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The 50 Greatest Horror Films of the 21st Century

20

Martyrs (2008)

Writer-director Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs leaves you with the scopophilic equivalent of shell shock. The gauntlet that his film’s heroine, a “final girl” who’s abducted and tortured by a religious cult straight out of a Clive Barker novel, is forced to endure is considerable. Which is like saying that King Kong is big, Vincent Price’s performances are campy, and blood is red. Laugier’s film is grueling because there’s no real way to easily get off on images of simulated violence. The film’s soul-crushing finale makes it impossible to feel good about anything Laugier has depicted. In it, Laugier suggests that there’s no way to escape from the pain of the exclusively physical reality of his film. You don’t watch Laugier’s harrowing feel-bad masterpiece; you’re held in its thrall. Abandon hope all ye who watch here. Abrams

19

Diary of the Dead (2007)

Positing itself as a final assemblage from some unspecified point in the future, so that it plays as a strange, Nostradamus-like amalgam of retrospective and prophecy, George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead gleefully engages with themes of spectatorship and subjectivity. It’s the most labyrinthine and multifaceted of the director’s Dead films, possessing a master’s grasp of visual/aural interplay, in addition to a wicked mix of humor and pathos. In Romero’s universe, a deaf, scythe-wielding Amish dynamiter is at once a ridiculous figure of fun and a tragic hero prone to a selfless (and gruesome) act of martyrdom. Keith Uhlich

18

The Wailing (2016)

Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing is a work of thriller maximal-ism, thriving on genre crosspollination and tonal hyperbole, particularly a destabilizing contrast of broad comedy with ultraviolent portentousness. Na is an atmospheric reveler who sets the film’s narrative traps so gradually that we come to accept his increasingly insane plot as inevitable. He’s at once fashioned a hangout movie, luxuriating in the eccentricities of the story’s village locals, and a relentlessly precise and momentous supernatural thriller, with two ingenious climaxes that each juxtapose dueling interrogations, revealing men to exhibit little grasp of the world that engulfs them. Bowen

17

Wolf Creek (2005)

A beautiful expression of existential terror that doesn’t come with the noxious sexual baggage that typically dooms its horror ilk, Wolf Creek immediately stands apart from the pack, beginning with the stunning image of sunset-tinted waves crashing onto the sands of an Australian beachfront. For a split second, this expressionistic shot resembles a volcano blowing its top, and the realization that it’s something entirely more mundane exemplifies the unsettling tenor of the film’s casual shocks. Like two of the best horror films of the 1980s, Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, Wolf Creek is propelled by a lyrical sense of doom, and the ease with which director Greg McLean creates a compelling sense of place and characters worth rooting for is truly something to behold. Gonzalez

16

The House of the Devil (2009)

Though The House of the Devil is so steeped in nostalgia for the genre films of yore that it seems to belong far more to the 1980s than to the present day, it nevertheless carved a perfect niche for itself in late-aughts cinema. Ti West deals in nail-biting suspense and dread, making him a welcome outlier among his more gore-obsessed contemporaries: Each time the filmmaker punctuates one of The House of the Devil’s long periods of placidity and unease via an abrupt act of violence, the moment feels earned, even necessary, rather than tacked on. It’s a film that both relies on and rewards the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks of its slow-going narrative, a refreshing change of pace from the mindless horror fodder it surpasses with such ease and gravitas. Nordine

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