13 intelligent horror films that’ll make you think
[Photos by: Magnolia Pictures, Universal Pictures, Fox Searchlight and Miramax]
From the high praise of Get Out to the insane box office numbers of It, scary movies are the new status quo for blockbusters. However, with their unconventional plots and ingenious commentaries, there’s nothing generic about many of these new horror flicks. Here are some of the top films that they have led to this praiseworthy style of horror.
Let’s start with the obvious forerunner of the year: the film adaptation of Stephen King’s It. While Tim Curry’s clown of the 1990 mini-series has gone down in history as a main source of coulrophobia, this 2017 masterpiece does an incredible job of showcasing a multitude of common fears every child encounters growing up. But the icing on the cake is the incredible cast—it’s such a breath of fresh air to watch middle-schoolers actually act like middle-schoolers.
Get Out (2017)
2017’s other horror superstar is Jordan Peele’s Get Out. While this thriller features the standard creepy neighbors, questionable suburban ongoings and a sinister plot, it is the seamless coupling of social commentary mixed in with Peele’s signature comedic elements that brings this film to the foreground.
The Witch (2015)
The film dives into stylized antiquity, taking viewers back to the folklore of the 1600s at the height of the witch scares in America. Similar to the cinematography of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), the scares of this film take place primarily in broad daylight. In place of pop outs and cheap gimmicks, The Witch derives fear from stark imagery and allusions to what could have happened, rather than just showing what occurred.
The Babadook (2014)
The Babadook debuted in Australia as an allegorical, dark fairy tale gone awry. Similar to many films on this list, The Babadook harps on haunted house clichés but serves more prominently as a symbol for dealing with grief. As an added bonus, due to a mis-categorization on Netflix, the Babadook monster has now become a beloved symbol of LGBTQ pride.
It Follows (2014)
This horror story, though visually terrifying and suspenseful, creeps up on the viewer as the scariest lecture about STDs, ever. Rather than a disease, the characters of this film are plagued by a monster every time they sleep with someone who has been previously haunted by the same ghoul. While the film is a little too aggressive in nailing the metaphor, the opening scene is a cinematic marvel that sets up the terrifying journey.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
There really is no horror film as meta as The Cabin in the Woods. Playing on every single trope that has made horror the genre it is today, The Cabin in the Woods creates a satirical world that can only be sustained through the audience’s approval of set clichés within gore, sex, violence and fear.
The Visit (2015)
Similar to It, The Visit features kids acting like real kids. The audience feels the initial dread of having to go to grandma’s house, packed on top of the fact that everyone watching knows something is wrong. While many films use the “found footage” motif that The Blair Witch Project popularized, this is one of the few films where this style of filming successfully amplifies the suspense within the film through the unraveling of the kids’ playback footage.
Black Swan (2010)
Black Swan is more of a thriller than a horror movie, but the imagery used to represent the mental breakdown of a ballerina is rather horrifying. In what are arguably Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis’ best performances, Black Swan sets the stage for just how deep one will go to be the best at something, even if those actions turn her into a monster she never hoped to become.
Let the Right One In (2008)
Inspired by the Swedish novel of the same name, this Swedish film is easily one of the best contemporary vampire films out there. Forget the cheesy romance of Twilight, this vampire doesn’t sparkle; instead, the film traces the effects of influence people can have on one another in their childhood. Though very somber, it showcases a successful contemporary gothic love story without any of the Hollywood nonsense.
Dog Soldiers (2002)
Director Neil Marshall is probably best known for his work on the claustrophobia-inducing film, The Descent, or his direction of major battles scenes in Game of Thrones (most notably the episode “Blackwater”). However, his lesser-known film, Dog Soldiers, is a feat of its own. Due to an incredibly low budget, many of the scenes with werewolves are implied. Though viewers do get some serious wolf-action toward the end, it’s the way Marshall can create fear of the unknown that makes this film so fun and eerie.
The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Guillermo del Toro is a master of making beautiful horror films, from Pan’s Labyrinth to Crimson Peak. The Devil’s Backbone, however, was his first big success in the genre, and arguably one of his bests. Following the story of a boy taken to an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War, the film parallels the hardship of life during wartime with the tragedy of the death of a child whose spirit is desperately seeking vengeance against his killer.
The Others (2001)
For anyone who enjoyed Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw, this is the movie for you. Set in a post-World War II world, Nicole Kidman plays a mother with two incredibly odd children living in a house with even stranger staff. Plagued by overt Catholic beliefs, intense paranoia and a lost sense of reality, The Others couples elements of gothic fiction with an amazing twist ending that will have you questioning everything.
Psycho is the only old-school film on this list because, honestly, Hitchcock’s film noir is timeless. While there is a set villain, there is no true main character or hero in this film. The truly terrifying elements of Psycho stem from the variety of characters and their interactions with Norman Bates. Typically, viewers follow one group from Point A to Point Terror, but in this film, we don’t. Instead, Hitchcock uses the shallow good guys to flesh out a villain that is still wildly popular today.