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The best horror movies of the decade
Celebrating 10 years of horror.
It's been a killer decade for fans of the spooky, the supernatural and the Toni Colette so we're counting down the very best horror movies of the last 10 years.
In 2019 alone, we've had the absolute pleasure of being scared senseless by three of the best contemporary horror movie directors: Jordan Peele brought us dangerous doppelgangers with Us, Ari Aster took us on a most uncomfortable trip with Midsommar and Dave Eggers gave us the willies (and the Willem) with The Lighthouse.
There's no doubt about it; this decade has been an absolute boon for the horror industry and that becomes painfully apparent when you begin to look back at the last 10 years of cinema.
The decade started slow. There were a handful of frightful films; like Let Me In and The Last Exorcism, and a few fun romps, such as Rare Exports and Pirahna 3D but for the most part, it was a quiet couple of years for scream queens and sinful teens.
That was all before James Wan began to make a motza with box office horror hits like The Conjuring. After that, it was game over for the scared and squeamish.
From 2014 on, horror fans have been spoiled for choice.
With the decade nearly done and dusted, our insatiable appetite for soul-rattling scares is stronger than ever, and we've been getting all choked up reminiscing about all the weird and wonderful nightmares we've been exposed to over these last 10 years.
So without further hesitation, here are the best horror films of the decade according to Reviews AU staff.
Editors note: If some of the release dates here look strange to you, that's likely because we tend to move a little slower here in Australia. Many films don't make it Down Under until the movie has had a successful run in the U.S. sometimes up to a year later.
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2010 was a slow year for horror. There were a couple of standouts: Paranormal Activity 2 successfully picked up where the original left off, Piranha 3D had some fun with the third-dimension after James Cameron re-introduced cinema-goers to 3D glasses across the globe. And Let Me In, while more drama than horror, successfully adapted the 2008 Swedish flick Let the Right One In for U.S. audiences. But the most memorable movie of the year has got to be Darren Aronofksy's Black Swan.
Black Swan stars Natalie Portman as a ballet dancer who lands the lead role in a production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Amidst pressure from her overbearing mother and a new competitor in the ranks (Mila Kunis), Portman's Nina Sayers begins to lose grip on reality as she goes to extreme lengths to embody the Black Swan character.
The film is carried on the shoulders of the performances by its two leads: Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Kunis, in particular, had only recently transitioned to film with plenty of success in the comedy genre but Black Swan was her breakout drama role. Her and Portman's dynamic alone makes this one our pick for 2010.
Let Me In, Paranormal Activity 2, Pirahna 3D and The Silent House
With the rip-roaring success of Paranormal Activity's found-footage approach, traditionally shot horror went out of vogue for a while but in 2011, James Wan's Insidious pulled horror fans back on side.
Insidious follows Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne as two distraught parents dealing with the sudden comatose of their son, Dalton. After months of treatment, Dalton is sent home, followed by a sinister force that uses the young boy's body as a gate between worlds.
Cabin in the Woods
This one's just a little bit cheeky. Cabin in the Woods is a horror-comedy and by that admission alone, it's not quite as spooky as the other films on this list but there's no denying it's quintessential viewing for any fan of the genre.
Joss Whedon's love letter to horror and all its sub-genres seems like straight piss-take of Evil Dead at first glance but as the film checks-off horror movie tropes, a much larger world is discovered. This is definitely a 'less said the better' situation. Best to go in with as little information as possible.
In fact, the scariest thing about Cabin in the Woods was the fact that it was almost never released when it was put on hold 'indefinitely' after MGM went bust. The movie eventually made its way to Lionsgate and all was right in the world. If anything, the delay allowed time for Chris Hemsworth's star to rise amidst early Avengers fame, no doubt contributing to ticket sales.
Sinister and V/H/S
If Insidious is the Iron Man to James Wan's horror cinematic universe, then The Conjuring is surely the Captain America: The First Avenger. Bringing his pal Patrick Wilson back into the mix and adding a necessary serving of Vera Farmiga, James Wan has built an empire of the backs of real-life paranormal investigators Ed (Wilson) Lorraine Warren (Farmiga).
Despite being based on a true story, there's still a lot of supernatural spookiness in The Conjuring; courtesy of Annabelle and The Nun, characters that would eventually get their own spin-offs and flesh out the Warrens cinematic universe.
Mama and Byzantine
An Australian film like The Babadook only comes around so often. Not only did this 2014 horror flick set a shining example for what Aussies are capable of cobbling together, but it's also contributed to the shifting landscape of the horror genre. The Babadook proved that you don't need buckets of money and lots of flashy CGI to make a good horror story.
While the titular Babadook is a looming spectre in the lives of Amelia Vanek and her son Samuel, it's not your typical monster manifestation. Rather than a tangible threat, The Babadook is a representation of the family's festering grief.
Despite the movie's supernatural veil, Jennifer Kent is telling a tremendously personal story about tragedy unchecked and the damage it does to our mental health.
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After a couple of solid years of classic ghost stories from James Wan's stable, there was a deluge of horror movies with something to say. In 2015, we got It Follows, a super stylish horror where a relentless supernatural force pursues a ragtag group of teenagers. The twist is: the largely unexplained threat is sexually transmitted.
The true terror of It Follows is in the mystery of the invisible threat's origin and motivation; once the curse is passed on to another victim, it will follow them to the end of the earth until it claims a life. The entity also doesn't take one specific corporeal form, instead adopting the appearance of average bystanders until it draws close, often transforming into a twisted, disfigured visage. This makes every extra in It Follows a suspect so your eye is constantly monitoring the background to see if someone's marching towards our heroes.
Combine that constant fear of basically every living person on screen and Maika Munroe's outstanding performance and you've got one of the best horror movies of the decade.
Housebound and Goodnight Mommy
The decade of horror belongs to three distinct voices that all got their start in the last 10 years: Jordan Peele, Ari Aster and Robert Eggers. The last on that list was the first out of the gate with his debut feature film, The Witch.
In a genre that is popularly quantified by its scares-per-minute, The Witch instead relies on a slow, mounting tension born from one family's fight for survival after they are banished from a puritanical community in New England in the 1630s.
Leaving the community behind them, the family starts their own farm to sustain their simple way of life. Comfortable enough, they birth a new addition to their family, little baby Samuel. But when Samuel goes missing, the tightknit family begin to blame each other for his disappearance, not realising that a sinister force from the woods is feeding on (and feeding) their desolation and paranoia.
From the moment Samuel goes missing to the closing credits, The Witch doesn't let up on the well-meaning family, or the audience for that matter. Any movie that ends with a huge sigh of relief is worth a consideration on this list but The Witch will have you straight-up gasping for air.
Don't Breathe and The Invitation
Next up is Jordan Peele's debut feature film: Get Out. Almost as soon as his Comedy Central gig on Key and Peele wrapped up, Peele started his own production company Monkeypaw Productions and got started on Get Out, a horror movie partly inspired by The Stepford Wives.
Peele credits his background in comedy as "training" for his first stab at horror:
So much of it is pacing, so much of it reveals. So much of it is the ability to pinpoint what an audience is going through at that very moment
And it shows in Get Out. Despite how utterly terrifying the movie can be, Peele can't resist a good chuckle. Throughout the movie's 104 minute runtime, you'll be questioning whether you're laughing at Peele's sense of humour or out of sheer, nervous terror.
Daniel Kaluuya (Black Mirror's Fifteen Million Merits) stars as Chris, a young black photographer invited to the estate of his girlfriend's (Allison Williams) super-wealthy and overly "woke" parents. Of course, there's something afoot on the estate as Chris discovers when he observes some unsettling behaviour from the only other black residents: the housekeeper Georgina and groundskeeper Walter. The payoff at the end transforms what starts as fairly straight thriller into a horror-fantasy nightmare.
IT, The Ritual and It Comes At Night
By the start of 2018, we'd been introduced to Robert Eggers and Jordan Peele's early oeuvre but the best was yet to come: Ari Aster's first feature film Hereditary.
Out of the gate, Hereditary had one incredible weapon in its marketing arsenal: Toni Collette. Smack a picture of Toni on your movie's poster and I'll pay through the nose to go see it. I'll go the full mile: Hoyts Gold Class on day one with more popcorn than any one person should consume over 127 minutes.
The fact that Toni Collette's knockout performance as distraught mother Annie Graham absolutely owns every single minute of Hereditary is just a bonus.
Hereditary follows Annie's family as they deal with the obscure aftermath of her own mother's passing. And as much as Collette is the driving force of this truly terrifying ride, the cast that make up her family, Gabriel Byrne as her husband, Alex Wolff as her sixteen-year-old son and Milly Shapiro as Annie's daughter Charlie, round the movie out, giving Collette the company she needs to elevate her performance from unsettling to spine-chilling.
For the Leftovers fans out there, Ann Dowd is also on-board as Annie's oddball but seemingly harmless support group buddy.
Aster's portrayal of grief and the dangerous rifts it can create between those closest to us is one of the most haunting cinema experiences I've ever sat through. Hereditary isn't just the best horror movie of the decade, it's an all-timer for sure.
Overlord, A Quiet Place, Mandy and Apostle
Just as our nerves were beginning after Hereditary's mindblowing ending, Ari Aster went and announced his next feature film: Midsommar. The simple poster featured a close-up shot of Florence Pugh's anguished face juxtaposed with a beautiful, flowery crown and a clear blue sky already had us shaking in our boots. If Video Ezy was still around, this would be the kind of VHS case that would give me nightmares.
Released this June, Midsommar is still very fresh in our minds and its possible we don't have enough distance from the Sweden-set break-up movie to truly dedicate the year of horror to it, especially with Eggers' The Lighthouse and Mike Flanagan's Doctor Sleep around the corner (remember, we get these movies a lot later than the U.S. and sometimes don't get a cinema release at all).
Still, Midsommar currently stands as our top pick for 2019. Florence Pugh's heartbreaking performance as traumatised Dani Ardor deserves all the nominations. And Aster's pairing of some intense body horror (created with practical effects) and the idyllic commune of Hårga will shock you to the core. Where Hereditary's horror was at the hounds of true evil, Midsommar leaves you questioning whether the outcome is horrific as originally perceived. Aster manages to find true beauty in some of the movie's most horrific situations. The end result is a film that's not quite as scary as our top pick of the decade (Hereditary) but rather a welcome evolution to Aster's established style. More than anything, Midsommar has as hungry to find out what Aster's next move will be.
Hungry for more horror movies?
See our selection for the best horror movies you can stream in Australia
To celebrate the last decade of horror, Reviews.org hired two unfortunate test subjects to watch five of the scariest movies in our list.
We set out to find the perfect horror couple: one seasoned scary movie veteran and one stereotypical scaredy cat. There were a lot of outstanding applications for the Nightmare Gig but there were two that stuck out amongst the crowd: Bianca Mastroianni (the horror movie superfan) and Chloe Lal (Bianca's horror adverse friend).
Both Bianca and Chloe had their first horror movie experiences at a young age.
For Bianca, it was with the horror classic The Exorcist at just five years old.
Chloe had a similar experience at a young age with M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense but instead of kicking off a lifelong love of horror flicks, the kid who saw dead people nearly turned her off for life.
In the name of mad science, Reviews.org sent Bianca and Chloe two Fitbit Versa 2s and $1,000 to work the Nightmare Job. Both Bianca and Chloe were tasked with watching five of the scariest movies of the decade while tracking their heart rates so we could determine which flicks were the scariest and how they affected each participant.