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The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century
The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century

10

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—rather, you’re held in its thrall. Abandon hope all ye who watch here. Abrams

The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century

9

The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

Guillermo del Toro’s films are rabid commentaries on the suspension of time, often told through the point of view of children. A bomb is dropped from the skies above an isolated Spanish orphanage, which leaves a boy bleeding to death in its mysterious, inexplosive wake. His corpse is then tied and shoved into the orphanage’s basement pool, and when a young boy, Carlos (Fernando Tielve), arrives at the ghostly facility some time later, he seemingly signals the arrival of Franco himself. A rich political allegory disguised as an art-house spooker, The Devil’s Backbone hauntingly ruminates on the decay of country whose living are so stuck in past as to seem like ghosts. But there’s hope in brotherhood, and in negotiating the ghostly Santi’s past and bandying together against the cruel Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), the film’s children ensure their survival and that of their homeland. Gonzalez

The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century

8

Let the Right One In (2008)

Not unlike Matt Reeves’s American remake, Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is, in its color scheme and emotional tenor, something almost unbearably blue. When Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a 12-year-old outcast perpetually bullied at school, meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), the mysterious new girl at his apartment complex, one child’s painful coming of age is conflated with another’s insatiable bloodlust. The film treats adolescence, even a vampire’s arrested own, as a prolonged horror—life’s most vicious and unforgiving set piece. This study of human loneliness and the prickly crawlspace between adolescence and adulthood is also an unexpectedly poignant queering of the horror genre. Don’t avert your eyes from Alfredson’s gorgeously, meaningfully aestheticized vision, though you may want to cover your neck. Gonzalez

The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century

7

Halloween II (2009)

An alternate title for Rob Zombie’s Halloween II could be Sympathy for the Devil. If Michael Myers was almost a phantom presence in John Carpenter’s Halloween, here he’s unmistakably and chillingly real. Throughout, Michael suggests a nomad single-mindedly driven by a desire to obliterate every connection to his namesake, and the scope of his brutality suggests a clogged id’s flushing out. In this almost Lynchian freak-out, whose sense of loss comes to the fore in a scene every bit as heartbreaking as its violence is discomfiting in its graphic nature, Zombie’s prismatic aesthetic is cannily rhymed with Michael’s almost totemic mood swings, every obscenely prolonged kill scene a stunning reflection on an iconic movie monster’s psychological agony. Gonzalez

The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century

6

Antichrist (2009)

Lars von Trier’s two-hander psychodrama Antichrist draws heavily from a rich tradition of “Nordic horror,” stretching back to silent-era groundbreakers like Häxan and Vampyr (and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s later Day of Wrath), in particular their interrogation of moral strictures and assumptions of normalcy. In the wake of their son’s death, He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) follow a course of radical psychotherapy, retreating to their wilderness redoubt, Eden, where they act out (and on) their mutual resentment and recrimination, culminating in switchback brutal attacks and His and Her genital mutilations. Conventional wisdom has it that von Trier’s a faux provocateur, but that misses his theme and variation engagement with genre and symbolism throughout, rendering Antichrist one of the most bracingly personal, as well as national cinema-indebted, films to come along in a while. It’s heartening to see that real provocation still has a place in the forum (let’s not say “marketplace”) of international cinema. Bill Weber

The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century

5

Wolf Creek (2005)

A blistering jolt of existential terror that doesn’t come with the noxious sexual baggage that typically dooms its horror ilk, Wolf Creek begins 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 The Hitcher and Near Dark before it, Wolf Creek is propelled by a lyrical sense of doom, expressing a gripping vision of characters struggling and resisting to be made out by a terror that seems at once terrestrial and alien. Gonzalez

The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century

4

Inland Empire (2006)

Radical even for director David Lynch, Inland Empire suggests the potential emergence of a new medium that remains unfulfilled, a medium that fuses the emotional and narrative containment of cinema with the elusive impermanency of the Internet. The entire history and future of cinema seems to flow intangibly through this film, which suggests, at times, an epic expansion of the visionary imagery from A Page of Madness. Laura Dern’s fearless performance embodies the loss of someone who’s torn between forces that are suggestive of bottomless chaos. It’s one of the most truly terrifying films ever made, but is it a horror movie? It’s every movie. Bowen

The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century

3

Trouble Every Day (2001)

While Trouble Every Day operates, superbly, as a biological-themed horror film, it would cheapen Claire Denis’s achievement to say that she merely literalizes the violent implications of sex, even when manifested as traditional “romantic” lovemaking. The filmmaker expounds on the notion of sex-as-violence with an unnerving clarity that appears to explain why acts of theoretical love and brutality assume such disconcertingly similar outward appearances, as both involve attempts to foster illusions of control where there aren’t any. Theoretically, sex involves a search for communion, intimacy, whereas violence is often an expression of dominance, and Denis shows that intimacy and dominance are similarly impossible concepts to realize with any degree of permanency, if we’re to be truthful with ourselves. Bowen

The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century

2

Under the Skin (2013)

Under the Skin‘s extraterrestrial seductress, Laura (Scarlett Johansson), shrinks in stature as the film progresses, from an indomitable, inviolable man-eating ghoul to an increasingly fragile woman suffering from the psychic trauma wreaked by her own weaponized sexuality. It’s a heartbreaking process to witness, one that flips a sleek, mysterious sci-fi thriller into a singular melodrama focused on the unlikeliest of protagonists. Establishing an atmosphere in which each new intrusion of feeling delivers another blow to the character’s once-steely exterior, director Jonathan Glazer spins out a maelstrom of dread as Laura simultaneously contracts and expands, adapting to the frailty of her assumed human form. Cataldo

The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century

1

Pulse (2001)

Empowered by the rise of the internet culture, spirits draw humans away from one another, entombing them in a realm of their own private obsessions. Does this even count as a metaphor anymore? Until the recent The Bling Ring, Pulse is the closest a film has come to fully capturing the paradoxical and deceptively empowering trap of online societies that allow you to indulge an illusion of socialization alone in the privacy of your own home. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s ferocious act of despairing protest is also one of cinema’s most unnerving and suggestive ghost stories. Bowen

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