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The 100 Best Horror Movies of the 21st Century

These are the films from this millennium that have most shocked us by plumbing our deepest primordial terrors.

The 75 Best Horror Movies of the 21st Century
Photo: Broad Green Pictures

The Strangers

20. The Strangers (2008)

The Strangers is an old-school spooker spun from the blood splatter on a wall, a nearby record player scratching an oldie, a CB radio in the garage, a creaky swing set in the backyard. Bryan Bertino is beholden to genre quota, skidding the relationship of pretty young couple Kristen and James (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) before subjecting them to an after-dark home invasion. But he offers no profound rationale for why she refuses his marriage proposal; like the shadowy stranger that comes knocking at their door, it’s something that just happens. Plying an old-school artistry that begins with a creepy montage of bumblefuck houses and holds up almost without fail until the strangers offer a creepy non-justification for their transgressions, analog-man Bertino teases with the unknown until he’s left no pimple ungoosed. Gonzalez


Revenge

19. Revenge (2017)

Like S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99, Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge is so extravagantly violent and hopeless that it boasts a weird integrity. These thrillers suggest that there’s little room for morals in cinema, which is a playpen of fantasies that are too often sanctified by platitudes. Take Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, an occasionally quite visceral riff on Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Paul Schrader’s Hardcore that’s terrified of the possibility that it may be a genre film rather than Something Important. Revenge clears the air of the hedging and insecurity that are common of prestige cinema and of pop culture at large, tapping the prurient desires that drive most audiences to see genre films in the first place. Bowen


Visitor Q

18. Visitor Q (2001)

Visitor Q acts as a correction to the relentless popularity of reality TV, a phenomenon that invites us to vicariously feast on human misery as distraction from our own daily indignities. The story follows a family as they casually film one another indulging in incest and necrophilia as well as a long list of other similarly taboo activities, and Miike Takashi stages each escalating atrocity with a flip, tongue-in-cheek, and sometimes nearly slapstick manner that’s authentically horrifying. Yet, the filmmaker, as Audition made clear, is a moralist deep down, and the brilliant, surreal Visitor Q—so powerful and disgusting that many will probably find it unwatchable—is the ultimate middle finger to media-sponsored narcissism. Bowen


The House of the Devil

17. 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 21st century, 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 he punctuates one of the film’s long periods of placidity and unease via an abrupt act of violence, the moment feels earned, even necessary, rather than tacked on. This is a film that both relies on and rewards our 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. Michael Nordine


The Devil’s Rejects

16. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

If House of 1000 Corpses successfully transposed the grotesqueries evoked by Rob Zombie’s music onto film, then The Devil’s Rejects cemented his status as a filmmaker worth noticing. As ungodly violent and gruesome as it is, Zombie’s sophomore effort would be nearly unbearable to watch were it not so wonderfully aestheticized. Zombie’s most noticeable trait as a stylist is, unsurprisingly, a knack for selecting the perfect songs to both match and offset the morbid goings-on of his films, but there’s more at work here than mere artifice: Zombie infuses an unexpected somberness where his debut tended toward camp. His sideshow-esque characters have evolved into genuinely fleshed-out beings whose unexpected pathos only intensifies the terror they spread. The rejects’ long string of satanic ritual murders make for a carnivalesque experience far more viscerally stimulating—and strangely watchable—than it seems to have any right to be. Nordine


Climax

15. Climax (2019)

Gaspar Noé’s Climax reminds us how pleasurable it can be when a filmmaker essentially discards plot for the sake of unhinged formalism. The film is an astonishing celebration of body and movement, as well as an examination of the sexual resentment that drives a mixed-race dancing troupe. In early passages, actors more or less speak to the camera, a device that suggests a blunt clearing of the air. Later, when the dancers succumb to the effects of LSD-spiked sangria, Climax becomes a brilliant fever dream, an orgy of raw, flamboyantly colored psychosis that’s truer to the spirit of Dario Argento’s Suspiria than Luca Guadignino’s recent remake. Above all else, Climax feels pure, as Noé cuts to the root of his obsession with the intersection between sex, violence, and power. It’s a horror musical of hard, beautiful nihilism. Bowen


The Host

14. The Host (2006)

Scott Wilson’s deliciously hammy presence as the American captain in the opening scene indicates that South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho’s The Host is, in the broadest sense, a politically charged diatribe against both American and Korean political cover-up machinations of misinformation. But that aspect is rather bland in comparison to what else the film has to offer. For, like any great monster movie, this isn’t a film strictly about a monster—or, for that matter, the monstrous countries that spawned it—but about something else: the significance of sustenance. That is, The Host is a film chiefly concerned with food: who, how, and where we get it from, what it is we choose to eat, and why we eat it at all. Ryland Walker Knight


I Saw the Devil

13. I Saw the Devil (2010)

Kim Jee-woon’s ultra-stylish, gleefully brutalist I Saw the Devil is at bottom a Grand Guignol reduction-to-absurdity of Nietzsche’s maxim that one who battles monsters must beware lest he become one himself, though how seriously the film takes its own philosophical underpinnings is anybody’s guess. Kim seemingly relishes the escalating tango of retribution between psychopathic bus driver Jang Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) and bereaved federal agent Kim Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun), getting his directorial rocks off on every sadistic set piece with the unbridled abandon of Dario Argento at his peak. The nihilistic, nobody-wins ending ultimately aligns I Saw the Devil with a film that otherwise seems like its diametric opposite: Wes Craven’s grungy, lo-fi Bergman piss take The Last House on the Left. Wilkins


Get Out

12. Get Out (2017)

Get Out’s central conceit, about a plot by blithely entitled suburban whites to colonize black people’s bodies, is a trenchant metaphor for white supremacy. The timing, character development, and gift for social satire that writer-director Jordan Peele honed as a sketch comedian all translate effortlessly to horror, allowing him to entrance us as deftly as Catherine Keener’s Missy mesmerizes Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris with that tapping teaspoon. The Sunken Place where Missy maroons Chris is the film’s most indelible image, a stomach-churning representation of how it feels to be stripped of your autonomy and personhood by a dominant culture that remains cruelly blind and deaf to your plight. In a world where almost no one is what they initially appear to be, Get Out anatomizes the evil lurking in the relatively benign-seeming prejudice that plays out as fetishization or envy, a form of racism that doesn’t see itself as racist at all. Elise Nakhnikian


Martyrs

11. 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


Raw

10. Raw (2016)

As in Ginger Snaps, the supernatural awakening of Raw’s protagonist is linked predominantly to sex. Here, a bikini wax can almost get one killed, and a drunken quest to get laid can lead to all-too-typical humiliation and ostracizing. Throughout Raw, director Julia Ducournau exhibits a clinical pitilessness that’s reminiscent of the body-horror films of David Cronenberg, often framing scenes in symmetrical tableaus that inform the various cruelties and couplings with an impersonality that’s ironically relieved by the grotesque intimacy of the violence. We’re witnessing conditioning at work, in which Justine (Garance Marillier) is inoculated into conventional adulthood, learning the self-shame that comes with it as a matter of insidiously self-censorious control. By the film’s end, Ducournau has hauntingly outlined only a few possibilities for Justine: that she’ll get with the program and regulate her hunger properly, or be killed or institutionalized. Bowen


The Devil’s Backbone

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 on the scene some time later, he ushers forth a reckoning. A rich political allegory disguised as an art-house spooker, The Devil’s Backbone 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


Let the Right One In

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


Antichrist

7. 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 his most bracingly personal films. Bill Weber


Wolf Creek

6. Wolf Creek (2005)

A blistering jolt of existential terror that doesn’t come with the noxious sexual baggage that typically dooms its horror ilk, writer-director Greg McLean’s 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 Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher and Kathryn Bigelow’s 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


Halloween II

5. 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 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 cannily rhymes his aesthetics with Michael’s almost totemic mood swings, every obscenely prolonged kill scene a stunning reflection on an iconic movie monster’s psychological agony. Gonzalez


Inland Empire

4. Inland Empire (2006)

Radical even for 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 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


Trouble Every Day

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


Under the Skin

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


Pulse

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 Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s Pulse is the closest that a film came 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. Kurosawa’s ferocious act of despairing protest is also one of cinema’s most unnerving and suggestive ghost stories. Bowen

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