Horror movies have tended to be cyclical in their quality. For every 1987 (the year of Evil Dead 2, Predator and The Lost Boys), there’s a 1988 (the year of Halloween 4 and Hobgoblins). But every now and again we get enough high quality horror over an extended period time to allow us to ignore the dross that tends to get served up in between.
The ‘Teens’ (are we calling it that?) has been one such decade. Since 2010 we’ve seen some modern classics of the genre with some great new talent coming on the scene. Whether you’re looking for blood and gore (Asylum Blackout, 2012) or creepy fake grandparents (The Visit, 2015), the Teens (I’m running with it) have got something for you.
To help narrow down the field, in this article we’ll be discussing 5 of the most immersive and unsettling films of the last nine years. Films that won’t have you jumping out of your seat, but will make you think you’re fine until one day you’re just minding your own business and then you see a black goat and oh god why is he starting at me he’s going to talk GET THAT GOAT AWAY FROM ME!
It Follows (2014)
Writer/director David Robert Mitchell introduces us to world’s most brutal game of tag in It Follows. The story revolves around Jay (Maika Monroe), in a classic case of girl meets boy who gives girl a sexually-transmitted death sentence.
After a night of passion, Jay becomes the recipient of an undead stalker who will follow her, wherever she goes, without stopping. Once our intrepid stalker catches up with its victim, it kills them off before moving on to whoever was being followed before. The only way to avoid a slow, plodding death is to sleep with someone else, who then becomes the target for “It”. Until they die, then it’s right back to you.
On top of all this, you can’t actually tell who “It” is as it regularly changes form. This leads to a lot of very tense moments when the gang don’t know if the person shambling towards them is the entity or just a hung-over student. I was reminded of this on a recent tour of The London Bridge Experience as, what I assumed were mannequins suddenly jumped through a wall and began chasing me. Although admittedly they were a bit quicker.
As the story progresses, Jay and friends try various techniques to escape and then kill “It”, all the while dealing with their feelings of teenage angst for one another (classic). It’s quite the heady combination.
It’s a great concept, and the electro soundtrack adds a layer of eerieness to the atmosphere that ramps up the crushing inevitability of whole situation. And this is what will stick with you long after the film is finished; no matter how far or how fast you go, eventually “It” will catch up to you. It’s enough to put me off tag altogether.
A Quiet Place (2018)
Another favourite childhood game of mine was hide and seek, which was also ruined when I watched A Quiet Place. John Krasinski’s third film follows himself and family trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic America where making noise will get you killed.
After some kind of ecological disaster or invasion (the film is never explicit in explaining what happened – though Krasinski has explained things a little) the world is overrun by a race of blind predators who use their exceptional hearing to track prey, which includes humans. So all the family has to do is never make any sound, ever.
This might have been manageable, one of the daughters is deaf so the whole family knows sign language, but their situation is further complicated by the fact that Emily Blunt’s character is heavily pregnant for much of the film. This leads to an incredibly tense scene where she is trying to give birth without making any noise, which goes about as well as can be expected. Still, it’s their own fault for getting pregnant when the Earth was full of giant lizard things with amazing hearing.
A Quiet Place is a nerve-shredder that makes you genuinely care about the fate of our protagonists. It also provides considerable post movie entertainment if you go about your daily tasks imagining a life where you can’t make a sound.
The VVitch (2016)
Right, let’s talk about the goat. His name is ‘Black Phillip’ and he’s basically a demon in the shape of a black goat who encourages children to do bad things. We meet Phil in writer-director Robert Eggers’ dark and unsettling debut, The Witch.
Set in 17th century New England, The Witch is the story of a Puritan family who, after being excommunicated from their village, are forced to set up their own farm on the edge of a forest. Unfortunately, this forest is also home to an ancient and malevolent witch. When their son disappears, suspicion falls on their oldest daughter, not helped by the fact that the other children accuse her of also being a witch and working for Black Phillip, the aforementioned goat.
The character’s use of language accurate for the time, the superb costumes and the claustrophobia brought on by the endless and ever-near forest make The Witch a truly immersive film, almost overwhelmingly so. There are no jump scares or frightening monsters, just a slow, intense and utterly atmospheric modern horror masterpiece.
A Dark Song (2016)
If an all encompassing forest wasn’t claustrophobic enough, how about a film where two people spend six months in one house? Such is the setting for much of Liam Gavin’s A Dark Song, another directorial debut.
Our story follows Sophia, a mother trying to come to terms with the murder of her young son. In an attempt to speak to her son one last time, she hires antisocial, alcoholic black magic practitioner Joseph Soloman. The pair then undertake a gruelling ritual of trying to get Sophia in touch with her guardian angel who will then help her to find her son. The process involves locking themselves in a remote manor house for half the year and following a strict set of rules, including Sophia having to do everything Joseph says which, unsurprisingly, he abuses.
Related: Our glowing review of A Dark Song.
Using a classic horror film backdrop – that of a grieving parent – A Dark Song touches on a number of other themes, including the occult, domestic abuse and a creepy old house in Wales. The mental strain of the characters as they struggle, both mentally and physically, to reach the end of the process is what makes A Dark Song one of the most intense and immersive films of the decade.
Completing our trio of first time directors is Ari Aster’s Hereditary; a gripping, heart-unsettling, dread-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach-feeling instant classic. After the death of her abusive and secretive mother, Annie, a mother of two teenagers, begins to worry about her own abilities as a mother and the hereditary weaknesses we can’t control. Especially now that grandma’s ghost is trying to insist her 13-year-old daughter Charlie releases the evil that is encoded in the family’s DNA.
Many publications have called this the modern Exorcist, and it’s easy to see why they’d make the comparison. The performances are terrific, especially from Toni Collette as Annie and Alex Wolff, who plays her cool son who slowly regresses into a terrified little boy. The score and the cinematography work together beautifully, the transitions from model houses to their real world equivalents makes everything feel close, the characters almost trapped and cut off from one another.
There are a couple of worn-out horror movie tropes – at one point they hold a candle-lit seance, and there’s even an book with spooky looking inscriptions. In other films these might come off a passe, but with Hereditary you’re more than happy to overlook these because the rest of it is just so damn good.
I do not want to watch it again, in the best possible way.