The digital revolution that had begun to take a firm hold in the 1990s really hit its stride at the beginning of this decade thanks in no small part to the common use of Internet-connected digital devices. In 2011, Netflix split its subscription services into two offerings: one for streaming and another for physical media. It was a move that heralded the necessity for the film industry to focus on streaming and digital media consumption. But digital didn’t just affect consumers, but filmmakers as well. Lowered production costs and a much wider array of camera choices, at cheaper prices, meant a lot more voices could enter the arena. Throw in the wider spread use of social media, where feedback became instantaneous, and the gap between fan and filmmaker became irrevocably closer.
While the digital takeover allowed for new voices to emerge, this decade also saw visionaries who’d broken onto the scene in the last decade hone their craft into mastery levels all while mentoring the next wave of horror directors, like James Wan and his Atomic Monster Productions company. Apply that to the current political, social, and economic climate and we’re left with what’s shaping up to be one of the best decades for horror (and it’s seems to only be picking up in speed). Though there’s still time left for much more fantastic horror films to arrive, here’s the best so far:
The power duo Leigh Whannell and James Wan ring in the new decade with the birth of a new franchise, this time giving the haunted house trope a new lease on life. It’s the movie that cemented Wan’s status in horror and laid the foundational work for his later success in The Conjuring. Combining hauntings with astral projection and a uniquely imagined version of the afterlife dubbed The Further, where all its inhabitants wore the same spooky grin, made for an engrossing take. Wan and Whannell displayed a knack for delivering scares, of which Wan would soon master wholly, and Lin Shaye became the franchise scene stealer as Elise.
I Saw the Devil (2010)
A plot that sees a secret agent entering a cat and mouse game with a ruthless serial killer after the latest victim makes things personal, this screams more thriller than horror. Except, Jee-woon Kim doesn’t hold back on the viscera, unleashing a torrent of brutal violence upon the victims by the cannibalistic-rapist killer. The protagonist turns into a monster himself in his quest for revenge, creating a grueling assault on the senses. Ironically, Kim was forced to recut the film after the Korea Media Rating Board objected to the violent content, which makes you wonder just how brutal the original cut must have been.
Let Me In (2010)
This English-language adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel Let the Right One In came just two years after the Swedish film. The director’s seat was offered to Tomas Alfredson, the director of the Swedish film, before it was officially handed over to Matt Reeves, who also wrote the screenplay. Reeves managed to retain the very essence of what the original film and novel so great while making it completely his own. It’s so good, that it actually surpasses the Swedish film. I know. Bold statement, but I stand by it.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
Eli Craig flips the script on the cabin in the woods slasher by telling the story through the lens of the hillbillies who slaughter preppy college kids that cross their paths. Poor Tucker and Dale just want to vacation in their dilapidated mountain cabin alone, but these crazy college kids just keep coming around and offing themselves in gruesome ways. Gloriously bloody deaths and a clever script makes for a fun horror comedy as it is, but it’s the memorable performances of Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine as Tucker and Dale that will leave you quoting lines like, “Oh hidy ho officer, we’ve had a doozy of a day. There we were minding our own business, just doing chores around the house, when kids started killing themselves all over my property.”
Sleep Tight (2011)
After creating [Rec] just a few short years prior, which was still building its franchise, Jaume Balagueró took the apartment building setting and offered a completely different type of horror. More rooted in reality, Sleep Tight is also inherently far scarier than Balagueró’s previous work. Luis Tosar’s Cesar is downright chilling in his quest to make everyone around him suffer. His fixation on Marta Etura’s Clara, for the simple reason of her being a happy person, is the stuff of nightmares. Playing on the small, seemingly mundane fears of people everywhere, Balagueró amplifies them to the most uncomfortable level. Preying on the invasion of privacy to the point where it invades your subconscious, Sleep Tight will ensure you’ll do anything but.
You’re Next (2011)
A breakout hit for director Adam Wingard and collaborator/screenwriter Simon Barrett, You’re Next subverted the home invasion sub-genre in the best possible with; by having the invaders realize they’ve bitten off more they can chew when one of the home’s guests displays a talent for fighting back. Throw in a unique sense of humor, and you’ve got the making for one of the most fun home invasion horror films ever. The satirical depiction of the Davison family is a delight, as is the ruthless cat and mouse play between Sharni Vinson’s Erin and her animal-masked invaders. The cast of notable indie horror vets like Ti West and Larry Fessenden also helped elevate this one to instant modern classic.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
This one is technically a cheat, as was made before 2010 and the bankruptcy of MGM caused the delay of release by several years. It wasn’t until 2012 (thank you, Lionsgate) that audiences could fall in love with the creative script by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard. The only disappointment about the film is that it makes it impossible for a sequel, despite the endless possibilities thanks to its choose-your-own-adventure concept. At least Goddard and Whedon delivered one hell of a bloodbath finale, throwing in every conceivable creature possible; included a grotesque merman and a killer unicorn. Creative, fun, and gory, this is an all-timer.
Inspired by a nightmare co-writer C. Robert Cargill had after watching The Ring, Cargill and director Scott Derrickson set about creating their own boogeyman. True-crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) discovers the boogeyman, Bughuul, does exist when he finds a box of super 8 home movies featuring grisly family murders. Dark and dreary with moments of humor, like the comedic “Deputy So and So,” makes for a mostly creepy watch that reminds us why children can be so scary.
The Conjuring (2013)
Any question that James Wan was officially a master of horror was erased with the release of this terrifying and heartfelt tale of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s investigation of the Perron family haunting. Modeling the cinematography and atmosphere after ‘70s horror films, Wan somehow made possession films feel new again. With a talented cast led by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine, Wan builds upon all of his previous experience and utilizes them to the fullest to deliver maximum scares all while making you care about the characters.
Evil Dead (2013)
The collective groans upon the announcement of remaking the classic 1981 film turned to collective cheers upon release of Fede Alvarez’s feature debut. Alvarez’s take on the story, which sees five friends gathered in a cabin in the woods who unwittingly unleash demons thanks to a certain book, honors the original’s bleaker take, loaded with practical effects and a literal downpour of blood. Alvarez also paid proper homage to the original in every possible way, if you only look. The car, the Michigan college nods, and more are peppered throughout. A fantastic subversion of the final girl/guy trope, and a masterful use of suspense makes it no surprise that Alvarez would become a hot commodity in horror.
We Are What We Are (2013)
Stake Land’s Nick Damici and Jim Mickle remake the effective Mexican cannibal tale for American audiences, bringing the empathetic take toward its cannibalistic clan with all of the gruesome splendor you’d expect from a cannibal story. Though, not at first. Opening with the death of the Parker family matriarch, the narrative shifts its leisure focus to the children and their struggles with family tradition versus societal expectations. It’s a slow build into a vicious finale, bolstered by a supporting performance by the always fantastic Michael Parks as Doc Barrow, a man with personal ties to one of the Parker family’s human dinners.
It Follows (2014)
David Robert Mitchell’s supernatural horror, which sees Maika Monroe’s Jay followed by an unknown entity following a sexual encounter, is one of the more divisive in horror for its lack of complete answers. Yet that’s precisely what makes this so effective. Mitchell helps his audience relate to the increasingly paranoid Jay by keeping us off-kilter. The season seems to fluctuate from fall to winter to spring and back again with each new scene, and the set details purposefully skew exactly what time period Jay’s plight takes place. That the entity could be anyone makes for a terrifying, paranoid journey with deliberate pacing. Disasterpeace’s great score is addictive and memorable.
Starry Eyes (2014)
Sure, we’ve seen films explore the horrors of aspiring fame before, but none quite so horrific and captivating as what Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch have presented. A breakout role for Alex Essoe as Sarah, the Bit Taters waitress struggling with audition after audition in hopes of making in big one day, her introduction into the Hollywood elite comes with a deadly price. The Hollywood sleaze gives way to grotesque body horror before spiraling into one brutal climax, and yet you still root for Sarah to succeed. The very idea of selling one’s soul for the thing they most covet has never been so skin-crawling.
The Witch (2015)
As divisive as it is atmospheric, Robert Eggers directorial debut is one for the ages. A detailed, authentic view of Puritanical life in the 1630s, one exiled family finds themselves torn apart by witchcraft, black magic, and possession. A breakout role for Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin’s tale is one of slow creeping dread that builds into a freeing or oppressive climax depending on how you view it. The set design and attention to details is stunning, and Black Phillip is an instant icon in horror.
Under the Shadow (2016)
Babak Anvari’s feature debut takes a chilling haunter and applies it to a small apartment building in war-torn Tehran in the 1980s. Living during an oppressive era, Shideh struggles with her place in society. With the looming threat of bombing, a husband whose work assignments have left her alone to care for their daughter, and the lurking presence of a mysterious evil, and Shideh may have reached her breaking point. A unique perspective and historical approach, combined with the fascinating mythology behind the djinn make this ghost story stand out. It helps that Anvari successfully nails his effective jump scares and permeating dread.
The Wailing (2016)
An extremely layered story by writer/director Hong-jin Na follows a bumbling policeman in a small village as it works to unravel the mystery behind a strange sickness that spreads following the arrival of a stranger. Suspicion and hysteria sets in, and the director toggles the line between supernatural and reality until an astonishing final act ties everything back together. Hong-jin Na takes the concept of possession versus police procedural and keeps the viewer guessing until the very end; a very tricky thing to do.
The Devil’s Candy (2017)
Sean Byrne’s long-awaited to The Loved Ones combined satanic forces, heavy metal, and one great family at the center of the chaos. Briskly paced, what makes The Devil’s Candy so compelling is just how much you fall for the Hellman family and how unnerving Pruitt Taylor Vince is in his role as child murderer Ray Smilie. Byrne keeps the satanic forces mostly subtle, focusing instead on Hellman patriarch Jesse’s dalliance with the devil and his sweet relationship with his daughter Zooey. The horror elements are extremely well done, but it’s that you care so much about the fate of these characters that makes The Devil’s Candy one of a kind.
Get Out (2017)
Comedian Jordan Peele blew audiences away earlier this year with his chilling directorial debut that took a blisteringly transgressive approach to his social horror. For Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris Washington, meeting his girlfriend’s family for the first time at their secluded home in the woods is daunting enough considering the interracial aspect of their relationship. But those fears are compounded ten-fold when their polite, welcoming ways masks far more sinister intentions. Peele holds up a mirror up while balancing humor with atmosphere, making for a thrilling ride.
Hounds of Love (2017)
Set in the 1980s in Perth, Australia, Ben Young’s intense debut follows a serial killing couple, John and Evelyn, which abducts young women for John to brutally rape and torture before murdering and disposing. Their latest victim, Vicki, must drive a wedge between the couple if she has any hope for survival. It’s strange to call a film of this ilk as one of the best, considering its dark subject matter, but Young’s masterful framing of his scenes combined with powerhouse performances by its trio of leads makes for one of the most compelling films that will leave you holding your breath throughout and thinking about days later.
The adaptation that Stephen King fans always wanted surpassed everyone’s expectations, and it’s still kicking butt at the box office. Director Andy Muchietti balances the beating heart of the Losers Club with the terrifying menace of It, a shape-shifting evil and devourer of children that happens to like being Pennywise the clown the best. All doubts of anyone stepping into Tim Curry’s clown shoes were erased once they saw Bill Skarsgård in action. This biggest surprise, though, is just how talented the young cast is and how much they endeared their characters to the viewer. As if the cast and scares weren’t enough, Muschietti layers in Easter eggs and nods to the source novel to up the rewatch factor even more. Bring on Part II!
What Ginger Snaps did for werewolves, Julia Ducournau’s stunning debut does for cannibals. Justine’s entry into veterinarian school introduces her to sexual desire, hazing rituals, and oh yeah, eating meat. The hunger for meat grows monstrous in Justine, causing weird body changes and barbaric behavior that may not quite be socially acceptable. Visually stunning, smart, and full of gross-out moments, Raw is an all-time modern classic and a new take on cannibalism.