When we talk horror cinema G.O.A.T (that’s ‘Greatest of All Time’ to everyone over the age of 21), you find the same names cropping up time and again to do battle for the esteemed title. Perhaps rightly so, more often than not such a list will be soaked heavily in the blood of the benchmarking big-hitters of yesteryear.
But the 21st century, thus far, has shown itself to be one of the most diverse and eclectic periods in the genre’s history; proving once again that, amidst the obligatory share of dross, the horror genre simply refuses to lay down and die.
It’s time for the Kruegers, the Myers’, the Voorhees’, the Bates’, and the Pazuzus to take a back seat, as here at WTM? we count down our picks for the 31 best horror films of the 21st century…
31. Hereditary (2018)
Director: Ari Aster
Cast: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne
Toni Collette turns in her finest performance to date (yep, we’re counting Muriel’s Wedding in this) as a mother battling trauma and grief in Ari Aster’s 2018 suspense-laden feature directorial debut.
Hereditary is a film about, well, many things really; and to disclose anything here would likely ruin it for first-time viewers. That’s because this is a film unquestionably best served with no prior knowledge whatsoever. Perhaps teetering dangerously close to cliché in its latter stages, Hereditary is nevertheless a pulsating, deeply unsettling experience with fine performances all round and more than a few ghastly surprises lurking throughout. You’ll gasp; you’ll scream; you’ll be thinking about it for days afterwards.
30. The House of The Devil (2009)
Director: Ti West
Cast: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov
Ti West’s astute and meticulous pastiche of classic 70’s slasher and haunted house films is a brooding monster, heavily laced with growing dread. Shot on 16mm film to complete its retro look, The House of the Devil combines the familiar babysitter arc (complete with seemingly endless phone cord) with satanic cult paranoia. The result – which will be too slow-burning for some – is an unnerving, masterfully tense lesson in how giving away very little can often give us so much more.
29. Unfriended (2014)
Director: Levan Gabriadze
Cast: Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki
So not even a spot of webcam tomfoolery is without its share of terror these days. Combining the supernatural with the slasher, and having Skype as the setting, Unfriended is horror made for the Twitter-Face generation. Poignant messages about cyber bullying poke away at the generic character archetypes and slightly silly final third, as each player in director Levan Gabriadze’s e-nightmare suffers from the same problem as we all do: our inability to simply ‘disconnect’. This would never have happened on MSN…
28. Wolf Creek (2005)
Director: Greg McLean
Cast: Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, John Jarratt
Planning a backpacking holiday to the Aussie outback anytime soon? If so, you’re probably going to want to steer clear of this one. In this desolate terrain, there are no ghosts or ghoulies to be found; only boogeymen who are terrifyingly ordinary, and more than a little handy with a knife. Greg McLean’s tale of 3 teens unknowingly stepping down under and into the jaws of evil has certainly been done before (right down to the customary ‘based on true events’ marketing spiel), but few will do so with such unflinching brutality, and even fewer will stay clamped onto your thoughts for as long.
27. Under the Skin (2013)
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Cast: Scarlett Johansson
Complete with a title that forewarns its own impact on viewers, Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 art-house Sci-fi horror about a transit van driving extra-terrestrial who lures men to their doom from streets of night-time Glasgow, wields a wonderfully haunting power that is not only quietly disturbing, but often doesn’t feel like a horror film at all. Scarlett Johansson gives her finest performance to date, and is the perfect fit as the film’s otherworldly outcast. Quite unlike anything you’re likely to see, Under the Skin is beautiful, bizarre, and during one scene involving a baby and a beach, bleakly sobering.
26. Cabin Fever (2002)
Director: Eli Roth
Cast: Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, Cerina Vincent, Joey Kern, James DeBello
It’s odd to think that in a world obsessed with hygiene standards, there aren’t more films about a highly contagious flesh-eating virus. Before churning our stomachs with Hostel, Eli Roth earned his stripes with this clever spin on the cabin in the woods set-up. There’s no axe-wielding maniac here, only a vicious virus and a group of plucky teens who quickly show their true colours when signs of contagion begin to appear. There are some brilliantly ghoulish moments here – you’ll never look at leg shaving the same way again – and Roth infects the order in which his characters fall victim with playful unpredictability. Forget the 2016 remake, it’s the 2002 version you want; although, after watching, you’ll not want to sleep – or get out of the shower – for days…
25. Session 9 (2001)
Director: Brad Anderson
Cast: David Caruso, Peter Mullan, Josh Lucas, Stephen Gevedon, Brendan Sexton III
Brad Anderson’s criminally underrated 2001 horror is a marvellously mature and suggestive work of psychological probing. While the initial set-up – an asbestos abatement crew take a job cleaning up an abandoned mental asylum – might feel all too familiar, the shocks come in far less generic ways. With very little blood, and even fewer jump scares, Session 9 relies almost solely on its masterfully slow brooding terror. Spearheaded by a typically brilliant Peter Mullan performance, the suggestive sinister goings-on almost feel secondary to the threat of growing tensions within the group. A joyous example of character-led horror, where patience and atmosphere well and truly pay off.
24. Funny Games (2007)
Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet
Michael Haneke’s shot-for-shot English language remake of his own 1997 Austrian home invasion horror is just as potent and gruelling. A night of terror befalls a mother, father and son when they are taken hostage in their own holiday home by a pair of sadistic teens and are made to take part in a series of twisted games. There’s very little rhyme or reason to Haneke’s work here, and the strength lies in the unexplained. The film is a disturbing manipulation of audience expectations: the narrative whitepaper is repeatedly torn up and put together again, fourth walls are broken, and even the harmless borrowing of eggs gets an unprovoked sinister scrambling. With Funny Games, the last thing you’ll be doing is laughing.
23. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Taika Waititi, Jermaine Clement, Jonathan Brugh, Ben Fransham, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer
Now for a lighter snack. What We Do in the Shadows is wonderfully sharp, joyously silly, and laugh-out-loud funny. Before the deliriously entertaining Hunt for the Wilderpeople and the greatly anticipated Thor: Ragnarok, Kiwi director Taika Waititi was playing 17th century dress-up and parodying the hell out of the horror genre. Set in a flat share in Wellington, WWDITS follows the nightly lives of a quartet of finely aged gentlemen, with a couple of sharp teeth, and a more than a little craving for human blood. The Vampire sub-genre has been chewed up and regurgitated on numerous occasions over the years, but few will be as inventive. From bickering over who does the dishes, to watching sunrise videos on YouTube, to painting the town red (in more ways than one), Waititi brilliantly combines simple ideas with marvellously quirky characterisation and just runs with it. The result: mockumentary filmmaking that screams cult classic.
22. A Quiet Place (2018)
Director: John Krasinski
Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
A fiendishly clever high-concept premise – you make a noise, you die – John Krasinki’s directorial debut wonderfully brings to the fore the monster that has long been the horror genre’s most terrifying villain: sound itself. Don’t believe us? Then try watching your next horror movie on mute, and what you have, dear friends, is a slapstick comedy of the highest order.
With a film that speaks volumes for Krasinski’s capabilities behind the camera, A Quiet Place reminds us that a good horror flick doesn’t need a complex narrative or even swanky dialogue to work, but merely an imaginative idea, some neat set-pieces, and a bunch of characters we can really invest in.
Real-life husband and wife Krasinski and Blunt admirably keep the boat steady while it’s the kids – namely, Millicent Simmonds – who hit us with the emotional oars. As such, it’s A Quiet Place that currently leads in the race for the 2018 horror crown.
21. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi
Ana Lily Amirpour’s striking Persian-language feature film debut, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is a mesmerising example of genre hopping. A delicate balance of horror, neo-western, and romance, the film tells the story of a desolate, decaying town – aptly named ‘Bad City’ – the residents of which are stalked by a lonesome, chador-wearing, skateboard-riding Vampire. Blending genre conventions and feminist themes into something truly original, Amirpour’s film gives precedence to moody, stylised atmosphere over narrative, set against a backdrop where roles of victim and villain are seemingly interchangeable. Gorgeously shot, assuredly crafted, with one killer soundtrack, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night will quickly have you under its spell without you even realising. Go and seek it out.
20. Train to Busan (2016)
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Cast: Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Eui-sung, Ma Dong-seok
We’ve had a plane full of snakes, and even a Tornado full of sharks; and now, thanks to director Yeon Sang-ho and screenwriter Park Joo-suk, we have a train full of zombies. Fast and ferocious – and that’s just the editing – Train to Busan is aggressive, high-octane, at times satirical, horror that gives you almost no time to settle in your seat. We’ve all been a cramped passenger on a peak time train; but imagine a viciously contagious infection thrown in there too; instantly turning you from grumpy commuter who wants to kill everyone, to grumpy commuter who wants to kill everyone and then devour them completely. Like hordes of insects, the infected masses here – a hybrid of 28 Days Later and World War Z – are speedy, relentless, and remarkably flexible: piling and trampling on top of one another despite broken limbs and snapped vertebrae for a chunk of human flesh. But there’s humanity to the madness here too, as Sang-ho invests enough in his small band of survivors so that, despite inevitably not allowing them all to see the end credits, Train to Busan packs an unexpected melodramatic, but equally effective, emotional sucker punch.
19. The Descent (2005)
Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, MyAnna Buring, Saskia Mulder, Nora-Jane Noone
Before Neil Marshall was gallivanting off to direct episodes of that little known art-house TV show Game of Thrones (you may have heard of it), he was busy trying to put Wookey Hole Caves out of business for good. His second feature length outing as director after cult classic Dog Soldiers, The Descent follows a sextet of adrenalin-junkie gals who venture down into the dark depths of a pothole looking for adventure. What they find instead is anything but. Claustrophobes beware, this’ll be one hell of an uncomfortable ride for you – and anyone else for that matter. Unforgiving and unbearably tense in its meaty second half, The Descent makes you feel every helmet scrape, every slow crawl through keyhole tunnels, and every snapped bone. However, Marshall begins to weave his web of horror long before the terror shows its hideous face. Grief-induced nightmares, strained friendships, and sub-opening 5 minute jump scares, The Descent is a slick, gritty, layered work and one of the peaks – or, more appropriately, depths – of British horror this side of the millennium.
18. The Others (2001)
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, Christopher Eccleston
Everyone loves a good ol’ fashioned ghost story, right? Well, they don’t come much better than Alejandro Amenábar’s startling 2001 film, The Others. Few horror films have, and will, combine atmosphere, scares, and beauty as elegantly as Amenábar does here. Set in the immediate aftermath of WWII in a bleak, mist-shrouded rural corner of the Channel Islands, a mother and her two young children – both of whom suffer from a rather strange condition – begin to feel the presence of others in their large country home. The period setting and gothic imagery make for a truly bone-chilling experience, and – with an arguably career-best turn from Kidman – one of the most satisfyingly complete psychological horrors to ever grace the screen. To say anymore would do the film a great disservice; so do yourself a service and settle down with The Others – and maybe a few strong sleeping pills for after.
17. Martyrs (2008)
Director: Pascal Laugier
Cast: Mylène Jampanoï, Morjana Alaoui, Catherine Bégin
For many, Martyrs is the face of the New French Extremism movement that began at the turn of the 21st century. Just one of a number of transgressive French-language films released during this time, including High Tension and Inside, but Pascal Laugier’s tale of torture and revenge is undoubtedly the most controversial. Some will hail it as one of the best horrors in the genre, while many will be totally repulsed by the explicit violence and the immensely disturbing ideology on show. Those that can make it through the film’s near unbearable third act will be subject to its immersive magnetism, harrowing nihilism, and, at times, fleeting moments of touching humanity; although Martyrs‘ treatment of its female characters is sure to make Feminists the world over coil in disgust. But there’s an unquestionable power amidst the divisiveness, and one cinematic experience you’re not likely to get anywhere else.
16. Goodnight Mommy (2014)
Director: Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala
Cast: Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz
Unless you really go digging, you’ll be hard pushed to find many Austrian horrors – well, ones that aren’t directed by a certain Michael Haneke, that is. Arguably the finest film to fit such criteria in the last 17 years is Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s Goodnight Mommy. Set in one of those unnervingly modern houses seemingly in the arse end of nowhere that are only ever on the market in horror movie land, Goodnight Mommy is an eerie, slow-building beast about a mother’s return home after facial surgery. But who is it really behind those bandages? Twisted, playfully unconventional, and ultimately satisfying for disciples of horror, this is one to turn up the central heating to, as it will undoubtedly leave you chilled to the bone.
15. Kill List (2011)
Director: Ben Wheatley
Cast: Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring
To borrow that classic Sunday league football cliché, ‘It’s a game of two halves’, British filmmaker Ben Wheatley’s 2011 film Kill List is certainly a film of two halves. Starting out as a kitchen sink drama that has the feel of a very, very good episode of Eastenders to it (well, one before Barry was pushed down that hill by Janine, anyway. Still not bitter or anything…), the film follows two ex-military chums turned hit-men who take up a seemingly routine job when money is tight. But after several rather strange interactions, and more than a few eerily cryptic comments, the duo realise they might just be involved in something neither could have ever comprehended. Despite being only Wheatley’s second feature film, Kill List is as shocking and intense as this century’s big hitters, and a gritty little surprise package best experienced with as little prior knowledge as possible. Kill List is certainly one for your list.
14. REC (2007)
Director: Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza
Cast: Manuela Velasco, Pablo Rosso
Right, let’s have it out then, horror genre: the found footage set-up has been done to death in the 21st century – and then done some more! So, it might not have covered itself in glory ever since a couple of gutsy 90’s filmmakers without a penny to their name rustled some twigs and piled some rocks in the woods late at night. But amidst every heap of overcooked gristle, there’s a tender cut sizzling to near perfection. And undoubtedly the worthiest challenger to The Blair Witch Project’s crown comes from Spain. A documentary film crew accompany a band of night-shift firefighters when they are called to an apartment building on reports of odd behaviour being exhibited by one of the residents. What terror awaits them is best kept in the dark for those first-time viewers, but be prepared for more than a few sleepless nights. Avoid tainting the original with the three subsequent below-par follow-ups and inevitable American remake, and experience the aggressive, anaerobic nightmare that is REC. It’ll leave you breathless in more ways than one.
13. Under the Shadow (2016)
Director: Babak Anvari
Cast: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi
Needless to say, but most horror films will make us scared (even if that’s just at the logic of some of the characters). The best ones, however, will also make us think. Iranian-born director Babak Anvari goes one further and not only tests our nerves and socio-political outlook, but also truly makes us care. Under the Shadow – a mightily impressive feat for a directorial debut – masterfully combines downright terrifying paranormal shocks with the very tangible threat of 1980’s war-ravaged Tehran. Danger comes from all angles in this environment, as a resolute mother fights to protect her young daughter from the horrors that lurk in the darkness, and the forces that lurk in the daylight. And in doing so, Anvari’s central relationship subtly weaves feminist threads into Under the Shadow’s rich thematic tapestry, as external terrors transpire to tear such a maternal bond to shreds. Balanced, bold, and bloody frightening, Under the Shadow is a real eye-opener, and Anvari – on this showing – a hugely talented and powerful new voice.
12. It (2017)
Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs
“Hiya, Georgie!” – and anyone else reading this.
We sighed at the prospect of yet another remake of a horror classic; we were nervous about whether expectations would be met; we absolutely loved it!
Bringing The Losers’ Club to the silver screen for a spot of clowning around, Andy Muschietti’s It made us jump, made us laugh, made us care, and made a hell of lot of money, too. Becoming the second highest-grossing of all time after The Sixth Sense and bringing the horror genre back with a bang, a whole new generation of viewers went mad for a child-eating, wise-cracking, drain-dwelling clown, and the charming bunch of 80’s misfits he terrorises. In a sensible deviation from the 1990 TV adaptation of Stephen King’s acclaimed novel, Muschietti dismisses the back and forth timeline and focuses solely on the little whippersnappers on this particular visit to Derry. Each of them is given sufficient narrative attention, which in turn gives real balance and depth to the story, where threats start to appear in far less white-makeupey, red-ballooney forms. Skarsgård does wonderful things with Pennywise, as do the rest of the cast with their respective roles. Safe to say the bar has been set – over to you, Part 2!
11. Let the Right One In (2008)
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson
Scandi cinema seems to be all the rave these days. Snow and sinister goings-on seem to go hand in hand whenever one of the Nordic countries is involved. Right up there with any Headhunting or Dragon Tattooing, is Tomas Alfredson’s powerfully unnerving adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist 2004 novel Let the Right One In. If you think Twilight have the monopoly on Vampires, firstly shame on you; but secondly, and more importantly, do yourself a favour and see this film. Set in the 1980’s, in a sleepy suburb of Stockholm, a bullied 12-year old boy develops a friendship with a young girl who is anything but ordinary. But amidst all the biting and blood-lust, a distinct lack of any positive adult presence in the film paves the way for an icy realist wasteland of cruelty, neglect and nihilism, and emphasises the power of child companionship. Even if the pubescent metaphors ring a little too loudly at times, Let the Right One In is a beautiful, striking, and emotional story told with real elegance and maturity, and one that has already influenced more than a few films since, and will continue do for as long as Eli lives – which is, you know, like forever…
10. The Orphanage (2007)
Director: J. A. Bayona
Cast: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep
Well, if the 21st century has proved anything, it’s that the Spanish do horror well – like, scarily well. Now, I’m not sure what that says about the Spanish, but it’s fabulous news for horror fans the world over. Arguably the finest example of the Spanish doing straight-up scares (I’ve purposefully chosen not to include Pan’s Labyrinth on this list) is J. A. Bayona’s chilling ghost story The Orphanage. Upon returning to her childhood home – an Orphanage – Laura vows to restore it to a home for disabled children. But after a disappearance, and some strange noises in the night, paint colour and heating bills turn out to be the least of her concerns. With shades of The Devil’s Backbone – Del Toro has an Executive Producer role here – there’s real heart to the horror as Bayona delivers an impressively rich narrative of external terror with inner struggle. Never are the scares cheap and, anchored by a wonderful central performance from Rueda, the creepy happenings and damning revelations give The Orphanage an expertly weighted hybrid of frights and feels. Mesmerising.
9. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Director: Drew Goddard
Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams
Oh, how beautifully ironic it is that the best cabin-in-the-woods horror set-up so far this century is one great big, glorious piss-take. Ok, so a more accurate assessment would be, as writer/producer Joss Whedon neatly puts it, “A very loving hate letter to the horror genre.” A jock, a virgin, a blonde, an intellectual, and a nerd pack up for a libido-heavy, booze-fuelled weekend in the woods. Right down to the creepy gas attendant warning our protagonists to turn back, Whedon and director Drew Goddard sneakily lure us into very familiar waters, before turning the tide a full 360 degrees. The Cabin in the Woods is the perfect surprise package, complete with expectations that are wholeheartedly subverted, genre stereotypes simultaneously followed and then destroyed entirely, and, perhaps most importantly, fingers stuck up to all those horror snobs who think they’ve seen it all before. 2012 might not have been the year the world ended, but it was the year horror went all meta on our asses – and we loved every second of it. The Cabin in the Woods is horror at its most playfully ingenious.
8. The Babadook (2014)
Director: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Tim Purcell
So, in a list of the greatest horror movie monsters, the usual names crop up time and again like a butchered record. But, as of 2014, you can add to that list the Babadook – the titular bogeyman of Jennifer Kent’s remarkable directorial debut. Part Pazuzus, part Kreuger, and part ‘oh my god, that is bloody terrifying’, it’s not so much the ‘How’ – Kent’s antagonist terrorises a single mother and her young son in all the familiar ways – but the ‘Why’ – namely, its narrative origin – that marks the Babadook as a truly innovative beasty, and helps elevate the film to far more than just another haunted-house jumpathon. Just like all greats of the genre, there is something inherently human right at the core of the supernatural frightfest. In the case of The Babadook, the turbulent relationship between mother and child after a life-shattering event. Anchored by two wonderfully unstable performances from its two leads, The Babadook is both patient and mature in its storytelling, and serves us an absorbing concoction of scares, sumptuous characterisation, and genuinely moving moments. You’ll feel your heartbeat intensify because it too has one running throughout. That, and easily the most nightmare-inducing children’s bedtime story since the tale of how babies are made…
7. Saw (2004)
Director: James Wan
Cast: Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Tobin Bell
‘Dare you see Saw?’ was the tagline. We saw Saw. And we saw just how good Saw was (you see where I’m going with this – or should that be saw?)
The twisted brainchild of then new kids on the block James Wan and Leigh Whannell, Saw is both a gift to the horror genre and a curse. At the time of release, it was something fresh; something new; something devilishly grisly. But its whirlwind success – the likes of which hadn’t been seen in the genre since Scream – inevitably laid the grounds for a plethora of mostly pitiful imitations and unwanted sequels, and single-handedly spawned an entirely new sub-genre of horror: commonly branded ‘torture porn’. Too often unfairly pigeonholed in with all the other over-the-top, popcorn-and-vomit splatterfests, Saw as a standalone film is a brilliantly inventive and expertly structured thriller, that happens to have a few ‘that’ll put you off your dinner’ moments. Two apparent strangers awake to find themselves chained up in the filthiest bathroom since Trainspotting (or, in other words, one of the more upmarket student house restrooms), with almost no recollection of how they got there – imagine The Hangover cut they were never allowed to show. One is given a very specific task, the other has secrets, but both must unravel the mystery of the notorious Jigsaw killer before it is too late. Sharp, clever, and with more twists than you can shake a stick at, Saw is a gutsy triumph in more ways than one.
6. 28 Days Later (2002)
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Christopher Eccleston
The zombie film that isn’t technically a zombie film that reinvigorated – or more appropriately, re-infected – the sub-genre in the early 2000s. It’s not the undead we’re dealing with here, it’s the infected – infected with a highly contagious rage-inducing virus if we’re getting technical. And they can run; oh, boy they can run.
With Danny Boyle behind the camera, and Alex Garland attending to screenwriting duties, fresh off the success of his novel The Beach – the adaptation of which was directed by Boyle – 28 Days Later is gritty, frantic, and fantastic. Beginning with those iconic shots of a totally deserted London, the film follows a group of plucky survivors – including Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, and Brendan Gleeson – who travel across a ravaged Britain in hopeful search of safety. While it might borrow from father-of-the-genre George Romero on more than one occasion, 28 Days Later has a very British stamp on it. With a hospital awakening opening that evokes Day of the Triffids, we pass famous London landmarks, cultural artefacts, and even spend some time driving about in a black cab. The jarring, Dogme-like camerawork is equally distinctive, and uncomfortable in the most effective way possible.
And despite our characters’ trawl up the empty motorways of Blighty, all roads lead to 28 Days’ aggressive, brutal final third, where far from subtle questions are posed about man’s inherent inner rage, and the hypotheticals start being thrown about, concerning how you think you’d act when society as we know it goes tits-up. Put simply, however, this is one of the best British horror films in decades.
5. Raw (2017)
Director: Julia Ducournau
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Naït Oufella
Completely redefining the concept of ‘finger food’, Julia Ducournau’s Raw came way out of left field in 2017 to take the horror genre, and Cannes Film Festival goers, by storm. Reports of viewers violently vomiting in the aisles at certain screenings did nothing but help grow the intrigue and anticipation for this tasty little French-Belgian number.
When a lifelong vegetarian enrols at veterinary school (the place where Dr Hannibal Lecter has probably taught a few modules), she’s totally unprepared for the increasingly bizarre and brutal hazing, initiations, and rituals that lie in store. Just like all fresh-faced teens during Freshers’ week, experimentation is flowing like the VKs and hormones flying about like the flu; but the urges here are altogether juicier, and the cravings far more disturbing (well, unless you go to Bristol Uni that is).
In a film that will most certainly get under the skin in more ways than one, Ducournau has masterfully crafted a meaty coming of age tale that wonderfully blends nightmare with pubescent and libidinous metaphor, seasoned with generous handfuls of emotional drive and striking imagery. Garance Marillier is utterly mesmerising as the main course in this moreishly fleshy feast that is far from skin-deep.
Crikey, reckon I could fit in anymore puns into this little spiel?!
4. Get Out (2017)
Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Lil Rey Howery
Horror and humour are most definitely long-lost brothers. Some comedies are terrifying, while some horrors are hilarious. Some, however, bring both frights and laughs, while also offering sincere, timely examinations of racism in America and the many faces it can take. The frighteningly entertaining Get Out is just that very thing. The best – well, second best – horror-com this side of the millennium, Jordan Peele’s brainchild is sharp, clever, and deliriously memorable (instantly quotable dialogue, memes galore, and, christ, there’s even a Get Out running challenge now).
So, what could be worse than meeting you partner’s parents for the first time? Well, how about meeting your partner’s parents for the first time, but they don’t yet know you’re black. Complete with unnerving overfriendliness, awkward dinner conversations, and strange activity exhibited from the servants in the early hours, this is Meet the Fockers does a Halloween special – but not a whiff of Ben Stiller in the vicinity. This is not a scare sprint, but a patient, brooding marathon that takes its time to get under our skin, and firmly stays there.
There are star turns to go with the terror, as Kaluuya, Williams, and Lil Rel Howery are all brilliant in very different ways (anymore might just be a spoiler). But, Peele is undoubtedly the true MVP here. Tackling important historical and topical issues head-on, but in ways that never feel preachy, his narrative has that beautifully rare thing of giving us everything we’ve seen before, but in a way that almost always feels new and fresh. Get Out is so good, not even TSA could keep us from watching it over and over…
3. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Jessica Stevenson, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy
So, if you were waiting for all this Halloween list thing to blow over, you’ll be pleased to know we’re nearly there.
But first, we must crown WTM?’s (un)official best horror-comedy of the 21st Century. Edgar Wright’s cult classic Shaun of the Dead is everything we want from a horror, and everything we want from a comedy – and, basically everything we want, from anything, ever. The folks over at ITV2 will certainly be chuffed with this one.
Down-on-his-luck 30 something electronics salesman Shaun leads a dull existence. Dead end job? Check. Recently dumped by his girlfriend? Check. Estranged relationship with his step-dad? Check. Spends every evening down the local with best bud/top slob, Ed? Yep. Got red on him? You betcha.
But all that changes when waves of the deceased begin returning to life to feast on the living. It seems this is finally the break Shaun needs, as with the zombie apocalypse comes a shot at redemption.
A wonderful mash-up of parody, pastiche, guts, and infectious hilarity – with a razor-sharp script to boot – Wright’s film is a groaning, moaning triumph. Devilishly smart, fiendishly intricate, and with some gloriously inventive set-pieces and even some genuinely touching moments, Shaun of the Dead is human first, and zombie second. The characters are both memorable and relatable; the nods to the classics of the genre are both obvious and subtle; and the laughs, scares – and occasional tears – are masterfully intertwined.
Best watched over a nice cold pint at the Winchester, with some Queen on the jukebox, and maybe a strawberry Cornetto, Shaun of the Dead simply refuses to lay down and die.
2. It Follows (2014)
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Jake Weary
Ever get the feeling you’re being followed?
We imagine David Robert Mitchell certainly did before penning the script for It Follows – a chilling, brooding lesson in slow-burning paranoia that literalises that very fear.
Punishing promiscuity has always been a favourite pastime of horror, and Mitchell spins the whole ‘sex equals death’ trope in ingenious ways here. The film follows a teenage girl who goes out on a date with her new boyfriend, before doing what all teenage couples inevitably end up doing: buying tickets (and a shit load of popcorn) for a film they’ve queued hours to watch at the cinema, only to leave before it’s even started! Oh, and then go off and have sex in the back of his car, of course.
But we’re soon not the only ones following our protagonist, as she learns that her libidinous actions will, quite literally, come back to haunt her – or, relentlessly stalk her, rather. It’s quickly apparent that this is one STD that a cream from the doctors won’t fix…
Retro-fitted with all the audio-visual décor of a Haddonfield or Elm Street, It Follows takes the classic slasher and subverts it a whole 360 degrees – it’s now not being alone that should be feared, but the exact opposite; not what’s around the corner or out of shot, but what’s very much already in view, lurking in the background, out of focus. The monster here is no hideous creature of the night or masked psychopath, but a silent, slow entity that is as everyday as your best-friend or neighbour.
Evoking an entirely original horror cinema-going experience by using all the usual ingredients and then ignoring the recipe, It Follows is a frighteningly clever and unnervingly creepy modern masterpiece, and one of the front-liners as the 21st century claws back horror from the depths of stale, generic, remake obscurity.
1. The Witch (2015)
Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw
Taking horror back to its very roots, it seems quite fitting that Robert Eggers’ outstanding directorial debut, The Witch, takes our top spot. You’re unlikely to find a more masterful lesson in pure, raw terror anytime soon. Striking, dark, disturbing, frightening, affecting, The Witch is as impressively uncomfortable as they come, and a perfect alternative to caffeine if you ever need to keep the land of nod at bay.
17th century New England. A puritan family are banished from their settlement and are forced to take refuge on the edge of a vast forest. Shortly after, one of the family vanishes, and the swift arrival of strange forces and sinister occurrences turn the isolated family down a twisted road of desperation, distrust, and despair.
From minute one, The Witch grips you under its unnerving and distressing spell and simply refuses to let go. In this remarkable exhibition of encroaching, brooding evil, they’ll be moments that shock you; others that will burrow deep under your skin and take refuge in your subconscious; and others that will haunt you for days.
Making stars of its young cast – Taylor-Joy and Scrimshaw are standouts – Eggers’ expert understanding of how to construct atmosphere and hysteria has all the intricacy and intelligence of someone vastly more experienced. There’s almost too much to feast on here, as more conventional scares shroud the film’s more subdued examinations of religion, history, gender, family, and evil – both as an internal and external force.
Quite simply, The Witch is the closest thing to an on-screen nightmare we’ve seen this century.
5 thoughts on “WTM?’s 31 Best Horror Films of the 21st Century”
Great idea! I was going to do something similar – can’t wait to see what takes your top spot.
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Thank you! You should definitely do a Best Horror list – I love seeing where other people rank the films I like/dislike, and I’m always on the look out for films I haven’t seen yet!
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I’m putting something together as we speak and I’ll be sure to give you a shout out once it’s posted 😊