One of the best possible times for horror happened to be throughout the Seventies and the Eighties. It was a time when small budget genre offerings thrived, and there were countless scary stories to tell. And with this current decade coming to a close, it’s hard to not make a few comparisons. Experimental, edgy, original and fanciful, horror has thrived and reminded us why we love to get terrified surrounded by like minded horror enthusiast. The past few years have brought the vitality and the excitement of theatrical thrills and chills back in a big way. Whether you are looking for a solid ghost story, a massive zombie attack or perhaps a look at mental illness and loss, we’ve seen some of the best of the best these past ten years.
As we here at JoBlo.com look back at this past decade, we’ve collectively been putting our heads together to come of with some of the most important work that has arrived in cinemas from 2010 until now. And frankly, horror happens to be a genre that has thrived, and continues to do so. While coming up with simply a top 10 list of that time, we also wanted to explore some of the most important – and perhaps trendsetting – works that arrived to frighten movie fans. Either way, it’s a great time for those that seek scares when it comes to big screen entertainment. While there are many we missed – after all, this is a list of only 10 – here are the films that beautifully defined modern horror in a provocative and terrifying way, presented alphabetically.
THE BABADOOK (2014)
When THE BABADOOK arrived, people were promised something truly frightening. And frankly, if you are a parent or have dealt with loss in any way, shape or form, this fantastic film will stick with you long after your first viewing. This is the story of a mother – a brilliant performance by Essie Davis – who is not only dealing with the death of her husband, but also the uncontrollable paranoia of her son – young Noah Wiseman was also terrific. As the young boy’s fear grows and those around her feel that she may not be able to handle him, we soon realize that perhaps the boy may truly have something to fear. Brilliantly directed by Jennifer Kent, this phenomenal feature explores the tragic death of a loved one and the pain and suffering that it leaves behind.
Not only are the performances in this impressive feature fantastic, the mysterious titular character is a fascinatingly scary creation. When mom finds an slightly disturbing children’s book called “The Babadook” – complete with Edward Gorey inspired images – she discovers that the spooky main character may be absolutely real. It’s a fascinating villain. While the final sequence will have you questioning what is real and what isn’t, it’s a perfect examination of how a single mother and her child deal with tragedy. This is a heartfelt and yes, chilling tale that helped usher in a number of inspired horror films with more on their minds than jump scares and gore. As Christmas approaches, listen carefully for Dook, Dook Dook, because you can’t get rid of The Babadook.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011)
Having a solid history with television genre such as Lost, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Drew Goddard decided to bring his own take on smart, referential horror to the big screen. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS may look like THE EVIL DEAD, but it had more than a few tricks up its sleeve. The film featured a bright young cast that included Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Amy Acker, and some dude named Chris Hemsworth – you know, before MCU made him a massive star with THOR. This clever horror flick managed to take elements of all the scary movies that came before, and cook up something refreshingly unique. This is the type of movie that manages to bring a whole lot of fun to the frights on display.
The most impressive thing that Drew’s script manages to do is create a sense of reality in all the madness. How his characters ultimately become victims to an unexpected evil, and more importantly, WHICH unexpected evil is ridiculously creative. As well, by exploring a number of different horror sub-genre’s, the filmmaker manages to inject much of the same energy that he brought to Buffy and Angel – the script was co-written by Goddard and Joss Whedon. This is the kind of scary tale that manages to keep a bit of humor without lessoning the thriller aspect. As well, it manages to offer up a few gruesome images that delighted genre fans. This is the type of film that is just a fun as it is frightening, and it’s one that started off a fantastic decade of horror brilliantly.
THE CONJURING (2013)
James Wan was already on a roll well before he decided to bring modern horror to this grounded and reportedly true tale. After all, Wan’s penchant for mystery and scares gave us the original SAW way back in 2004. He then went on to bring fans a unique take on the funhouse thrills of a haunted house with INSIDIOUS back in 2010. Yet with THE CONJURING, he did something that was truly special. By bringing to light the many investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren, he gave this ghostly story real heart thanks to the perfect casting of both Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. The two portray the true life paranormal experts with grace and without judgment. In fact, this incredible feature – as well as the film’s 2016 sequel – is almost as much of love story as a spooky examination of a reported haunting.
If this film simply had these strong leading characters, it would’ve still likely been great. Thankfully, it also gives us a fantastic supporting cast that includes Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, as well as Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Mackenzie Roy, Kyle Deaver and Joey King. Add to that Wan’s stylish direction and understanding of genre, and you have one of the most memorable haunted house movies ever made. Even when they gave away one of the best scares in the first trailer, this impressive feature moved audiences and became a massive hit for the director. In fact, the film was so popular it brought us what they now call The Conjuring Universe which has seen numerous offerings. However, nothing beats the wonderful chemistry between Farmiga and Wilson, and of course the immense talent of Mr. Wan.
GET OUT (2017)
It’s a rarity for a horror film to achieve the kind of monumental success that GET OUT did. Not only did this feature film manage to bring audiences in with it’s unique take on a familiar science fiction storyline, it also earned several Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. It even took home the trophy for Best Original Screenplay. All of this thanks to Jordan Peele, a talented performer known for his comedic chops rather than being a horror icon. Well, he certainly is one now thanks to not only this, but this past year’s critically praised hit US.
While the storyline is familiar, Peele brought this particular tale a fresh look and incredible performances from Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield and Lil Rel Howery. This is one of those times where not only is he creating an interesting twist on a familiar trope, but it’s one that happens to feel quite relevant. This is perhaps why it was such a colossal success for Peele. This refreshing twist on a familiar tale is one that resonated with audiences, as well as managing to keep fans on the edge or their seats. It’s also one that seems to play better on repeated viewings. After GET OUT and US, I’m looking forward to what other kinds of frights he’ll bring to this genre.
What horrors await in the mind of writer/director Ari Aster? Stepping into this fascinating feature I knew next to nothing about what would transpire. This disturbing drama tells the tale of a grieving family dealing with the death of a grandparent. In fact, the first half of this eerie feature strongly resembles a very dark family drama as opposed to a horror film. And then it happens. The moment that had audiences gasp at the sheer audacity of where the story goes. This brutal and shocking moment changes the film on every level. Suddenly, viewers found themselves in a nightmarish exploration of grief, one that is absolutely unexpected and horrific. HEREDITARY is a powerhouse of a film.
One of the most important factors in the success of this chilling drama is the lead performance by Toni Collete. The actress is sensational as a mother – and a daughter – struggling to bring any sense of order she can to her family. As impressive as she is, she is surrounded by a talented cast that includes Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff and Ann Dowd in an unforgettable role. Ari has the uncanny ability to bring real life human suffering to the forefront, which ultimately leads to a devastating conclusion – as he also did in this year’s MIDSUMMER. Even if you aren’t a fan of the filmmakers twisted take on terror, you can’t deny his audacious talent for brining tension and tragedy to nightmarish reality.
IT: CHAPTER ONE (2017)
Ever since I caught the original televised mini-series on cable, I was utterly fascinated by Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Whatever you think of the 1990 small screen chiller, you can’t deny the power of Tim Curry’s incredible performance. Who could possibly replace him? Well, apparently, they found the right guy. Bill Skarsgård was the perfect choice to fully realize this iconic villain, one that quite literally feeds on the fears of children. As a fan of Stephen King’s original novel, this big screen adaptation directed by Andy Muschietti brings the wonder and frights of the original work to life in an incredibly satisfying way.
Aside from the fantastic work from Skarsgård, “The Losers Club” couldn’t have been better than they are here. Jaeden Martell, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Chosen Jacobs and Jack Dylan Grazer are all exceptional. Even when this tale of terror isn’t soaked in blood, the focus on friendship and the real life terrors these young people face makes for an engaging and scary story. While the recent sequel didn’t quite live up to this exceptional beginning, it certainly reminded me of how frightening childhood can be. And let’s be honest, who among you made sure to avoid getting too close to the storm drains on the street after the fate that Georgie suffered?
IT FOLLOWS (2014)
Horror is one genre that is allowed to use metaphors of oftentimes serious situations in a cool and entertaining way. IT FOLLOWS is a perfect example of a low budget genre flick embracing a real world problem. While certainly not the first film to create scares around an apparent STD, this well crafted indie written and directed by David Robert Mitchell is also a bit of a love letter to John Carpenter’s original classic HALLOWEEN. The film features a fantastic lead performance from Maika Monroe, and places emphasis on suspense as opposed to straight up gore – something that films connected to STD’s tend to rely on when it comes to on-screen imagery. They didn’t need it here.
While the story here is nothing like a masked maniac stalking babysitters, it does play homage to Carpenter in a number of ways. One of the strongest elements happens to be the impressively creepy score by Disasterpeace. It harkens back to the 80’s synth sound, and builds a spooky musical landscape that works perfectly with the world Mitchell has crafted. There is a ferocious energy that never lets up until the final shot. While the ultimate battle that befalls upon our heroine is a bit over the top, it’s easy to connect to thanks to its charming cast and impressive cinematography from Mike Giolakis. If anything, IT FOLLOWS shows how damn creative independent horror can be in the right hands.
A QUIET PLACE (2018)
Who says PG-13 horror doesn’t work? While we’ve certainly had a number of terrible horror flicks with that particular rating, every so often we get something like A QUIET PLACE. And speaking of not seeing this coming, who would’ve guessed that the dude from The Office had such a great talent for creating a dread filled genre flick? From the very beginning, we realize that writer/director – and star – John Krasinski isn’t playing around with his first foray into horror. This is a lean and scary tale of a family hunted by monstrous beings that can’t see the intended victims. But boy can they hear you.
This fantastic thriller manages to create a shockingly suspenseful ride, one that rarely lets up. It also features a stunning lead performance from the incredibly talented Emily Blunt – who also plays the on-screen wife to her real life husband, Krasinski himself. Considering that she is the heart of this horror feature, it’s especially important to feel fear for her and the family she desperately tries to protect. And the actress rises to the challenge giving one of the best performances of that particular year. The sound design, the family dynamic, and the intense level of sheer chills help make A QUIET PLACE one of the most satisfying modern horror films of the past few years.
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)
It took a very long time for me to finally sit down with TRAIN TO BUSAN. While I love zombie movies in general, it’s rare to find one that feels fresh and relevant in an age where these monsters have become a television staple with The Walking Dead. As good as the word of mouth was, it just appeared to be a typical zombie outbreak flick. While there is certainly a familiarity the way that this particular story plays out, it truly rises to the occasion with one of the best takes on flesh eaters to ever terrifying viewers. The claustrophobic setting, and the brutal transformations help make this edgy South Korean zombie entry one of the best of its kind.
Co-written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon – Joo-Suk Park is his co-writer – this is a thrilling version of what happens when a small group of survivors attempt to fight off a mindless mob of the walking – well, maybe more like running – dead. Fueled by a smart script, this surprising solid entry is a chilling, edge-of-your-seat ride that rarely slows down. The soul of this story involves a father and daughter (Yoo Gong and Su-an Kim) who are not only fighting off a horde of angry flesh eaters, they are also attempting to connect to each other. If you’ve not seen this modern take on the zombie apocalypse, I highly recommend you do. This is one train you don’t want to miss.
THE WITCH (2015)
Filmmaker Robert Eggers has a unique vision. The writer/director tends to lean towards classic dialogue that is enriched in the period that his films take place. THE LIGHTHOUSE is a perfect example of that with Willem Dafoe embracing his seafaring Lighthouse keeper. However, it all started with the weird and wonderful THE WITCH. Instead of presenting a more modern examination of witchcraft and religious beliefs, Eggers explores a world far different from ours. The rich dialogue is befitting of the 1600’s, the period in which the film takes place, as are the costumes and the set design. This journey into a world of religion and superstition is as eloquent as it is harrowing.
Like most of the entries on this list, you have to give credit to the actors bringing these characters to life. Anya Taylor-Joy is remarkable as a young woman coming of age is a household ruled by religion and a deep-seated relationship to God. As well, her devout yet flawed parents and brilliantly portrayed by Kate Dickie and Julian Richings. The striking imagery that Eggers embraces here helps to create a dark and twisted near fairy tale, one that questions the righteousness and morality of a very different time. This classic tale may not be for everybody, but for many of us, THE WITCH cast an unforgettable spell making this one of the most fascinating indie features of the past ten years.