The 50 Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now (Spring 2019)

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The 50 Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now (Spring 2019)

To date, 2019 has been a mixed bag as far as the breadth of the Netflix horror library is concerned. As competing services, and especially genre-specific ones such as Shudder, continue to expand their horror movie collections, it’s harder and harder for Netflix to project any sense of comprehensiveness. At various points last year for instance, Netflix could boast classics The Shining, An American Werewolf in London, Jaws or Young Frankenstein, along with recent indie greats like Starry Eyes, The Descent or The Babadook. All of those films are now gone—typically replaced by low-budget, direct-to-VOD films with suspiciously similar one-word titles, like Demonic, Desolation and Satanic.

Still, there are quality films to be found here, typically of the modern variety, from classics like Poltergeist and The Silence of the Lambs, to more obscure (and disturbing) titles such as A Dark Song or Raw. Don’t expect to find many franchise staples in the mold of Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street, but don’t sleep on The Haunting of Hill House, either. It’s not technically a movie, but it’s impossible to leave off this list.

We invite you to use this list as a guide. The lowest-ranked films are of the “fun-bad” variety—flawed, but easily enjoyable for one reason or another. The highest-ranked films are obviously essentials.

You may also want to check out the following horror-centric lists:

The 100 best horror films of all time.
The 100 best vampire movies of all time.
The 50 best zombie movies of all time.
The 40 best horror movies on Hulu
The 60 best horror movies on Amazon Prime
The 50 best movies about serial killers
The 50 best slasher movies of all time
The 50 best ghost movies of all time


stake land 2 poster (Custom).jpg 50. Stake Land 2: The Stakelander
Year: 2016
Director: Dan Berk, Robert Olsen
I am a big fan of Jim Mickle’s 2010 film Stake Land, as its consistent high rankings in this list would attest to, but I can’t say that I was holding out much hope for the belated sequel, which arrived six years later with a TV premiere on SyFy and without input from the previous film’s director and co-writer. Still, Stake Land 2 does manage to bring back the two principal leads, one of whom is the previous film’s co-lead, Nick Damici, and a spark of the original does remain. It can’t quite recapture the bleak beauty and surprisingly effective world-building of the original, as a pair of vampire hunters sojourn across the American west in search of shelter, but it does at least have the benefit of being set in a memorable world. As the previously “scruffy young kid” Martin, Connor Paolo has aged nicely, taking on a believable level of grit. Damici, as in the previous film, is the real highlight, having become even more of a grizzled font of wisdom over the years. It’s all a little reductive, but the production quality is still high enough that it would feel out of place in the DVD bargain bin. —Jim Vorel


velvet buzzsaw poster (Custom).jpg 49. Velvet Buzzsaw
Year: 2018
Director: Dan Gilroy
With 2014’s chilling and poignant Nightcrawler, writer/director Dan Gilroy and stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo created a morally potent critique of the media’s “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality. Four years later, the same team came back with Velvet Buzzsaw in order to ostensibly skewer the shallowness and materialism of art profiteering, told through a gaudy blend of pretentious b-horror and on-the-nose satire. Nightcrawler’s solidly structured and thematically laser-focused existence makes Velvet Buzzsaw that much of a baffling experience, since what we get from Gilroy here is the exact opposite: A muddled, morally confused, spectacle-over-substance, and worst of all woefully predictable lazy genre rethread with a laughably transparent art house veneer. Hidden underneath Gyllenhaal and Russo’s scenery chewing cartoon versions of highfalutin art expert types, the premise of a mysterious collection of apparently haunted paintings killing all those who try to profit from it presents not much more than a typical slasher flick. Whenever a character is left alone every twenty minutes or so, you can bet they’ll be toast or mince meat in one case literally by the time the scene’s over. One can expect such a flimsy narrative used solely to prop up a series of exuberantly gory horror set-pieces from a medium-grade giallo auteur of the ‘70s, but more cohesive work is expected from the likes of Gilroy and his powerful cast. If you’re a horror fan who’s in it only for the bloody set pieces disconnected from plot or theme, go for it. Others should just watch Nightcrawler twice. —Oktay Ege Kozak


pretty thing inset (Custom).jpg 48. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
Year: 2016
Director: Osgood Perkins
This somewhat labored ghost story premiered at the Toronto International Film Fest before being picked up by Netflix for distribution, but the festival circuit is really its natural home. A staid, extremely patient haunted house yarn with some intriguing performances, it’s likely to be too slow to be appreciated by bingers on the streaming service. A woman (Ruth Wilson) moves into a creaky old home to serve as live-in nurse for an elderly horror author with dementia (Paula Prentiss), but soon finds herself sucked into the ghost story that makes up the author’s most famous book. Which sounds like a fairly conventional horror movie premise, but it’s the delivery that sets this film apart rather than the summation. Every shot lingers. We glide through the house with minimal, whispered dialog and occasional narration, and although it does build a palpable sense of unease, the payoffs are few and far between. I couldn’t help but be reminded of H.P. Mendoza’s similarly experimental 2012 film I Am A Ghost, which is equally laconic but more visually arresting. I Am the Pretty Thing has grand artistic aspirations of some kind behind it, but has trouble giving them vibrancy. This is a horror film for audiences with solid attention spans. —Jim Vorel


before i wake poster (Custom).jpg 47. Before I Wake
Year: 2016
Director: Mike Flanagan
Director Mike Flanagan seems to have become Netflix’s go-to guy when it comes to directing Original horror movies—see: Hush and Gerald’s Game—and Netflix returned the favor by acquiring and then releasing the somewhat less inspired Before I Wake in 2016. Originally titled Somnia, the film was passed to several potential distributors, and even had in-theater advertising at one point, but its plans for a theatrical release were ultimately scrapped. The story of a young boy (Jacob Tremblay of Room and Wonder) with the unconscious power to manifest his dreams in reality, it draws obvious parallels to Nightmare on Elm Street, but especially to the astral plane-tripping excursions of the Insidious series, without quite having the verve of either. Still, it could be an interesting genre footnote in the career of Tremblay if this kid grows up to be an Oscar-winner someday. —Jim Vorel


life after beth poster (Custom).jpg 46. Life After Beth
Year: 2014
Director: Jeff Baena
Life After Beth is a story of life and love lost and found, starring Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan in a more cellular interpretation of star-crossed lovers. DeHaan plays Zach Orfman, a young man beside himself with grief after the death of his, girlfriend Beth Slocum (Plaza), and for whom her parents (Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly) are his only sources of comfort. Not long after her funeral, he starts to notice some unusual occurrences around town—strange things are afoot at the Circle-K—and Zach discovers that Beth has risen from the grave. His initial reservations about her resurrection are quickly subdued by his tunnel vision of love. But soon he finds she’s not the same as when she left. —Melissa Weller


the village poster (Custom).jpg 45. The Village
Year: 2004
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
After the warning shot that was Signs’ batshit ending, The Village was the moment that Hollywood officially began reconsidering all the praise and expectations they had lumped on M. Night Shyamalan. It’s a frustrating film that still has some admirers out there today, mostly for specific elements such as its performances or its lauded soundtrack. William Hurt in particular is really quite good in The Village, but it’s also the point where critics and audiences had caught up to the expectation for Shyamalan-style twist endings. And the “twist” of The Village is so laughably obvious that it recasts your entire perspective of the film—what’s supposed to be a big revelation instead has the viewer saying “Yeah … and ... ?” But there’s no “and”; the film should just jump to a cutaway of the director shrugging at you. It’s like driving across country, only to have your car die 10 miles away from your destination and walking the rest. Or as Roger Ebert said, “To call the ending an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes.” —Jim Vorel


tales of halloween poster (Custom).jpg 44. Tales of Halloween
Year: 2015
Director: Various
As the title suggests, the film occurs over the course of a single Halloween, settling on one American suburb where ten yarns unfold against a backdrop of festivity. On occasion, the segments intertwine, either through the appearance of recurring characters or references to the aftermath of preceding material. Each short is as different in content as in style: “Sweet Tooth,” by Dave Parker, follows the tried-and-true method of the cautionary tale, while Axelle Carolyn’s “Grimm Grinning Ghost” sticks to the “vengeful ghost” paradigm with considerable success. Meanwhile, Darren Lynn Bousman keeps tongue firmly in cheek with “The Night Billy Raised Hell”; Neil Marshall skewers cop shows and cheesy monster flicks with “Bad Seed”; Mike Mendez blows kisses at slasher fare with “Friday the 31st”; Adam Gierasch corrals murderous kids in “Treat”; Paul Solet tells a tale of hellbound revenge with “The Weak and the Wicked”; the typically reliable Lucky McKee slips into incoherence with “Ding Dong”; Ryan Schifrin gets demonic in “The Ransom of Rusty Rex”; and, finally, Andrew Kasch teams with John Skipp to show what happens when home haunters clash in “This Means War.” Every viewer will have their favorite story in anthology horror comedy Tales of Halloween. Half the fun of films like this lies in arguing with friends over which narrative is best, after all, and while there are clear standouts among the pack, the real pleasure of Tales of Halloween is the ride rather than the destination: For as long as you’re held in the movie’s thrall, you’ll be celebrating Halloween. There’s something here for everybody, whether you prefer your horror goofy or gory, but no matter your tastes, it’s the film’s love of Halloween—not to mention its general dedication to practical effects over CGI—that makes it worth attending. —Andy Crump


all the boys love mandy lane poster (Custom).jpg 43. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
Year: 2006
Director: Jonathan Levine
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a pseudo-slasher that falls somewhere in the middle ground between Scream, Carrie and Friday the 13th, incorporating a certain ‘70s grindhouse sensibility along the way that might occasionally remind one of The Hills Have Eyes or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was an early starring vehicle for Amber Heard, who is appealing as the “sweet young thing” who is considerably more twisted than meets the eye. The film veers away from classical slasher in the sense that the kills are more on the realistic side than the cartoonish, although the latter might actually have made it more memorable. As is, there’s nothing particularly wrong here—a certain lack of unique ideas, certainly, but a competently executed high school horror story that will feel comfortably familiar, right down to its third-act twist. You’ve been here before, but you probably won’t regret stopping by again. —Jim Vorel


jaws 2 poster (Custom).jpg 42. Jaws 2
Year: 1978
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Jaws 2, even more than most sequels, suffers in comparison to the original classic it follows despite being a competent film in its own right. It was a different time in film promotion—even for a blockbuster, a sequel wasn’t a forgone conclusion, and even then you weren’t likely to be working with a comparable budget. Jaws 2 didn’t hurt for funding, but it did miss the presence of Steven Spielberg, whose empathy and pathos for everyman characters can’t quite be replicated, even by the returning cast. Too many aspects of Jaws 2 simply ring hollow—would it really be THAT hard to convince local government and law enforcement that another shark was around, only a couple of years after the events of the first film? Must we really spend our time with the townspeople demonizing poor Brody for trying to bring this shark business to the forefront once again? Still, the grisly shark attack scenes of Jaws 2 (especially the iconic waterskiing bit, or the shark-destroyed helicopter) are much closer to being on par with the original, and they vastly outstrip the shoddy, budget-limited dreck in Jaws 3-D or Jaws: The Revenge. On its own, Jaws 2 is perfectly serviceable … but it’s the last entry in the series you could ever describe as such, and the last worthwhile “shark movie” released for a decade or more. —Jim Vorel


would you rather poster (Custom).jpg 41. Would You Rather
Year: 2012
Director: David Guy Levy
Would You Rather is the kind of reductive horror film that follows in the wake of the Saw and Hostel generation of the 2000s, where characterization is just an excuse to reduce each character to one driving motivation. Here’s our protagonist—oh, she needs money to pay for the treatment of her sick brother, but what will she do to get it? Films like this are careful to not present any of the other characters as equally or more sincere in their desire than that protagonist, because that would introduce real moral ambiguity rather than the illusive choices here. Regardless, you’re not watching for the story—you’re watching to see what a bunch of strangers will be forced to do to each other in order to win a demented millionaire’s payday. ’80s horror icon Jeffrey Combs plays that villain, and although he’s clearly having a good time, there’s some spark of vitality to his performances in Re-Animator or From Beyond that has long since been reduced to paycheck-minded professionalism or self-parody. If this movie had been made in 1985, perhaps it would have been a minor classic. —Jim Vorel


extraordinary tales poster (Custom).jpg 40. Extraordinary Tales
Year: 2013
Director: Raul Garcia
There is so much bargain bin, straight-to-VOD horror trash streaming on Netflix that it’s all too easy for something like Extraordinary Tales to go completely unnoticed. This anthology of animated, narrated stories by Edgar Allen Poe may be uneven in terms of quality, but dammit if it’s not far more artistically interesting than another found footage horror turd that was shot in the course of a weekend in Bulgaria. Extraordinary Tales is remarkable for the level of talent the filmmakers were able to bring on as narrators or voice actors: Christopher Lee, Guillermo Del Toro, Julian Sands and Roger Corman, reprising his own interest in Poe that led him to direct films such as House of Usher and The Raven in the ’60s. There’s even a unique rendition of The Tell-Tale Heart that is narrated via archival recordings by Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi! Each story is likewise presented in a different style of animation, but for the sheer novelty of hearing Christopher Lee perform “The Fall of the House of Usher,” or the attractive animation of “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” Extraordinary Tales is worthy of attention. —Jim Vorel


as above so below poster (Custom).jpg 39. As Above, So Below
Year: 2014
Director: John Erick Dowdle
In the wake of Paranormal Activity, “found footage” as a horror sub-genre had a pretty tough time getting a fair shake from critics, and often from audiences as well. It’s not as if it wasn’t often warranted—anyone who remembers the likes of Apollo 18 can attest to that. Unfortunately, though, it often meant that even found footage movies with more ambition or verve than typical, such as Grave Encounters or As Above, So Below, went overlooked. This one gets by on high concept more than anything else—a camera crew descends into the legendary catacombs beneath Paris, but finds much more there than would meet the eye. One might expect such a story to involve mutants, or marauders, but As Above, So Below is considerably more cerebral—instead, the story unfolds as a metaphysical descent into hell with numerous parallels to Dante’s Inferno, as the camera crew confronts their own sins and failings. Even the jump scares are solid—in an era when shoddy found footage movies were being churned out en masse, As Above, So Below hardly deserves to be lumped in among its more forgettable peers. —Jim Vorel


know what you did last summer poster (Custom).jpg 38. I Know What You Did Last Summer
Year: 1997
Director: Jim Gillespie
It’s sort of ironic that writer Kevin Williamson followed up Scream (no, Wes Craven didn’t actually write the screenplay for Scream), the film that revitalized the tired slasher genre in 1996 by examining its tropes and cliches, by writing a true-to-form, classical, ’80s-style slasher, but that’s exactly what he did. Whereas Scream sets out to reinvent—or more accurately, wink at—the wheel, I Know What You Did Last Summer had no such grand ambitions in mind. This is instead a movie made to capitalize on the former, although it does so with style. In truth, it seems heavily inspired by slashers in the mold of Prom Night in particular, wherein the guilty parties in an old crime are hunted down one by one. As for the cast, it’s just about the most ’90s assemblage in horror history, from Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jennifer Love Hewitt to Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze Jr., each more perfectly coiffed than the last. Even the famous chase scene of Prom Night gets revisited, but even more than was true in the ’80s, the true purpose of the film is to show off its nubile young cast of budding stars. It’s fun as a time capsule—perhaps more fun now than it was in 1997, truth be told—but it will always find itself in Scream’s shadow. —Jim Vorel


little evil poster (Custom).jpg 37. Little Evil
Year: 2017
Director: Eli Craig
Seven years after he gave us Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, one of the best horror comedies in recent memory, director Eli Craig has finally returned with an exclusive for Netflix, Little Evil. An obvious parody of The Omen and other “evil kid” movies, Little Evil wears its influences and references on its sleeve in ways that, while not particularly clever, are at least loving. Adam Scott is the sad-sack father who somehow became swept up in a whirlwind romance and marriage, all while being unfazed by the fact that his new step-son is the kind of kid who dresses like a pint-sized Angus Young and trails catastrophes behind him wherever he goes. Evangeline Lilly is the boy’s foxy mother, whose motivations are suspect throughout. Does she know that her child is the spawn of Satan, or as his mother is she just willfully blind to the obvious evil growing under her nose? The film can boast a pretty impressive supporting cast, from Donald Faison and Chris D’elia as fellow step-dads, to Clancy Brown as a fire-and-brimstone preacher, but never does it fully commit toward either its jokes or attempts to frighten. The final 30 minutes are the most interesting, leading the plot in an unexpected direction that redefines the audience’s perception of the demon child, but it still makes for a somewhat uneven execution. Tucker & Dale this is not, but it’s still a serviceable return for Craig. —Jim Vorel


from dusk till dawn poster (Custom).jpg 36. From Dusk Till Dawn
Year: 1996
Director: Robert Rodriguez 
I can’t help but wonder, watching From Dusk Till Dawn, what the film might have looked like if Robert Rodriguez wrote it as well, rather than Quentin Tarantino. Would the Mexican vampire element have been introduced before the halfway mark? Probably. But there’s Tarantino for you, not content to tell one story—instead, he delivers what almost becomes two entirely separate movies starring the same characters. In the first half we get a crime dramedy about a pair of sociopathic brothers on the lam, taking hostages down the Mexico. When they finally get there, the switch flips and it turns into a gory vampire western. Both halves are entertaining in their own way, although genre purists who went in expecting a vampire film were probably perplexed by the lead-in to the payoff. That payoff is satisfyingly pulpy, though, and there’s a certain pleasure in going back to see the earlier era of George Clooney, when he thought the idea of fighting Mexican vampires seemed like a good career move. —Jim Vorel


1922.jpg 35. 1922
Year: 2017
Director: Zak Hilditch
A chameleonic performance from Thomas Jane anchors this understated, gothic story set in Depression-era Middle America, told in the style of a confession by the husband who we can tell right from the get-go is haunted by some horrible crime. When his wife insists on selling the land she’s inherited rather than work it, Jane’s unsophisticated field hand harangues their son into becoming an accomplice in her grisly murder. As with every Grand Guignol tale, though, we already know that the worst part isn’t the act of killing, but the endless paranoia of living with it. In the case of the movie’s guilty narrator, that means a vengeful and inevitable haunting filled with all the foreboding and creepy imagery you came to see. Stephen King adaptations have their hits and their misses, but this is a solid, straightforward story that gets by on the power of a dread-steeped plot and some compelling performances by good character actors you’ll most likely always be happy to see get screen time. —Ken Lowe


cult of chucky poster (Custom).jpg 34. Cult of Chucky
Year: 2017
Director: Don Mancini
The Child’s Play series has managed the supremely rare accomplishment of actually improving itself in its direct-to-video era, clawing its way up from the abyss that was the Seed of Chucky days with its last two installments, Curse and Cult of Chucky. This latest, the seventh in the series, is possibly the best since Child’s Play 2, weaving together a complex web of characters from the history of the series. The voodoo mumbo-jumbo at the heart of the plot has gotten more fiendishly complicated than ever, resulting in not one but a small army of Chucky dolls, each containing the soul of Brad Dourif’s iconic serial killer, Charles Lee Ray. Stark and futuristic-feeling, the film is set in a brilliantly white-toned mental health institution, where recovering hero Nica (Dourif’s daughter, Fiona Dourif) must grapple with the legacy of Chucky, while also bringing original hero Andy Barclay back into the fold. This Chucky is certainly a return to the original film in many respects, especially in its depraved attitude and copious amounts of gore. And unlike Curse of Chucky, most of the FX are rendered practically, to boot. Ultimately, Cult is a far better entry than you could ever hope for in the seventh film of a horror franchise, and it should be commended for that. Don Mancini never says “die” with this series, it would seem. —Jim Vorel


veronica horror poster (Custom).jpg 33. Verónica
Year: 2017
Director: Paco Plaza
Paco Plaza, the Spanish director of landmark 2007 found footage horror film R.E.C., has largely delivered diminishing returns via R.E.C. sequels. Verónica, therefore, has been received as a welcome venture into a new concept for the director, even if the results are decidedly on the derivative side. A spirit/demonic possession movie in the vein of Witchboard, the film follows a 15-year-old Spanish student (Sandra Escacena) who unwittingly invites evil into her home while conducting a ouija seance with her school chums. Where the movie shines best is largely on the presentation side: It looks great whenever its images aren’t too dark, capturing an interesting moment in history by setting the film in 1991 Spain. Charismatic performances from multiple child actors serve to bolster a story that unfortunately feels frustratingly familiar, recycling elements of Ouija, The Last Exorcism and practically every possession film ever written. This is very well-trodden ground, but Verónica is at the very least more than competent, even if it’s not the revelation that certain Twitter users have been making it out to be. —Jim Vorel


the babysitter poster (Custom).jpg 32. The Babysitter
Year: 2017
Director: McG
The Babysitter is a little guileless in its overt desire to be lovingly described as an ‘80s slasher homage, but simultaneously effective enough to earn a good measure of that approval it craves. With twists of Fright Night and Night of the Demons, it’s at its best not when trying to slavishly recreate a past decade, but when letting its hyper-charismatic teenage characters run wild. Stylish, gory and profane to a fault, The Babysitter features a handful of bang-up performances, like Judah Lewis as a late-blooming 12-year-old, Robbie Amell as a nigh-invincible football jock and Samara Weaving as the title character, the girl of Lewis’ dreams—right up until she tries to sacrifice him to the devil. Fast-moving (only 85 minutes!) and frequently hilarious, it’s probably the best unit of popcorn horror entertainment that Netflix has managed to put out so far. The Babysitter’s character chemistry actually justifies a second go-round, which I’d be happy to watch. —Jim Vorel


ravenous 2017 poster (Custom).jpg 31. Ravenous
Year: 2017
Director: Robin Aubert
Genre geeks didn’t seem to take a lot of notice of Ravenous, beyond its Best Canadian Film award at the Toronto International Film Festival—perhaps the result of an “indie zombie drama” subgenre that seems to have run its course through films such as The Battery, and perhaps because it’s performed in French rather than English. Regardless, this is a competently crafted little drama thriller for the zombie completist, full of excellent performances from no-name actors and an intriguing take on the results of zombification. The infected here at times seem like your standard Romero ghouls, but they’re also a bit more—lost souls who have hung onto some kind of strange, rudimentary culture all their own. These aspects of the zombie plague are always hinted at, never extrapolated, but it enhances the profound feelings of loss and sadness present in Ravenous. —Jim Vorel


the devils candy poster (Custom).jpg 30. The Devil’s Candy
Year: 2015
Director: Sean Byrne
The set-up of The Devil’s Candy—Australian filmmaker Sean Byrne’s follow-up to his 2009 Carrie meets Texas Chain Saw Massacre riff The Loved Ones—suggests a cross between the haunted house and serial killer subgenres. The movie centers on a child murderer, Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), escaping the house that Jesse (Ethan Embry), his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and his daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) subsequently move into, not fully aware of the extent of the supernatural horrors contained within. And with Ray first seen playing loud chords on an electric guitar to drown out the voices in his head, and with Jesse characterized as a long-haired artist with a predilection for heavy metal, the film initially appears like it will play around with that connection between metal music and devil worship, with which many have often decried that particular musical genre. The Devil’s Candy turns out to be more complicated than all that, though, in ways that are genuinely fascinating. Byrne’s film turns out to be less about heavy metal or even Satanism than about the psychological perils of artistic obsession. What makes The Devil’s Candy work beyond its allegorical ambitions is its refreshing attention to characterization, to the point where you respond to the people on screen as flesh-and-blood human beings rather than just cannon fodder. Much credit for this goes not only to director Byrne’s writing, but to actor Ethan Embry, who imbues Jesse with equal parts sensitivity and a machismo that can occasionally veer into the terrifyingly imposing. Beyond just his fondness for heavy metal and his shoulder-length hair, he’s completely credible as both loving father and obsessive artist. Embry’s scenes with an equally terrific Glasco, especially, exude a warmth that makes those demon-possessed moments in which he fails his daughter even more heartbreaking. The Devil’s Candy is as much about one father’s paternal anxieties as it is about an artist teetering on the edge of losing his soul. It is, in other words, the kind of horror film that transcends genre and reaches that rare but exalted sweet spot of touching on genuine human fears. —Kenji Fujishima


the ritual poster (Custom).jpg 29. The Ritual
Year: 2017
Director: David Bruckner
A prime example of what might be termed the “bro horror” subgenre, The Ritual’s characters are a band of lifelong mates united in mourning a friend who has recently been killed in a brutal liquor store robbery. Luke (Rafe Spall) is the member of the group who shoulders the greatest burden of guilt, being the only one who was in the store at the time, paralyzed with indecision and cowardice while he watched his friend die. The other members clearly blame Luke for this to varying degrees, and one senses that their decision to journey to Sweden for a hiking trip deep into the wilderness is less to honor their dead friend’s memory, and more to determine if their bond can ever be repaired, or whether the recrimination stemming from the death is insurmountable. Where The Ritual excels is technically, in both its imagery and sound design. Cinematographer Andrew Shulkind’s crisp images and deep focus are a welcome respite from the overly dark, muddy look of so many modern horror films with similar settings (such as Bryan Bertino’s The Monster), and the forested location shots, regardless of where they may have been filmed, are uniformly stunning. Numerous shots of tree clusters evoke Celtic knot-like imagery, these dense puzzles of foliage clearly hiding dire secrets, and we are shown just enough through the film’s first two thirds to keep the mystery palpable and engaging. Director David Bruckner, who is best known for directing well-regarded segments of horror anthologies such as V/H/S, The Signal and Southbound, demonstrates a talent here for suggestion and subtlety, aided by some excellent sound design that emphasizes every rustling leaf and creaking tree branch. Unfortunately, the characters are a bit thin for what is meant to be a character-driven film, and the big payoff can’t quite maintain the atmosphere of the film’s first two acts. Still, The Ritual is a great-looking film, and one that features one of the more memorably “WTF!” monster designs in recent memory. It’s worth a look for that alone. —Jim Vorel


cam-movie-poster.jpg 28. Cam
Director: Daniel Goldhaber
As so many films in 2018 have shown us, the identities we create online—that we digitally design, foster and mature, often to the detriment of whatever we have going on IRL—will inevitably surpass us. The horror of Daniel Goldhaber’s Cam, based on the Isa Mazzei’s script (in turn, based on her real experiences as a sex worker), is in this loss: that no one is ever truly in control of these fabricated identities; that the more real they become, the less they belong to the person most affected. Welcome Alice (Madeline Brewer), an ambitious camgirl who compensates for the exhausting rigor of online popularity (and, therefore, economic viability) with gruesome stunts and a rigorous set of principles dictating what she will, and won’t, do in her capacity as female fantasy. She’s successful, tossing funds to her mom (Melora Walters) and brother (Devin Druid) without being totally honest about her job, but she could be more successful, trying whatever she can (within reason) to scale the ranking system enforced by the site she uses to broadcast her shows. With dexterous ease, Mazzei’s script both introduces the exigencies of camgirl life while never stooping to judge Alice’s choice of employment, contextualizing an inevitable revelation to her family not as one of embarrassment, but as an impenetrable morass of shame through which every sex worker must struggle to be taken seriously. So much so that when someone who looks exactly like Alice—who operates under her screen name but is willing to do the things Alice once refused—gains leaps and bounds in the camgirl charts, Goldhaber and Mazzei derive less tension from the explanation and discovery of what’s really going on rather than the harsh truth of just how vulnerable Alice—and we all are—is to the cold, brutal, indifferent violence of this online world we’ve built for ourselves. —Dom Sinacola


under the shadow poster (Custom).jpg 27. Under the Shadow
Year: 2016
Director: Babak Anvari
For most of the film, Babak Anvari is crafting a stifling period drama, a horror movie of a different sort that tangibly conveys the claustrophobia of Iran during its tumultuous post-revolution period. Anvari, himself of a family that eventually fled the Ayatollah’s rule, has made Under the Shadow as statement of rebellion and tribute to his own mother. It’s a distinctly feminist film: Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is cast as the tough heroine fighting back against greater hostile forces—a horror movie archetype that takes on even more potency in this setting. Seeing Shideh defy the Khomeini regime by watching a Jane Fonda workout video, banned by the state, is almost as stirring as seeing her overcome her personal demons by protecting her child from a more literal one. —Brogan Morris


cargo-movie-poster.jpg 26. Cargo
Year: 2018
Directors: Yolanda Ramke, Ben Howling
We’ve had enough takes on worldwide zombie apocalypses to last undead enthusiasts long through, well, a worldwide zombie apocalypse. Of those takes, few are inspired, a few more are watchable though workmanlike and most are dreck, whether in TV or movie form. Cargo, a collaborative directing effort between Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling, falls somewhere in between “inspired” and “workmanlike,” which is to say it’s well worth seeking out on Netflix if you’ve a powerful need to watch twitching, walking corpses menace a family trying to survive while isolated in Australia’s Outback. Martin Freeman plays Andy, stubborn husband to his wife, Kay (Susie Porter), and loving dad to their daughter, Rosie; he’s piloting a houseboat to safer shores, or that’s the hope. Then Kay takes a zombie bite, forcing a change of plans and setting them down the path to ruin and tragedy. For a certain kind of horror purist, Cargo denies the expectations of the genre. It’s not an especially scary movie. It is, however, a moody, atmospheric movie, replacing scares with a nearly overwhelming sense of sadness. If that’s not enough for you, then at least be sated by the excellent FX work. Here, zombies present as victims of debilitating illness: A waxen, carious fluid seeps from their eyes and mouths, which is suitably nauseating in the stead of workaday splatter. All the same, Cargo is never half as stomach-churning as it is simply devastating. —Andy Crump

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