The 2010s felt like a banner decade for the horror genre. It’s difficult to say that definitively as time is the only thing that can really make that distinction, but as the decade comes to a close, it feels like one that is going to be held up as a “golden era.”
It’s easy to understand why. After a decade filled with remakes, cheap, careless gunk from the likes of Dark Castle and Platinum Dunes, and the “torture porn” movement that metastasized from taking the extreme violence out of the “French New Extremity” (at least in mainstream horror), audiences were yearning for something more adventurous, and filmmakers were more than happy to oblige.
Production companies like Blumhouse with a low-cost business model with creative freedom rose to prominence, as well as streaming services and VOD, essentially ushering in a reimagining of the VHS era, where anything with a marketable audience could be made. Genre-friendly festivals such as Fantastic Fest, Fright Fest, and Beyond Fest became terrific platforms to house new, exciting voices in the genre.
It’s an exciting time for horror movie fans, and as evidence from this list, attempting to break down the decade in merely thirty films is a daunting task. But we did it anyway. These are the films we felt were the best that the 2010s had to offer amidst no shortage of terrific films to choose from; the ones that terrified us, made us recoil, made us think, and had us come out the other end as changed people. Without further ado, let’s get spooky.
“Under the Skin” (2014)
From the enigmatic opening sequence underscored by Mica Levi’s chugging, foreboding strings to its stark conclusion, Jonathan Glazer’s loose adaptation of Michael Faber’s novel is a masterclass in visual storytelling, experiential horror, and perhaps one of the strongest reinforcements of the old Roger Ebert adage that it’s not “what” a film is about, but “how it’s about it.” The plot of an alien creature commandeering the body of a beautiful woman (Scarlett Johansson) to lure lustful, unsuspecting men into their untimely deaths to harvest their organs sounds like the 1995 schlock-fest “Species,” but Glazer merely uses that as the framework to craft an eerie and cinematically-rich look at a creature who slowly learns both the beauty and the terror of human life. Johansson delivers her best performance to date as said alien seductress, perfectly exemplified by the improvisation she pulls off with the non-actor male victims and being convincing in the flirtation while also disguising the fact that she is Scarlett Johansson (coming up short trying to think of another example of sci-fi/horror cinema verite). Haunting, atmospheric, and minimalist, “Under the Skin” may feature an otherworldly creature, but only to show that humanity is truly the horror, and if that doesn’t keep you up with one eye open, not much will. – Ryan Oliver
“Get Out” (2017)
When you see the phrase “Instant Classic” in a review that in turn gets pulled for a quote in a trailer or TV spot, it can often come across as a bit hyperbolic, and maybe even laughable. But if there were a film deserving of that proclamation, that hit the zeitgeist like a lightning rod, creating immediate iconography, adding phrases like “The Sunken Place” into the lexicon, and becoming instantly meme-able for all the right reasons (specifically Bradley Whitford’s Dean Armitage saying, “I would have voted for Obama a third time”), it would be Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning directorial debut. “Get Out” arrived like a necessary powderkeg immediately following Trump’s inauguration; a streamlined, nearly-perfect horror-comedy that factors in the post-racial lie certain white liberals told themselves following Obama’s time in office and the misappropriation of black culture into a modern-day mashup of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Thematic ambition and straightforward, classical storytelling go hand-in-hand beautifully, thanks to Peele’s assured direction, sharp wit, and all-around outstanding performances (specifically Daniel Kaluuya). Narrowly missing this list is Peele’s sophomore effort “Us,” which is equally ambitious and well-made, but more muddled and opaque in its grander themes. Regardless, Peele is just getting warmed up as a filmmaker, and we are lucky to see such an emerging talent in the tail end of this decade. – RO
“The Witch” (2016)
Every horror film worth watching uses atmosphere to its advantage, and for fans of the genre, an impending sense of doom and paranoia are required to leave a memorable impact. Nevertheless, no film released in the 2010s captures a tone that will make you physically sick more than Robert Eggers’ debut feature “The Witch.” Equipped with a storyline approved by The Satanic Temple itself, Eggers crafts a film so tense and uncompromising that it will make you question whether they should be watching the film at all. Coinciding with a supremely talented cast—Anya Taylor-Joy establishes herself as one of the best young actors working today—and a nauseating score by Mark Korven, memorializing this A24-distributed film for achieving this caliber of slow-burn terror is an achievement worth recognizing for the next several decades. Above all else, “The Witch” sets out to scare you, which means that Eggers’ 16th-century nightmare is not a popcorn flick injected with cheap thrills—it’s a spiritual trial masqueraded as a horror movie. — Jonathan Christian
Viewers who were fortunate enough to enter Darren Aronofsky’s theological fever dream “Mother!” knowing absolutely nothing apart from the fact that the movie starred Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem found themselves bearing witness to one of the most daring, bold, and outright weird mainstream releases of the decade. Where should you begin to describe “Mother!” to someone who has never seen or heard of this movie? Do you start with the fact that the movie is basically a convoluted, SparkNotes-esque summary of the biblical Old Testament combined with Aronofsky’s climate change treatise? Technically, you could stop there, but you would be depriving yourself of diving deeper into a challenging, fantasy-horror epic that forces its audience to participate in deciphering a beautifully composed narrative that also happens to feature cannibalism, post-apocalyptic riots and the weirdest Kristen Wiig cameo of all time. As a textbook example of an instant cult classic, “Mother!” fuses visceral psychological horror and spiritual questions into an incendiary Molotov cocktail. — JC
The reviews that greeted Luca Guadagnino’s reimagining of Dario Argento’s seminal giallo horror “Suspiria” were mixed at best, and outright unkind at worst. The film’s detractors claimed it was too dull, too overstuffed with metaphors, lacking the kinky menace and vibrant style of Argento at the height of his powers. We are confident that time will be kind to Guadagnino’s version, which is every bit the equal of the 1977 original – and, in some ways, superior. Guadagnino has said that his initial viewing of Argento’s “Suspiria” as a young man touched him deeply, and it’s clear from his 2018 remake that the director was compelled to dig deeper into the film’s surplus of buried motifs without resorting to the retro-fetishist gimmickry that a more traditional genre-based director may have brought to the table. This “Suspiria” is about inherited trauma, be it the burden of occupying a female body in a patriarchal society, or the crippling psychic cost of nations grieving for sins of the past. It’s heady, potentially alienating stuff, but Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” nevertheless possesses a witchy and seductive style whose centrifugal pull is entirely its own. The final twenty minutes is a veritable riot of unholy and unforgettable imagery, and a sacrificial ode to the profane and repugnant that is tempered by an unusually sorrowful epilogue. – Nicholas Laskin
“The Babadook” (2014)
The Babadook is the latest villain to join the pantheon of horror movie boogeymen. Upon the release of the titular picture, The Babadook has become an instant horror icon. While it has become a viral queer icon, The Babdook still serves as a paralyzing manifestation of grief. As Amelia (Essie Davis) grieves over her husband’s loss, she loses her grip on reality once The Babadook haunts both her and her son (Noah Wiseman). Thanks to the efforts of writer/director Jennifer Kent, “The Babadook” is a continuously unsettling experience. The appearance of the famed antagonist is enough to give one nightmares while its lack of omnipresence indicates Amelia going on the brink of insanity. Not to mention, Essie Davis expertly maps out Amelia’s ambiguity by presenting her as a loving, skeptical mother before unveiling her delirious nature like a snake shedding its own skin. Despite Davis being ineligible, it’s a performance that was tragically overlooked in the Oscar race for Best Actress. She’s the strong center of this psychological chiller that frighteningly enough, feels like child’s play compared to “The Nightingale,” Kent’s follow-up feature. – Matthew St.Clair