Director: Mike Flanagan
Writers: Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel
Stars: John Gallagher Jr., Kate Siegel, Michael Trucco
A secluded house in the middle of nowhere. A family terrorised by an outsider trying to drive them slowly mad before off-ing them one-by-one. You’ve probably seen this premise unravel a thousand times before, but you probably haven’t seen it delivered through such a unique twist. For Mike Flanagan’s follow-up to the superb Oculus, he and his wife Kate Siegel (who also stars) decided to pen a screenplay using the bare bones of that idea with a deaf woman as the lone character singled out by a masked madman.
Without access to that one sense, which most horror films rely on to convey fear, things have to get inventive. Watching events unfold via her point-of-view, a soundless space, somehow makes the film more terrifying. And even though the killer has multiple opportunities to finish her off, the fact that he chooses to draw things out even more so just adds to the whole bloody affair.
Director: Levan Gabriadze (as Leo Gabriadze)
Writer: Nelson Greaves
Cast : Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson
One of the first screencast screamers that plays out exclusively via MacBook screen capture, Unfriended has lost none of its menace. It maintains its core scares despite the breakneck speed at which tech moves on. You can overlook the small touches that date it in favour of its truly bone-jangling premise. A bunch of high-schoolers hang out on Skype, only to discover their conversation is hijacked by an unknown user.
It’s shortly revealed that the account belongs to a former classmate who committed suicide the previous year, and is now on the prowl for sweet payback. Terror ensues as the gang are mercilessly taunted, isolated in their individual homes, by the vengeful spirit. While it’d be easy to dismiss the terror inflicted on these teens, as surely they can just log off, that’s the point the film urges you to chew over: how can you run for your life when you’re utterly addicted to your digital presence?
Gerald’s Game (2017)
Director: Mike Flanagan
Writers: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard, Stephen King
Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carl Struycken, Henry Thomas
Stephen King’s hot streak brings with it an adaptation many said was unfilmable. This recent stab, another Mike Flanagan film, proves those naysayers wrong. This is perhaps the most loyal King adaptation, bringing a tome shuddering to life that consists mostly of a woman chained to a bed, alone, in the middle of nowhere. That woman is Jesse (Carla Gugino), whose husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), drives her to a peaceful retreat for a weekend of nookie and $200 steak.
His ticker gives up and she’s left handcuffed to the bedposts with a strange dog for company… oh, and a creeping demon with red eyes that lurks in the shadows when night falls. Carla Gugino’s stunning performance piles on the layers of horror from throughout Jesse’s past, until the sting in the tail you won’t see coming.
Director: Zak Hilditch
Writers: Zak Hilditch, Stephen King
Cast: Thomas Jane, Molly Parker, Billy Schmid, Kaitlyn Bernard, Brian d’Arcy James, Neal McDonough
Is there such a thing as the perfect murder? While 1922 doesn’t strictly dabble with that query, it does dive into the next best thing: what guilt does to a man after committing one. Another King adaptation, this Netflix Original hails from director Zak Hilditch, who opts for the long, steady-paced tale. Things open on farmer Wilf James (Thomas Jane) as he struggles to deal with his wife Arlette’s (Molly Parker) aspirations. After inheriting a large plot of land, her plan is to sell it so they can move to the city with their son.
Wilf, a rancher at heart, is reviled by her plans, so opts for the only remaining choice: he plots to kill her. Unlike other King adaptations, that boast flashy villains and shocking twists, this is old-school horror. If you like your scares with a hint of the gothic to them and are more intrigued by the darkness that lingers inside of people rather than the boogeyman, this is for you.
Director: Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke
Writer: Yolanda Ramke
Cast: Martin Freeman, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter, Caren Pistorius, Kris McQuade, Natasha Wanganeen, Bruce R. Carter, Simone Landers, David Gulpilil
In a similar fashion to Ravenous, Cargo upends the racy, blistering zombie traditions of recent years to tell a quieter, character-driven story. Opening on an infectious pandemic well underway, Martin Freeman leads the pic as Andy, a man keen to figure his way through the apocalypse with his wife and baby girl by his side. Almost immediately Andy’s circumstance spirals out of control, forcing him to confront his worst nightmares while ensuring his family’s ultimate survival.
This isn’t your typical undead yarn, however. First off, it’s situated not in a bustling cityscape but instead the Australian outback, lovingly photographed as both a sight to behold and fear. Elsewhere, the movie pilfers new themes from the end of days predicament, such as the scramble over rations as commentary on the wasteful nature of modern day living. It examines a parent’s love for their child, and how that takes precedence when time winds down. Freeman’s dedicated performance is what sells the core message; the deep reserve of unconditional love we each possess is the only true tool we need for survival.
The Endless (2017)
Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Writer: Justin Benson
Cast: Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson, Callie Hernandez
Ever feel as if there is nothing new under the cinematic sun? I’m almost certain that’s what led filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead to craft each of their films, including their latest, The Endless. A seemingly “normal” tale of two brothers who, as teenagers, escaped the clutches of a cult, is flipped into a realm David Lynch would feel right at home in. This is not your normal genre outing, folks, as the siblings decide to return to their former homestead and discover that the cult is the least of their worries.
First of all, so you can say you saw one of Benson and Moorhead’s earliest movies before the rest of the world caught on. Their horror sci-fi genre mash-up is a glorious headfuck of a movie, a deep dive into the human condition and how we respond to the monstrous – whether it’s a towering beast, or something inside of us.
The Perfection (2019)
Director: Richard Shepard
Writers: Eric C. Charmelo (as Eric Charmelo), Richard Shepard | 1 more credit »
Cast: Allison Williams, Alaina Huffman, Steven Weber
Good at guessing twists? The Perfection acknowledges your arrogance and ceremoniously barfs all over it. This body horror supreme rages and twists, a schlock-filled delight that barely lets up until you’ve regurgitated your lunch, that is. There’s a reason everyone couldn’t stop talking about this campy Netflix Original at time of release: it’s a dizzying trip into the terrifying world of… classical musicianship.
You heard. Get Out’s Allison Williams channels that same energy to play cellist Charlotte whose rivalry with Logan Browning’s similarly-talented string plucker Lizzie spirals out of control. While that might sound like a ‘90s thriller, this is pure modern horror. It admittedly ventures into some rather over-the-top scenarios, but that’s where most of its deliciously deranged entertainment lies. This is a bizarre yarn of revenge that unspools through a number of interesting themes.
Under the Shadow (2016)
Director: Babak Anvari
Writer: Babak Anvari
Cats: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi
A film with a PG rating can’t be really scary… can it? Under the Shadow, dubbed Iran’s version of The Babadook, aims to dismantle that theory in the most terrifying way possible. Taking place during the Iran-Iraq war, tensions are already high for the residents of Tehran, and especially for one unlucky family. Married couple Iraj and Shideh, find themselves split up over the course of an evening, when Iraj is called away, leaving his wife and their daughter Dorsa to wait out the night in their apartment. Thing is, there might be something worse than a missile attack awaiting them…
A genuinely scary horror, with a ripe, tense atmosphere that’s largely absent of violence and gore, Under the Shadow channels some deep-rooted fears about Iran’s cultural climate, twisting them into a living, breathing terror. Shideh is also a much welcome addition to the horror canon, refusing to idly sit by while evil is at work, and instead taking action to protect her child.
Director: Gareth Evans
Writer: Gareth Evans
Cast: Dan Stevens, Richard Elfyn, Paul Higgins
Gareth Evans might seem an unusual choice to lens a slow-burn period horror, but somehow? Apostle works. Fans of The Witch will get a kick out of this Netflix Original horror that stars Dan Stevens as Thomas Richardson, a man who returns home to learn his sister has fallen afoul of a cult. Desperate to rescue her, he ventures to the secluded isle, willingly embracing (Michael Sheen) and his flock under the guise of a recent convert in order to locate his missing sibling.
Evans puts a pause to kinetic flourishes brought to life in his signature efforts, The Raid and The Raid 2. Here, he opts for a slower pace to the hidden horrors of the hazy, misty Welsh town. A slew of subplots steer Stevens’ wanderer all over the map in his dogged pursuit, showcasing Evans’ eye for making the bleak beautiful, and the horrific truly mesmerising.
Creep 2 (2017)
Director: Patrick Brice
Writers: Mark Duplass, Patrick Brice
Cast: Karan Soni, Mark Duplass, Desiree Akhavan
Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass’ Creep (see below) blasted onto the horror scene leading the mumblegore pack with its quiet, simple aspirations that proved utterly terrifying. How do you follow up a trendsetter like that? Easy. Push the concept further. For the sequel, Duplass returns as the titular creep, emboldened by his past murderous exploits to embrace his ego even moreso. This time around he hires a videographer to chronicle a day in his life, wherein he unveils his true villainous self, with the promise that he won’t kill her over the next 24 hours.
Following Duplass into a facsimile spate of killings would have been the swiftest route to a second chapter in the Creep franchise. Yet Creep 2 steers deeper into its psychopath’s neuroses, to explore topics such as: what happens when serial murderers feel disillusioned with their “work”? What’s the cure for a melancholic killer? Found footage horror receives a genuine facelift in this thoroughly unnerving and jump scare-ridden sequel. Bring on Creep 3.
(Image credit: Netflix)