It’s scary how good the best new horror movies are. Even if we limit ourselves to the last five years only, it’s clear that the genre is having a resurgence, fueled—as it was by George Romero, Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter in the ’60s and ’70s—by independent filmmakers working on the fringe. These are not movies that rely on special effects or loud noises, nor do they dip into the gore pool of the “torture porn” of the Bush years. Rather, they bring braininess and subtlety to a demanding audience that’s seen it all. Consider these 10 titles essential for your own personal kill list.
Best new horror movies
Heavily indebted to the suburban terror of John Carpenter (with a throbbing synth soundtrack by Disasterpeace’s Rich Vreeland), David Robert Mitchell’s dreamy pursuit drama has a premise that’ll have you scanning the horizon for oncoming killers. Never identified beforehand, they come at you after you have sex.
Here’s a horror film that’s been made with no reasonable way to discuss it beforehand. (You know the boat sinks in Titanic, but these surprise-laden plot twists are another matter entirely.) Let’s just say: cabin, woods, cute collegians. The trade-off is a movie that’s akin to looking under the hood of a Stephen King novel—a joy for mechanics.
It’s not as though black-and-white Iranian feminist vampire movies are clogging the marketplace, and this one, atmospheric and moody, is plenty good. Debuting filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour is an L.A.-based director who infuses her nighttime tale with weird Lynchian lulls, spaghetti-Western–sounding deep cuts and prickly gender politics.
Deceptively, this one starts off with a horror too many know firsthand: the depleted savings account, the dinner-table squabbles and the demoralized glares that come with joblessness. Our heroes are low-rent British criminals who lunge at a new gig, one that tips toward something especially dark: the cultish witchery of The Wicker Man.
A timid British sound recordist (Toby Jones) heads to early-’70s Rome for a gig on a gory giallo thriller, directed by a pretentious, Dario Argento–esque artiste. A mental breakdown is imminent, and impressively, Peter Strickland’s film snaps, too, tearing itself apart in a collage that’s close to experimental, yet never unmotivated.
Most movies are mazes to survive, even if you’re a master filmmaker like The Shining’s Stanley Kubrick. It must be the case that this godlike director thought of every angle, right? Maybe not: Documentarian Rodney Ascher takes this question as a premise, as he collects the weird fan theories of five obsessives, lost in their own scary hedge mazes.
The story of a 17th-century family forced to resettle near some very haunted woods, Robert Eggers’s debut is manna for horror puritans, but not much fun for actual Puritans. It’s a movie that has stunned audiences—not with shock effects or gore, but with a dank climate of clouded judgment and furious domestic retribution.
Channeling the smarty-pants verbosity of the Scream era, Adam Wingard’s home-invasion thriller suggests an impressive career about to bloom. (Brace yourself for his forthcoming The Woods.) In a shadowy rural mansion, a wealthy bickering clan and several bitchy houseguests are brutally targeted by crossbow-wielding strangers who ruin the party.
The elements are familiar—a rural house, a vulnerable family, some pissed-off demonic spirits—but filmmaker James Wan (the first Saw) knows how to use them. In both its setting and rock-solid craft, this blockbuster is a throwback to horror’s early-’70s heyday, a model that ain’t broke and don’t need fixing.
A grieving widow (the extraordinary Essie Davis) and her troubled preteen son are terrorized by the monster from a pop-up book in Aussie Jennifer Kent’s horrifying, utterly confident first feature—a debut for the ages. The unease here, rooted in personal loss and closer in spirit to a Polanskian psychological meltdown, remains suggestively unresolved.