The past five years have been particularly spooky in terms of horror films. After a decade dominated by gore flicks and predictable jumpscares, the contemporary golden age of horror presents films which intelligently build atmosphere and offer something different.
A string of horror films have experimented with refreshing methods to scare following a slew of horror films bearing predictable tactics and forgettable narratives. In the spirit of the Halloween season, here are some recent releases which could be considered modern horror classics.
1. ‘The Conjuring’ (2013)
The release of “The Conjuring” charted the course for horror films to come. It received critical acclaim and exploded at the box office, becoming the highest-grossing R-rated, original, horror film worldwide at the time. The success spawned a sequel and its own cinematic universe including the “Annabelle” series and 2018’s “The Nun.”
The film chronicles a real-life investigation conducted by ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren, focusing on the paranormal events surrounding the Perron family at the Old Arnold Estate in Rhode Island. What ensues is a chilling feature filled with witches, exorcisms and spooky games of “hide and clap.” “The Conjuring” builds an atmosphere of tension and uncertainty, tapping into viewers’ innate fear of the unknown to produce genuine scares.
2. ‘The Babadook’ (2014)
“The Babadook” has become a principal release for independent film and psychological horror. The film investigates the internal quarrel of Amelia (Essie Davis) and the grief surrounding the death of her husband. Her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman) becomes terrified of a children’s book character called the Babadook after Amelia reads the story to him one night, mistaking it for just another children’s book.
It’s a psychological horror bursting with themes of denial and how it embeds Amelia’s grief through the Babadook himself. Viewers never see the Babadook actually attack anyone, but rather psychologically terrorize Amelia as she continues to deny his existence. Moreover, Samuel’s unrest and fear of the Babadook only feeds into her stress. This leads to Amelia’s mental breakdown as she begins to hallucinate the Babadook and becomes more erratic.
Amelia progressively becomes reclusive and begins to embody the very thing she fears, endangering Samuel in the process. This makes the horror revolve around how Amelia’s paranoia and compromised mental health make her the danger. Unease comes from Amelia becoming increasingly aggressive before being forced to confront the grief she has been avoiding.
Following the success of the film, the Babadook character has moved on to become an LGBTQ icon, leaving many Babashook from his Babalooks for the foreseeable future.
3. ‘The Witch’ (2015)
With a subtler approach to horror, “The Witch” may appear to be less than frightening on the surface. A good portion of the film focuses on the turmoil surrounding its outcasted central family and the witch herself makes very few appearances. However, what makes the film work is the unnerving ambience it creates through its religious imagery and suspenseful score.
The witch’s forest is portrayed as a den of evil, a home to the witch and the most frightening rabbit since “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” The cinematography also uses the forest to give perspective on how isolated the main characters are, leaving them at the mercy of the evil to come. The aforementioned religious imagery serves to emphasize the danger the witch poses to the family and how it deals a great toll on their spiritual values.
As witchcraft plagues the family, panic ensues and reveals the more impure characteristics of the parental figures. Distrust naturally forms and the movie hardly ever releases the audience from its tense grip and only becomes more stifling. The audience never gets a full introspective into how the witch will behave and she’s constantly veiled in shadows, leaving the viewer just as muddled by her as the family.
The only onscreen violence depicted occurs between the family, save for a scene with an angry buck, as their paranoia ultimately leads them to harm one another more than the witch herself.
Ultimately, the film takes a creepy turn as the characters become choked of any hope they have left and turn against the female lead. “The Witch” doesn’t display a traditional horror, but one that’s frightening in how evil persists and prevails.
4. ‘A Quiet Place’ (2018)
Theater audiences refused to make a sound during the viewing of “A Quiet Place.” The film’s significant lack of dialogue and exceptional sound mixing unsettle the nerves of many throughout its thrilling premise.
The setting takes place in a near future where supernatural creatures with hypersensitive hearing have wiped out most of human life. The main characters live silently, communicating through American Sign Language in order to remain invisible to these creatures. The cast includes a deaf actress in order to make this form of communication as authentic as possible.
The family is forced to adapt their lifestyle to muffle out as much noise as possible in order to survive. The slightest sounds can provoke these seemingly-indestructible creatures and escape shows to be quite futile from the beginning of the movie. There’s great fright to be had from the animosity these creatures have when provoked yielding some particularly intense scenes.
5. ‘Hereditary’ (2018)
“Hereditary” is a difficult movie to shake off. It starts off downhill and only accelerates without ever leaving time to catch your breath. The eerie film features a stellar cast, a grim atmosphere and a sinister soundtrack.
One particularly off-putting daughter has hobbies including arts and crafts involving dead animals and some of the family’s history might be a bit questionable. Every scene is uncomfortable and dread shrouds the entire feature.
Dollhouses built by the mother operate as a metaphor for the vulnerability the family faces as outside supernatural forces start to creep up on them following the death of the grandmother. The family is soon made out to be pawns in a long-awaited terrible satanic ritual where they’re void of any agency. They’re always being observed in some way and, just like the figurines in the dollhouses, they are all powerless of what is to come.
The cast is what makes the film so effective, toying with the viewers’ emotions and instilling pure grief. There is a terrifying climax with unforgettable imagery that is embedded into the viewer, leaving a feeling of anxiety long after witnessing it.