The 15 Best Horror Movies of The Last Decade
“Horror films don’t create fear. They release it,” said the late Wes Craven, “All of us have our individual curses, something that we are uncomfortable with and something that we have to deal with, like me making horror films, perhaps.” In this manner, the horror genre is a free space in cinema where we explore and let our societal, moral, and idiosyncratic fears wander and converge to take different, horrific shapes to which viewers feel identified.
The last decade – July 2007 to June 2017 – underlines a trajectory from lackluster string of found footage small studio pieces to higher grossing possession films to art-house surfacing gems. This year, horror is set to have its best year, led by commercial successful horror films like psychological thriller Split ($277 millions on a $9 million budget) and the art house quality film Get Out ($252 millions on a $4.5 million budget).
Therefore, as a result of a growing market for horror films on a small budget, the genre is expanding both thematically and artistically, A24 and horror genre top cat Blumhouse, keep enlarging their brand by producing and distributing unconventional, minimalist horror pieces, while smaller indie companies like Twisted Pictures have seemingly come to life to take a piece of the cake with the upcoming Jigsaw.
Seeking to represent the horror genre’s transition in this last decade, this list does not only aim to include the “best” films, but to provide an overview of those that have in some way or another stood above the norm or represented a turning point for the genre, whether it would be a thrilling all-out gore fest or the slower, unnerving atmospheres. The discussion for each entry will focus on the film’s themes and how does it accomplish it.
As a disclaimer, while this list does include familiar horror films, it also enlists unconventional, art-house horror pieces that strongly digress from the traditional genre. Horror purists be advised.
Be sure to let us know if you agree or not with our list. Enjoy.
15. The Wailing (2016)
A large scale mysterious disease. Shamanistic rituals. A deer-eating naked Japanese man with fiery eyes and an ever-growing pile of corpses. South Korean director Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing might be oftentimes nonsensical, especially as a detective genre film, but it thrives as a supernatural horror/demonic possession tale that is not only unpredictable, but also an enjoyable comedy of terrors.
The Wailing takes place in a rural Korean village and follows Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won), a bumbling and hasty cop who is called to a scene to find the despondent killer – skin covered in gruesome boils and sores – who is husband and father to the two morbidly slashed victims. As similar cases keep turning up, villagers attribute the murders to an unidentified illness, whereas rumor has it that a mysterious Japanese man, the “Jap,” who has recently taken residence in the woods beyond the village’s outskirts is responsible for the events (hint to the Japanese colonialism, and the effect it had on the Korean mindset).
Being haunted by hyper-realistic visions of the “Jap” and having his daughter (Kim Hwan-hee) succumb to the illness, an impulsive Jong-gu takes matters into his own hands and decides to hire a shaman to cure her affliction as well as confront the ominous foreigner.
Na is successful in enthralling viewers for the film’s lengthy 156-minute duration by orchestrating scenes like long setpieces, meticulously composed and edited to gather as much dramatic build-up as possible. During its last half hour, The Wailing abandons its logic and emotional center-point to become a philosophical high-tension whodunit, deliberately leaving it to the viewer to try to decipher which is the real threat.
Similar, yet morally antithetical to its opening excerpt from the Bible, in which Jesus asks of his disciple, “Touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:38), The Wailing taunts the soon-to-be victims to peek behind the curtain, only to sardonically laugh at their sign of helplessness.
14. [Rec] (2007)
Frankly, there is little to add to the conversation regarding the dynamics of the found footage genre, the still exhausted horror subcategory that for a large portion of this decade, was the horror genre’s dominant presence in theaters. Both 2007 and 2008 bookend the subgenre’s creative apex through a few films that would spark a series of sequels and spin-offs: Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, and the more noteworthy, [Rec].
Jaume Balagueró’s and Paco Plaza’s Spanish zombie horror takes place in Barcelona and centers on a late-night reporter, Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso), who while documenting the nightshift of a local firemen team, they follow the latter on an emergency call to an apartment building. Both reporters and the firefighters soon discover that they have been quarantined inside the premise in order to contain a spreading infection that turns people into vicious ghoulish creatures.
In contrast to the rather underwhelming sequels (same as the Paranormal series), the short 75-minute-long [Rec] does not waste time in plot explanations that would detract viewers from its horror, but swiftly provides enough context, before plunging into a spiraling hellish landscape and quest for survival.
The highly kinesthetic, sporadic camera movements – the flesh and bloodstream of the film – consistently riles up tension and during its highest moments, showcase some of the genre’s most intense, excruciating sequences. Moreover, the amateurish control of the camera as well as its “homevideo” quality, not only heightens verisimilitude but also the impression the rabid creatures leave on the viewer: the shocking motion blurring of their demonic faces, the second guessing as to whether or not one will suddenly pop out, and as the characters desperately run towards safety, the always-teasing question “is the monster right behind them?”
Lastly, [Rec] is a successful rendition of the found footage traditions because it faithfully plays to both its strengths and weaknesses. It is silly, overtly simple, and smartly rejects the high stature of traditional storytelling, in order to provide a satisfying, macabre rollercoaster.
13. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Leading viewers to believe it is the most conventional ‘cabin’ horror film ever, The Cabin in the Woods uses its simple premise to subvert both preconceptions and traditions of the genre, and in the process, it becomes a high concept metafiction while also providing a fresh and hilarious scarefest. Under the sly pen and connoisseurship of Joss Whedon and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” collaborator Drew Goddard, the highly self-conscious “Cabin in the Woods” not only satirically exposes and reduces the genre’s mysticism to a bureaucratic ritual, but also deliberately follows its tropes and cause-and-effect schemes.
The Cabin in the Woods intentionally repeats the traditional premise of the group of college friends, who venture to a cabin deep in the woods to spent their vacations. Each member of the group is representative of a stereotype we are familiar with as viewers: the well-meaning “good girl” Dana (Kristen Connolly), beefcake alpha jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth), his easygoing sorority girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchison), the hilarious conspiracy theorist and pothead Marty (Fran Kranz), and the nerdy stud Holden (Jesse Williams).
During a casual game of truth or dare, a wandering Dana finds a diary inside the obligatory “hey-don’t-go-in-there” basement and reads its Latin prose out loud, triggering the reanimation of a small army of rabid undead in the fashion of Evil Dead, which pretty much foretells the events to follow.
However, the real stars of the show are actors Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford who lead the film’s innovative what-if angle as the bantering senior technicians, who from a laboratory’s control hub, orchestrate the events the five friends must confront in order perform an ancient ritual. What’s more, this laboratory doubles as a monster zoo for familiar horrors of the genre: werewolves, murderous clowns, basilisks, a saw head imbedded Hellraiser-esque man, stampeding unicorns, and even mermans (male mermaids), you name it.
Despite losing a portion of its edge while swapping the intrigue of its parody for a straightforward, albeit satisfying bloodbath, “The Cabin” stands out from other anti-genre films due to its unwavering commitment to self-parody, courtesy of its writers, as well as a metafictional triangular relationship between artist, source material, and audience. Perhaps Whedon and Goddard are the scientific duo searching for alternative ways to innovate their work, while the audience is the hungry monster always demanding blood.
Described by Whedon as a “very loving hate letter,” The Cabin in the Woods is especially tailored for horror fanboys seeking to sink their teeth into the genre’s tradition, but should, if serendipitous, watch ‘The Cabin’ under the impression that it is just another ‘cabin’ film.
12. It Comes at Night (2017)
Right from the start, there are elements in Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes at Night that are immediately familiar – the cabin, a mysterious infection, the gas masks – altogether a highly textured, strikingly apocalyptic landscape. However, Shults’ sophomore film is not a traditional horror film, even calling it unconventional might be misleading for some.
Then why is it part of a “best horror films” list? Although there is no official category, some referring to it as post-horror while others as reverse horror, It Comes at Night rejects the guidance of traditional horror tropes – the ritualistic clues that viewers use to foretell events as well as the film’s credentials – in order to create a sense of vulnerability to the psychological undercurrents one must confront in a conceptual, seemingly non-eventful, yet disorienting darkness.
Following the vein of The Witch, the latest A24 produced minimalist horror It Comes at Night centers on a family taking shelter in a secluded forest (strikingly evocative of the critically acclaimed videogame The Last of Us) against a lethal contagious virus. The patriarch, Joel Edgerton’s Paul, his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and his subservient, nightmare plagued 17-year-old son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.).
After they are forced to kill and burn the corpse of Sarah’s father, Bud (David Pendleton), who contracted the disease, the family forms a shaky alliance with a younger family with the common interest of self-protection. Frustrated by his limited surroundings, Travis becomes drawn to the more accessible male figure Will (James White’s Christopher Abbott) and his wife Kim (Riley Keough), who along with the couple’s son, set the stage for the growing tensions, distrust, and paranoia that would eventually consume both families.
In terms of visuals, Shults masterfully maneuvers and exults darkness – weak lanterns, in-scene lights as the sole source, long corridors and bedrooms with minimal lighting – in order to create a unique atmospheric horror. Supported by an interplay with aspect ratio for claustrophobic effect and Brian McOmber’s eerie, unnerving compositions, which if familiar with Shults’ Krisha, you should have a good idea of how mentally straining Shults’ audiovisual designed space can become.
Despite its few ventures into body horror, It Comes at Night’s horror weights on the paranoia, guilt, and distrust it places on its characters shoulders, who find their undoing not in what lies outside, but what they fear would come out of it. Although lacking in zombies, torture scenes and sensationalist jump scares, It Comes at Night is not only profoundly horrifying in the answers it provides to its existential dread, but it could very well be among the pioneering films of a new auteur-horror trend in the same fashion as Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and Polanski’s Repulsion.
11. It Follows (2014)
If the 2013 horror film scene was characterized by high grossing films that effectively executed the genre’s conventions, such as The Conjuring and Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead, then 2014 was distinguished for smaller, subtler and more thematically innovative films that proposed new possibilities for the genre, some of these include The Babadook, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and the more eyebrow-raising premise, It Follows.
David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows centers on 19-year old Jay (Maika Monroe), who after a sexual encounter with her sketchy boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary), she is tied to a chair by the latter who reveals to Jay he has transferred an entity to her through intercourse. This shapeless monster, who assumes the appearance of any person in order to physically approach and kill the person carrying the disease, the only person to which it is visible. The only way for Jay to free herself from the mysterious entity’s persecutions, is to pass to someone else through sexual intercourse.
Although the logistics of who gets to be followed might lead some to assume the film is a metaphor for sexually transmitted diseases, It Follows is an allegorical portrait of teenage confusion towards the inevitability of adulthood, and therefore the confrontation with mortality. Sexual intercourse, as a rite of passage, is neither condemning (as some might come to expect) or self-fulfilling in the film’s context, but rather, it comes as a self-realization, a “wake-up call” that tells that nothing changes and never will.
As Yara, the teenager obsessed with Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot quotes, “your soul will leave your body and you will no longer be a person, and that this is certain. The worst thing is that it is certain.” As the title suggests, It Follows is about the internalization of mortality, which just as the shapeshifting entity’s unpredictable attacks, might arrive at any time, but it always does.
It Follows stands among the horror films in recent memory that are visually gorgeous. It underscores its poetic, cool hued, captivating production designed compositions with an eerie soundtrack by Disasterpiece.
Despite its shortcomings in a rather anti-climactic second half, particularly the final confrontation at a public pool and a narrative digression focused on Daniel Zovatto’s bad boy character Greg, Mitchell is successful in crafting a highly symbolic film whose horrors do not rely on gore or jump scares, but its allusions to real life horrors. Whether it would be a naked old man standing on a rooftop or a seemingly eyeless tall stranger casually stepping inside a bedroom, It Follows draws from a primal, inherent consternation towards that which is beyond understanding.
10. I Saw the Devil (2010)
Have you heard, seen, or are already familiar with the expression of wishing to inflict pain on those that perform vile acts? Grotesque murders. Graphic torture. Cannibalism. Sociopaths, and even comedy, revenge thriller I Saw the Devil goes to great lengths in order to illustrate how revolting and self-destructive is self-claim to violence and sadism.
In contrast to the suggestive power of other entries in this list, I Saw the Devil exerts its dominion in grizzly, morbidly detailed scenes – the sound of a hammer crushing a skull, or a screwdriver piercing a face cheek-to-cheek – in order to psychologically assault viewers to question their own sympathy for the characters in this morally blurred cat-and-mouse game.
From genre-versatile South Korean director Kim Jee-woon, I Saw the Devil centers on NIS agent Kim Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun), who undertakes a quest for revenge by obsessively stalking and methodically torturing the manic sociopath Jang Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik), who brutally murdered his pregnant wife.
By tailoring Soo-hyun as the quintessential avenger – the resourceful and expertly skilled martial artist with “every reason” to exact revenge – Jee-woon ironically taunts viewers to enjoy the graphic violence in order to underline not only the futility, but the permanent spiritual weight wrought by violence. In the fashion of the late Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left, I Saw the Devil brings into question: “what gives the right to kill and inflict pain?,” hence, who or what is the eponymous “Devil.”
Mirroring the sadism throughout the film, I Saw the Devil showcases gorgeous cinematography in its most violent sequences; lush reds and blues popping from the pitch-black background. Despite its repetitive premise and action thriller conventions, it is its fearless exposition of dreadful violence and trajectory from tragic hero to out-and-out sadist, which elevates I Saw the Devil to horror glory.
9. The Conjuring (2013)
Along a string of successful blockbuster horror films such as Saw (2004) and Insidious (2011), James Wan’s The Conjuring stands out from his horror repertoire not because it reinvents or contributes novelties to the genre, but on the contrary, it revitalizes its longstanding traditions in a familiar premise. By striking an ideal balance between jump-scares and slow burn horror, The Conjuring provides a satisfying thrill ride for both newcomers and experienced horror fanboys.
The Conjuring is based on the real life reports of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren and follows the couple (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) as they come to the aid of the Perron family (Ron Livingston; Lily Taylor), who are experiencing strange, supernatural events in their Rhode Island farmhouse in 1971.
The setting grants Wan all the more freedom to use classical tropes and techniques, some reminiscent to 70s horror films such as The Exorcist, in a manner that is organic to its source material as well as immersive for the viewer. Abrupt zoom-ins, the demonic make-up and prosthetics, home movie footage, and a soundscape heavily attentive to the creaks and knocks of the wooden house are among the highlights The Conjuring showcases to support its 70s-horror film orientation.
Lastly, The Conjuring stands out from other blockbuster horror films due to its control in momentum, as well as balance between suggestion and revelation. Whereas films like Sinister and Wan’s Insidious both detract viewers in dispiriting explanations during their second half, and The Conjuring 2 exhibits problematically jarring shifts of tone, the series’ original entry swiftly alternates between character development breathers and horrific sequences while providing a gratifying experience in what could as well as what actually comes out of the closet.
8. Raw (2016)
Described by French writer-director Julia Ducournau as “a modern ancient tragedy about too much love” meant to inspire belief that the “building of a moral identity comes with the acknowledgement of tendencies that we qualify as monstrous or evil.” Ducournau’s debut feature film Raw has the empathetic immersion of a coming-of-age drama, essentially a bildungsroman crossed with the graphic body horror that will provoke viewers to perceive anthropophagy as a pubescent sexual awakening.
Although premature, the genre-flexible Raw finds its way on the list for its seamless combination of body horror, coming-of-age, and drama. Raw successfully pushed its coming-of-age horror narrative away from comedy and campy dominion of films such as The Loved Ones, Jennifer’s Body, and the recent Tragedy Girls reign, and on towards the more austere, morally subverting territory of films like Ginger Snaps, enhanced by a new age visual edge.
Raw follows lifelong vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) who arrives in college to start veterinary school where her older live-wired sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) already studies. Initially harboring a reserved, valedictorian aspiring mindset, Justine soon develops a taste for meat that grows into an overwhelming hunger for human flesh and as a result, shifts the freshman towards a menacing, unwavering predatory behavior. The casting is key in film’s horror dynamics, since there is a daunting unpredictability in Marillier’ ability to blend innocence and macabre in both appearance and performance.
Frequently associated with the 70s and 80s Cronenberg body horror films, Argento’s Suspiria, and even Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, not only does the use of cosmetics in Raw – fingers, ears, limbs – designed to be as real and stomach wrenching as possible, but it showcases a visually distinctive control in color – Justine’s body paint, the plethora of different tones of red – that grants the film an innovative, vibrantly juvenile take on its coming-of-age horror narrative.
In many ways, Raw’s crude, hellishly attractive visuals and gothic psychedelic tracks (courtesy of composer Jim Williams, also in Wheatley’s Kill List and A Field in England) is similar to the 2015 German horror The Nightmare (“Der Nachtmahr”); a gem for horror films enthusiasts searching for films in the same vein as Raw.
Lastly, whereas Hannibal’s depiction of cannibalism is characterized by seductive eroticism, philosophical heights, and divine narcissism, Raw not only normalizes anthropophagy as part of a self-exploration phase, but in doing so, it absorbs viewers in its psychological framework, which becomes all the more terrifying the more enticing it becomes to viewers.
7. Kill List (2011)
Another appropriate title for director Ben Wheatley’s crime psychological thriller would be “Slow Burn” (yes, we are aware there’s a 2005 thriller of the same name starring Ray Liotta), but perhaps it would fall short to capitalize on a seemingly simple premise that masks the severe, nail-biting, unpredictable thrill ride that Kill List turns out to be.
Kill List follows the unemployed ex-soldier Jay (Neil Maskell), who along with his jocular partner and longtime friend Gal (Michael Smiley), accepts a three-mark hitman job from a sketchy employer, in order to economically support his austere yet supportive wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) and their young son. As they carry on the wet work, there are glimpses, nuanced implications (Wheatley keeps his cards close to his chest), that suggest that there are lurking horrors and hidden agendas unbeknown to the hit men duo.
Under Wheatley’s pen and direction, Kill List transcends its homevid/VOD impressions and in many ways, encompasses or plays along the traditions of three sub-genres: (1) an unnerving kitchen sink drama, (2) a dark crime drama and character study filled with the genuine banter of a buddy film, and an (3) edge-of-your-seat “shoot-em-up” whose conclusion lingers way after the credits roll.
Through a highly detailed, naturalistic narrative as well as an evocative sense of distrust towards the environment, Kill List stands out from other “twist” reliant horror films, by providing a sudden turn of events that is both unforeseeable and convincingly inexorable.
6. Let the Right One In (2008)
There is a morally unsettling, captivating force in witnessing two desolate, seemingly innocent kids capable of committing horrific acts, while sharing a genuine emotional vulnerability for each other. If Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In was not the most inventive vampire film of the century during the time of its release then it was certainly its most thematically expansive. It can be interpreted as a love story, a coming-of-age, or a black comedy complemented by its horror elements and heavily suggestive mature themes.
Based on a 2004 novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay, and under the direction of Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and upcoming The Snowman), this art-house vampire film takes place in the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg in 1981 and follows a brutally bullied 12-year-old boy, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), who one night, while swinging his knife and fantasizing about revenge against the school bullies, he meets the new neighbor, the self-possessed Eli (Lina Leandersson).
Seemingly of the same age as Oskar, Eli is actually a centuries old vampire child who has come to the suburb accompanied by her ill-intentioned, yet comically incompetent vampire partner Hakan (Per Ragnar). Despite Eli’s initial warning that they cannot become friends, both quickly grow on each other – Oskar adamantly accepting of Eli’s odd traits and the vampire child encouraging Oskar to confront his bullies – and fall in love.
The vampirish deeds of murder and blood-sucking have a macabre presence throughout the film, which Alfredson accomplishes by leaving it to the viewer to imagine the act itself – the notion of an unseen supernatural entity – and instead focuses on how does it relate to the characters’ circumstances as well as depth of tone. Hakan falling through the hospital window and unto his death, or Oskar being forcefully held underwater unbeknown to him that the bully’s decapitated head is already sinking behind him, allude to a sense of moral, but deliberate punishment through a child’s perspective.
Reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s films, particularly the Death Trilogy, the visuals in Let the Right One In are endowed by an impersonal, dismal realism that are both convincing and lugubrious of the ordeals the two main characters face.
5. Martyrs (2008)
Whereas some criticize Martyrs as being flat torture porn, others praise it as one of the best horror films of the 21st century. Needless to say, Pascal Laugier’s exploitative horror film would not be held as an icon of New French Extremity – a string of 21st century transgressive, brutal natured films by French directors – if it was not utterly divisive among viewers.
Fifteen years after Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi) miraculously escapes from an underground abattoir, Martyrs follows a disturbed, nightmare haunted Lucie and her more levelheaded friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui), as the former attempts to find the middle-class suburban family that tortured her as a child. Lucie’s overwhelming guilt and conditioned self-mutilation composes only half of Martyrs’ duration, which after a certain inevitable tragedy, gradually comes to reveal the orchestrators behind these heinous acts and the reasons they have for torturing young girls.
The string of grotesque, ritualistic acts throughout the film are characterized by one thing: the literal deterioration of the human body and mentality. In the film’s context, a metal visor nailed to the cranium, the flaying of skin from the body, and the general concept of the body’s survival against torture, all underline a philosophical angle of transcendence through violence; the notion that an individual can attain divinity if he or she were to remove what makes them human – hair, skin, consciousness – through the only means possible.
Martyrs’s greatest achievement is not the extent of ingenuous, graphically brutal scenes, but Laugier’s and both actresses’ portrayal of humane tact, and guilt-ridden mentality, which draws the viewer to assimilate, and feel for the acts of torture, mutilation, and literal dehumanization inflicted on Anna. In this regard, Martyrs does not aim to provoke satisfaction, much less thrill, but to leave the viewer emotionally, if not spiritually drained. Martyrs exploits mental endurance.
4. Antichrist (2009)
During the early stages of the film, Lars Von Trier was attracted to the idea of forests as bring both a romanticized space for solace and an unforgiving place where species constantly devoured each other. A theological approach to nature as being an inherently evil, endlessly chaotic, sexually consuming entity that overtakes human desire. This is a good place to start in order to understand provocateur Trier’s infamous Antichrist, which proudly wears its Cannes’ polarizing reception as a badge crediting its dense, grotesque, and deeply unsettling material.
Trier’s first entry in the unofficially titled “Depression Trilogy,” centers on a middle-aged couple, that after the seemingly accidental death of their infant Nic – the child falls to his death from a two-story building while his parents were making explicitly photographed love – they retreat to a cabin in the woods.
That’s virtually as close as Antichrist gets to a ‘cabin’ film, as soon the father, referred to as “He” (Willem Dafoe), a therapist, begins experiencing bizarre visions, whereas the mother “She” (Charlotte Gainsbourg) exhibits overwhelmingly violent sexual conduct and sadomasochism. The film is divided into a prologue, four chapters: Grief, Pain, Despair, and The Three Beggars, and an Epilogue, which as the titles go to show, foretells of the couple’s abyssal descent and inevitable devouring of each other.
Antichrist is an experimental horror film, that is, it does not comply with the genre’s traditions in the same manner Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist come to embody, but rather, it generates fear through its theologically stylized themes, bizarre, grotesque, morally turbulent imagery – a slow motioned doe with a stillborn fawn hanging from her body, or a large block of wood crushing male genitalia to cite a few – and an always consistent, artistically unique atmosphere that reeks of uncanny dread. Particularly, the kinesthetic force of Antichrist’s visuals flows with an unmistakable amoral indifference that seems to have sprout from a depressed, despaired psyche.
Despite its supernatural elements, Antichrist, (which can rival Martyrs as the most “unwatchable” film on this list) holds that evil is already here, it springs from an individual’s intimate as well as somatic relationship with nature, an idea it depicts with such morbid gravitas, that some might find instantly repulsive, whereas others will find profoundly fascinating.
3. Get Out (2017)
Similar to the supernatural allegories to real life horrors in It Follows and The Babadook, Jordan Peele’s genre hybrid debut film Get Out seamlessly blends horror and hilarity to fearlessly expose the racism and cultural appropriation lying underneath post-Obama America. However, it is not the outspoken loathsome racism Peele is interested in denouncing, but the often-overlooked misconceptions, micro-aggressions, and secrecy that often lurk in the interracial black-white interactions.
It is through innovative horror infused social commentary, where Peele’s brilliance as a director stand out the most, his ability to create a sense of uneasiness, a menacing aura behind seemingly trivial interactions such as the white hosts’ courtesy and eagerness to impress their daughter’s black boyfriend and protagonist Chris (Daniel Kaluuya).
Compared to recent art horror films Raw and It Comes at Night, Get Out seems to profit the most from its genre-dexterity, which under Peele’s direction, turned out to be the freshest horror films to hit mainstream audiences in recent years. It moves freely from comedy, epitomized in the far-fetched conspiracy theorist TSA agent and Chris friend Rod (played by Lil Rel Howery) to the otherworldly, warped art-house “Under the Skin-esque” sequences of Chris falling in a hypnotic abyss, to a bloody gore match similar to those in the work of Adam Winguard and Ti West.
In the same vein of the inner conspiracy, man vs society motif of films such as The Stepford Wives and Eyes Wide Shut, Get Out follows the up-and-coming photographer Chris, who despite being wary at the prospect of racial discrimination, accepts the invitation of his five-month white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to visit her parents (both Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener in great performances) at their ominous estate.
Chris’ suspicion is further aroused by the unnerving and erratic behavior of the family’s help: housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson). As the clues keep piling up and the director provokes viewers to question what is really going on with Chris and his milieu, Peele steadily builds tension until its breaking point, in which Get Out unleashes its Blumhouse feature quality, ridiculously inventive all-out violence.
2. The Witch (2015)
Robert Eggers’ The Witch finds its greatest achievement in its masterfully crafted atmosphere, which has a disquieting, unnerving and menacing presence throughout the film. Eggers’ folk tale about an exiled Puritan family on the verge of self-destruction showcases the director’s brilliant calibration of cinematography, score, costume and production design in order to assemble a supernatural horror film whose deeply rooted psychological ambiguity is only matched and literalized through its meticulously detailed, Andrew Wyath painting impressionable, 17th century New England setting.
Excommunicated from a Puritan plantation and settlement, the family’s patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) decides to move away from the community, with his wife and five children, to build a farm in a secluded forest. However, unexplained supernatural occurrences such as the twin siblings’ claim that their goat, Black Philip, speaks to them and the sudden disappearance of their new born child Samuel, begin to take place in the farm, throwing the family in a crisis of faith.
Most of them, prominently the neurotic mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) blame their eldest pubescent daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) for the strange occurrences. Thomasin, who is the voice of consciousness against her parents’ rigid morality and blind order, gradually becomes interested in the pleasures outside the Puritan doctrine, which inevitably lead to the family’s undoing.
Essentially a morality play, The Witch is a portrait of a family in a state of emotional disintegration as they witness the futility of their spiritual conviction against unknown horrors. Expanding on the idea of dehumanization of films such as The Crucible, The Shining, and The Exorcist, Eggers employs the period setting – the backdrop for the flourishing span of diseases and starvation, as well as the witch hunts – as a microcosm of humankind’s inevitable depravation at the face of spiritual despair.
1. The Babadook (2014)
“If it’s in a word, it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of The Babadook.” The rhyming slogan of Jennifer Kent’s feature film debut encapsulates its fable-inspired notion that the most prevailing, inescapable horrors are found in our own collective unconscious. Despite its grim appearance, the Babadook – a demonically sardonic, coat-and-top-hat wearing creature that appears to have creeped out from a German Expressionist prints and drawing gallery – stands utmost as a universal metaphor for the repressed fears, self-doubts, and unspoken desires that inside the film’s context, befalls single parenting and fatherless childhood.
The Babadook begins nearly seven years after the devastating car accident that killed soon-to-be-father Oskar (Benjamin Winspear) as he was hurrying his pregnant wife Amelia (Essie Davis) to the hospital to deliver their child, both of which survived the event. In the present, when he’s not stirring troubles at school, the high-strung and emotionally dependent 6-year-old Samuel (Noah Wiseman’s performance easily ranks among the best by a child actor in a horror film of this century) spends his time building homemade weapons with the hope of becoming his mother’s protector from monsters.
Still traumatized after the incident, Amelia, now a nurse in a home for the elderly, sees Samuel as a constant reminder of her husband’s death and cannot bring herself to celebrate his birthday on the actual day. One night, Amelia reads Samuel a pop-up storybook, Mister Babadook, which sets off a series of supernatural horrors that perpetrate their daily lives.
Kent is successful in crafting a visual design that not only mirrors the everlasting state of mourning of the mother-son duo, but also it is strikingly evocative of storybooks and classic fairy tales. The ever-consistent color palette of opaque blues pit against greys and blacks, the symmetrically tailored production design and stop motion animation, which Kent applies to great effect, all illustrate or allegorize the characters’ subjective reality.
In order to explore the impact Oskar’s death and absence had on the mother-son’ toxic, emotionally clinging relationship, Kent cleverly transposes the viewer’s empathy by smoothly alternating between both characters’ perspectives. First through Amelia’s eyes, we are shown how intense and volatile Samuel and afterwards, turning more meek and reasonable, Samuel’s perspective reveals Amelia to be the puppet or embodiment of the eponymous monster.
Ultimately, The Babadook achieves an ideal balance between traditional horror – the jump scares, monsters, and dramatic heights – while offering both the visual reinvention and most importantly, the profound emotional depth that characterizes recent art house horror films. By its conclusion, as the worms below their backyard, the unchanged body count, and Amelia’s amicable terms with the guest living in their basement goes to show, The Babadook contends that our innermost fears, emotional scars, and prevailing flaws are a part of our everyday life, and that perhaps, it should stay that way.
Honorable mentions: The Loved Ones (2012), Inside (2007), Drag Me to Hell (2009), Green Room (2016), Berberian Sound Studio (2012)