Sheridan Courtney, a recent Worcester graduate, studied a joint honours in Film Studies and Film Production BA (Hons) at an Undergraduate level and has recently completed a Masters qualification in Creative Media, striking a balance between theory and practice. Here he recommends five acclaimed horror movies that add prestige to the genre.
As a film genre boasting a cathartic crypt-full of sub-genres, horror is not necessarily the movie category you might easily associate with highbrow, artistic cinema. However, from serial-killing slashers to supernatural spirits and cosmic terrors to killer clowns, horror is a versatile, flexible genre which overlaps with many other genres.
Film genres go through ‘cycles’, and horror sub-genres are no different. A genre cycle features multiple films with shared characteristics, including setting, plot and character archetypes. Critical and commercial successes often set off each cycle. In these cycles exist highbrow and lowbrow films (and everything in between) and the moment saturation is reached within these trends, public perception diminishes and the films become less financially viable. This paves the way to parody, self-awareness and self-reference, reboots and remakes. The film Scream (1996) exemplifies how, with a bit of time and some playful self-reference, a single film can then resurrect a sub-genre long-dead and buried.
Five favourite films
The following 5 tasteful horror movies from the 2010s below exist as shining examples of artistic horror, prestigious pictures held in high esteem that are worth a watch this October.
“This high my fire. No higher. No hotter.”
Written and directed by Ari Aster (Hereditary, 2018), Midsommar is a Swedish-American folk horror centred on American students who travel to Sweden to attend a midsummer festival held in a remote pagan commune.
In some ways, Midsommar might be the most stressful break-up movie you may ever see. Midsommar is an unforgettable psychological and psychedelic dreamlike experience, a slow-burning folkloric tale not entirely unlike The Wickerman (1973).
The film is in equal parts beautiful in its masterful cinematography, and shocking in its sacrificial imagery, Aster’s second film is shot almost exclusively in broad daylight, and is somehow all the more oppressive and brutal for it.
Kill List (2011)
“They are bad people, they should suffer.”
A film sliced into very distinct parts, Ben Wheatley’s unpredictable Kill List manages to span multiple genres without feeling too busy.
What initially feels like a gritty British social story spirals into a tense, violent, contract killer plot. Neil Maskell’s character, Jay, accepts a series of jobs from an ominous client. While Jay might be killing it at work, his family life and mental health begin to suffer, painting the film red with dark and disturbing psychological overtones.
It is in the penultimate third act that Kill List truly reveals itself as the horror it is, the minimalist plot punctuated by moments of extreme violence, propelled by ambiguous cultists behind the scenes. Bold and barbaric, the devastating finale is one that is sure to stick with you, and as such is definitely worth adding to the list.
The Lighthouse (2019)
“Boredom makes men to villains.”
For both acclaimed horror flicks The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse, writer/director Robert Eggers has received well deserved praise for his mastery in telling haunting period tales of isolation and madness, complemented by masterfully authentic cinematography. A rather minimalist film, The Lighthouse stars an almost unrecognisable Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as late 19th century lighthouse keepers working off the coast of New England.
Shot in black and white in a nearly square aspect ratio, Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke echo the vintage aesthetic of 19th Century photography, unsurprisingly gaining nominations for Best Cinematography at both the Academy Awards and British Academy Film Awards. This is the least straight-forward film on this list, Eggers script alludes to the work of Freud and Jung, classical mythology and sailor’s myths, alcoholism and homoeroticism. The Lighthouse is a strange beast worth catching if you can.
The Colour out of Space (2019)
“A dream you dream alone is just a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”
In an attempt to move away from folklore and cults, this adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short cosmic horror occupies a considerably small niche compared to the previous films on this list. The Colour out of Space is intended to be the first of a thematic trilogy. Lovecraft’s short stories have seen a fair few adaptations throughout the decades (Reanimator and From Beyond, for example) and have impacted the science-fi/horror sub-genre, providing inspiration for films like the little-known The Void (2016).
Stanley’s vibrant film manages to blur the line between indie art film and B-movie body horror, mostly only alluding to the paralysing horror of some otherworldly deep space threat that makes Nicolas Cage crazy (is there any other iteration of Nicolas Cage?) Whether The Colour out of Space will see a sequel and ignite a cycle of Lovecraftian movies or freeze over in the cold depths of space remains to be seen.
The Babadook (2014)
“You can’t get rid of the Babadook.”
An Australian psychological horror film and writer/director Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut, The Babadook centres upon a widow and her turbulent young son. The film's central themes of loss and grief manifest themselves in Mister Babadook, an ominous character in a top hat from a mysterious pop-up storybook.
While there are some goofy moments in the film (the erratic son builds Home Alone-esque contraptions to fight the monster), Kent’s film does an impressive job in representing mental decay and psychological exhaustion, owing as much to the script and performances as the muted colour palette and purpose-built house in which much of the film is shot. Come the satisfyingly ambiguous ending, The Babadook has done enough to both wear you out emotionally and thoroughly creep you out.
10 Honourable mentions
- The Witch (2015)
- Hereditary (2018)
- It Comes At Night (2017)
- Mother! (2017)
- Get Out (2017)
- Annihilation (2018)
- It Follows (2014)
- Stoker (2013)
- Under the Skin (2013)
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
This blog is just a small insight into contemporary acclaimed horror cinema, it is worth noting that horror generally is not for everyone and is, of course, a matter of personal taste. The sheer abundant diversity of the genre is incredible and the calibre of the films vary vastly, but many a smart horror film can have a lot to say, when you manage to peek between the gaps in your fingers!
All views expressed in this blog are the Academic’s own and do not represent the views, policies or opinions of the University of Worcester or any of its partners.
Studying Film Production and Film Studies BA (Hons) offers you the opportunity to gain a deep understanding into movies, art cinema and experimental film alongside developing the concepts and practical skills required to create films yourself.