10 Horror Movies from the Past Decade that Prove Horror Doesn’t Need to “Come Back”
Recently, in a discussion about movies, someone mentioned that horror needs to make a comeback. I did a Scooby-Doo doubletake. A comeback? Were they kidding? (Alas, they were not.) I rattled off a dozen or so titles from the past decade without even hesitating. These are artistic, powerful, well-made horror movies that have deeper meaning and high quality scares. I’ll spare you the free-for-all that conversation descended into, but, naturally, I wanted to share my list here.
These are my favorite ten horror movies from the last decade, explaining why each made my list. What criteria did I use? Mostly my own taste and opinions, so this list will certainly be debatable. I did limit myself by release date, of course, and simply because it’s important to me as a movie viewer, I didn’t include any remakes, sequels, reboots, adaptations, or spin-offs (that I know of), because I like new stories. Here they are.
1. 'Insidious' (2010)
Though not the deepest film on my list, Insidious has several significant things going for it. First, its scariness is earned through tension and build-up. There are little to no jump scares. The characters turn the lights on when they walk into a room where weird things are happening. (I’m side-eyeing you, Sinister.) All of the foreboding is extremely well built. Second, the characters matter. They aren’t set pieces for gore. Hell, there’s very little gore. There’s just well-acted characters trying to save their son. Heart, story, and so much dread.
You want smart? Cabin in the Woods is smart as hell. Like all the best parodies, this one walks the line between what it makes fun of it and making fun of it. Is it a horror or a comedy? Yes. Such insightful criticisms of the horror genre as a whole would be plenty to make this film worth your time, but on top of that they actually manage to tell a story that’s unique and worth watching.
Holy hell, I love this movie. This is definitely one of the deepest ones on my list. It’s a gut-wrenching exploration of grief and how it changes us, how we cope, and how we can never truly escape it. It’s brutal and raw, extremely well-acted, and utterly compelling. Not to mention it’s genuinely scary, and those scares, too, are earned through careful setup rather than blood or startles. Plus, I just love a movie with something to say, especially if it leaves you thinking for a long time after, which Babadook did.
Not every film has to say something “larger” than the film itself to carry meaning. Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh, Ich seh in its original German) derives its power from wire-tight tension between its three main characters—and leaves it up to the viewer to interpret each’s actions. In fact, it’s that room for inference, supposition, and interpretation that makes it work. Without giving it away, I’ll say that the about-face is one of the most compelling, horrifying twists I’ve ever seen in a movie, and that despite the ending, the midway twist alone makes Goodnight Mommy well worth watching.
I like smart movies. It Follows is smart and thoughtfully made. The concept is stellar, and the acting and pacing are great. There’s an unerringly persistent quality to not just the antagonist(s), but to the movie itself. It follows you around like its titular bogie. Its refusal to ground itself in time or place creates an unsettling effect I really enjoyed. And of course, it practically begs you to interpret the theme.
The Witch is so good as a historical film that it’d be worth watching even if it wasn’t also horror. Luckily for us, it’s also horror—and what horror! This film defines dread. It’s infused with it. From the get-go, I was tense beyond reason. Exquisitely shot and wonderfully acted, the dread never lets up. There are very few startles to alleviate the built-up tension, too, so the ending really pays off.
What I love about Hush is that it isn’t pretentious. It doesn’t really go for “art,” per say—just a really solid story done exceptionally well. It’s a slasher flick updated for modern quality. It doesn’t depend on tropes and tricks, which is refreshing, and the lead heroine is deaf and entirely capable—which is even more refreshing. All the cards are on the table; we just watch them play out in their inevitable, thrilling game.
(Available only on Netflix.)
Horror as social commentary? Yes, please. Get Out is terrifying because it’s all too real. The realities of being black in America, facing prejudice that is not just hurtful but potentially deadly, the insidiousness of inequality, and the deep ugly root of slavery all build a level of power behind this film that many movies never even approach. The fact that it’s brilliantly written, acted, and directed make it a juggernaut, and perhaps my favorite horror movie from the past decade.
Hereditary has one scene in it that I will never forget for the rest of my life. The acting in that infamous scene is so good that I want to shake people when I tell them about it. That alone makes the movie worth seeing. And although the second half derails into cliché land, the first half is so damn good that I barely care. It’s unique, unnerving to the point of discomfort, beautifully shot, and brilliantly acted.
What I love about A Quiet Place is the heart. Yes, when you think about it later you see all kinds of logical holes in the concept. But for me, the movie was so good that I didn’t care about that while I was watching it. If a movie is so well done that it can make an entire theater go silent to the point of people chewing softly, that movie deserves to make my list. But even better than the fun concept and the tense scenes, for me, was the shameless lack of grittiness. This is not a movie of torture, anti-heroes, or grungy despair. (Not that those don’t have their place.) This is a movie about family, love, and hope, and it’s still wonderfully tense and frightening. Cool.
You might notice that these ten films don’t even include It, which is the number one grossing horror film of all time. That’s because It is a remake of a movie and/or an adaptation of a book. (Also I wasn’t a big fan.) Nor does the list include popular films that I don’t happen to like as much, such as The Conjuring, Sinister, or Don’t Breathe, which could easily make someone else’s list. Hell, it doesn’t include any films I haven’t scene yet, such as The Wailing, The Invitation, or The Purge, or whatever excellent less-distributed movies I might not know about. Clearly, it’s not intended to be an exhaustive list.
My point is simply this: horror doesn’t need to “come back.” Horror never went anywhere. If anything, it’s been doing better than ever. Many of the horror movies on the top-grossing lists are from the past decade. The impression that it needs a comeback is just a result of the constant reluctance from consumers, marketers, and the media to call a spade a spade. (Need a refresher on what makes horror horror? Check out this infographic I made all about the genre.) So don’t talk to me about a comeback.
What’s your favorite horror movie from the past ten years?
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