Are you sick of struggling to find anything decent to watch out of Hollywood these days? Me too! Long a bastion of great movie making, Hollywood has recently abdicated the bulk of its role as an entertainment creator in order to enter the rather tiresome world of politics and social engineering. Gone are the regular releases of brilliant new ideas that inspire, thrill, or humour us. Now, when not producing politically-corrected remakes of past favorites, Hollywood producers, writers, and directors are throwing together cookie-cutter films based on trite and tired themes.
But . . . from time to time a little gem has emerged unscathed from the mire of new releases; a gem that surprises us with its brilliance, twists and turns, or just simply new ideas. This list looks at ten recently released movies in the horror genre that give us some hope that at some point in the future, saner heads will prevail in the entertainment industry and these types of moving pictures will become the rule, and not the exception to it.
Birdbox is an unusual film in its use of reduced sensory perception (blindness) to create a feeling of fear in the viewer. The protagonist (played by Sandra Bullock) must take her children to a safe place after the world has been largely driven to suicide by an unseen presence. They must travel without the use of their sight as it is only when the evil presence is perceived visually that it can drive a person to self-murder.
This is one of three films on this list that uses reduced senses to great effect (also items 9 and 2). The film released to mixed reviews but it is definitely worth the watch in my opinion, particularly if you like “edge of your seat” type horrors that are less about violence (though it does contain some) and more about psychological thrills.
Shhh. This is the second of the sensorily-deprived movies on the list. Hush focuses on the life of a deaf and mute woman who lives in relative seclusion where she works as a writer. Things take a rather dark and horrible turn when a masked man appears at her window. Not surprisingly this leads to a fight to the death for the woman who proves herself rather adept at self-defense and out-of-the-box thinking.
This, like the previously mentioned Bird Box, uses the protagonist’s disability to create an extremely unsettling atmosphere. However, unlike Bird Box this film has a faster pace and is less cerebral. This may not be the best film on the list but it is definitely worth the watch.
Brilliant scoring, an atmosphere of disquiet, and a historic setting make The Witch a somewhat modern-gothic film. Much of the horror here comes from psychology which is oftentimes better than in-your-face gore (though that is not to say gore has no place in horror of course!) The film follows a devout homesteading family in the 17th century who slowly unravel after the disappearance of their newborn boy.
Don’t expect fast pacing and do expect to do a little thinking. Even if you don’t like period pieces, I recommend you give The Witch a go; I think you will pleasantly surprised.
It is not always easy for a New Zealander like me to celebrate Australian achievements (few and far between that they be). Nevertheless I must laud the efforts of the team who gave us the original and unusual film The Babadook. The Babadook is a sinister presence first seen in a rather disturbing children’s book that the main character reads to her son . . . a child who appears slightly disturbed from the get go. There are some minor cliche moments in the film but on the whole it manages to bring something new to the screen. If Hollywood had produced this film it would open with an overly happy mother kowtowing to a bratty child, but here we see a mother racked with exhaustion who has all but given up on life having to deal with a non-medicated hyperactive (and slightly crazy) kid. This actually leads to a rather interesting and unexpected ending with a nice twist.
For those who want to take a deeper look at the why’s and wherefores of the movie, it is said that it may be a metaphor for grief. Certainly the surprise ending seems to confirm that theory (I wish I could say more but that would spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it).
The atmosphere of this film is palpable thanks largely to the musical score with its retro (yet timeless) feel. The soundtrack hearkens back to the golden age of horror that gave us the likes of Friday the Thirteenth and Halloween. It is for that reason that viewers who have seen (and no-doubt loved) those older horrors will get more from that aspect of this movie. But hey, the ’80s vintage vibe of Netflix’s Stranger Things managed to entice an entire generation of young viewers so who knows.
The “It” in the title refers to a creature (in human form) which follows a victim relentlessly. The creature can only walk (which actually heightens the tension and fear in the film) but if it catches up with its victim . . . he is dead—in a rather gruesome manner as we discover early in the film. In order to stop “it” from following you, you must have sex with someone else which transfers the danger to them (much like the pass-the-parcel handling of the mysterious video tape in Ringu).
The film seems to be rather obviously a warning about the dangers of promiscuity . . . though perhaps I’m just reading too much into it. Of all the films on this list, “It Follows” is my favorite. Watch it.
Is it a Western? Is it a comedy? Is it a horror? Yes. I am not generally a fan of the Western genre but here it is combined with a little wry humor and a considerable dose of violence (some very gory so be warned). The film opens with a visibly brutal slaying of a couple, which gives you a little taste of what is to come (eventually). It segues into a more traditional western format as we meet various characters and there is even some humor tossed in for good measure.
While the film is slow paced (mostly) and definitely tending more toward being a Western, once the horror starts it horrifyingly switches to a Western cum “Cannibal Holocaust” movie. Not for the faint of heart . . . trust me.
Modern horror meets the Wicker Man—without being a trashy remake of that great oldie (tsk tsk Hollywood for its 2006 disaster). I am a great fan of Director Ari Aster’s previous film Hereditary (more on that shortly) so I was eager to see his second movie, Midsommar. Midsommar is set in an idyllic Swedish countryside (actually filmed in Hungary . . . fewer no-go zones perhaps!) It is, in the words of Guardian reviewer, Peter Bradshaw, a “carnival of agony” and I certainly concur.
While some of the premise of the film is slightly clichéd, that should not stop you from seeing this broadly unique and chilling picture. I predict a long and rewarding career in horror for Ari Aster.
Shocking . . . the one word that really sums up this picture. This film has so many twists and turns and dread-inspiring moments that you are kept on the edge of your seat constantly. Hereditary follows a family suffering from family loss leading to even more loss and horrifying discoveries. It is intensely disturbing on a psychological level in many scenes, and on a physical level in others (one particular driving scene springs to mind).
This is Ari Aster’s first film and what a great introduction to his work! And of course his second work, Midsommar, is listed as item 4 on this list so be sure to check that out too. Hereditary is a must-see even if only to experience what is perhaps the best screen performance from Toni Collette in her long and shining acting career.
A film built around the concept of silence. Whereas Bird Box focuses on blindness, and Hush on deafness, A Quiet Place focuses on muteness. I have, as yet, not discovered a film that focuses on the absence of touch (in the horror genre at any rate) so there is still room for another sensory-deprivation horror film in the future!
A quiet place follows a family living in a world filled with creatures who, with great rapidity, dismember all humans they come into contact with. The creatures have acute hearing so the slightest sound draws them in. And so our family finds itself in a world of silence, where every footstep and utterance must be hushed. This is an incredibly well conceived movie and a real edge-of-your-seat ride. I don’t think I know of anyone who hasn’t raved upon seeing it.
Bonus: seeing The Office’s John Krasinski playing a deadly (literally) serious role.
Just like The Witch at position 8 on this list, The Lighthouse is a period horror and what better location could be found for such a film than a remote lighthouse? The tale follows two lighthouse keepers (played by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) who have to battle a real life horror: their own nightmares and loss of sanity. The film is directed by Robert Eggers (who also directed The Witch) and has been widely acclaimed by critics (though don’t be put off by that!)
The film is shot in black and white (risky these days) but if a younger audience can come to terms with that it will undoubtedly prove extremely popular across the generations.
This film is the only one on the list that is not actually out at cinemas but hopefully the trailer above will serve to entice you to give it a shot when it is available on October 18th this year.
So, there you have it. My selection of ten of the better recent releases in the horror genre. If you disagree with my choices or, better still, have another great film to add to the list, please mention it in the comments (you can find those by scrolling past way too many content recommendations!)