Take a random sampling of horror movie fans, ask them what their No. 1 complaint about the genre is and odds are they’ll all answer: too many remakes. As Hollywood continues to strip mine the past for profit, horrorphiles are left asking, “Where has all the originality gone?” Fear not: It’s not all bad news on the fright film front.
Despite all the headline-grabbing, big-budget rehashes, horror movies are in the midst of a quiet revolution as a diverse, new generation of filmmakers are boldly taking the genre into fierce, frightening and wholly unexplored territory. What follows are 20 of the most innovative horror movies of the last decade. These future classics will never need a remake.
Norwegian folklore comes to life in André Øvredal’s found-footage thriller Trollhunter. Shot in the forests of Western Norway, the film is told through the eyes of a group of student filmmakers attempting to make a documentary about an alleged bear poacher. To their amazement, the would-be documentarians discover their subject, a reclusive backwoodsman named Hans (Otto Jespersen), is actually on the trail of much bigger game. Filled with sly wit and moments of unexpected intensity, Trollhunter is the most effective found-footage horror film since Cloverfield.
Canadian filmmakers Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie, best known for their 2011 horror-comedy Father’s Day, abandon their usual blend of scares and laughs for hardcore, cosmic horror in The Void. A stunning fusion of Lovecraftian themes and ’80s style, the film stars Aaron Poole as Daniel Carter, a small-town lawman trapped with a band of survivors in a hospital under siege by a mysterious horde of hooded cultists and bizarre, misshapen monsters. Featuring spectacular creature effects reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Void is a refreshingly CGI-free fear fest sure to please even the most hardcore horror fans.
Rubber is one of those rare films that defies all description, but we’ll give it a shot. Directed by French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux, Rubber is the story of Robert, a sentient automobile tire with telekinetic powers that goes on a murder spree in a small desert town in California. Combining comedy, horror and existential philosophy, this film is a mind-bending, fourth-wall-breaking blend of surrealism and satire that must be experienced to be appreciated.
Language turns deadly in Bruce McDonald’s brilliant inversion of the zombie apocalypse subgenre, Pontypool. Trapped in their small, Ontario radio station by a growing throng of cannibalistic “rioters,” shock jock Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) and producer Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) fight for survival against a linguistic virus. Featuring a truly original premise, Pontypool is a frightening and thought-provoking take on the viral/zombie film that incorporates the paranoia of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers into the well-worn subgenre.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
Fusing elements of German expressionist silent film and spaghetti Westerns, Iranian-American writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is the best and purest distillation of the vampire myth on film in decades. Set in a ramshackle Iranian ghost town, the film stars Sheila Vand as The Girl, a vampire vigilante with a taste for the blood of evildoers. Filmed in lush black and white, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night evokes classic horror cinema while removing one of its most powerful tropes from the context and setting of Western European legend.
The most frightening indictment of parenthood since David Lynch’s Eraserhead, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook explores the ambivalence of maternal instinct as both a blessing and a nightmare. The film stars Essie Davis as Amelia Vanek, a widowed mother raising her troubled 6-year-old son Sam (Noah Wiseman) alone. When Sam discovers a mysterious children’s storybook, he and Amelia unleash a supernatural force that will threaten their bond as parent and child as well as their lives. Featuring one of the most interesting movie monsters in years, The Babadook is a starkly uncompromising horror film.
Based loosely on an allegedly real haunting investigated by legendary paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring helped reignite Hollywood’s interest in the genre as a moneymaker and launched a horror-based cinematic universe of sequels and related films to rival the comic and sci-fi juggernauts of Marvel and Star Wars. With the first film in the ever-expanding franchise, director James Wan, screenwriter siblings Chad and Carey Hayes and stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson crafted the template for mainstream horror in the 21st century.
The Cabin In The Woods
What begins as a seemingly stereotypical slasher flick morphs into something far more sinister in director Drew Goddard’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink horror epic The Cabin In The Woods. With callbacks to nearly every horror film and monster flick ever made, its innovative premise taps the primal roots of Lovecraftian cosmic horror with a twist of conspiracy. Co-written by Goddard and fan-favorite Joss Whedon, The Cabin In The Woods is both a celebration and a pointed critique of modern horror movie tropes and cliches that are, in turn, both wickedly funny and frightening.
The Girl With All The Gifts
Humanity’s last hope hinges on a unique young girl in the British science-fiction horror thriller The Girl With All The Gifts. In a dystopian future overrun with hungries—ordinary people transformed into mindless, flesh-eating zombies by an insidious fungal parasite—a group of scientists experiments with second-generation infected children who, despite their craving for human flesh, retain their mental faculties. Much like Richard Matheson’s acclaimed 1954 vampire novel I Am Legend, this unique twist on the zombie subgenre presents a world where humanity as we know it is supplanted by a new species. A thought-provoking film, The Girl With All The Gifts poses some difficult questions about the ethics of modern science and the nature of human evolution.
Following a meteor strike, a cellular biologist (Natalie Portman) is recruited to lead a scientific expedition into an expanding zone of reality-bending mutation in Annihilation. Written and directed by Alex Garland, best known for scripting 2002’s 28 Days Later, Annihilation is a beautiful and surreal film that, in the hands of a lesser cast and crew, could have easily descended into ’80s SF action cliches à la Predator. Instead, Garland delivers a film that is as heavy in thematic and emotional weight as it is in mind-boggling special effects.
Mandy has virtually everything a hardcore horror fan could ask for: over-the-top gore, a Manson-esque cult of hippie fanatics, demon bikers deranged by tainted LSD, psychedelic visuals, a pasta-puking goblin and, best of all, Nicolas Cage going absolutely batshit for an hour solid. Director Panos Cosmatos takes a simple story of revenge and elevates it to operatic proportions smashing David Lynch’s patented surrealism with Sam Raimi’s relentless breakneck kinetics. Cage is a man possessed in his most unhinged role ever.
A Quiet Place
A family is caught in a silent battle for survival when Earth’s population is annihilated by hostile, extraterrestrial entities in A Quiet Place. Directed by John Krasinski (who also stars in the film alongside his wife, actress Emily Blunt), this 2018 sci-fi survival thriller features a unique alien threat—blind, vaguely humanoid creatures with impenetrable armor who, thanks to incredibly acute hearing, hunt through sound. A showcase of Krasinski’s inspired direction, A Quiet Place correctly maintains focus on its characters while never allowing its impressive special effects to overshadow its very human story.
It Comes At Night
After a highly contagious, deadly disease sweeps the globe, two families of survivors strike an uneasy alliance in A24’s It Comes At Night. Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, It Comes At Night is a claustrophobic, psychological horror film where the only monsters are those which dwell in the human heart. As the characters speed toward their fates, the line between good and evil disappears, with paranoia driving their thoughts and actions. A welcome subversion of traditional post-apocalyptic horror conventions, It Comes At Night is not for those who expect heroes or happy endings.
Comic genius and lifelong horror fan Jordan Peele uses the genre to skewer racism in his Oscar-winning directorial debut Get Out. Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris Washington, a young African American man anxious about an impending visit with his white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison William) wealthy parents. Although he expects to experience a degree of discomfort in their rural upstate New York community, he discovers that something truly insidious lies beneath its welcoming veneer. With Get Out, Peele establishes himself as a master of the genre and an excellent director. Get Out is a near-perfect blend of scares, laughs and razor-sharp social commentary.
Based on Josh Malerman’s 2014 novel of the same name, 2018’s Bird Box is yet another effective entry in the post-apocalyptic horror subgenre. Thematically similar to A Quiet Place, which was released the same year, Bird Box begins with great swaths of the planet’s population driven to suicide by supernatural entities whose very appearance inspires madness. Picking up the story five years later, Malorie Hayes (Sandra Bullock) and her children continue to survive, avoiding the entities’ malevolent gaze by wearing blindfolds as they desperately search for sanctuary in an increasingly dangerous world. A major hit for Netflix, Bird Box became a phenomenon among genre fans despite a mixed critical reception.
The horror genre relies on a handful of archetypes and is famous for beating many of its most popular tropes into the ground. So when a film comes along with a premise that defies all conventions, that’s a reason for fans to celebrate. It Follows is one of those films. A shocking thriller that can stylistically best be compared to the J-horror classic Ringu, the film stars Maika Monroe as Jay Height, a young woman who has a sexual encounter that releases a deadly curse in the form of a ghostly, shape-changing entity. Fiercely original, frightening and imbued with the twisted logic of a nightmare, It Follows is one of the best horror films of the decade.
An instant classic and a cornerstone of the folk-horror revival, Robert Eggers’ period horror opus The Witch is a relentlessly grim film that works its way into your subconscious and never lets go. Set in 17th-century New England, the film stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, the eldest child of exiled English settlers William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie), who, along with her siblings Mercy, Jonas and baby brother Caleb, are forging a new life on the edge of the wilderness. When Caleb mysteriously disappears under Thomasin’s watch, the family begins to unravel, with an unexpected villain pulling the strings. A spiritual successor to films such as The Blood On Satan’s Claw and Witchfinder General, The Witch brings horror back to its primal roots.
Eggers follows up his auspicious directorial debut The Witch with yet another critical horror hit. The Lighthouse stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as lighthouse keepers stranded by a ferocious storm that delays the arrival of their replacements. Running low on provisions, they slowly go mad. Replete with allusions to literature and myth, The Lighthouse is a claustrophobic masterpiece of psychological terror that demands multiple viewings.
Filmmaker Ari Aster’s directorial debut Hereditary is a stirring drama about a family in turmoil that just so happens to be one of the most terrifying films of all time. In fact, it’s Aster’s commitment to the non-horror aspects of the script that makes Hereditary work as brilliantly as it does. Toni Collette stars as Annie Graham, a respected artist struggling to keep her family, her marriage and her sanity intact in the wake of her notoriously secretive mother’s death. Dealing with death, grief and mental illness, Graham discovers even darker forces are at work in her life. Whether the film lives up to the hype of being “this generation’s Exorcist” is debatable, but Hereditary nonetheless ranks among the best horror films of the last 20 years. Hyperbole aside, it’s a masterpiece.
Lauded as having made this generation’s Exorcist with his terrifying debut Hereditary, Aster returns with a film that may very well be this generation’s answer to the cult folk-horror favorite The Wicker Man with his second feature Midsommar. Florence Pugh stars as Dani Ardor, an emotionally fragile young woman coping with the murder-suicide of her sister and parents. She joins her increasingly distant boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), a grad student studying anthropology, and his friends on a research trip to a 90-year midsummer pagan festival in a remote Swedish Village. The trip, arranged by their friend Pelle, a native of the village, slowly turns into a nightmare for all as the pagan revelers reveal their true intent. Much like Aster’s Hereditary, Midsommar is a character-driven slow burn that takes its time to build a hallucinatory atmosphere of dread.