The world’s still a terrifying place, but hopefully you haven’t lost your appetite for horror movies (or maybe you wouldn’t be reading this?). Katie Parker selects her 20 best, all playing now on Netflix.
The story of a group of all-female military scientists embarking on an expedition to the mysterious and highly dangerous Area X, Annihilation isn’t your typical horror—but with its haunting atmosphere, eerie, unnerving imagery and amazing ensemble cast (Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac and Jennifer Jason Leigh all star), Alex Garland’s sophomore outing as a director is a chilling addition to the genre. Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer and with strong similarities to Andrej Tarkovsky’s Stalker, Annihilation is beautiful, buzzy and one of Garland’s best.
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Crazed as it may be to recommend a Christmas movie in July, it would be remiss to leave the crazy, camp and vaguely Cronenbergian Await Further Instructions off this list. Following a highly dysfunctional family as they reunite for Christmas dinner, the festivities are interrupted when the entire house is encased in an impenetrable black substance. No explanation is given except instructions emanating from the TV to “await further instructions”. What follows is at once body horror, social satire, sci-fi, and pitch-black comedy.
In some ways the quintessential Netflix movie, Bird Box’s silly but diverting tale of monsters that make you see things that make you kill yourself is absurd but diverting and occasionally, genuinely, pretty thrilling. Starring Sandra Bullock as a woman who must hole up in a house of strangers and wear a blindfold at all times to protect herself, Bird Box is reportedly one of Netflix’s most successful ever films—and the perfect combination of corny, creepy and completely, fabulously stupid.
As horror tropes go, doppelgängers are one of the most inexplicably chilling—and Cam is a great entry into the creepy doppelgänger canon. Drawing from writer Isa Mazzei’s own experience, Cam joins budding camgirl Alice as her online alter ego Lola_Lola begins to climb in popularity. But just as she begins to pop off, Alice finds that her video persona seems to be taking on a life of its own—and crossing lines that she herself had firmly drawn. Like Perfect Blue before it, Cam is a provocative and creepy look at what it means to lose your online identity.
Arriving at a weird house in the woods, camera op Aaron meets Josef (Mark Duplass who also co-wrote), a total weirdo who says he wants Aaron to spend the day filming him for a video that can be shown to his unborn child (after he dies from an apparent terminal illness). But as Josef’s behaviour gets more and more bizarre, and his on-camera confessions become more and more disturbing, Aaron’s hopes that he is just a harmless eccentric slowly slip away. Found-footage gold and an instant cult classic, Creep is followed by an equally good and equally chilling sequel which is also available on Netflix.
A good, classic, horror-lover’s horror, Don’t Breathe is so much darker and more disturbing than its premise initially suggests. Following a trio of Detroit delinquents desperate for a bit of cash to escape their dire circumstances, Don’t Breathe’s young protagonists think they’ve hit the jackpot when they stage a robbery at the house of a wealthy blind man. When a grisly discovery throws a spanner in the works, however, it becomes clear that they dangerously underestimated who they are dealing with. Clocking in at a succinct 88 minutes, Don’t Breathe is a tense, taught and wonderfully sick horror, and so much more than a home invasion movie.
With the Purge films having now basically spawned their own cinematic universe, it is remarkable how almost every new addition to the franchise remains well worth watching—and, as our own world crumbles, increasingly familiar. The First Purge goes back to where it all began, with “the new founding fathers” testing out their theory that a bit of state-sanctioned killing will lead to less overall killing. Combining canny social commentary with the chaotic horror the Purge movies are known for, The First Purge is a provocative and worryingly prescient take on the violence underlying American democracy.
Mike Flanagan: so hot right now! Based on the Steven King novel of the same name, Gerald’s Game is arguably the director’s best and one of the few near-perfect Netflix Originals. Following married couple Jesse (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) on a romantic getaway at an isolated lake house, things turn sour when Gerald dies suddenly of a heart attack, leaving Jessie handcuffed to the bed with little hope of escape. It’s a simple set up with major payoff, and Gugino carries the suspense and horror all the way to the deliciously gruesome end.
Perhaps one of the yuckiest horrors available on Netflix, Girl on the Third Floor puts a fresh spin on the haunted house genre with an added emphasis on bodily fluids. Following expectant father Don as he attempts to renovate an old house and redeem himself from a sordid past, it soon becomes clear the house has other plans—along with some less than pleasant stuff hiding behind the walls. A compelling and well-crafted ghost story, Girl on the Third Floor is an atmospheric little chiller with some gloriously gooey special effects.
With a cast of sprightly young unknowns and strong similarities to a well circulated creepy pasta, Head Count is surprisingly atmospheric and suspenseful, and a promising debut from director Elle Callahan. Joining college lad Evan as he ditches his older brother on vacation in the desert for a bunch of fellow kids at their Airbnb, a weekend of partying is derailed when they realise that, unnoticed, someone or something has joined them. A welcome return to the urban legend teen movie tropes of yore, Head Count a fresh, fun and effective wee horror.
Sometimes all you want is a good, old fashioned, stuck-in-a-secluded-house-with-a-psychopath movie, and Hush delivers—with a twist! Deaf author Maddie is working away on her novel in her house in the woods when a masked man shows up with a bow and arrow and some not very nice plans! Under siege and unable to hear the movements of her attacker, Maddie must use all her cunning to make it out alive. Another from horror hot-shot director Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House, Doctor Sleep), Hush’s simple set-up is executed with careful, crisp precision and squirm-inducing suspense.
Ok, hear me out: A bunch of people get lured into some very tall grass and can’t find their way out. But it’s not just any tall grass. It’s mysterious, secret, time-bending tall grass with something evil lurking within! Based on Stephen King and Joe Hill’s novella of the same name, In the Tall Grass may have a silly premise, but it’s one that director Vincenzo Natali (Cube) commits to admirably, turning it into a wonderfully weird little horror, full of grassy fun.
Is there anything more horrific than an awkward dinner party? How about an awkward dinner party with your ex-wife, her new husband, and a couple of their deeply sinister new friends in the home where you once lived? Amazingly this is only the start of a very bad night for Will (Logan Marshall-Green), who charitably agrees to reunite with his estranged former spouse Eden (Tammy Blanchard) for a catchup dinner with their old gang, years after she mysteriously dropped off the grid. But something is definitely off with Eden and her strange new crew, and soon social awkwardness is the least of anyone’s worries. A sleek, unsettling slow-burn, director Karyn Kusama (Destroyer) expertly dials up the dread as she builds to one of the most chilling closing shots in recent years.
If ‘fun’ horror isn’t your jam, then consider It Comes at Night: a deadly serious and decidedly not silly post-apocalyptic horror that puts a grim new spin on the idea of monsters. Set in the wake of some ungodly plague, It Comes at Night centres on a family holed up in an isolated rural home, whose tenuous domestic order is disrupted when a young couple and their baby come seeking refuge. As the two families try to live together amidst a heavy atmosphere of mistrust, simmering tensions gradually bubble to the surface. Stunning, sad and full of thinky subtext, It Comes at Night’s slow build to a devastating finale will leave you shaken.
What is there to say about The Perfection that won’t give away the absolutely bonkers, bloody, and trashily brilliant joy that it contains? Very little—but suffice to say, this story of a musical prodigy (Alison Williams) and her rival (Logan Browning) does NOT go in the direction you think it will, all the way to its gleefully gory finale. With more twists than Wild Things and no particular concern for taste or propriety, The Perfection is a wild ride better left unspoiled.
Survivalist horror is on the rise nowadays (can’t imagine why) and A Quiet Place is one of the most successful entries into the genre so far. Co-written, directed by and starring John Krasinski (Jim from The Office) A Quiet Place is set in a ruined world where horrid sightless creatures hunt humans by sound. Following a family of four (with a baby on the way!) as they live their noiseless existence in this wack-a-doo new world, A Quiet Place is riddled with suspense, racked with tension, and just a little bit silly in all the best ways.
A beautifully melancholy, mysterious British horror reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project and Midsommar, The Ritual follows a group of lads who travel to the Swedish wilderness to scatter the ashes of a friend lost in tragic circumstances. Things go awry, however, and the group decides to take a shortcut through the extremely creepy Scandinavian forest. Never a good idea! With haunting imagery, an atmosphere thick with dread, and an excellent cast led by Rafe Spall, The Ritual is a criminally underrated horror gem.
Easily one of the best zombie horrors to emerge in recent years, Korean action-thriller Train to Busan is already a cult classic—and for good reason. The story of a man travelling by train with his young daughter to reunite with his wife, things go pretty wrong when a virus outbreak begins turning fellow passengers into the flesh-eating undead. A clean, compelling and completely exhilarating take on what is often a tired genre, Train to Busan is the new gold standard of zombie horror.
If you, like I, have developed strong feelings about video calls over the past three months and are in need of some catharsis, Unfriended: Dark Web is the horror for you. Like its predecessor Unfriended, semi-sequel Unfriended: Dark Web takes place entirely on a laptop screen—unfolding through video calls, chat windows, Google searches and Spotify playlists. It’s a surprisingly effective gimmick once again, and in departing from the paranormal concept of the original Unfriended becomes all the more chilling. A simple story of an online game night gone horribly wrong, Unfriended: Dark Web perfectly captures the rotting heart of our digital utopia.
Romance gone wrong is always fertile ground for horror, and in Canadian thriller What Keeps You Alive, it goes… pretty damn wrong. Joining couple Jackie and Jules (Hannah Emily Anderson and Brittany Allen) on a trip to a secluded lake house to celebrate their first anniversary, the pair’s blissful escape is increasingly disrupted as secrets begin to unravel and they start to really get to know each other. A beautifully shot, brutal thriller, What Keeps You Alive is a slow burn that takes its time revealing its bloody heart.