Cinéaste 007: The 15 Best Horror Films Since 2000

Best Horror Films, Bramble and Thorn, Horror, 2000, List, Film

Halloween is upon us once again, and although it's not a huge celebration here in Australia I still like to join in the fun wherever I can. This is usually through watching horror films, whether by revisiting old favourites or discovering new titles. This can be a little daunting, as the horror genre has an intimidatingly large back catalogue, from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in the 1920's up until the twentieth installment of whatever Paranormal Activity/Saw/Insidious film is being churned out. With this in mind, I've narrowed down the options and compiled a list of my favourite horror films that have been released since 2000, all for your viewing pleasure.

15. What We Do In The Shadows

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Directed by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Rhys Darby

Follow the lives of Viago, Deacon, and Vladislav - three flatmates who are just trying to get by and overcome life's obstacles-like being immortal vampires who must feast on human blood. Hundreds of years old, the vampires are finding that beyond sunlight catastrophes, hitting the main artery, and not being able to get a sense of their wardrobe without a reflection, modern society has them struggling with the mundane like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs, and overcoming flatmate conflicts.

I'm placing this at number 15 as this is really more a comedy than a horror film, but it's such a fantastic film that I really wanted to mention it here somewhere. Clement and Waititi are known for the TV series Flight of the Conchords, and you'll find the same magnetic, deadpan humour here. I really don't want to oversell this one, but I think this might be the funniest mockumentary I've ever seen. If you like mockumentaries, dark comedy, or vampires, you'll need to check this out.

14. A Tale Of Two Sisters

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Directed by: Ji-woon Kim
Cast: Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum, Su-jeong Lim

Two young sisters recovering from an unnamed trauma must face a mysterious past in this excellent South Korean shocker. A worldwide hit upon its release and based on an old Korean fairy tale; two sisters come to live with their cold and distant father and turn-on-a-dime stepmother in a house where nothing is as it seems. A wonderfully haunting score, starkly beautiful imagery, and a labyrinthine plot that twists and turns at every dark corner all set the stage for a riveting and often terrifying guessing game of a movie. 

A Tale of Two Sisters is a brilliant South Korean psychological horror that left me speechless. The film offers some delicious moments of ghastly horror and is extremely creepy. The direction by Kim Ji-woon is well-handled and the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. The twist at the end is spectacular, it's definitely a film you'll want to see twice.

13. The Strangers

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Directed by: Bryan Bertino
Cast: Scott Speedman, Liv Tyler, Gemma Ward, Glenn Howerton

After returning from a wedding reception, a couple staying in an isolated vacation house receive a knock on the door in the mid-hours of the night. What ensues is a violent invasion by three strangers, their faces hidden behind masks. The couple find themselves in a violent struggle, in which they go beyond what either of them thought capable in order to survive.

The Strangers is a fantastic example of the terrible sense of dread that can be built simply by using space and silence, with some of the most terrifying scenes achieved simply through how the shot was framed. It also plays on many people's fear of the random act of a home invasion, and the fact that the couple in this film were chosen simply "because they were home" sends a chill down my spine.

12. Saw

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Directed by: James Wan
Cast: Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover

Obsessed with teaching his victims the value of life, a deranged, sadistic serial killer abducts the morally wayward. Once captured, they must face impossible choices in a horrific game of survival. The victims must fight to win their lives back, or die trying...

While the legacy of this film has ultimately been tainted by the progressively gruesome and inane sequels it spawned, Saw is without a doubt one the most memorable and smart horror film in recent times. I mean, who could forget how they felt the first time they saw the ending? It's one of the few times I've audibly gasped at a twist in a film. This is not a sleek or polished film (after all, it was shot on a very low budget) but has an incredible impact due to the great story and shocking twists and turns along the way.

11. The Babadook

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Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman

A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son's fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

The Babadook is relentlessly gripping, refreshingly innovative, emotionally charged up, emotionally draining and ultimately, one of the most gratifying films that I have seen in recent times. There is such a terrific sense of atmospheric horror that leverages on the constant shifts between internal paranoia, self-doubt, relentless supernatural interventions and the actual, imminent lurking of possession. It might as well be a character study of a mother having a hard time moving on after the tragedy she's been through losing her husband and trying to raise her only son. 

The real horror doesn't come out that quick, but there is already a pretty compelling movie when it come to its characters. The tension is just the prize for being intrigued by the story's core.

10. Sleepy Hollow

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Directed by: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Christopher Walken

New York detective Ichabod Crane is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of mysterious deaths in which the victims are found beheaded. But the locals believe the culprit to be none other than the ghost of the legendary Headless Horseman.

(Before you call me out on this one, this film was released on January 1, 2000 here in Australia so technically it can still be on this list)

I don't care what anyone says, I adore this film and it's my favourite Tim Burton film. I think this is one of the only times Burton really nailed the gothic genre and was perhaps one of the best collaborations between him and Johnny Depp. Sleepy Hollow is a wonderful blend of horror and comedy is further improved by its stunning visual design, clever casting and eerie ambience. The scare factor is very much diminished by its quirky humour and comical effects but the ghostly atmosphere nonetheless plays an important role in sustaining an ominous vibe throughout the film.

9. Let The Right One In

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Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson

Set in 1982 in the suburb of Blackeberg, Stockholm, twelve-year-old Oskar is a lonely outsider, bullied at school by his classmates; at home, Oskar dreams of revenge against a trio of bullies. He befriends his twelve-year-old, next-door neighbor Eli, who only appears at night in the snow-covered playground outside their building.

This is one of the finest examples of a vampire film done right. Easily one of the best narratives I've seen, what separates this film from other examples of its sub-genre is the unmatched respect it has for the legacy of vampire mythology, which makes it all the more unique and arguably one of the best vampire films of all time.

8. The Ring

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Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox

It sounded like just another urban legend: A videotape filled with nightmarish images, leading to a phone call foretelling the viewer's death in exactly seven days. As a newspaper reporter, Rachel Keller was naturally skeptical of the story, until four teenagers all met with mysterious deaths exactly one week after watching just such a tape. Allowing her investigative curiosity to get the better of her, Rachel tracks down the video... and watches it. Now she has just seven days to unravel the mystery of the Ring

I don't think a film has terrified me as much as The Ring did when I first watched it. And I watched this film a lot of times. While this ended up generating a whole range of Asian horror remakes (all of varying degrees of awfulness), The Ring is actually a great film and even holds its own against the original Japanese film, Ringu. This was an incredibly atmospheric film, and really quite beautifuly shot, even for a horror film. You won't find much in the way of gore here, but the image of the girl in the wardrobe will stay with you much longer that a severed limb ever would.

7. Shaun of the Dead

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Directed by: Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy

A man decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living.

The tagline sums up the film perfectly: "A romantic comedy. With zombies." This film is genuinely, completely and utterly hilarious, but packed full of enough zombie action to qualify it as a horror film. The plot rips along beautifully and parodies both the romantic comedy and zombie genres, while at the same time remaining true to them. This is truly one of my favourite films of all time and I've watched it more times than I can count.

6. Under The Skin

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Directed by: Jonathan Glazer
Cast: Scarlett Johansson

Jonathan Glazer's atmospheric, visually arresting abstraction stars Scarlett Johansson as a seductive alien who prowls the streets of Glasgow in search of prey: unsuspecting men who fall under her spell, only to be consumed by a strange liquid pool.

Stunning to behold, with a soundtrack that gets under your skin, so to speak. This film was incredibly unsettling yet strangely hypnotic, with Johansson giving a captivating performance as the sole lead actor. The final thirty minutes are quite upsetting, and is probably not for everyone, but it was truly one of the most interesting and artistic films of 2014.

5. 28 Days Later...

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Directed by: Danny Boyle
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston

Twenty-eight days after a killer virus was accidentally unleashed from a British research facility, a small group of London survivors are caught in a desperate struggle to protect themselves from the infected. Carried by animals and humans, the virus turns those it infects into homicidal maniacs -- and it's absolutely impossible to contain.

Danny Boyle drops us right in the middle of the apocalypse without showing the beginning panic and the failure of military, but instead like we are just waking up in the middle of it. 28 Days Later... is one of the most important horror films of the new age and is a great film in its own right when you strip away the genre and subgenre.

Sidenote: I think the Rage virus infected "zombies" are some of the most stressful movie monsters in existence. They sprint. They're silent. They are strong. One bite turns you in about 15 seconds. Also, one drop of their blood or saliva in your eyes, mouth, or open wound will also turn you. Terrifying.

4. The Orphanage

Best Horror Films, Bramble and Thorn, Horror, 2000, List, Film

Directed by: Sergio G. Sánchez
Cast: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo

A woman brings her family back to her childhood home, which used to be an orphanage, intent on reopening it. Before long, her son starts to communicate with a new invisible friend.

This film had me in tears at the end, which is not common when watching a horror film. It rarely resorts to using cheap scares, in fact it only really has one in the entire film and it is a brilliant and surprisingly visceral jolt to the system. The screenplay is tight and plot hole-free whilst first time director, Juan Antonio Bayona, proves that experience isn’t everything because he has created a taut, emotionally affecting and consistently creepy film that even the masters of the genre would be proud of.

3. The Descent

Best Horror Films, Bramble and Thorn, Horror, 2000, List, Film

Directed by: Neil Marshall
Cast: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid

After a tragic accident, six friends reunite for a caving expedition. Their adventure soon goes horribly wrong when a collapse traps them deep underground and they find themselves pursued by bloodthirsty creatures. As their friendships deteriorate, they find themselves in a desperate struggle to survive the creatures and each other.

The Descent is a already terrifying film a good deal of time before the monsters show up, as the claustrophobic caving scenes made me increasingly uncomfortable. The sense of tension and foreboding dread is palpable as the women slowly work their way through the inky black tunnel systems. Even as somebody who doesn’t suffer from claustrophobia the cramped spaces and disorienting tunnels make for an unsettling and disquieting location whilst the film’s sound design and pulsing score only adds to the unease.

When the creatures eventually show up they are used sparingly and you often only catch fleeting glimpses of them. By keeping them in the shadows it makes them far creepier and unsettling as a result.

2. [REC]

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Directed by: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Cast: Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Jorge-Yamam Serrano

A television reporter and cameraman follow emergency workers into a dark apartment building and are quickly locked inside with something terrifying.

The amount of anxiety I felt while watching this film was insane. Possibly the scariest film of the 21st century and certainly the most effective in the found-footage sub-genre of horror, [REC] is a Spanish horror masterpiece that invites its viewers into its premise with a deceptive opening that many might mistake for another low-budget, non-effective, cheap thrill ride but then in few minutes, gains momentum relatively quickly and unleashes such an all-out assault of extreme terror on its unwary audience that they remain on the edge of their seats for the rest of its runtime. This is certainly one of (if not the most) frightening films I've ever seen. If you haven't seen it yet then do yourself a favour and give it a try.

1. It Follows

Best Horror Films, Bramble and Thorn, Horror, 2000, List, Film

Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi

For 19-year-old Jay, fall should be about school, boys and weekends out at the lake. But after a seemingly innocent physical encounter, she finds herself plagued by strange visions and the inescapable sense that someone, or something, is following her. Faced with this burden, Jay and her teenage friends must find a way to escape the horrors that seem to be only a few steps behind.

I battled with myself whether this or [REC] should be number one, but I've found this film hard to get of my mind so went with my gut. Seeing It Follows in a cinema was one of the most terrifying (and fun) experiences of my life. It Follows isn't your typical recycled, been there done that horror film. It's a film that is genuinely creepy as hell and filled with suspense. The film doesn't rely on jump scares to make the audience scared (although there is one or two), the audience is scared because the director created such an atmosphere. The constant threat of "it" and being unable to determine what form it has taken on made it almost impossible for me to relax while watching this film, as I was constantly scanning the background for a figure moving slowly towards the protagonist. There are several scenes from this film that have stuck with me ever since I saw it, I really can't recommend this film enough.

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