Horror came roaring back to the forefront in the 2010s, a decade that has so far featured perhaps the most innovative and interesting films to be produced in the genre in decades: The Cabin in the Woods, It Follows, and The Babadook have all become modern horror classics, and now generations of filmmakers raised on decades’ worth of movies of the genre are standing on the shoulders of giants as they create their own visions of what a horror film can be.
And as always, horror is a genre that produces a gigantic volume of films every year thanks to the relatively economic bang for the buck creating one entails: without worrying about having to budget for any big-name stars (who generally avoid working in the genre after they make their name in the business), the money goes to effects and little else.
It’s a genre that allows talented directors to take as many stylistic risks as they please to show their skills off without taking a great financial risk. Horror films almost thrive on these sorts of limitations and have produced a number of talented directors–particularly in this decade–due to their ability to create a profitable and imaginative film without a large monetary outlay.
Yes, the 2010s have been a new golden age for the horror film and one that a sophisticated (some would say cynical) audience is eager to indulge. To this point, personal horror is now being focused on, with protagonists set in dire situations they can’t possibly escape as their own autonomy is ripped away from them slowly scene by scene. For a generation of moviegoers whose identity and self are held at a premium value, this sort of horror is the worst possible one to endure.
But not every horror film becomes a crossover mainstream hit, and since there are so many produced each year, it’s easy for even the most eagle-eyed aficionado to miss a few. So here are 10 standout horror films released in this decade that you may have missed and should check out before the decade’s end.
1. Frozen (2010)
Three skiers–two childhood friends and a girlfriend–find themselves locked in a nightmare situation when they decide to go for one last ski run before the lifts close for the day. But when a negligent ski lift operator shuts down their lift halfway through their ride up, these friends find themselves abandoned for a week suspended in dead air.
With a pack of wolves circling beneath them and the winter cold making their ability to sustain impossible, they have to start making some terrible decisions as to how they’re going to survive.
The answer to their decisions over the next few days creates a suspenseful and overall horrifying narrative of what three people do to try and escape a seemingly impossible situation.
Watching the film unfold puts the viewer directly in the characters’ own awful predicament, finding themselves in a genuinely difficult situation with no good options that will guarantee their safety or survival. It’s a tense, terse horror thriller that may dissuade you from any future ski trips–or at least rethink taking one last run at closing time.
2. Kill List (2011)
A British soldier returns home from duty and is recruited into contract killing by his old friend, assassinating specific individuals who seem to harbor disgusting secrets.
But as they travel further into this dark new occupation, the soldier finds himself unable to continue on with his work; only when his family is threatened does he comply to perform a high-profile assassination on a politician. But when he gets to that assignment, there are much darker and disturbing forces at work that he could not have comprehended.
This summary is deliberately vaguely worded so that the impact of the film wouldn’t be given away: think of this as a lighter version of A Serbian Film, where the gross extremes of that movie aren’t explored but the tragedy experienced by the protagonist is certainly the same.
What gives this film its power is the slow burn of the plot: we begin to understand the characters and their motivations, and knowing these details makes the eventual horror of their situation that much more terrible when the truth is revealed. A great thriller that balances its gory elements with an emotionally wrenching story, Kill List is a horror film that allows you to sink into its atmosphere before it pulls the rug out from under you.
3. The Skin I Live In (2011)
There is maybe no worse horror than finding yourself helpless and trapped with your very identity being stripped away against your will. But this is the basis for Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In. At first depicting a young woman as she’s raped in her home before doubling back to witness where this young woman originally came from, The Skin I Live In is an incredibly realistic and disquieting film by master director Almodóvar, who creates a film that will live with its viewer long after its final scene.
Following the incredibly diminishing fortunes of jerk protagonist Vincente who, after sexually assaulting a woman at a wedding, is then brought to the premises of demented Doctor Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), who begins to transform the young man. By transform, we mean slowly and surgically performing sexual reassignment surgery on Vincente, eventually making him into the attractive young woman Vera, who reminds the surgeon of his late wife.
A deeply disturbing movie, Almodóvar’s masterful direction raises the film above the standard body horror feature and instead creates a work of high art. The long, languishing shots that expose the upsetting procedures that take Vincente’s masculine identity away from him and transforms the cocky young man into a delicate woman both physically and psychologically are nearly unbearable at times.
Like Tusk without the species transformation and with a more humanistic and philosophical bent, The Skin I Live In is one of the most affecting body horror films ever made and one that raises questions of gender identity that stick with the viewer for a long time afterwards.
4. Resolution (2012)
One reason for the volume of horror movies made every year is due to their low-budget nature: few genres can establish its concept for as little money than horror since an effective film can be made through mostly tone, atmosphere, and character-driven stories. Resolution is a perfect example of a horror film that creates a believable creepy tale out of a next-to-nothing budget.
The setup: Michael, a professional and soon-to-be father, receives a cryptic email from his long-lost best friend Daniels that shows he’s become a junkie.
Promising his wife that he’ll be back in a week after attempting to save his friend from addiction, Michael follows a map that was included in the message and finds Daniels living in a dilapidated cabin in the woods.
As he tries to detox his friend, mysterious footage and materials begin to show up around the property that detail a story that apparently he and Daniels are a part of; then it’s revealed that Daniels had never sent him an e-mail in the first place and the film plunges into a meta-horror story that–by all suggestive materials Michael begins to piece together–seems to spell their doom.
Along the same meta lines as the smash hit The Cabin In The Woods, Resolution exploits a similarly unnerving concept only on a much smaller scale. It’s a clever turn on the idea that there is a deity that demands a particular storyline is told to completion in the correct sequence–only this time there’s no way to fail this ritual. An intriguing indie horror film that succeeds through an ingenious premise, Resolution is for fans of horror films that create dread through disturbing ideas instead of visceral acts of carnage.
5. Cheap Thrills (2013)
As noted in previous entries on this list, some of the best horror films don’t have supernatural entities but have the horror generated by people who deviate from normal, acceptable behaviors. In the case of Cheap Thrills, it’s two rich people who enjoy paying strangers to perform increasingly awful tasks for cash.
Craig and Vince are two buddies down on their luck and desperate for some income, while Colin and Violet (played to wicked perfection by David Koechner and Sara Paxton) are the wealthy couple who are more than happy to compensate them if these two keep following through on grisly requests for their entertainment. As the dares and money escalate, tensions between the two friends builds until the film reaches an awful conclusion.
Cheap Thrills is the kind of horror film that shows how desperate people can, with the right motivation and by their own free will, be led to do horrible things. It’s a thoroughly vicious piece of work with excellent performances all around and powered by unbelievably dark humor.
Known best as macho lunatic Champ Kind in the Anchorman films, Koechner’s atypical performance as the amoral Colin will have the viewer looking at the comedic actor differently afterwards, and for those who enjoy their horror rooted in the realm of reality, Cheap Thrills is the perfect compliment to this acquired taste.