Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?” can be found at the end of this survey.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.
Q: “It Follows” has been called the
best horror movie in years, to the objections of those who said the same
thing about “The Babadook” in 2014. So let’s settle this: What’s the
best horror movie released since the year 2000, and are we in the midst
of a bonafide horror boom?
Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket
This is kind of a tough question because, as a hardcore horror buff, I think there have been a lot of great horror movies in the last fifteen years. If I have to choose just one, I’ll go with “The Cabin in the Woods,” which is one of the most original and inventive that I’ve seen in a long time. What starts off masquerading as a typical dumb-kids-getting-killed-at-a-remote-cabin story gradually reveals itself to be a whip-smart deconstruction of the entire horror genre, as well as the iconic elements that constitute it. The final twenty minutes, in particular, are a horror buff’s delight. I’ll admit, it’s not the scariest (for me, that would be “Paranormal Activity”) but it’s definitely the one that brought me the most pleasure. Movies like “The Cabin in the Woods,” “It Follows,” and “The Babadook” show that there are a lot of filmmakers interested in making the genre about more than mere exploitation. That’s something to be really excited about.
Ethan Alter, Film Journal International, Yahoo! Movies
I don’t know about a full-fledged horror boom, but we are fortunate to have some exceptionally fine examples of the genre to choose from for the title of best horror movie of the past 15 years. I could make a case for “The Devil’s Backbone,” “Shaun of the Dead,” “V/H/S,” or, yes, “The Babadook” and “It Follows.” But the one that’s burrowed the farthest into my brain is Rodney Ascher’s “Room 237.” Besides reminding viewers of the horrific greatness of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” Ascher’s film preserves the silly, strange and sometimes downright spooky thoughts that can pass through peoples’ brains when they experience a specific work of art. It illustrates how our own minds can invent interpretations that are even more bizarre and frightening than what’s happening onscreen.
Tomris Laffly, Movie Mezzanine, Film Journal International
responded very strongly to a number of horror films since 2000.
Especially those that were rooted deeply in the horrors and despair of
parenthood, such as “The Orphanage,” “Mama,” “The Conjuring,” “Insidious” and of course The “Babadook” (especially the last of the bunch) spoke to me a great deal, not to
mention, scared the living daylights out of me. But I have to say I
found the best and most effective/artful “recent” horror film to be “It Follows.” Not only it turns the conceptual tropes of the horror genre on their
heads (sexual and else), but it also invents a look that is contemporary
and timeless at equal measure, with a story and score that wink to the
likes of Carpenter. Did I mention it is also scary as hell?
Mark Young, Sound on Sight
I suppose it depends upon what you mean by “horror boom.” There is certainly a high quantity of horror pictures these days (thanks to Netflix, which seems to own the streaming rights to every single one of them). But I don’t know that the quality is booming these days; for every “It Follows” there are a half-dozen clunkers like “Frankenstein’s Army” and “The Ward.”
All I know is this: “It Follows” > “The Babadook.” The latter is a superb film with an excellent performance from Essie Davis, but I think Maika Monroe is just as good in “It Follows,” which has the edge of being one of the most beautifully photographed horror films ever. Yes, ever.
I know some people who find “The Babadook” a touch schematic or only
scary in theory. That’s exactly how I feel about “It Follows,” which feels
to me like a horror film made by grad students. It’s fun, especially
for Disasterpeace’s Carpenter-like score, but
the whole thing plays like a constant elbow to the rib cage (and
without the humor of “The Cabin in the Woods”). Meanwhile, Jennifer Kent’s
stunning “The Babadook” has a fully realized central performance — by the
fearless Essie Davis — and a killer climax that doubles
the complexity. “It Follows”, whatever its formal rigors, doesn’t have
either of those things. Plus, I bet by the end of 2015, “It Follows” won’t
even be thought of as the best horror film of this year alone, not
after people get a load of Sundance’s “The Witch.” But between those movies (and “The Conjuring”), yes, it’s a damn good
time to be a horror fan. If we’re going all the way back to 2000,
though, I might have to give the crown to “Ginger Snaps,” “Mulholland Dr.” or “The Descent.”Kristy Puchko, Spinoff, Pajiba
Personally, I think “It Follows” is wildly overrated, especially coming on the heels of “The Babadook,” which combined masterfully made terror with a tantalizingly taboo topic. (Fear of sex is SO 1980s.) We’ve had a wealth of great an inventive horror in the past few years. Jason Blum has been introducing new audiences to the power of the genre through intimately told dramas that happen to be scary as hell. “Cabin In The Woods” played with old conventions in a new way, making loads of them fresh and fun again. “Black Swan” reminded us horror can be beautiful and Oscar-worthy. And just last year we had “The Babadook,” “Under The Skin,” “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” and “What We Do In Shadows,” four very different and intensely enthralling movies that all rightfully belong under the horror umbrella. I think the genre is going through a rebirth, inspiring filmmakers new and established, and spurring innovations to the genre that will influence a future generation of horror auteurs. As to the best since 2000? Look at the titles listed here. It’s impossible to choose.
Scott Weinberg, Nerdist
We are always in the midst of a horror boom. It’s just that sometimes it spills over into the mainstream.
Scott Mendelson, Forbes
don’t think we are in the midst of any horror boom. There are any
number of strong horror titles that drop every year, and I take issue
with reviews of certain horror films (like “Mama” or “The Babadook”) that
house their (perfectly understandable) raves under the notion that a
horror film rooted in character and real-world emotions is somehow a
rare thing. Anyway, the difference is that more and more would-be horror
gems are basically VOD offerings with an at-best-minimal theatrical
release. But my pick for the best horror film of the last fifteen years
is Bill Paxton’s “Frailty.”
of course stars as a normal single father of two young boys. Everything
is fine and dandy until he sees a vision of a religious nature and
wakes up his children to inform them that God has chosen him to be a
slayer of demons. Told mostly from the point of view of the oldest son
(a devastatingly good Matt O’Leary), this modern-day fable brings about
timely issues of the nature and limits of religious devotion, and how
our standards for sanity have changed over the centuries. It
features fine work from all involved, and it shows how good an actor
Matthew McConaughey was even before his so-called “McConaissance”. It’s
also disturbing and scary as hell. It will leave you feeling thoroughly
creeped out and not a little sad.
a testament to the notion that a horror film works best when the
supernatural/horror material is arguably the least frightening thing
about it. Take away all of the would-be supernatural/theological
implications, and it’s still a wrenching tale of child abuse and two
young victims with no plausible means of escape. Its tale of apparent
religious delusion came at exactly the right time, just months after the
attacks put would-be religiously-motivated mania and violence under a
microscope, yet the film has the courage to not necessarily come to
the conclusions that you might expect or want it to.
box office failure gives lie to the idea that general theatrical
audiences really, truly, want to be scared to the bone in a horror film,
versus the kind of (perfectly enjoyable) popcorn-flying horror found in
most multiplexes. Not even raves from Stephen King and James Cameron
could buy it a halfway decent opening weekend. Oh well, it will have to
settle for merely being one, in my humble opinion, of the very finest
American horror films in cinematic history.
Richard Brody, New Yorker
Genre is for the marketers; when it’s taken up by fans or critics, it puts an asterisk in front of every judgment, because “good as a horror movie,” let alone “good for a horror movie” or even just “a good horror movie” (or Western, or romantic comedy, or whichever) isn’t the same as “good.” Minus an apparition or two and a startling swimming-pool shootout, “It Follows” is a woefully banal teen drama in which the director moons over insignificant details of his characters’ lives while giving them no substance, no density, no mind. “The Babadook” puts a little symbolic spin on motherhood but it’s rigid, overdetermined, and underobserved, including in its ostensible horrors; not a bad movie, far from a great one. So calling them the best of anything casts doubt upon the category and the standard. The best new horror movie I’ve seen in the last fifteen years would also be one of the best movies I’ve seen in this period without regard to its genre connection — or, rather, with inescapable regard to genre as an experience imposed by the marketers, because the backstory for its genre allusions is built into the story, because it’s an exemplary drama of primordial cinephilia and its horrors: “Shutter Island,” of course.
Justine Smith, Sound on Sight
Without stretching the definition of horror too far, I’d say the best horror since the year 2000 is Claire Denis’ mysterious and melancholic “Trouble Every Day.” While the actual source of supernatural dread remains relatively obscure, the film’s intermingled portrayal of despair and desire makes it stand out. Denis’ sensitivity as a filmmaker, how she relegates chosen violence to the offscreen, and portrays horror with intimacy and empathy set her work apart from her contemporaries. While tenuously connected with French Extremism, an often harrowing and difficult subgenre of horror (which produced in equal measure masterpieces like “Martyrs” and atrocities like “Inside”), the film transcends the pitfalls of the movement’s reliance on misoginistic and exploitative violence. As a huge horror fan I’d like to believe that we are in a “boom”, but I think in nearly every year of the 21st century there have been at least a couple of horror films that have surprised and delighted me with their ingenuity and passion. I think though, availability of certain underground horrors has vastly improved, in particular through VOD, which has helped significantly in raising visibility for horror films that would have likely fallen under the radar in the past.
Drew Hunt, Chicago Reader
I’ve yet to see “It Follows,” and I found “The Babadook” fairly disappointing, so maybe I’m not the best person to answer this question, but my mind immediately goes to 2008’s “Martyrs.” Images of torture — you can’t make me say torture porn! — were prevalent in ’00s horror cinema, but few films put them in a historical or sociocultural context, or any kind of context, period. In short, the film deals with patriarchal and class guilt over the Vichy regime and France’s collaboration with the Nazis, utilizing the concept of the femmes tondues to show how institutionalized violence stands in the way of true spiritual and emotional transcendence. Director Pascal Laugier has described the film as being about suffering (though not necessarily pain), but a sense of guilt is equally detectable, and unlike “Hostel” and “Saw,” films that find gamesmanship in violence, “Martyrs” is the only “torture film” to actively investigate the transgressions of its own images. It’s a masterpiece. As for for the second question, I usually find a lot to like about horror cinema, and it’s nice to see the English-language version catch up with the great stuff we’ve gotten out of South Korea and Mexico in recent years.
Neil Young, Hollywood Reporter
Dunno about “released” — that word smacks of unwholesome Americocentricity — but the best horror *made* since 2000 is unquestionably “Cargo 200,” a late and near-unbearably horrible masterpiece by the unique and much-missed Russian maverick Alexey Balabanov.
While not strictly speaking a “horror film” in the traditional sense (there are zero supernatural elements) and usually classified as a dark comedy (IMDb meekly suggests “drama, thriller”), this multi-layered story of unbridled corruption and depravity in the mid-80s USSR (the title is the official code for bodies repatriated from the Afghan War front-lines) has more than enough genre-concomitants to qualify.
A messily rotting corpse plays a prominent role in the narrative (inanimate, though he does fly through the air at one pricelessly hilarious and horrible juncture). There are murderous, vodka-fueled shenanigans in an isolated farmhouse so creepy it would give Ed Gein the shivers; a clammy mood of skin-crawling dread is effortlessly and near-incessantly sustained. And the marrow-freezing central performance by the late Alexey Poluyan as a jaw-droppingly amoral, predatorily reptilian police-captain takes high rank among the most convincing incarnations of absolute evil ever committed to celluloid.
Luke Goodsell, Movie Mezzanine, Empire
Tempted to say “Antichrist,” but just too much of it is comedy, despite Charlotte Gainsbourg’s unnervingly frayed performance. Instead my vote goes to “Inland Empire,” another women-coming-apart horror that’s both scary and completely exhausting in its trip through migrating-soul psychosis. As for a “horror boom,” I’m not sure one or two “good” movies comprise a renaissance, and even suggesting the genre was/is in a slump feels disingenuous to me. There have always been good horror movies if you seek them, just as I’m sure there have always been terrible ones — even in the so-called halcyon era (whatever that is), from which culture selectively remembers the good stuff.
John Keefer, 51 Deep
“The Babadook” is definitely the best horror film I’ve seen in sometime. “The Descent,” also, was a film I didn’t see coming and left me feeling like I’d just exited a roller coaster. And while it fell prey to the curse/blessing of many sequels and imitations, “Paranormal Activity” felt to me like a classic American horror film. Same goes for “Hostel.” But the most disturbing, engaging, bizarre and beautiful would have to go to “Dogtooth.” The scene with the hand weight. You know the one. I’m terribly indecisive which is why my life is in shambles but the power of “Dogtooth” gives me confidence to declare it my favorite. Feel free to quibble over calling it a “horror” film since so many still consider it a dirty word.
Steve Dollar, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post
feel like mediocre horror films get better than their due because they
feed a really hardcore fan base, and mainstream critics still tend to
ignore all but the most obvious releases, leaving the bulk of the
opinion-making the fervent bloggers (who, also, can be a lot more
demanding at times). Between that, and the glut of horror flicks hitting
Netflix and other streaming platforms, I’d say we’re more aware of
horror as a genre. That’s not the same thing as a “golden age.” I think
that’s still the 1970s/early ’80s, but how many classics like “Texas
Chain Saw” or “Halloween” were recognized as such as the time?
seen a lot of good horror movies since 2000, and a lot of not-great
ones that were still really fun. Masterpieces? I don’t know. The ones
that seem closest and most obvious as answers here are “Let the Right
One In” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” fairy tales of childhood terror and
wonder both. On a more visceral level, I’ll give it to the French:
“Trouble Every Day,””Martyrs” and “In My Skin.”
Alison Nastasi, Flavorwire
Takashi Miike’s “Audition”
goes beyond a slow-burn thriller’s urgency. It’s a meditative film for
the most part, à la Yasujiro Ozu. And then a nightmarish narrative
intrudes, during which you realize that the film was never as tranquil
as it seemed — that the undercurrents of distress were already present,
but were willfully being overlooked and concealed. It’s a potent
combination I’ve never been able to shake completely.
Zac Oldenburg, Having Said That
Traditional: “Let the Right One In” Alternative: “Cabin in the Woods”
Ernesto Diezmartinez, Reforma, cinevertigo
The Best Horror Movie Since 2000: “Kill List” Are we in the midst of a bonafide horror boom? I don’t think so. At least, not like in the ’20-’30s or the ’60s-’70s.
Gary Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News
As someone who saw — and truly appreciated — all seven “Saw” films in the theater, I like to tell myself that I am not squeamish.I can watch exsanguination on screen without (much) flinching. What it truly horrifying to me (and what I cannot watch) is La Streep singing ABBA in “Mamma Mia”! When it comes to the new spate of horror films, I do recall that I did sit through the “Evil Dead” remake with my hands over my eyes at times. Though that didn’t diminish my enthusiasm for this film, it actually increased it. This kicky remake was vivid and visceral, and I admired the film’s addiction metaphor, as well as the souped up special effects. And I do recall screaming long and loudly during “The Descent” to the surprise (and delight) of my friends who saw it with me, and the irritation of the folks in front of me. And while “Wendigo” may not be a truly terrifying film, I distinctly recall screening it on video in my apartment, and finding it so intense I had to stop the film, pace around the living room for a few minutes, and then continue to see what happened next after I caught my breath.
Piers Marchant, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Pop Matters
Two films come immediately to mind. The first, of the non-conventional horror variety, Darren Aronofsky’s brilliant “Requiem for a Dream,” which is filled with such anticipatory dread and anguish, it plays like a series of jump-scares in excruciating slow motion. Anyone who questions the choice — and I welcome your objections — must not have reacted to the descent into madness of Ellen Burstyn’s miserable, lonely elderly mother character the way I did.
For a more conventional choice, I’m going with David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s criminally neglected “Ils,” a French/Romanian horror film from 2006, about a couple who spend a weekend in a remote country house and get terrorized by mostly unseen assailants through the night. Devoid of many horror staples — significant gore and the aforementioned jump-scares, to name a pair — the filmmakers instead rely on a cunning, psychological approach to inject dire unease into their audience. Skillfully made — one gets the sense they worked out every camera shot and perspective to agonizingly exact detail — the film is thoroughly harrowing in a way you can’t quite explain, which is the best sort of horror in my book (see “Shining, The”), under the premise that the truly scariest stuff in the world is all the terror we feel deeply but can’t properly explicate.
Greg Cwik, Indiewire, Movie Mezzanine
I wrote a verbose piece on my 40 favorite horror films last year. But more succinctly: “A
Tale of Two Sisters” is one of the scariest films since 2000, and David
Lynch’s cryptic collage “Inland Empire” is one of the great artistic
achievements of any genre. But my favorite pure-horror film since 2000
is Ti West’s “House of the Devil,” a retrofied satanic panic film that
burns so slowly, it makes “The Shining” look like an Oliver Stone film.
Jocelin Donahue evokes a sense of earnest collegiate innocence, and her
rapport with indie darling Greta Gerwig feels like it has genuine
history. At his best, West utilizes an arsenal of old-school
tricks–in-camera and practical effects, droning sounds, slow hypnotic
zooms that render the quotidian (a pool table in a darkened room)
sinister, and well-placed camera seizures–to synthesize a feeling of
dread. The most fun horror movie since 2000 might be “Cabin in the
address the second part of the question, horror has become a nebulous
term that means something different to a horror junkie than it does a
more pedestrian, casual fan. I liked “The Babadook” plenty, but appealed
to mainstream audiences because it’s aesthetically beautiful, and yet
it’s not even remotely difficult to watch; also, having a woman at the
helm and addressing maternal issues significantly helped dilate its
critical reach, since horror has traditionally lacked female filmmakers.
“It Follows” appeals to people who want to have the shit scared out of
them, as did “Babadook,” but also offers deeper pleasures to the
initiated–those well-versed in the tropes of the genre, and anyone
who’s read Carol Clover. The more I think about it, the more brilliant I
find the film, on a formal level, a literary level, a self-aware
Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second
Horror ain’t really my cup of tea, but I’ll be damned if I have seen a more frightening film in the last fifteen years than David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.” The bit behind the diner is the best jump in all of the movies, and even just thinking about it makes me feel uneasy. An honorable mention goes to “There Will Be Blood,” the ultimate tale of power corrupting, and a picture which its own director thinks of as something of a horror film. As a side-note, I read with some excitement in Mark Zoller Seitz’s “Grand Budapest Hotel” companion that Wes Anderson fancies trying his hand at the genre. Now that I’d like to see.
Jake Howell, Movie City News
Thematically, cinematically, “The Babadook” was great stuff. But I find myself happy to have seen it more than I am happy to revisit it. (I do have a friend, however, who has just wrapped his tenth viewing.) Something about “getting” the central theme in the first act and I feel some of the stakes fall away.
“It Follows” has some of the coolest camerawork I’ve seen in a while — horror or otherwise — and the film has just the dirtiest score. In terms of recent horror, it beats ol’ “Babadook.” Outside of that, though, and the pitfalls of the genre aren’t surpassed here in any significant way, perhaps even succumbing to a few of them.
While both of these films come highly recommended, neither of them hold a candle to “The Witch,” which is approaching utter perfection in nearly every capacity. The scares are more deeply frightening than both of the above, the mythology is far juicier (and steeped in centuries-old lore) than either “The Babadook” or “It Follows,” and it exudes a stronger, more relentless sense of dread. I think about this movie and I get chills. “The Witch” is one of the best films I’ve seen since 2000, folks. And not in just horror.
Crone to yer dome.
Jason Shawhan, The Nashville Scene, Interface 2037
I like “It Follows” quite a bit. But I think the rapturous
“best horror film since ‘Evil Dead’ ’82” talk is problematic. All that
statement says to me is that it’s the evaluation of a person who
probably doesn’t see very many horror films.
You’ve got to be willing to dig deep on a weekly basis to keep up on
things, especially when there are entire networks of horror-related
film, sites, festivals, and means of exhibition which don’t always (or
ever) coincide with the mainstream critic beat.
Dividing up among the prominent subgenres of horror, I’d say the best horror since 2000 breaks down like this:
Devil/Demon: “The Lords of Salem”
Monster: “Trouble Every Day”
Ghosts: “The Others”
Trespass: “Session 9” (with a gold star for “The Shrine”)
Murderer: “Cherry Falls” (even after its butchering by the MPAA)
Meta: “The Cabin in the Woods”
Computer: “Kairo (Pulse)”
Comedy: either “Slither” or “Hey, Stop Stabbing Me”
Jordan Hoffman, NY Daily News, Guardian
“Beyond the Hills,” because it took me about a day to realize, oh, wait, that was a horror movie.
Peter Keough, Boston Globe
“Under the Skin.” And no horror renaissance will happen until the found footage film is no more.
Sean Burns, Movie Mezzanine
“Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt!”
Josh Spiegel, Movie Mezzanine
I’m not sure two movies make a trend, but I also don’t watch every horror film (especially the indies), so I’m hesitant to say that we’re in the midst of a horror-movie boom, or that we’re definitely not. If anything, this might be a case of timing. My pick, though, for the best horror movie of the 2000s is “Pan’s Labyrinth.” No doubt, the 2006 film (Guillermo del Toro’s best, hands-down, at least for me) is as much a fairy tale as anything else, but it’s difficult to ignore the film’s genre leanings when you consider sequences like Ofelia facing off against the Pale Man or the antagonist Vidal stitching his face after an injury. It’s a horrifying film, but a beautiful and tragic one as well. Del Toro may never reach these creative heights again, but “Pan’s Labyrinth” is good enough that it doesn’t matter. (Honorable mention goes to “Let the Right One In,” Tomas Alfredson’s gorgeous and cold vampire romance.)
Edwin Arnaudin, Asheville Citizen-Times
domestic front – my choice is Sweden’s Tomas Alfredson and his “Let the
Right One In.” While there have been great atmospheric dramas (“Only
Lovers Left Alive”) and comedies (“What We Do in the Shadows”) that
feature vampires but aren’t necessarily horror films, this beautiful
work combines the best of both genres without slacking on traditional
scary movie expectations.
for the so-called horror boom, I’m only a lukewarm fan of “The
Babadook” and “It Follows,” but I respect that they’re trying new things — something that can’t be said of the majority of their genre peers.
Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit
not only have I been saying that “It Follows” is the best horror film in
years, I’m also someone who found “The Babadook” wildly overrated, so at
least I’m consistent. For my money, it’s the best since at least “The
Cabin in the Woods,” or perhaps more recently “You’re Next,” though I
prefer “It Follows” to the latter. Gun to my head though, the former is
slightly better, so while “It Follows” is a close second, the best horror
release since 2000 is “The Cabin in the Woods.” They’re both modern
classics though.Q: What is the best movie in theaters?
A: “It Follows”
Other movies receiving multiple votes: “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter,” “Wild Tales”