One of the biggest parts of a film journalist’s time is figuring out a top-ten or top-five list for the end of each year. Depending on what kind of publication you’re working for, you could be creating genre-specific lists or something more comprehensive. Even more interesting, although perhaps difficult, to think about is a list comprising what you think are the best films of an entire decade.
Now, do not get me started on what I think are the best films of the decade so far, regardless of genre, because that requires more time than I’ve honestly given it. It’s only been barely half of a decade, of course, but in the span of almost five years, there are simply too many films that I have not had the pleasure of viewing yet, so it would not feel proper to create such a list. I can create, and have been curating a ‘Top 20’ list of the best horror (ish) films from this decade so far. I haven’t seen every horror film that I would like to, but limiting the list to a single genre – especially one that I pay attention more than most others – just seemed more reasonable.
I also thought it might be fun to give updates to the list every now and then when I’ve seen a few films, and then see how drastically – or not – the list has changed. Bear in mind, I haven’t seen everything yet, so if there’s a film you’ve seen that you think deserves to be on the list, please don’t yell at me and instead insist that I give it a watch. Additionally, not all of the films in this Top 20 are strictly horror, but I may think that there is ample argument to include them. Thank you JT for my now much more liberal use of the term ‘horror.’ Finally, as I watch each film on the list again, their place may change, so that’s sure to make things interesting, and do not yell at me if you think a film is too low or high.
Anyway, without further adieu, here are what I believe to be the Top 20 horror (ish) films of the decade so far, along with quite a few honorable mentions.
So I’ve got fifteen of these to get through, but I promise I’ll go through them relatively quickly. First is a British film called Stitches, which is about a party clown who rises from the grave to exact vengeance on the now-teenagers who caused his death. If you’re a fan of the Hatchet films, you will find a loving home here, with plenty of gore and creative kills to hoot and holler about. Speaking of Hatchet, the next film on the list is director Adam Green’s Frozen, a stark departure from the series of ‘80s slasher homages. Instead of blood and guts, we have white-knuckle suspense in a tensely dramatic film about three friends trapped on a ski lift.
Getting back on the subject of slasher films that don’t take themselves seriously, we have Joseph Kahn’s Detention. A parody of slasher subversions like Scream, Detention makes very little sense and cares not if you can follow along. Need I mention that there is a time-traveling bear? Enough said. And speaking of subverting horror trends, we have horror-comedy Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. Looks aren’t always what they appear, so maybe we shouldn’t treat every hillbilly as if they are potential psychopaths? Every death scene is hilarious, making for a perfect party horror film.
Next is Norwegian mockumentary TrollHunter, which I admit I need to give another look. The humor is very well written and the CG trolls look amazing; the film is fun viewing overall. Now let’s travel back a few centuries to Black Death from Christopher Smith, whose filmography includes other solid films like Creep, Severance, and Triangle. Starring Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne, the first multi-word title effort from the Englishman presents some interesting questions about the nature of faith and religion.
Sightseers, the third film from up-and-coming talent Ben Wheatley, is a strange, but frequently funny black comedy about a couple who go on a spontaneous killing spree while on holiday. Grand Piano, starring Elijah Wood as a piano prodigy making his way back to the stage after famously botching a piece, is one of the best thrillers that Brian De Palma only wishes he made. The Double, while not strictly horror, is a weirdly effective psychological dark comedy from Richard Ayoade. Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska, a meek desk clerk’s life takes a turn for the worse when a new employee is his double and his polar opposite.
On the lighter side, we have Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s self-deprecation comedy This is the End. This film features some of the best humor from this troupe of comedians and some balls-to-the-wall horror-inspired violence, including quite possibly the funniest exorcism scene you will ever find. We’re going to just keep the funnies rolling, so the next film on the list is Martin McDonagh’s dark crime comedy Seven Psychopaths. Like In Bruges, this film is plenty violent and darkly humorous, but trades out the often heart-wrenching drama with more absurdity.
Now we have gotten to the point in the ‘Honorable Mentions’ list where we talk about films that just barely missed the ‘Top 20’ – although who knows, maybe they’ll creep their way back as time passes. First, we have Adam Wingard’s You’re Next. From a host of mumblecore horror starlets, You’re Next delivers some solid thrills while subverting home invasion films with some demented black humor. It’s a shame that it took two years to get the film released. Another film that came out earlier in the summer of 2013 was James Wan’s The Conjuring, which is one of the few films that has legitimately terrified me from the first scare to the last. Additionally, many others and I can’t help but love its old school charm.
Next we have Australian film The Snowtown Murders. Based upon true events, the film follows a teenager who becomes more involved with his mom’s new boyfriend than he should, leading to a murder and torture spree he can’t escape. Clocking in at 120 minutes, Snowtown is one of the most grueling cinematic experiences one can force themselves to endure, so buckle up for a slow burn if you choose to subject yourself to its horrors. Rounding out the honorable mentions is none other than Rubber, Quentin Dupieux’s surrealist horror-comedy a homicidal car tire. As with Detention, enough said.
Finally, we have reached the primary purpose for this editorial: the Top 20 horror(ish) films of the decade. Let’s get to it!
Yeah sure, maybe it doesn’t fall under the strict definition of horror, but this Kubrickian odyssey depicting an alien seductress’s existential journey is often as strange and dark as some other films on this list. Besides, it seems hard to believe that no genre fanatic would embrace this film as such. Scarlett Johansson gives an absolutely mesmerizing performance in the lead role, and is quite possibly the best turn of her career so far. Prepare yourself for an intellectual sci-fi film, and plunge into the abyss.
And so we traverse from the Kubrickian to the Hitchcockian with Park Chan-wook’s English language debut, Stoker. In the film, a teenage girl goes through her own peculiar coming-of-age, finding herself infatuated with her mother’s new boyfriend, in spite of believing he may not be who he appears. Known as one of the leaders in extreme Asian cinema with his Vengeance trilogy, Park makes a strong stylistic shift with Stoker, trading uber-violence for haunting visuals and a brooding atmosphere. Dysfunctional families have rarely been so fun to watch.
Say what you want about von Trier, but he knows how to craft a powerfully effective film. Yes, one could argue that this isn’t a horror film, but Melancholia’s deeply depressing vibes from how far von Trier strips his characters of their will to live make it a worthy candidate for real-life horror. Sure, von Trier is an incredibly pretentious prick, but he is also a genius who delivered a beautifully gloomy film about the impending destruction of mankind.
Dare you to say this film’s title five times fast. Martha Marcy May Marlene is a mesmerizing thriller about a woman trying to adjust to normal life after escaping a cult, providing numerous flashbacks depicting her experiences that grew darker as time passed. The film is a wonderful coming-out party for lead actress Elizabeth Olsen, whose career has done nothing but take off since its premiere. John Hawke gives a commanding performance as cult leader Patrick, as well.
I absolutely ADORE this movie. If I remember correctly, I first saw this film during the summer before matriculating to the College of William & Mary, and it appealed to every bit of the hopeless romantic I was back then. What Gareth Edwards gives us is a beautiful science-fiction film with some amazing special effects and a beautiful story that, in some ways, speaks to the difficulties of immigration. Put on top of it an emotionally powerful ending that in no way feels forced or too saccharine sweet to digest, and is instead organic and perhaps a little surprising. It is unfortunate Mr. Edwards went from this to Godzilla.
What do you get when you combine the charms of Gremlins and The Goonies? No, you don’t get Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, you cheeky bastard. Instead, you get Attack the Block, from Edgar Wright’s main writing partner Joe Cornish. When a group of kids in inner city London kill a strange alien creature, they must fend off a horde of those aliens attacking their apartment compound. The creature design is incredibly unique and the kids are a joy to watch, not to mention the film is hilarious deep underneath those thick English accents. Attack the Block is your one-way ticket to a fun night in.
The Maniac remake is definitely not your one-way ticket to a fun night in, unless you enjoy basking in disturbingly gruesome horror violence. Removing the vitriol but keeping all of the nastiness, Khalfoun’s version of the 1980 slasher film is a wonder to behold. The film introduces an interesting psychological element not to be found in the original, but of course, everyone gushes about its first-person cinematography. With figures like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers, it’s clear that we worship our slasher villains. Putting us in Elijah Wood’s POV for most of the film makes us confront the viciousness of each attack, and Khalfoun revels in demented glee at forcing us to question our idolizing of monsters.
Surely, this is another film likely to raise a few eyebrows about its place on a top horror list. Stellar neo-noir thriller this film certainly is, but watch Jake Gyllenhaal’s unnerving performance as Lou Bloom again and tell me that Nightcrawler does not qualify, in some way. Here is a man who capitalizes on real-life horrors, no matter the cost, because violence sells well and appeals to those watching the news, especially the local news. He is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing among a swarm of vultures, a real monster I’d be skeptical about meeting at the dead of night.
Kill List is partially why Ben Wheatley is slowly becoming a household name in the genre and independent filmmaking, in general. Even at 95 minutes, the film is a real slow burn and requires the utmost patience as it plods along through its identity as a crime drama for the first hour or so. Those who wait, however, are ultimately rewarded with an insane horror-inspired final act that leads to one of the most jarring endings seen this decade.
Here’s another film that I absolutely love. In E.L. Katz’s black comedy masterpiece, a down on his luck auto mechanic has just lost his job, and now he’s found out that he and his family are about to be evicted. While out at the bar, he meets an old friend from high school who has just been released from prison. Shortly after their reunion, they meet a couple that ropes them into a night of monetary-based dares. As the dares become more extreme and the payment gets higher, their friendship deteriorates. This film couldn’t be more relevant as it highlights the vast economic discrepancies between people, and how much power the haves have over the have-nots.
Like TrollHunter, I admit that I need to give Let Me In another look to see where it really stands. An American remake of Let the Right One In was greenlit shortly after it exploded here in the States, and even though a talented Matt Reeves had signed on to direct, the general consensus couldn’t have been more skeptical. Perhaps the casting of Chloë Grace-Moretz calmed the nerves of some, but I imagine that it could not have done much until the film was released. And when the film was finally released, most people, including myself, were shocked that this particular remake was just as good, maybe even better than the original. Kind of makes me want to watch both movies back to back now.
For anyone who has seen this film, yeah I know, this isn’t even close to being a horror film, at least in the traditional sense. But those of you who have seen it can testify to the fact that it is one the most disturbing films in recent memory. With a chilling, mostly vocal performance from Pat Healy (also in Cheap Thrills!), the true horrors this film portrays make me cringe just thinking about them. It’s the sort of thing that stops you dead in your tracks and makes you go, “To think this happened in real life…” Witness the horror and let your jaw slowly drop.
Yeah, yeah, sci-fi action thriller, blah, blah, blah, I’m not even trying to listen. This movie is as über-violent as any other on this list and rightfully deserves its place here. At the time of its release, this post-apocalyptic offering from Bong Joon-ho was one of the best action films to come out in quite some time, and it still is. It’s dark, vicious, and absolutely relentless. If you haven’t seen this film yet, stop what you’re doing and go have some fun.
In 2008, The Wrestler was one of the biggest successes of the year, and a welcome return to form for its aging star Mickey Rourke. Aronofsky followed up the film perfectly with its companion piece Black Swan, a film about one dancer’s relentless pursuit of perfection and the dark road that pursuit takes her. Featuring a stunningly committed performance from Natalie Portman in the lead, Black Swan is a hauntingly beautiful journey into one woman’s descent. Also, let’s not pretend that its opening wasn’t one the best scenes in all of 2010.
Out of every single film on this list, I’d say this one is the biggest ‘screw you’ to anyone who has a problem with the films I’ve included. Not every film in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy is a kind of horror film, but damn near every horror fan likely has a soft spot in their heart for each one. Edgar Wright has said that the dangers of prolonged adolescence is a common theme, but what makes this film stand out amongst the others are its additional themes of nostalgia and forgiveness that aid a highly emotional story of long lost friends. Maybe some of you will disagree, but I think The World’s End is the best of the trilogy. All hail the King.
This may be a controversial inclusion, although not because it isn’t strictly a horror film, because it most certainly is. This pristine Australian gem from Sean Byrne was technically released in the festival circuit in 2009, but it would not get any sort of further release until 2012, so what decade it really belongs to is fairly ambiguous. I included it almost because of the fact that this whole list would feel slightly empty without it, because this is as sophisticated – if that’s even possible – and heart-wrenching as torture porn gets. Very rarely has nearly three years been so worth the wait.
Just one film from 2015 on the list? Yeah, that’s bound to change at some point. But as far as horror goes, or even all of cinema, David Gordon Mitchell’s It Follows has been one of the greatest surprises of the year. It is very likely to end as most horror journalists #1 film of the year, and it would not be such a shock to see it appear on top ten lists about all of film in 2015. For the sake of an impending review, that’s all I will say about the movie for now – insert winky-face emoji here.
A two and a half hour game of cat and mouse has never been this devilishly fun. After his fiancée’s gruesome murder, a police detective chases after the serial killer responsible. Choi Min-sik, the legendary hammer-wielding icon of Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, delivers a riveting turn as Kyung-Chul, the film’s frightening villain, and the 360-degree taxi scene is undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best, action set piece of the decade so far. Needless to say, those two and a half hours race by with mind-blowing action that keeps you salivating for more.
I know that this phrase has probably been written and spoken to death, but not since Wes Craven’s Scream has a deconstruction of the genre been so entertaining. I would not have written a research paper about this film had I not loved it so much. As far as I’m concerned, that doesn’t make me biased; its enjoyment level is simply a fact. There are so many details, large and small, that this film lovingly pokes in the ribs; very little isn’t glossed over. Brilliant writing and a batshit-insane final act make this movie a must watch – ironic since it underperformed at the box office. Fear the unicorn.
If you know me, have seen the film, or have watched it with me, you know that this was the obvious pick for #1. Even after watching it three separate times, it still terrifies me. Very few films scare me at all; much less keep scaring me with multiple viewings. There may still be half of a decade left, but I still find it hard to believe that The Babadook can be topped. Although of course, I can be proven wrong. Dear filmmakers, PROVE ME WRONG.
Like I said, this list is liable to change quite a bit in a few months and definitely the next few years. If you have problems with my list, take it up with JT. Except don’t, because JT is awesome.