5. It Follows
Few recent films play with the viewer’s fear of the unknown as well as It Follows. In some ways It Follows is simply a homage to classic horror movies of the 1980s, complete with a suburban setting and electronic score and a few classic teen tropes to back it up. Of course more people will point to the allegories for sexual transmitted diseases or the endless uncertainty brought about by adolescence. Regardless of the interpretation, It Follows is a smart, original and genuinely frightening horror film.
The plot concerns a teenager who is pursued by a supernatural entity after a sexual encounter. The entity is passed on through intercourse and the only way she can rid herself of it is to pass it on in the same manner. Just to start with the actual entity acts as a good representation of the film itself, rarely relying on jump scares or sneak attacks, it simply moves along at a slow yet horrifyingly painful and persistent pace. The slow burn tension is tangible and always invigorating.
The throwbacks to 1980s horror gives the film a stylish edge. But at the same time director David Robert Mitchell is able to carve out a world of endless possibilities and haunting ambiguity, little directorial touches that only serve to increase the viewer’s concern for the characters.
It Follows is actually one of the few horror films in recent years whose director uses these subtle shots to evoke a sense of deeper terror, shots like having the characters occupy the same space but still creating a sense of infinite space beyond them leaving whatever’s beyond the range of the camera open to our imaginations.
There is a sense of primordial dread that permeates the entire film, the knowledge that however hard the characters try, the demonic entity is always somewhere beyond out sight as a viewer but is still approaching with intent and malice. For a horror film, to sustain such a feeling of dread for its entire runtime is a rarity, to do it with such skillful precision, top notch acting, an original story and refreshing take on classic horror tropes to the same extent that It Follows does it something rather special indeed.
4. The Cabin in the Woods
Technically speaking you could argue as to whether or not this film is construed as a horror or a meta comedy, or just an amalgamation of both. But because it seems like one, we would be happy to put it on this list regardless of whether it’s more easily categorised as a comedy than a horror then we will just label it as a horror film. Who else but Joss Whedon could conceive a film that so gleefully plays with convention and expectation and so wonderfully subversive in the way in which it handles the standards tropes of a genre?
The Cabin in the Woods begins with a basic and age old premise, five college students pile into a van and set off into the woods for a weekend in an isolated cabin. Even the characters themselves are as archetypal as they could possible come, with the jock (Chris Hemsworth), the good girl (Kristen Conolly), the bad girl (Anna Hutchison) the thoughtful kid (Jesse Williams) and the comic relief (Fran Kranz). Then of course on route they encounter the obligatory seemingly deserted gas station and its demented attendant.
If we spoiled any more we would be hounded in the comments section (although if you’re reading this list and haven’t seen the film, where have you been hiding for the last four years?). But then again even if the central plot is spoiled there are so many brilliantly inventive ideas bursting through the film that the initial surprise is only the beginning.
The Cabin in the Woods is as much a loving homage to classic horror movies as it is a ruthless deconstruction of them. Take out all of the tongue in cheek humour and The Cabin in the Woods still stands as a legitimiately unnerving picture, one that gradually builds in tension and intrigue prior to the big reveal and is essentially begging you to try and unravel it.
The concept itself seems like a difficult balancing act of multiple tones and styles but Whedon’s script and Drew Godard’s direction strike the perfect balance between each contrasting element and blend them into an endlessly entertaining movie.
3. The Babadook
William Friedkin made a comment about The Babadook comparing it to Psycho, Alien and Les Diabloques and later added “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film”. That should give you an idea of what you’re in for if you have yet to see the directorial debut of Jennifer Kent that has within a very short space of time cemented itself as a genre classic. It is difficult to think of another movie that has the power to unsettle and terrify as much as The Babadook.
The Babadook stars Essie Davis as Amelia, a woman left distraught after the sudden death of her husband, and now having to care for her son (Noah Wieseman), who’s acting out in his own grief. But the situation rapidly escalates after he starts to believe that a monster from a children’s picture book, the titular Babadook, is lurking in the house and haunting them. As time passes Amelia herself starts to fear this unnatural entity.
The success of The Babadook is down to an amalgamation of many elements. First and foremost is Kent’s direction as the film becomes a masterclass of atmospheric filmmaking and employs every effective trick in the book to raise tension and a sense of impending doom.
The sheer intensity of the film is enough to unnerve anyone and the way in which the audience is dragged through one traumatic encounter after another turn it into what can only be described as a physically wrenching experience. The film is so impeccably crafted yet viscerally told that it almost seems impossible for each element to coincide so perfectly, you are left in awe of each brilliant piece of direction but at the same time repulsed by how much it scares you.
But then there’s the screenplay, with its undertones of emotion that create a film of real and genuine substance. It digs into themes of mental illness and grief that are unusual for horror films today, and the way it analyses these themes are so uncompromising, unflinching and sobering that it only makes the whole ordeal even more remarkable. Essie Davies is a tour de force in the lead role, one of the most hauntingly authentic performances of, dare I say any horror movie ever?
The Babadook is emotionally engaging, beautifully crafted, excellently paced, brilliantly constructed, endlessly fascinating, constantly gripping and above all, magnificently terrifying. A true classic of the horror genre.
2. The Witch
It is difficult to pin down what ‘The Witch’ actually is. At times it resembles a period drama just as much as it does a horror film and in a twisted sense it’s almost a coming of age tale.
Set in 17th Century New England, a family of settlers are excommunicated from their puritan community and left to fend for themselves in the in an isolated region of the countryside. But when their youngest son goes missing, they begin to fear a supernatural presence within the woods beside their farm, a presence that may either be real or imagined.
The Witch soon becomes a story not of ghosts and ghouls, but of a family as it systematically tears itself apart. This film is about projected fears, paranoia and suspicion as well as the impact that has on a group of people living together. The cast are all excellent at expressing these fears, they each act out their own beliefs and actions with the utmost conviction that immerses the viewer within the era, as did the whole aesthetic of the movie.
Under the direction of Robert Eggers in his debut, The Witch becomes a masterclass of atmospheric filmmaking. There is an unnatural eeriness to each scene with a gradual rise in tension that releases itself slowly and excruciatingly. Eggers takes full advantage of his environment to carve out this feeling of isolation and claustrophobia and then there’s the fact that the cinematography is able to reflect the depression felt by the central characters.
It’s also so brilliantly intertwined with the various subplots, for a majority of the film the supernatural elements exist merely in the background. The viewer is placed in the position of the family, something is troubling us, and we know something is out there, but for now we occupy ourselves with more immediate problems and dramas.
From failing crops and the risk of starvation as well as their utter isolation, it’s a reflection of the hordes of religious terrors that they convince themselves are punishing them, their obsession with sin and the self-loathing they seem to inflict upon themselves all play into how this spectral presence is viewed.
1. Under the Skin
There is only one reason why Under the Skin could not be called the best horror movie of the decade and that reason is that it cannot be limited to simply one genre. There are so many different layers and forms of symbolism to it that it is almost impossible to decipher every last detail of it. But regardless if it can even be remotely classified as a horror film then it deserves to be at the top of this list and it certainly fits nicely into the category of horror.
There is something truly horrifying about the unknown and the sense that in the grand scheme of things we are completely helpless and without knowledge. Under the Skin creates that kind of feeling as Scarlett Johansson stars as an otherworldly seductress who preys on men in Scotland and to say anything else about the plot would be a crime as it is down to the viewer to analyse and interpret this film.
Not only is it one of the scariest films in recent memory, it is also one of the most challenging. It is brimming with thrilling and intelligent layers, moving and striking imagery that is inspiring and mesmerising at one moment and haunting and repulsive at the next. Jonathon Glazer’s minimalist masterpiece has earned comparisons to Stanley Kubrick and they are not exaggerations in fact if Kubrick were still alive he would be making films like Under the Skin.
Johansson’s performance is charismatic and chilling as she preys upon unsuspecting single men and she emotes fantastically with relatively little dialogue. As she discovers more about humanity and begins to make more of a connection with our species she starts to develop more and the film itself reaches whole new levels of fascination. The rest of the film is so visually stunning but at the same time it is so brilliantly disturbing that it feels as if you could take any one aspect and analyse it for eternity.
The film is so meticulously controlled and unnervingly surreal at times that it’s almost difficult to see any of the deeper themes and instead just be awestruck by the masterful way in which the film is assembled on a surface level.
Again this may not be for everyone because this film is one that challenges audiences, but at its core that is what cinema should be, something to be discussed, analysed, interpreted and viewed again and again. That is where Under the Skin excels and it is what makes it not only the best horror film of the decade so far, but one of the best films of the decade, period.
Author Bio: Joshua Price considers himself more of a fan that happens to write near insane ramblings on movies and directors like Scorsese, Spielberg, Bergman, Kubrick and Lumet rather than an actual critic and other insane ramblings can be found criticalfilmsuk.blogspot.co.uk.