Head-Turner: Twenty Noteworthy Modern Horror Films


Jackson Wyatt, Digital Editor-in-Chief


While it is very popular, modern horror often gets a bad name. When conversations around it appear, they are usually surrounding big-budget, paranormal blockbusters stuffed with the same plot about haunted houses, creepy little girls and moving furniture. Oh, and let us not forget about the dreaded jump-scare, overused loud noises taking the place of any actual terror. Like any other genre plagued by cliches (and that applies to all of them), there will always be masterpieces hidden under the remakes of remakes and unnecessary sequels of movies that never worked in the first place. At the end of the day, it all has to do with what works for you, and hopefully the following films I selected from the past ten-ish years will peak your interest.



1. Hereditary (2018)

Dir. Ari Aster

Starring Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne

Overripe with a potent mix of supernatural scares and emotional trauma, the feature-length debut from director Ari Aster will crawl under your skin and stay there. After their matriarch dies, the Graham family is plunged into a sea of grief, danger and occult intervention. Toni Colette gives one of the best performances of the last decade, and Aster’s brutal writing is sure to make Hereditary a hard film to forget. Many movies can scare you, but this one will rattle you to your core.

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2. It Follows (2014)

Dir. David Robert Mitchell

Starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi

The concept behind David Robert Mitchell’s sophomore effort It Follows is so captivating that it almost sounds too good to be properly executed: A shape-shifting demon is passed between people through sexual intercourse, continuously hunting down its next victim until they transfer it to someone else. Luckily, Mitchell crafts a miraculous work, blending together careful camera work, a wonderfully 80’s-inspired score and a boat-load of stalker-induced dread. Come for the terror, stay for the ingenuity.

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3. The Witch (2015)

Dir. Robert Eggers

Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie

Set in 17th-century New England, Robert Eggers’ debut feature is an enveloping film that uses its historical context and heavy atmosphere to sink its claws in deep. After being banished from their community, a family starts a new life on the edge of the wilderness, secluded and vulnerable. As things start going awry, fingers are pointed and accusations of witchcraft begin. While The Witch takes time to unfurl in all of its unpleasant glory, the journey and pay-off is so devilishly delicious that you will not mind a second.

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4. The Babadook (2014)

Dir. Jennifer Kent

Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney

Deserving of the tsunami wave of praise it received, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook takes the tribulations of motherhood and blows them up to a horrifying extent. After her son discovers a scary children’s book in their house, the widowed Amelia has to deal with his increasingly stressful behavior and the looming presence of a malevolent creature. Its mounting tension is sure to thrill, and actress Essie Davis is an absolute powerhouse in her role, providing the film’s blackened heart. Creature features have never looked so good.

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5. mother! (2017)

Dir. Darren Aronofsky

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfieffer

The backlash and mixed critical reception to Darren Aronofsky’s mother! may be a red flag to some, but it only proves how polarizing of a film it is. After a couple settles down into their newly renovated home, a series of uninvited guests shove themselves into their lives and drag them towards a rising tide of madness. Jennifer Lawrence turns out her best performance to date as the empathetic protagonist, and Aronofsky’s slow descent into absolute chaos is sure to make your head spin. While the title suggests a sense of comfort and familiarity, mother! is anything but.

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6. Raw (2016)

Dir. Julia Ducournau

Starring Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella

Released around claims of theater and festival-goers vomiting and fainting from the on-screen gore, Julia Ducournau’s Raw is much more than a simple shock-factor film. After a vegetarian student is forced to eat raw meat during a hazing ritual, she finds herself feverishly drawn to it, eventually escalating from uncooked chicken to humans. Ducournau holds nothing back, aiming for both nauseating body horror and a more profound sense of dread. All-in-all, Raw is smart, terrifying and the oddest coming-of-age film you will ever see. That is, if you can stomach it. 

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7. Suspiria (2018)

Dir. Luca Guadagnino

Starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth

Loosely based on Dario Argento’s 1977 classic of the same name, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria has a looming presence and unshakable atmosphere many films struggle to find. After joining an esteemed dance company in Cold-War-era Berlin, an American woman becomes dangerously entangled with the directors’ mysterious practices and occult powers. The entire cast pulls off impressive performances, and Guadagnino’s patient pace and use of tension ensures that Suspiria will have you in the palm of its hand. 

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8. Cam (2018)

Dir. Daniel Goldhaber

Starring Madeline Brewer, Devin Druid, Patch Darragh

Continuously gripping and refreshingly in-the-know, Daniel Goldhaber’s Cam blends together the fear of the unknown and the mystery of the internet to a satisfying success. After getting locked out of her account, a rising cam-girl wakes up to find out that it has been taken over by someone who looks exactly like her. As she gets closer to the truth, her life unravels further and further into a mind-boggling, dread-inducing mess. Madeline Brewer radiates pure charm as the film’s lead, and Cam is so effortlessly entertaining that you will never want to log off.

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9. Us (2019)

Dir. Jordan Peele

Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss

As the much-anticipated follow-up to his lauded debut Get Out, Us sees writer/director Jordan Peele up his stakes to an exhilarating extent. A family takes a vacation to the mother’s childhood beach house, where they are confronted by their murderous doppelgangers in the middle of the night. Chaos ensues, tethered by Peele’s excellent attention to detail, an elastic sense of tone and wonderful performances. Us may showcase the bad side of everyone, but it is practically flawless itself.

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10. It (2017)

Dir. Andrés Muschietti

Starring Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis

Andrés Muschietti’s recent adaptation of the well-known Stephen King tale feels like a watershed moment for modern, main-stream horror, combining a widespread appeal with focused craftsmanship to a satisfying result. In a small Maine town, a group of children are stalked by a shape-shifting being that often takes the form of a clown. The concept is a gift that keeps on giving, and It finds a way to burrow under your skin and have you reaching for a nightlight, regardless of age.

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11. Enemy (2013)

Dir. Denis Villeneuve

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Isabella Rossellini

The doppelganger trope has definitely been explored before, but under the guidance of auteur Denis Villeneuve, Enemy feels startlingly fresh and unpredictable. After discovering an extra in a movie scene that looks exactly like him, a college professor hunts the man down and deals with the uncomfortable implications. While it is not outright terrifying, Enemy is filled to the brim with tension and dread, threatening to overflow at any moment. Jake Gyllenhaal gives two amazing performances, and the dark, psychological hallways Villeneuve spreads out are too interesting not to explore.

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12. Assassination Nation (2018)

Dir. Sam Levinson

Starring Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef

Fully realized and shockingly brutal, Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation is a Molotov cocktail of sugary thrills and stomach-churning anxiety. After everyone in a small town is hacked and their information is exposed to the public, a group of high schoolers watch society crumble and violence erupt. The film feels akin to watching a car accident compilation, anticipating destruction and cringing when it happens anyway. Smart, witty and wholly terrifying, though, Assassination Nation is anything but a wreck.

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13. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Dir. Dan Trachtenberg

Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.

As the semi-follow-up to Matt Reeves’ 2008 found-footage monster flick, Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane feels like an exact inverse of its predecessor. Instead of large-scale destruction, Lane aims to be a small-scale affair, focusing on three survivors in an underground bunker after a supposed attack on the U.S. Details are thin, and distrust rises as one of the occupants begins questioning if there was ever an attack at all. Startlingly claustrophobic and buoyed with electric performances, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an intoxicating chamber piece that you will never want to escape.

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14. The Devil’s Candy (2015)

Dir. Sean Byrne

Starring Ethan Embry, Kiara Glasco, Pruitt Taylor Vince

Heavy metal and horror often go hand-and-hand, but Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy puts a refreshing spin on the pairing while paying homage to both genres’ powers. After a family moves into a new house in the countryside, they are slowly tormented by dark forces and a profoundly disturbed man. As far as darkness goes, The Devil’s Candy is often pitch black, applying a grimy atmosphere that threatens to never let up. Byrne never feels gratuitous, though, and the snappy run-time is perfect to let all of the addictively horrifying details unfurl. Rock on.

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15. A Dark Song (2016)

Dir. Liam Gavin

Starring Catherine Walker, Steve Oram, Susan Loughnane

Unsettling is a perfect descriptor for Liam Gavin’s A Dark Song, a claustrophobic piece detailing the rituals of a grieving mother and unstable occultist stuck inside of a house as they attempt to bring her child back to life. Tensions rise as the demands become greater and malevolent spirits begin interfering, sending the pair down a spine-tingling rabbit hole. The performances are great, and Gavin’s creeping atmosphere leaves you feeling like you are witnessing something that was never meant to be seen. Luckily, though, that is not the case, as A Dark Song is a definite must-see.

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16. Gerald’s Game (2017)

Dir. Mike Flanagan

Starring Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken

The Stephen-King-penned concept is so profoundly nerve-racking that it leads the mind to start imagining the worst: After her husband has a heart attack during foreplay, a woman is hand-cuffed to a bed in their remote beach house, miles away from help and completely vulnerable. In Mike Flanagan’s adaptation, he combs through possibilities more horrible than you could ever think up, though, balancing real-world threats with a deep psychological analysis of the trapped protagonist. Carla Gugino gives a powerhouse performance, and Gerald’s Game is so hypnotizingly terrifying that it is hard to look away from. That is, if you choose to play the game. 

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17. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)

Dir. Oz Perkins

Starring Kiernan Shipka, Emma Roberts, Lucy Boynton

Similar to the connotations of its working title (February), Oz Perkins’ The Blackcoat’s Daughter is shatteringly cold and bleak, creeping through its run-time like a slow-moving frost. After their parents fail to pick them up, two girls are left at their prep school over winter break with a shadowy evil watching their every move. The non-linear storyline may be stumping at first, but repeat viewings assure that The Blackcoat’s Daughter stings like a bad case of frostbite. 

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18. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan

Written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a brooding take on the revenge thriller subgenre. As a surgeon grows closer to the son of one of his deceased patients, his family begins suffering from individual cases of an unnamable, debilitating sickness. With purposefully dry performances and a clinical sense of direction, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is thrillingly uncomfortable and filled with a sense of sanitized dread. When Lanthimos makes his final incision, like the medical procedures of the film, it cuts deep.

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19. Annihilation (2018)

Dir. Alex Garland

Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez

Rarely do directors dip their toes into cosmic horror successfully, but Alex Garland’s Annihilation is truly a masterpiece for the subgenre. A team of female scientists travel into a government-quarantined wilderness where an alien substance has altered the genes of wildlife to a terrifying extent. The creatures they encounter are nightmare-inducing themselves, but the intense fear of the unknown Garland lets soak in will fill any viewer with a deep, existential unease. The result is (quite literally) out of this world.

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20. Under the Skin (2013)

Dir. Jonathan Glazer

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Adam Pearson, Paul Brannigan

You would be hard-pressed to find a horror premise more odd than Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. After landing on Earth, an alien disguises itself as an enigmatically attractive woman and lures men back to its house to eat them. That description may conjure up hokey, B-movie connotations, but Under the Skin is anything but. It is dead serious, bristly and blessed with a Kubrick-esque, elliptical cinematography. Some moments are down-right soul-shaking in their questioning of what makes us human, and Scarlett Johansson gives a chilling lead performance. Just like its title, this film is sure to dig deep.

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(All sources from featured films’ Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb pages)