A few times in your lifetime, you encounter a film so profoundly original, so well thought out, so exciting that you are certain it will survive the test of time. Horror might be one of the trickiest genres when it comes to depth and inventiveness: we’ve all had our fair share of cheap jump scares and recycled plot twists. Thankfully, some directors genuinely respect the value of horror and can turn the familiar into innovative. Here are some of those terrifying films that will stick with you for years after you’ve watched them.
The Story: A family living alone in a deserted town can’t make a single sound to protect themselves from creatures that kill everything they can hear. But how can you keep quiet when you have children, when you give birth — and how do you prevent a newborn from crying? It’s a groundbreaking, smart horror that leaves you breathless not only because it’s scary: there’s minimal dialogue, and it requires you to focus on actors’ every move and emotion. Like all truly good horrors, it offers so much more beneath the first layer.
Why the critics loved it: “A Quiet Place” grounds its existential fear with a fair amount of emotion, too, convincingly played. Threaded throughout the peril is a simple but effective message about familial love, communication, and sacrifice, and there are just enough small moments — for the cast to convey with their faces between major frights — that serve to deepen things ever so slightly. Robert Abele, TheWrap
The Story: Oskar, a 12-year old boy bullied at school, befriends Eli: a girl that admits she is not really a girl. Yes, she’s a vampire and needs to kill to survive, but as Eli points out, they do have a lot in common besides their loneliness. Oskar is not that different after all, as he yearns for revenge on his bullies, even if it would involve murder…That’s the surface — underneath, you’ll find yourself sympathizing with two children without a childhood, struggling together in a very dark, melancholic and often bizarre story.
Why the critics loved it: Remove the vampire elements, and this is the story of two lonely and desperate kids capable of performing dark deeds without apparent emotion. Kids washed up on the shores of despair. The young actors are powerful in draining roles. We care for them more than they care for themselves. Roger Ebert, RogerEbert.com
The Story: Arguably, this Korean film is already a classic in the zombie horror arena. It was loved by director greats such as Stephen King (“Holy shit, it’s like John Woo meets the zombie apocalypse. This makes THE WALKING DEAD look tame”) and Guillermo del Toro (“Muscular, zero fat, action horror. One of the very best ever made in this sub-genre”). We experience the zombie apocalypse through a couple of passengers contained within one train heading from Seoul to Busan. Among travelers is a self-centered divorced fund manager Seok-woo and Su-an, his little daughter he never seems to find time for. Of course, it’s not the (exceptionally well-designed) zombies that elevated this film into an instant legend: it’s the human resistance in the face of inevitable tragedy.
Why the critics loved it: For decades, movies about the undead have essentially been built on a foundation of fear of our fellow man — your neighbor may look and sound like you, but he wants to eat your brain — but “Train to Busan” takes that a step further by building on the idea that, even in our darkest days, we need to look out for each other, and it is those who climb over the weak to save themselves who will suffer. Social commentary aside, it’s also just a wildly fun action movie, beautifully paced and constructed, with just the right amount of character and horror. Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com
The Story: Jordan Peele has managed to terrify us once again — as per usual, in the best way possible. After his acclaimed social horror Get Out, which explored the terrors of racism, he has decided to delve fully into a more typical horror narrative. As reported by Collider, this film is about something Peele feels “has become an undeniable truth, and that is the simple fact that we are our own worst enemies.” He meant that quite literally: the Wilson family’s vacation is disturbed by four strangers who look exactly like them invading their beach house. “They look like us. They think like us… and they won’t stop until they kill us, or we kill them,” says the mother (Lupita Nyong’o). Who are these monsters called The Tethered? And what’s up with all the rabbits and scissors? Time to dig in and figure it out.
Why the critics loved it: “Peele uses a Biblical quote from Jeremiah 11:11 that suggests even God has turned his back on us. What is never in doubt is that Peele is using the scare genre to show us a world tragically untethered to its own humanity, its empathy, its soul. If that’s not a horror film for its time, I don’t know what is.” Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
The Story: When someone says meta-horror, Cabin in the Woods is likely one of the first titles to pop into mind. The film cleverly builds upon a familiar horror premise: a group of college students heads to a secluded cabin in the woods for a weekend. Even the characters are a cliche: the jock, the nerd, the slut, the virgin, the stoner. Except all the usual bloodsheds and monster attacks are clearly orchestrated by staff working from an underground facility. And there goes another twist — they are not your typical sadistic psychopaths, it’s actually a mission to execute an annual ritual sacrifice to appease the Ancient Ones and save the whole humanity…
Why the critics loved it: “This Drew Goddard-directed effort, co-scripted by genre auteur Joss Whedon, ranks among one of the most wryly self-aware works of American pop culture entertainment in years. Relentlessly toying around with a meta story, “The Cabin in the Woods” is sometimes too clever for its own good. However, by successfully analyzing tired formulas, it gives them new life.” Eric Kohn, Indiewire
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