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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

5.) “Audition” (2000, US Release)

Kiri, kiri, kiri. Either these words haunt you or you’ve never heard them — there isn’t much of an in between. Takashi Miike will soon release his 100th film, though it’s unlikely that it or any of his 98 other works will reach the same vaunted status as “Audition.” An adaptation of Ryū Murakami’s novel of the same name, it begins and ends in such profoundly different ways that anyone watching with no foreknowledge of its plot wouldn’t even know it’s a horror movie for a good long while. (The somewhat misleading premise involves a widow who holds auditions for a new wife.) By the time you realize what’s really at work, it’s far too late to turn back — not only because it’s so immersive, but because it’s as difficult to walk away from as the femme fatale at its center. If you’ve never seen it, put “Audition” at the top of your list and don’t read another word about it before watching. —MN

4.) “The Orphanage” (2007)

Merging the gothic storybook quality of “Pan’s Labyrinth” with maternal dread, Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona’s debut finds a woman returning to the orphanage where she grew up and confronting the literal ghosts of her past; while there, her young adopted son goes missing on the desolate beach nearby. The ’70s-set drama is a classically spooky drama that veers into morbid territory as the woman grows increasingly despondent and the very foundations of her reality start to collapse. The finale, a shadowy confrontation with supernatural forces, is distinguished by one of the great haunting scenes of all time — a slow countdown in the darkness that finds a group of ghostly children steadily approaching in the darkness. Bayona singlehandedly rejuvenated the elegant possibilities of the horror genre with this first-rate compendium of fears. From the minimalist setting to the scary children and invisible forces, the movie delivers a hodgepodge of ingredients that make this genre such an essential medium for grappling with scary things that go bump in the night. —EK

3.) “Pulse” (2001)

Movies about how we live with (and on) the internet weren’t as common in 2001 as they are now, but few have made as lasting an impression as “Pulse.” Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s best film is terrifying not only for its ghosts but for its insights as well — ideas can’t be exorcised. Otherworldly spirits are akin to a computer virus in the film, which slowly veers toward the apocalyptic as the living vanish and ghosts take their place to say things like “death was eternal loneliness”; as with a lot of great horror, “Pulse” transcends its genre roots to become something more. It, too, is like a computer virus in that sense — it grows and changes at an almost imperceptible rate, affecting you in ways you never could have anticipated. —MN

2.) “Inside” (2007)

The best pregnancy thriller since “Rosemary’s Baby” is also, frankly, one of the most unnerving slasher movies ever made. French directing duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (whose comparatively understated gothic followup “Livid” is totally different) held nothing back for this tale of a pregnant woman fending off a home invader who wants the child in her womb. Never released in American theaters, “Inside” contains some seriously demented imagery, but not before setting up the scares with a technical efficiency that’s downright Hitchcockian. For the most part, “Inside” revolves around the efforts of expectant single mother Sarah (Alysson Paradis) to prevent an intruder from literally ripping a child from her abdomen. Knives and scissors fly freely, but the elegant camerawork makes it clear that the filmmakers aren’t aiming for pure shock value. Instead, “Inside” is a classic home invasion story with the suspense turned up to 11 and the bloody punchlines turned up to 12. Watch it once and ever slasher movie you see afterwards will have to work a little harder to prove its worth. —EK

1.) “Let the Right One In” (2008)

Vampires got hot on the big screen in 2008 with the first entry in the “Twilight” franchise, but they had some delightfully creepy company from Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish gothic romance, the atmospheric look at a 12-year-old boy and the vampire girl who befriends him. Anchored by the chemistry of young actors Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, the movie comes this close to generating an erotic tension between its adolescent leads — but despite hints of subversiveness, never breaks its eerie poetic spell. The snowy setting underscores the prevalent isolation that defines the young protagonist’s life and the mystery that emerges from the discovery of his new companion, who becomes an unexpected resource against neighborhood bullies.

Merging a Spielbergian sense of childhood awe with the dread of a darker world just outside the frame, Alfredson’s approach to gradual approach hints at menacing forces while leaving just enough up to the imagination of the viewer to fill in the gaps. The filmmaker displays an extraordinary ability to use suggestive details about the nature of the vampire — in addition to the contrast between her morbid powers and the face of an innocent child—to maintain a horrific foundation thick with possibilities. (“I’m 12,” the stone-faced Eli tells Oskar, “but I’ve been 12 for a long time.”) Matt Reeves’ 2010 remake did a solid job of tapping into the original’s best attributes, but the Alfredson original remains a seminal horror achievement so exacting that every pregnant pause comes equipped with the frightening anticipation of what might happen next. Like the petite bloodsucker at its center, the movie will last the ages. —EK

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