Hasitha Fernando with a selection of horrors from the past decade that you might have missed…
Horror films are a dime-a-dozen, but really good ones? Now that’s a rare commodity. As always some of these good horror films have a tendency of flying under the radar of audiences due to them being indie-films with limited engagements or simply because they were swept under the gigantic tsunami of blockbuster madness, eventually becoming forgotten. And so – in no particular order – are eighteen such horror films which debuted during the past decade which are absolutely worth your time. In compiling this list, I have steered clear of all mainstream horror franchises, as well as more well-known independent affairs such as The Witch, Hereditary and The Babadook.
Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
Directed by Peter Strickland
Starring Toby Jones, Antonio Mancino, Fatma Mohamed
A timid sound engineer gets more than he bargained for when he unexpectedly starts working for an Italian Giallo film.
One of the most underrated British horror films out there, Berberian Sound Studio received high praise during its debut, eventually going on to nab multiple prizes at the British Independent Film Awards held the same year. The film functions as a deliciously twisted tribute to the Italian Giallo horror sub-genre which achieved popularity in the 70’s. But its biggest impact is demonstrating the instrumental role ‘sound’ plays in the context of a horror film. There are three elements to a film’s soundtrack- music, sound effects and dialogue-and the narrative of Berberian Sound Studio is set around this intricate postproduction process. Featuring a captivating central performance by Toby Jones bolstered by some excellent technical contributions, Berberian Sound Studio will immerse your senses in its icy-cold atmosphere of perpetual dread and pummel you senseless with its psychedelic phantasmagoria as you get sucked into its vortex-of-madness, just like its innocuous protagonist.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh
In an isolated Iranian ghost-town, the townspeople are unaware they are being stalked by a lonesome female vampire.
Undoubtedly the more famous film on this list, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night still deserves a mention simply because more people need to see this singularly unique horror-western hybrid hailing from Iran. What makes this film stand out from the rest of its ilk, is how it interprets the concept of the vampire and what it represents as a character. The decision by Amirpour to treat the vampire as something of an anti-hero was a brilliant move, because it makes the character seem human and more relatable. In Amirpour’s on words, ‘A Vampire is many things; a serial killer, a romantic, a historian, a drug addict-they’re sort of all these things in one.’ And in this neo-noir gothic horror drama the vampire is all that and much more. There’s a lot to admire in this heady brew of weirdness but the exquisite cinematography by Lyle Vincent and the haunting soundtrack composed of well-placed needle drops are clear stand outs, along with the strong performances dished out by the lead performers. Even if you’ve watched this do give this a second viewing. I assure you, that you won’t regret it.
A Dark Song (2016)
Directed by Liam Gavin
Starring Steve Oram, Catherine Walker
A determined mother and a broken occultist enact an ancient Abramelin ritual, with dire consequences.
Like Berberian Sound Studio, this indie film also falls into the category of horror films that will unsettle you with its foreboding atmosphere and ominous visuals. Starting off more as a traditional psychological horror affair the movie metamorphoses into full-scale theological horror film by its third act as the dysfunctional duo of grief-stricken mother and emotionally volatile occultist try to enact an ancient Abramelin ritual. This sudden shift in tone, although an unexpected surprise, works well within the context of the narrative and expands on the themes of grief, loss and redemption explored through the film. The tremendous performances by the leads only add to this unforgettable journey, making it that more impactful. Seek out this underrated gem, right now.
Ghost Stories (2017)
Directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman
Starring Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther
A skeptical professor embarks on a terrifying journey to find the truth about three unexplained cases of the paranormal.
Based on their 2010 stage play of the same name, Ghost Stories is an anthology of creepy supernatural tales which harkens back to British horror films of the past. Although there are plenty of unnerving moments and frightening imagery scattered throughout the story, its main focus is on the exploration of past traumas and the eventual toll they take on all of us. Ghost Stories doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but it achieves much by subverting genre tropes and adding its own brand of macabre twists; all of which culminate in a brilliantly unanticipated finale that will make your head spin. If unsettling psychological horror is your particular brand of Vodka, go for this one.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
Directed by André Øvredal
Starring Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Olwen Catherine Kelly
Two coroners stumble upon a dark secret while trying to determine the cause of death of an unknown young woman.
Coming off the success of the Norwegian found-footage mockumentary Trollhunter director André Øvredal decided to ditch the shaky-cam aesthetic in favour of a more traditional approach, for his next effort. And to say that his decision panned out, is a little bit of an understatement. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a fantastic, nail-biting scare fest from start to finish filled with some great chilling moments. Atmosphere is the key here, and Øvredal has done an amazing job by creating the right atmosphere which in turn ratchets up the tension and sense of unease. The setting itself-an old-fashioned underground coroner facility- is the stuff of nightmares. Hirsch and Cox, both talented actors in their own right, deliver powerful performances as an estranged son and father trapped in a carnival of hellish horrors they cannot escape from. If you thought immobile corpses aren’t scary, think again.
Goodnight Mommy (2014)
Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala
Starring Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz
Two twin brothers begin doubting their mother, when she returns home from a life-altering facial reconstruction surgery.
This psychological horror film was Austria’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards a few years back. Despite not garnering a much-deserved nomination the film received universal acclaim from critics the world over. At its core it is a deep-dive exploration of the extremes people go to, in order to cope with grief and loss. The ambiguous tone with which the narrative unspools makes us suspect all the characters inhabiting its story and therein lies its true genius. The violence which borders on torture-porn territory maybe a tad excessive at face value, but in the end, you will realize it too has a purpose within the context of the film. A deeply unsettling suspense-thriller from start to finish, Goodnight Mommy is certain to get under your skin and stay there… long after the credits roll. It’s that good.
Under the Shadow (2016)
Directed by Babak Anvari
Starring Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian, Arash Marandi
A mother and daughter are tormented by a malevolent entity, as they shelter from the fallout of the Iraq-Iran war.
An expertly crafted first effort by Iranian-born London based film-maker Babak Anvari, Under the Shadow became UK’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars that year. Narges Rashidi perfectly embodies the frustration of a modern woman trapped by her obligations to family and religion. Like all human beings she too has grand dreams and lofty ambitions, but as a mother it also means that she must turn her back on these. Although Under the Shadow is by and large, very much a ‘horror film’ it addresses myriad themes that range from gender based cultural conformity, freedom of expression (and lack thereof) as well as existential angst. At its core this harrowing drama is about a family struggling to keep their bonds intact, whilst being besieged by forces both worldly and supernatural. An absolute must see.
The Wailing (2016)
Directed by Na Hong-jin
Starring Kwak Do-wan, Hwang Jun-min
With the arrival of a stranger a mysterious sickness starts spreading in a small village. A policeman caught in the crossfire must solve the mystery before it is too late.
There are more than mere shades of The Exorcist, Ringu, Ju-on and I Saw the Devil in South Korean director Na Hong-jin’s cleverly crafted supernatural yarn The Wailing. Cherry picking the best aspects of the aforementioned, the film seamlessly amalgamates East-Asian mythology, noir-detective thrillers and familiar horror tropes into one unique tale fraught with darkness and sprinkled with humor. Even with its deliberately slow pace and lengthy runtime there’s still never a dull moment in the film, which speaks volumes of Hong-jin’s skill as a director. He takes his time and trusts the audience will stay with him, which we certainly do. The performances all-round are top-notch, with each selling their respective characters in a convincing manner. The moody cinematography by Hong Kyung-pyo (Parasite) is worth a special mention here. In a cinematic landscape choking on subpar horror films filled with predictable jump scares and nonsensical creative choices The Wailing is akin to a breath of fresh air.
The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
Directed by Nicolas Pesce
Starring Kika Magalhães, Olivia Bond, Diana Agostini, Paul Nazak
A little girl’s idyllic life is shattered by a traumatic childhood incident, which gives rise to dark urges that seep into her adulthood later on.
The Eyes of My Mother is a bit of an unusual concoction, in that it infuses a vivid array of vastly disparate influences in to one fairly satisfying whole. These different elements range from Gothic romance, torture-porn, twisted-family drama and psychological horror. Clearly taking a page from the monochromatic visual aesthetic Ana Lily Amirpour so brilliantly adopted for her debut film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, filmmaker Nicholas Pesce too has crafted some equally arresting imagery that somewhat offsets the film’s disturbing content. Kudos to cinematographer Zach Kuperstein for his tremendous contribution here. So, if you are in the mood for some twisted-horror complemented by stunning imagery look no further.
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