It’s official. Our flux capacitor is running out of power, our time travels are coming to a close. We’ve highlighted the best horror films of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and the first decade of the 2000s, and now it’s time to bring things up to the present with the best in horror from 2010 – 2015. Who would have thought that list would be so hard to put together?
What do we wish we didn’t have to leave off? Indies like The Woman, Kill List, The Snowtown Murders; major releases like Evil Dead and The Woman in Black; foreign language gems like Big Bad Wolves, The Last Circus, We Are What We Are and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. All of this convinces us that we are in the midst of a horror movie rennaissance – hooray!
So what did make the cut? Here you go:
5. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
You know the drill: 5 college kids head into the woods for a wild weekend of doobage, cocktails and hookups but find, instead, dismemberment, terror and pain. You can probably already picture the kids, too: a couple of hottie Alphas, the nice girl, the guy she may or may not be into, and the comic relief tag along. In fact, if you tried, you could almost predict who gets picked off when.
But that’s just the point, of course. Making his directorial debut, Drew Goddard, along with his co-scribe Joss Whedon, uses that preexisting knowledge to entertain holy hell out of you.
Goddard and Whedon’s nimble screenplay offers a spot-on deconstruction of horror tropes as well as a joyous celebration of the genre. Aided by exquisite casting – particularly the gloriously deadpan Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford – the filmmakers create something truly special.
Cabin is not a spoof. It’s not a satire. It’s sort of a celebratory homage, but not entirely. What you get with this film is a very different kind of horror comedy.
4. The Conjuring (2013)
Yes, this is an old fashioned ghost story, built from the ground up to push buttons of childhood terror. But don’t expect a long, slow burn. Director James Wan expertly balances suspense with quick, satisfying bursts of visual terror.
Wan cut his teeth – and Cary Elwes’s bones – with 2004’s corporeal horror Saw. He’s since turned his attention to something more spectral, and his skill with supernatural cinema only strengthens with each film.
Ghost stories are hard to pull off, though, especially in the age of instant gratification. Few modern moviegoers have the patience for atmospheric dread, so filmmakers now turn to CGI to ramp up thrills. The results range from the visceral fun of The Woman in Black to the needless disappointment of Mama.
But Wan understands the power of a flesh and blood villain in a way that other directors don’t seem to. He proved this with the creepy fun of Insidious, and surpasses those scares with his newest effort.
Wan’s expert timing and clear joy when wielding spectral menace help him and his impressive cast overcome the handful of weaknesses in the script by brothers Chad and Carey Hayes. Claustrophobic when it needs to be and full of fun house moments, The Conjuring will scare you while you’re in the theater and stick with you after. At the very least, you’ll keep your feet tucked safely under the covers.
3. Let Me In (2010)
With Hollywood’s 2010 reboot of the near-perfect 2008 Swedish film, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) managed to retain the spirit of the source material, while finding ways to leave his own mark on the compelling story of an unlikely friendship.
Twelve year old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a lonely boy who’s being bullied at school. When young Abby (Chloe Moretz) and her “dad” (Richard Jenkins) move in next door, Owen thinks he’s found a friend. As sudden acts of violence mar the snowy landscape, Owen and Abby grow closer, providing each other a comfort no one else can.
Moretz (Kick-Ass) and Smit-McPhee (The Road) are both terrific, and give the film a touching, vulnerable soul.
Reeves, also adapting the screenplay, ups the ante on the gore, and provides more action, scares and overall shock value. Incredibly, he even manages to build on the climactic “revenge” scene that was damn-near flawless the first time.
2. The Babadook (2014)
Like a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, simplicity and a child’s logic can be all you need for terror.
You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.
It’s a simple premise, and writer/director Jennifer Kent spins her tale with straightforward efficiency. There is no need for cheap theatrics, camera tricks or convoluted backstories, because Kent is drilling down into something deeply, frighteningly human.
Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.
1. It Follows (2015)
David Robert Mitchell invites you to the best American horror film in years. He’s crafted a coming of age tale that mines for primal terror. Moments after a sexual encounter with a new boyfriend, Jay discovers that she is cursed. He has passed on some kind of entity – a demonic menace that will follow her until it either kills her or she passes it on to someone else the same way she got it.
Yes, it’s the STD or horror movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted another cautionary tale about premarital sex. Mitchell has captured that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and given the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.
Mitchell borrows from a number of coming of age horror shows, but his film is confident enough to pull it off without feeling derivative in any way. The writer/director takes familiar tropes and uses them with skill to lull you with familiarity, and then terrify you with it.
Mitchell’s provocatively murky subtext is rich with symbolism but never overwhelmed by it. His capacity to draw an audience into this environment, this horror, is impeccable and the result is a lingering sense of unease that will have you checking the perimeter for a while to come.
Listen to the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB podcast.