5. The Witch
Probably the most widely known film on this list, The Witch still hasn’t been seen by nearly enough people. Written and directed by Robert Eggers, The Witch is a disturbing period piece with a thick atmosphere of under-your-skin dread that will keep you constantly on edge.
William, a devout religious man in 1630’s New England, is banished along with his family from their Puritan village for having conflicting religious beliefs. The family leaves in an angry whir and settles on a secluded patch of land near a daunting forest. Not long after their arrival however, they notice the foreboding nature of the woods and begin to suspect that something dark dwells within.
The Witch is a modern horror classic. With period appropriate costumes and architecture, the film feels authentic down to the finest detail. The uneasy feeling of dread is consistent throughout the entire film, turning on a dime to pure maddening horror in the final act.
Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Imerson put in incredible performances and do a lot to sell the film’s atmosphere. Not to mention The Witch is stunning to look at. Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography is precise and reserved, allowing the actors to chew the scenery while also conveying the film’s dark and mysterious underbelly with an artistic grace. It cannot be stressed enough, if you’re a fan of horror you should see The Witch.
Julia Ducournau’s feature length debut, Raw is a French-language horror film that will undoubtedly make you queasy. The film follows Justine, a committed vegetarian, as she begins her first semester at an eclectic and isolated veterinary school. Justine is shy and antisocial, the kind of person that feels uncomfortable at a party.
Once she arrives at school, she is almost immediately thrust into twisted hazing rituals orchestrated by the upperclassman. As the rituals get increasingly deranged, Justine is eventually forced to eat raw rabbit kidney, the first taste of meat she’s had in her entire life. This changes everything for Justine and sends her into a fevered spiral of rashes, cravings and cannibalism.
Fans of gross-out and Cronenberg-esq body horror will find a lot to like here, but where Raw really shines is within its artistry. Each frame feels meticulously crafted to set the tone of gradual derangement. The school feels far away from any sense of normalcy, separated from civilized life with a long imposing road that seems to go on forever.
Garance Marillier puts in a powerhouse performance as Justine, conveying each emotion with a sincere subtly that gives the character a three-dimensional depth. The body horror is also top notch, a disgusting visual delight displayed unabashedly to its finest detail. Raw is an impressive exercise in quiet depravity and a film well worth your time, even if you occasionally have to watch through your fingers.
3. The Ritual
Internationally distributed by Netflix and placed under their “Netflix Original” banner, David Bruckner’s The Ritual is a home run. Five old friends decide to take a hiking trip through the Swedish wilderness after dealing with a shared tragedy that rocked each of their worlds.
Once they set out, the days pass and the troubles start. What once began as an expedition of healing quickly turns into a fight for survival as the friends find out that there is something in the woods more horrific than any of them can comprehend.
The Ritual is the posterchild for how to update Lovecraftian cosmic order for a modern audience. Many films that attempt to convey true cosmic horror often miss their mark, but what director David Bruckner has done here is nothing short of awe inspiring. He takes a relatively simple story, one that horror audiences are quite familiar with, and updates it with an effectively artistic entertainment focused flourish.
You won’t feel the runtime of this one; it flies by from scene to scene with a horrific delight while simultaneously pausing for moments of drama and character development. If you can go into this film blind, do so, you won’t regret the time you spend with The Ritual.
2. A Dark Song
Two character, one house and an intricate ritual of dark magic; this is the basis of A Dark Song. Sophia is a grieving mother who rents an isolated house in Wales in hopes of convincing a detached and angry occultist to perform a strenuous ritual for her.
The ritual is one that stretches out for months, involving immense physical and emotional depravation in an attempt to summon Sophia’s guardian angel. After the occultist accepts, he and Sophie begin the ritual. The months pass by and their mental health deteriorates, leaving Sophie to wonder about the occultist’s true intentions.
A Dark Song is impressively committed to its premise. Written and directed by Liam Gavin, the film feels meticulously researched and executed. The film also bets a lot on its two leading actors, Steve Oram and Catherine Walker, a bet that pays off greatly by the end of the film. The audience acts as a fly on the wall, we watch these two subject themselves to horrific tortures and we wonder along with the characters if something really is happening or if it’s all in our heads.
A Dark Song is a slow build exercise in dread, one that will keep you guessing until the moment everything is laid before you in an incredibly satisfying way. If you’re hungry for psychological horror with a side of the occult, A Dark Song is a feast.
1. The Wailing
The Wailing is a South Korean horror epic directed by Na Hong-jin. Jong-goo, played by the always great Do-won Kwak, is a police officer in a small mountain town tasked with investigating a mysterious outbreak that causes its victims to have violent outburst.
The townsfolk seem to already know the cause of this curse, a Japanese man who lives secluded in the mountain forest who may or may not be a demon. Jong-goo pays no attention to these rumors, but as the bodies pile up and inexplicable events begin happening on every corner, Jong-goo is forced to dig deeper than he ever wanted to in order to find a solution to the horror.
The Wailing is the Lord of the Rings of South Korean horror films. It is a sweeping, all-encompassing epic drenched in a thick layer of fog-like atmosphere in which all of the creatures of folk horror live. The story is expertly paced; it twists and turns in ways that will spin your head; what you have believed as fact turns out to be fiction and everyone seems to be hiding something. The horror is palpable and inventive. There are ideas and sequences in this film you have never seen before and are not likely to see again.
The Wailing is a masterpiece that deserves a lot more recognition that it gets. From the mood to the camera work to the characters to the story, everything functions as one collective unit with the sole purpose of scaring the shit out of you. If you’re a fan of horror or movies in general, stop what you’re doing right now and turn on The Wailing.