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.
UPDATED APRIL 5
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.
Though it is arguably responsible for the recent spate of horrors using painful family circumstances as the both the setting and the source of menace, few films since have quite managed to balance visceral terror and nuanced storytelling like 2014 Aussie chiller The Babadook. A single mother, at her wits’ end caring for her difficult young son, makes the mistake of reading him a deeply sinister storybook that mysteriously appears on the shelf. Soon both are consumed with fear and paranoia that the book’s goulish protagonist is very real—and drawing closer and closer. Deceptively simple and truly frightening, Jennifer Kent’s debut film is already a cult horror classic.
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.
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.
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.
Do you ever watch WWII movies and wonder, “what if there were… zombies?” Wonder no more! Action-horror extravaganza Overlord has the answer. Set on the eve of D-Day as American troops make their way behind enemy lines, this glorious gorefest imagines a world where Nazi experiments on civilians have produced a serum that reanimates the dead—giving them something of an upper hand. An incredibly entertaining and unapologetically gleeful nod to the bonkers B-movies that inspired it, Overlord is furious, fast paced and a lot of fun.
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.
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.
It is well known that one of best horror subgenres is the creepy doppelganger subgenre—and US is a worthy addition to a category already so full of gems. The follow up to Get Out, Jordan Peele’s mega successful horror debut, US follows a family who one day find themselves under attack from an eerie group of exact doubles. Where did they come from? What do they want? Why are they all carrying big pairs of scissors? Starring Lupita Nyong’o in a wildly well done double role, US is biting satire that is both more ambitious and more scary than its predecessor—and one of the best horror releases last year.
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.
In Robert Eggers’s acclaimed directorial debut, a family attempts to set up a farm on the edge of a spooky forest in 17th Century New England, after being banished from their village. Things quickly start to go wrong and, as was the style at the time, adolescent daughter Thomasin is suspected of witchcraft. As tensions rise and suspicions simmer, their situation grows increasingly dire—but what is really causing the family’s misfortune? More accessible than Eggers’s followup The Lighthouse, The VVitch is nevertheless equally atmospheric and eerie, permeated with an acute sense of dread. Featuring an excellent early performance from The Queen’s Gambit’s Anya Taylor-Joy and an even better one from Charlie the goat whose onset antics charmed and delighted all.