It’s Halloween! If you’re not much into horror, don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. But if you are, you’ve still come to the right place!
I mentioned before I’m a huge fan of horror stories. From movies to video games, from books to TV shows, some of my favorite stories belong to the horror genre or are permeated with horror elements. The taste for this kind of fiction maybe seem weird to some, but to quote writer Chuck Wendig:
We need to look long into the dark. It’s part of who we are. We like to be scared. It gives us context. It gives us control. It helps us take the horror of the real world and give it shape so that we can conquer it, if only a little. Out of discomfort we find comfort.
A good horror story can be a series of tropes and ideas we commonly associate with the genre, but it can also be just the mood. Sometimes the horror is in the atmosphere, in the context, in how the elements are played. It’s amazing how many stories drink from the horror fountain, if only just a sip.
With that in mind, when I see claims that the horror genre is dead (no pun intended?) or that the quality of horror movies has declined over the years, I feel compelled to disagree. I watched a good amount of such movies, and while a lot of them are crap, there are still good stories being told.
In fact, enough that I made this list of horror films from the past ten years that prove the genre still has a lot of potential. It’s by no means a “definitive ranking”, since there’s always so much to watch and what works in horror is very subjective, but a list of personal recommendations that may please fans of the genre. Some of those movies have innovative ideas, some of them spin old tropes, some are just classic horror stories done well.
The list is spoiler free, but I included subgenres to help you choose what you may actually enjoy. Sometimes the horror itself is the subgenre.
Considering the nature of those movies, I tried to include warnings of potentially triggering or disturbing content. As my memory can fail, let me know in the comments if you feel I forgot anything. All those movies contain blood and violence to some degree —if you’re not sure you can handle them, even in minimal amounts, don’t push your own limits! This is supposed to be fun. For people who want to avoid jump scares, as I occasionally do, the internet is your friend.
As a final disclaimer, some of those here are definitely problematic faves. Horror seems especially given to that, since the genre often deals with harmful tropes and stereotypes associated with certain groups. For space and word count reasons I won’t elaborate much on each movie, but please leave your opinion in the comments.
And now, in chronological order…
Directors & writers: Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury
Subgenre: home invasion; not exactly a slasher, but with many slasher elements
What is it about: the attack and home-invasion of a young pregnant woman by a mysterious stranger who seeks to take her unborn baby. Ouch.
Why it’s on this list: because I had the brilliant idea of watching this when I was alone in a big house and I had to lock myself in the bedroom afterwards to be able to sleep. Okay, maybe the context helped, but I can assure you this movie is quite scary. It’s part of a new wave of French horror movies and it’s disquieting. Also filed under: terrifying female villains.
Warnings: a lot of gore, and extra amounts of blood and violence. Also scissors.
Directors & writers: Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino, with a bunch of special participations for the fake trailers
Subgenre: I’ll get there in a moment.
What is it about: Rodriguez and Tarantino team up to create a homage to double feature grindhouse horror exploitation b-movies, with fake trailers and all. I’m kind of cheating here, because Grindhouse is actually two movies: Planet Terror, created by Rodriguez, is a zombie movie; Death Proof, Tarantino’s segment, is a slasher. You can watch them isolated, but they make more sense together, hence my choice of presenting them as one.
Why it’s on this list: some people like one segment and not the other, but I personally enjoy both. Each segment has the signature style of its director, while still making sense together and within the subgenre they’re trying to homage. The directors clearly had fun creating this and they want you to have fun watching it too, though a lot of that depends if you like each director’s style. Bonus: the soundtrack is amazing.
Warnings: violence, gore, rape threats
Director & writer: James Watkins
Subgenre: slasher; creepy children
What is it about: a couple goes out on a romantic weekend that is soon disrupted by a gang of young teenagers. Things escalate quickly.
Why it’s on this list: both the premise and the execution are quite cliché, but it’s a case of the basic done well. It’s very tense, you actually care about the characters, and the villains are a bunch of Joffrey Baratheons so that’s very effective for you to hate them. The ending made me sick, but it does make a social comment of sorts.
Warnings: tons of gore and extra violence.
Director & writer: Christopher Smith
Subgenre: mystery; there’s something wrong with reality as we know it; psychological horror of sorts.
What is it about: a women goes on a boat trip with a group of friends, but due to weather conditions their boat capsizes. The group is forced to board an abandoned ocean liner, where somebody seems to be following them. It’s actually more complicated than that.
Why it’s on this list: it uses a trope I love, but I don’t wanna say much because part of the fun is to solve the mystery and understand what’s going on. After that, it becomes how to escape the mystery, in what seems to be a women’s personal purgatory. Well directed, the puzzle keeps you interested. It’s the kind of movie you feel compelled to re-watch, just to see the pieces fitting together. I have mixed feelings about the ending.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz & John J. McLaughlin
Subgenre: drama; psychological horror
What is it about: a dedicated ballet dancer whose life revolves around dancing finds herself under too much pressure after she’s chosen as the lead ballerina on a Swan Lake production. The movie follows her struggles to remain sane.
Why it’s on this list: many of you probably saw this one already, since it gave Natalie Portman an Academy Award for her amazing performance, but I would feel bad with myself if I didn’t include it. It’s a drama, with psychological horror as a subgenre, but the horror elements are vital to build the living nightmare atmosphere of the movie. It’s an interesting exploration of mental illness and inner struggles, rich with symbolism and good acting.
Warnings: there are some gore scenes — “body horror” comes to mind — as well as bits of sexual assault, self harm and suicide. Possibly others that I don’t recall, so be careful.
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Writers: Agustín Almodóvar & Pedro Almodóvar, based on a novel by Thierry Jonquet
Subgenre: psychological horror; mystery; drama
What is it about: a plastic surgeon creates a synthetic skin that resists many kinds of damage, including burns. His guinea pig is a women he’s obsessed with for mysterious reasons.
Why it’s on this list: it’s so tricky to talk about this movie without giving too much in. In a mix of mystery with psychological horror, we slowly learn the complicated relationship involving the characters. It’s not the kind of movie that will have jump scares, or even anything conventionally “scary”, the horror comes from the truth.
Warnings: a huge warning for rape, also suicide and violence.
Director: Drew Goddard
Writer: Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard
Subgenre: horror comedy; slasher
What is it about: five friends retreat to a remote forest cabin for the weekend in what could have been the most predictable teen horror ever, but becomes a clever trope deconstruction.
Why it’s on this list: because it’s a clever trope deconstruction. I won’t say how because the movie benefits from knowing little about it, but it starts as a classic horror flick and twists it. For that reason, it’s not entirely horror, but plays with slasher movie tropes and other subgenres, so it deserves to be here.
Warnings: there’s a lot of gore — sometimes fun gore, in a trash movie kind of way, but gore still. Warning for suicide too.
Director & Writer: James Ward Byrkit
Subgenre: science fiction; mystery; there’s something wrong with reality as we know it
What is it about: a group of old friends is having a dinner party while a comet is passing close by the Earth. And that’s all I’m gonna say about it and that’s all you should know, seriously.
Why it’s on this list: it’s more of a science fiction meets mystery than horror, with the horror coming from the revelation of what’s happening. That revelation develops organically in the story, as we learn more about the characters and their relationships, and the mystery is very intriguing. There are minimal amounts of blood and violence, so it’s a good pick if you don’t like any of those.
Director: James Wan
Writers: Chad Hayes & Carey Hayes
Subgenre: supernatural; haunted house
What is it about: paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a supernatural presence in their farmhouse.
Why it’s on this list: because it’s good. And I mean this in the sense that the premise is done to death and this movie doesn’t subvert anything, it doesn’t bring anything new, in fact it’s quite old school… but it’s very well done. I love James Wan’s direction and he gets the creepy atmosphere just right. I haven’t seen the sequel and Annabelle (2014) isn’t half as good. If you like this one, go for Insidous (2010), from the same director and with a very similar vibe.
Warnings: it has all the usual tropes of haunted house movies, with creepy make up and jump scares. Lots of jump scares. And creepy dolls.
Director & Writer: David Robert Mitchell
Subgenre: supernatural, psychological horror
What is it about: after a sexual encounter, a women is followed by an unknown supernatural force.
Why it’s on this list: the idea of spreading a ghost-like creature like an STD is quite interesting. Very soon the movie tells you how the whole thing works, which is a good decision because part of what drives the narrative is the morality surrounding how to get rid of the thing. It’s amazing how the simple concept of an odd person walking towards you can be terrifying.
Warnings: it mostly avoids gore and jump scares, with the exception of a few scenes.
Director & Writer: Jennifer Kent
Subgenre: haunted house; supernatural
What is it about: a mother and her (possibly neurodivergent?) child are terrorized by a monster unleashed by a creepy book.
Why it’s on this list: the premise is nothing new, what makes the movie unique is its approach to it. It avoids the easy route of gore and jump scares and leans towards an exploration of motherhood, grief and mental illness, while still maintaining its supernatural movie facade. The ending was a pleasant surprise too, unexpected but fitting.
Warnings: child mistreatment and animals cruelty. Suggestion of suicide too.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Writers: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken & Damien Chazelle
Subgenre: psychological horror; science fiction
What is it about: after a car accident, a woman wakes up in the basement of a man who claims a chemical attack has left the outside world uninhabitable.
Why it’s on this list: this movie is kind of a prequel to Cloverfield (2008), which spoils part of the mystery. Yet the mystery and tension are very well done, to the point I didn’t know who and what to believe for a long time. This movie is quite different from its predecessor, being a psychological horror more focused on characters.
Warnings: there’s a constant threat of sexual assault, but I think that’s it.
Director: Mike Flanagan
Writer: Mike Flanagan & Kate Siegel
What is it about: a deaf writer lives isolated in a small cottage in the woods, until she’s targeted by a masked killer.
Why it’s on this list: I’m not a big fan of movies where the villain’s primary motivation is sadism, because most of the time it’s a cheap characterization. Hush is still worth watching for several reasons: it features an interesting protagonist that I actually cared about; it builds tension without sacrificing the character’s wits; and last but not least, it’s starred by a disabled women whose disability is not treated as an “extra disadvantage” in an horror story, but just a part of who she is.
Did I miss any of your favorites out? Let me know in the comments!
Images courtesy of La Fabrique de Films, Troublemaker Studios, The Weinstein Company, UK film council, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Warners España, Lionsgate, Oscilloscope Laboratories, Warner Bros. Pictures, Dimension Films, Icon Productions, Bad Robot Productions and Netflix.