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The 20 Best Horror Movies Of The 21st Century, From ’28 Days Later’ to ‘Get Out’

The best horror movies of the 21st century typically focused on people struggling to survive a dark force beyond their comprehension.

5. “Shaun of the Dead” (2004)

Edgar Wright Simon Pegg Nick Frost Shaun of the Dead

“Shaun of the Dead”

To this day, people still describe Edgar Wright’s phenomenal debut feature as a “zombie satire” rather than a bonafide zombie movie. But Wright and cowriters/stars/usual chums Simon Pegg and Nick Frost actually made a legitimate zombie movie in tune with the genre’s finest additions, sprinkling the material of a whip-smart workplace comedy over the makings of a legitimate undead survival tale. Notably, the movie came out the same year as Zack Snyder’s slick “Dawn of the Dead” remake, and did a much finer job of funneling the spirit of George Romero into a 21st century milieu. At first, Shaun (Pegg) barely notices the encroaching apocalypse as he grapples with boring, working-class frustrations — a crappy job, an angry girlfriend, a mean-spirited stepdad — but that plight dovetails nicely into the sudden turn of the second act, when Shaun and longtime pal Ed (Nick Frost) find themselves leading a charge to the local pub for a prolonged showdown. The first in the trio’s “Three Cornettos” trilogy is the only one to embrace classic horror tropes, but it’s also a perfect sign of things to come, showcasing Pegg’s use of high style in service of grand genre traditions — including possibly the best use of a Queen song ever put on screen. However, it really stands the test of time because no matter how cheeky and fun it looks at any given moment, the threat remains dead serious. Shaun can roll his eyes and drop one-liners all he wants, but when a meat-eating corpse is lurching towards him, shit gets real. —EK

4. “Antichrist” (2009)

Lars von Trier's Antichrist

“Antichrist”

Charlotte Gainbourg and Willem Dafoe are a pair of grieving parents who head to the woods while coping with the loss of their infant child. While there, things get a bit…strange. Lars Von Trier’s profoundly unsettling psychodrama is laced with morbid imagery and devilish exchanges that owe much to the extraordinary power of two actors at the height of their abilities. But the movie’s also a remarkable showcase for Von Trier’s ability to funnel his instincts as a provocateur into thrilling cinematic art. “Antichrist” is terrifying in part because it remains wholly unpredictable. You will find nobody on Earth who saw the movie cold and could’ve predicted that a fox would outline the drama for a baffled Dafoe by inexplicably telling him that “chaos reigns.” But that became the battle call for fans of this masterful horror movie as it found its audience beyond the divisive Cannes reaction and settled into the genre circuit. “Antichrist” is a powerful look at the traumatic impact of grief, but it also evades precise meanings by lingering in pure emotional discord that transcends its plot specifics. It’s a scary movie poem that builds its own rhythm from the inside out. —EK

3. “Inside”

“Inside”

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

2. “The Loved Ones”

“The Loved Ones”

Australian writer-director Sean Byrne’s deliriously frightening tale of a teen heartthrob (Xavier Samuel) kidnapped and tortured by the psychotic outcast (Robin McLeavy) he won’t take to the prom suggests “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remade by John Hughes. It’s a terrifying masterpiece that turns high school drama into a literal dead zone. There’s a lot of deranged twists here — brain-drilling experiments involving hot water, quasi-zombies locked up in a shadowy basement — but also serious payoff. Short of “It Follows,” it’s the scariest coming of age movie ever; unlike “It Follows,” Bryne catapults his premise beyond the realm of allegory to deliver a visceral thrill factory. It’s a visionary genre achievement, at once entertaining and terrifying, in tune with grand horror traditions and willing to push them into the realm of teenage angst gone very, very wrong. Byrne, whose followup “The Devil’s Candy” is also worth checking out, deserves recognition as one of the very best horror directors to emerge this millennium. —EK

1. “28 Days Later” (2002)

28 Days Later

Fast zombies. Fast. Zombies. What an idea. Maybe it’s something we should have thought of sooner, or maybe such a boldly revisionist approach to classic horror imagery was only made possible because of the fundamental paradigm shift at the heart  of Danny Boyle’s enraged masterpiece. The year was 2002, and while digital cameras had already begun to make their mark on the movies through the low-budget likes of the Dogme 95 experiments, “28 Days Later” was the first large-scale film to seize on the speed and versatility of the new technology. Those qualities dripped into the soul of  Boyle’s story, coagulating into a horrifyingly immediate nightmare in which the walking (or running?) dead are as quick and as capable as the glorified camcorders used to capture them.

Following a young Cillian Murphy as he wakes up from a coma only to find that he might be the only person left in London, Boyle’s film makes the most of its gnarly aesthetic, each of its three equally terrifying acts addressing a different side of the violence that people inspire from each other. But the scariest thing about “28 Days Later” is that, 15 years later — long after its pixelated images should have reduced it to a relic — its apocalyptic vision of a self-devouring U.K. feels more relevant than ever. — DE

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