I would be very selective of who to recommend it to. Regardless, if the words above hold any sway or pique your interest, the title is worth checking out.