Thanks to a new generation of filmmakers like Jordan Peele and Ari Aster, and streaming services like Shudder hosting gems of the genre from all over the world, the health of the genre is thriving.
The horror genre has never felt stronger than in recent years thanks to a new generation of exciting filmmakers like Jordan Peele and Ari Aster, as well as streaming services like Shudder hosting new and old classics and hidden gems of the genre from all over the world. These are our picks for the best horror movies of the last five years that have terrified audiences and pushed the art form further.
‘The Witch’ – Directed by Robert Eggers (Currently streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video)
Robert Eggers’ directorial debut is an ominous and genuinely disturbing descent into the darkest crevices of religious hysteria. Inspired by various folktales, journals, diaries, and other written accounts of the time, the film is set in 1630’s New England, as a Puritan family attempts to live on their secluded farm on the edge of a deep and foreboding forest. One of the children, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy in her feature debut), is a young woman trapped in the grip of her parents’ repressive and patriarchal beliefs. When things start to go very wrong for the family and they’re anguished by seemingly supernatural forces, Thomasin falls under heavy suspicion and is accused of being a witch.
‘Get Out’ – Directed by Jordan Peele (Currently available for rent or purchase on YouTube and Amazon Prime Video)
For those who were paying close attention during the days of Key and Peele, Jordan Peele’s pivot to full-blown horror might not have been completely out of left field, but what was unexpected was just how masterful that shift was. 2017’s Get Out was an instant horror and cultural landmark, propelling Peele – and the film’s star, Daniel Kaluuya – to stardom. It garnered critical acclaim, several award nominations (including Best Picture at the Oscars), and lots of box office cash. The film follows a young Black man named Chris (Kaluuya) visiting the family of his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), for the first time. Disturbing secrets are revealed, and the film dives deep into the unnerving and often horror-tinged realities of the Black experience in America.
‘Train to Busan’ – Directed by Yeon Sang-Ho (Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video)
The zombie subgenre feels like it slowly but surely petered out after the massive rise and fall of The Walking Dead and the slew of undead-themed movies that were released around it. But South Korea’s Train to Busan proved that there were still plenty of thrills, gruesome kills, and heartfelt emotions left to mine from a zombie story, thanks to a simple but ingenious premise: Set the flesh-eating ghouls loose on a high-speed train. Packed with horror, exciting action, and surprising heart, the film kicked off its own franchise that now includes the animated prequel Seoul Station and a sequel entitled Peninsula. An English-language remake is also currently in the works.
‘It’ – Directed by Andy Muschietti (Currently streaming on Hulu, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime Video)
Stephen King’s 1986 novel It has remained one of his most well-known and acclaimed stories for good reason. The tale of a group of misfit children – dubbed The Losers’ Club – terrorized by a mysterious and horrifying creature that often takes the form of a killer clown, It is an unforgettable and effecting reflection on coming of age and facing personal demons. This most recent adaptation proved the timelessness of the story, shattering box office records to become the highest-grossing horror film of all time, terrifying an all new generation and solidifying itself into popular culture. Bill Skarsgård’s performance as the nightmarish Pennywise is one of the greatest to ever grace the screen.
‘Hereditary’ – Directed by Ari Aster (Currrently streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video)
Ari Aster’s stunning directorial debut is one of those films that does more than just get under your skin, it burrows deep into your brain and leaves you dazed long after the credits roll. It’s an extremely dread-inducing descent into paranoia and terror, masterfully using its claustrophobic cinematography, haunting score, and affecting performances to create a truly visceral horror experience. The film follows the Graham family, now led by recently appointed matriarch Annie (Toni Collette), as they struggle to keep things together after being rocked by a pair of family deaths. As they uncover strange ancestral secrets, sinister supernatural forces start to come into play.
‘Happy Death Day’ – Directed by Christopher Landon (Currently available for rent or purchase on YouTube and Amazon Prime Video)
Truly great horror comedies are few and far between, but Happy Death Day stands out thanks to its premise of Groundhog Day meets Scream as well as its alarmingly wonderful lead performance from Jessica Rothe. Rothe stars are Tree Gelbman, a college student who finds herself stalked and attacked by a stranger in a creepy baby mask on her birthday. When the stranger successfully murders Tree, she finds herself waking up in bed and starting the day all over again, and is forced to relive everything again and again until she can survive and discover who the killer really is. Happy Death Day is nonstop fun, uproariously funny, and surprisingly heartfelt by the film’s end.
‘His House’ – Directed by Remi Weekes (Currently streaming on Netflix)
Remi Weeke’s electrifying debut takes a standard haunted house setup – complete with ghosts lurking in the walls and hiding in every corner – and turns it into perhaps one of the profound representations of the refugee / immigrant experience. Sudanese couple Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) have just arrived in the UK after a harrowing experience fleeing their war-torn home country. The government sets them up in a shabby town home that’s in need of serious repair and upkeep, and as the pair struggle to assimilate themselves into their new surroundings, they find that the house is full of the ghosts they thought they’d left behind. The film is as thoughtful as it is terrifying, and with a stunning 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s certainly not one to be missed.
‘Climax’ – Directed by Gaspar Noé (Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video)
Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noé has a unique and often anxiety-inducing approach to his work that combines loose narrative with disorienting yet graceful cinematography and lighting, and his 2018 psychological nightmare known as Climax might be his most mesmerizing. The film takes place over a single night as a dance troupe gathers to rehearse in an abandoned school building. As they celebrate with an after-party, things begin to take a disturbing turn once the group discovers that the sangria they’ve been drinking all night has been laced with LSD. Filled with confusion, anger and fright, the dancers steadily succumb to hallucinogenic madness, and some turn violent once a mob mentality takes over and they begin accusing each other of the drugging. The film is heavily improvisational and is presented in several exceptionally long, impressive takes, including one that lasts for over 42 minutes. There’s nothing quite like it.
‘The Invisible Man’ – Directed by Leigh Whannell (Currently streaming on Hulu, HBO Max and Amazon Prime Video)
One of the last major theatrical releases before the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man is an expertly crafted update that successfully modernizes the classic horror story. The film follows Cecilia (an always exceptional performance from Elisabeth Moss), a woman who believes that her controlling, abusive, and wealthy boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is continuing to stalk and manipulate her even after his apparent suicide. The scares and technical work behind the film are strong enough on their own, but the narrative also reveals the way people – especially women – are harmed by gaslighting and dismissed by others when trapped in a toxic relationship. It’s smart, increasingly impressive, and of course, scary as hell.
‘La Llorona’ – Directed by Jayro Bustamante (Currently streaming on Shudder)
The demand for accountability and justice against corrupt leaders and systems has been spreading around the globe, and while movies have been reflecting these feelings more and more recently, none have made it so sadistically satisfying as Guatemala’s La Llorona. The film follows a former dictator named Enrique Monteverde (played by Julio Diaz and loosely based on Efraín Ríos Montt) who stands trial for the unforgivable genocide of the country’s native Mayans. When he’s deemed not guilty and allowed to return home to his mansion, the public grows increasingly angry and stages nonstop protests outside the house. But Monteverde isn’t safe within the walls either; he and his family are constantly plagued by nightmares and strange supernatural occurrences, and they soon learn that the war criminal may have been found guilty by forces beyond a mere courtroom.
Honorable mentions: ‘Relic’, ‘Us’, ‘Sator’, ‘It Comes at Night’, ‘The Mortuary Collection’, ‘Midsommar’, ‘We’re All Going to the World’s Fair’