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The 20 Best Foreign-Language Horror Films of the 21st Century, From ‘Trouble Every Day’ to ‘Let the Right One In’

There's trouble every day with these terrifying films.

Best Foreign Horror Movies

10.) “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (2014)

Ana Lily Amirpour’s sumptuous debut feature is an inky black and white dream, a drug-fueled modernization of vampire lore wrapped in Iranian culture. Showing incredible control for a first-time director, Amirpour lets her camera stay still as her troubled characters make their way through the night, danger nipping at their heels. Sheila Vand’s star-making turn as the titular Girl is a quiet masterstroke, and the production’s beautiful dread is all the more mystifying considering its total cost was around $600,000. —WE

9.) “Ju-on: The Grudge” (2002)

The main emotion at the center of most horror movies isn’t fear but grief. The beings that most scare us onscreen are often terrified themselves, reaching out from beyond the veil for someone to share — or at least understand — their pain. Only when their efforts fail do they turn violent and deadly. That’s certainly true in Takashi Shimizu’s J-horror classic, which spawned an American remake, several sequels, and even a few spinoffs, none of which capture the same elusive spirit. Creepy little kids popping out of closets is scary, but much more frightening is discovering what compelled them to hide in the first place — especially since it’s still out there. The film’s central idea, that anyone who experiences all-consuming rage at the moment of their death lingers on and kills anyone who comes into contact with the spot where they died, has proved as enduring as its haunting antagonist. —MN

8.) “Martyrs” (2008)

“Martyrs” brought about the end of the New French Extremity subgenre, but in a way it’s because nothing could ever quite top this film. It starts off as a brutal and unapologetically violent revenge film, where two girls, clearly traumatized by the past, make martyrs out of a seemingly normal upper-middle class family. Through the very clever use of an unstable protagonist, we doubt the girls’ story – that this seemingly innocent family could be responsible for their captivity and torture – and then we’re shown just how wrong we are by being shown just how depraved humanity can be. Much is made of the film’s infamous vivisection scene, but “Martyrs” uses shock to explore the lengths we will go to fulfill belief, because belief is often the only thing we can hold onto in the face of life’s indiscriminate pain and futility. –JR

7.) “[REC]” (2007)

Sorry, “Paranormal Activity”: The best found footage horror movie of the new millenium is this relentless Spanish take on the zombie genre from co-directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, which finds a news reporter trapped in a building with doomed firefighters and fending off hordes of demonically possessed undead. Sony picked up the rights and buried it on DVD, only to release the shot-for-shot remake “Quarantine.” One can get the idea from the English language version, but the original retains its visceral immediacy, which is so jam-packed with terror that the directors sped right into a sequel that picks up where the earlier one left off. “REC 2” is worth watching for a similar thrill ride, but “REC” stands alone as a tense example of how the ambiguity of shaky cam footage isn’t an excuse for shoddy storytelling; “REC” delivers a steady stream of frights because its camera man never knows quite where to look — and by the time he figures it out, it might be too late. —EK

6.) “The Devil’s Backbone” (2001)

The magic of Guillermo Del Toro’s filmmaking is an ability to mix terror and wonder in a way that heightens both emotions without ever feeling trite. Set during the Spanish Civil War (it was shot in Spain and backed by Pedro Almodovar), this ghost story is told from the perspective of Carlos (Fernando Tielve), a 12-year-old boy who is a new arrival at an ominous orphanage after his father was killed in the war. Carlos, haunted by visions of a mysterious apparition, tries to piece together the mystery of what happened the night a bomb hit the orphanage’s courtyard (but strangely didn’t explode) and a young boy (who now haunts the house) was killed. The film is more unsettlingly creepy than edge-of-your-seat scary, revealing the true horror is being a child during wartime. Del Toro has called “Backbone” his most personal film. –CO

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