Photo: Horror Movies
The past decade saw the salvation of the horror genre. Schlocky properties like ‘Saw’ are increasingly on the wane, while studios like A24 and Blumhouse continue to make quality horror films that frequently deliver interesting new takes on the genre. Some of the best recent auteur directors have come out of horror too – Ari Aster, Jennifer Kent, and Robert Eggers to name a few.
Join me, as I rank my favourite horror movies of the decade.
- The Neon Demon (2016), Nicolas Winding Refn.
Refn’s twisted take on the fashion industry stars Elle Fanning as a model who falls victim to the trappings of vanity in modern-day LA.
Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive)’s love of neon-drenched noir is finally made self-aware in ‘The Neon Demon’, and it doesn’t disappoint. Visually the film is mesmerising, each frame meticulously curated. Refn’s script takes an interesting approach to an age-old theme. His cautionary tale of beauty is set in a modern-day setting yet is presented in an otherworldly, fairytale-like manner. This all comes to a head in the film’s blood-drenched finale, which is an absolutely staggering showcase of shock-value cinema.
The story is extremely simple, but its simplicity helps it. In fact, the accessibility of the structure makes the film’s shocking content doubly effective. Refn does have his indulgences, which whilst enjoyable to me, may be off-putting to the uninitiated. ‘The Neon Demon’ is also less overtly committed to the Horror genre than most of the following entries, but its brazen finale and general eeriness earns its spot on the list.
- The Babadook (2014), Jennifer Kent.
Still grieving from the death of her husband and struggling with motherhood, Amelia (Essie Davis)’s exasperation reaches a boiling-point as her house becomes haunted by a spectral force named Mister Babadook.
‘The Babadook’ presents a very realistic portrayal of grief. So much of the horror comes from Davis’ realistic portrayal of the crippling depression it generates. Davis is equally fantastic at
conveying the impact of this on the relationship with her son. At times, it genuinely seems like Amelia is as much of a threat to her son as the Babadook. Speaking of, the Babadook is a brilliantly conceived monster – it presents a psychological rather than physical threat, which helps maintain the thematic integrity of the story. The Babadook is also incredibly well designed. Kent’s ability to accentuate the fear it carries through practical effects is impressive.
Some horror fans might be let down by ‘The Babadook’’s commitment to psychological scares over shocking violence. The Babadook is more of a threat to the central relationship rather than the characters’ bodies. The film is thus arguably more effective as a drama than as a scare-fest (though it is creepy), but it is still refreshing to see a horror film that cares more about being good than being traumatizing.
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- Annihilation (2018), Alex Garland.
It should be considered heresy that ‘Annihilation’ wasn’t given a wide Cinematic release. It’s one of the most wonderful films to get lost in. The shimmer is beautifully rendered, and the sound design incredibly immersive. Narratively, the shimmer is an interesting antagonist – the fact that it is essentially a heightened extension of nature makes it terrifying because it is completely impossible to negotiate with. But it isn’t one-dimensional evil. It creates horror and beauty in equal measure. It distorts biological life in a way that soothes but can also seriously harm. The characters either choose to accept these terms or fight them, and this philosophical tension between whether or not this force is a saviour or omen is captivating.
Additionally, ‘Annihilation’ is a great example of a naturally progressive film. All the leads are female, and they are all believable, unique characters. The film cleverly never draws overt attention to this in the manner you might expect from modern-day Hollywood, which is refreshing.
Plot-wise, ‘Annihilation’ will make you say “what?” more than it will answer questions. It is also as much of a science-fiction film as a horror piece, which may deter genre purists (But so is ‘Alien’(1979), so don’t be deterred). Either way, ‘Annihilation’ is thought-provoking, unsettling, and utterly absorbing.
- Under The Skin (2013), Jonathan Glazer.
‘Under The Skin’ starts off as an eerie, alien slasher film and ends up being something utterly unique, set to the tune of Mica Levi’s entrancing score. The premise is enticingly peculiar. Scarlett Johansson goes around Glasgow picking up guys, and, well, ends their lives in an extremely creepy fashion. The realism of certain scenes gives the film an edge it might not otherwise have had – certain scenes were shot with hidden cameras with unsuspecting non-actors.
‘Under The Skin’ is extremely strange and slow-moving – for those wanting a more immediately confronting horror experience, this is not it. And like ‘Annihilation’, it’s as much of a sci-fi film as anything else. Still, the first half is an undeniably unnerving experience, and the climax is surprisingly affecting. Since its release ‘Under The Skin’ has gained praise as one of the best films of the decade – its fusion of horror and sci-fi should not be missed.
- It Follows (2014), David Robert Mitchell.
In ‘It Follows’, a girl is chased by a horrific force following a disturbing sexual encounter.
‘It Follows’’s monster ingeniously conveys the paranoia associated with teen sex – it is sexually transmissible. Though it walks, it never stops following you and can come in the form of any person – scary stuff. David Robert Mitchell squeezes the dramatic juice from this premise through lots of deliciously creepy moments. The film is incredibly fun, evoking 80s horror films such as Carrie and Halloween. Like ‘Stranger Things’, the music feels like a deliberate ode to John Carpenter.
Though the narrative logic can be occasionally unconvincing, ‘It Follows’ is a clever, entertaining chiller.
- Midsommar (2019), Ari Aster.
After suffering a horrific family loss, Dani (Florence Pugh) tries to repair her relationship with her boyfriend by tagging along on a trip to Sweden. There, they encounter a cult who push their preconceptions to the limit.
We now come to the most unsettling film so far. The horror in ‘Midsommar’ is both scary in the moment and long after the film is finished. The troubled relationship at the center of the story heightens the horror immensely. Ari Aster gets away with the plot’s more extreme, satanic elements because so much of the regular drama is utterly convincing.
It is more experiential than plot-based, thus the plot occasionally confuses. ‘Midsommar’ does get a bit lost as it goes along, but then that’s the point. As an audience member, you feel completely disoriented, which adds to the climax’s thunderous punch.
- Get Out (2017), Jordan Peele.
‘Get Out’ provided an incredibly entertaining theatre experience – I can’t remember a crowd being as involved as the theater I saw the film in. Jordan Peele’s “documentary” is socially astute – it manages to portray racism in a manner that is relatable to many and at least recognisable to others, whilst also being heightened enough to work as a horror film.
It has a likeable, clever protagonist in Chris – the film manages to subvert the trope of horror characters being stupid by having him use quick-thinking as often as possible.
‘Get Out’s premise is incredibly creepy – the gradual reveals are deeply chilling and the racial subtext heightens the horror. For the most part, ‘Get Out’ manages to be funny and scary at the same time. Sometimes the comedy takes away from the horror. In the final act, the increased comic relief provided by Rod distracts you from the incredibly horrific situation Chris finds himself in. The film ends more comfortably than its premise should allow for, but then again, the catharsis is undeniably enjoyable.
‘Get Out’ occasionally exaggerates too much. Certain scares lack subtlety – but when it works, ‘Get Out’ is ingenious.
- The Witch (2015), Robert Eggers.
Robert Eggers’ debut is a creepy tale about a family who is banished to the countryside – only to be haunted by a Witch.
Robert Eggers’ tale of 17th-century witchery is incredibly believable as a period piece – the dialogue commits to time-accurate authenticity, yet avoids being ridiculous. It has a fantastic, underrated performance by Ralph Ineson as a father who unravels at the thought of his children being “witched”. Eggers’ script is fiercely intelligent – it manages to be as much about the real-life implications of witchery in the 17th century as it is about the witch as a horror figure. The horror in ‘The Witch’ is as familial as it is supernatural. The film rarely reaches for big scares but it is creepy throughout – the horror is subtle but effective. For those seeking extreme, unrelenting terror (see the next entry) this may not be sufficient. ‘The Witch’ is more notable for being creepily thought-provoking than for being horrifying, even with its many moments of discomfort.
For those who like me, appreciate slow-burning chillers over jumpy shocks, ‘The Witch’ is essential viewing.
- Hereditary (2018), Ari Aster.
Ari Aster’s debut film is a haunting tale of a family who are disturbed by spectral forces after being struck by unimaginable loss.
‘Hereditary’ is not my favourite horror film of the 2010s. But it is the scariest. It couples genuinely haunting, gory imagery you’ll wish to unsee with an emotionally powerful story. Aster’s remarkable visuals heighten the horror. There are so many chilling moments where it seems like a spectral presence has just appeared out of the corner of a character’s perspective. So much of the horror is in the unseen and amplified by hindsight.
The cast is brilliant. Toni Collette’s powerhouse performance and heartbreaking interactions with the rest of the family completely sell the drama. ‘Hereditary’ is so frightening that I would actively advise certain people not to watch it – it will simply be too much for some.
The family drama elements from the first couple of acts are more successfully put together than the more formulaic supernatural elements. Still, this doesn’t stop ‘Hereditary’ from doing what it sets out to do – traumatise without remorse.
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- The Lighthouse (2019), Robert Eggers.
A tale of two stranded lighthouse-keepers, ‘The Lighthouse’ is a delightfully maddening watch. The constant booming noise, repeated scenes, heightened performances, and claustrophobic visuals make you feel like you’re going as insane as the two main characters. Willem Dafoe is absolutely excellent (his Oscar snub is pure disrespect). Robert Pattinson rises to the occasion too – the two have great chemistry. ‘The Lighthouse’ is scary when it needs to be and funny when it needs to be, often at the same time. Most horror-comedies lose their edge in funny moments and uncomfortably dark in scary moments, but Eggers achieves a wonderful medium here. He also expands upon one of ‘The Witch’s main strengths: dialogue. The script is full of immensely quotable utterances – you’ll be saying “Yer fond of me lobster” long after the credits roll.
Though ‘The Lighthouse’ might make you wonder “what the hell was that all about”, as a portrayal of maddening claustrophobia it is incredibly effective, and infinitely rewatchable: ‘The Lighthouse’ is easily my favourite horror film of the past decade.
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Amhara Chamberlayne is a graduate in English Literature from Warwick University who shares Hollywood Insider’s passion for cinema. When he is not watching films he is writing about them. Uninterested in gossip and agenda, Amhara instead believes in sharing his honest individual reaction to cinema. He enjoys the multi-variant reactions films elicit and believes his take is just as valid as others. For Amhara, the joy lies in the exchange of opinions.