Due to the countless classic horrors of times gone by, it has been a challenge in cinema to stand out from the crowd when delving into the fright genre. Let’s reflect on ten who avoided the cliché pitfalls and got it right…
10. It Follows
David Robert Mitchell’s indie chiller ‘It Follows’ took a trademark ‘pass it on’ theme of horror films and put a modern twist on it, with a terrifying curse moving from one victim to the next through intercourse. Sexy!
Acclaimed director James Wan created what is arguably the best known horror franchise of the century, the original dating back to 2004. It has spawned a whopping six sequels already with another due out next year. His other works in the field include Insidious and The Conjuring.
8. Paranormal Activity
The Blair Witch Project rejuvenated the found-footage style horror movie in 1999, so is slightly too early for this list but Paranormal Activity is the most notable film of its kind this century. The first, written and directed by Oran Peli, was a low-budget wonder but unfortunately the series has repeated itself ever since.
7. The Guest
Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens made the jump from telly to the silver screen last year in The Guest, directed by Adam Wingard. It implemented horror elements in a synth styled flick about a mysterious ex-soldier.
Scripted by the great Joss Whedon, this self-aware teen-comedy horror poked fun at the slasher stereotypes and had a lot of fun in the process. Chris Hemsworth featured in the leading role ahead of his Thor fame.
5. The Babadook
The Babadook is probably one of the more conventional choices on the list, but is a good example of solid execution. The debut feature for actress turned writer and director Jennifer Kent terrified audiences across the country last year.
4. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
The most recent addition to the list is black and white indie ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’. Set in a ghost town called Bad City and featuring a fantastic 80s soundtrack, this is the best thing to come out of Iran since…well since ever!
3. Shaun of the Dead
The team behind cult sitcom Spaced added their unique comedic twist to three types of film during their blood and ice-cream trilogy, the first and in my opinion the best of which was the zombie-horror Shaun of the Dead.
2. Under the Skin
Scarlett Johansson terrorises the streets of Glasgow in bizarre sci-fi horror Under the Skin, directed by visionary filmmaker Jonathan Glazer. A haunting, pulsing score and a chilling performance makes a strange but frightening cinema experience.
After making a name from himself in the horror film genre, film director Adam Wingard is treading into uncharted territory with psychological thriller ‘The Guest’. While the filmmaker breaks free from the creepy, the starring actor Dan Stevens breaks free from the Crawley as he leaves behind his Downton reputation to become a slick-haired dangerous man of mystery. When soldier David Collins (Stevens) turns up at the door of the grieving Peterson family, struggling after the death of their son Caleb, he isn’t initially met with a warm welcome by all. Agreeing to stay for a couple of days, he extends a helping hand, sorting out their problems one-by-one. But why? While mother, father and son warm to David’s charms, Anna (Maika Monroe), the teenager daughter of the clan, has her suspicions over the true identity of their new houseguest and his seemingly selfless actions, but by the time she discovers his motives, will it be too late?
From the opening scene when a shot of David running down an open road abruptly cuts to a garish title card accompanied by over-the-top synth music, it becomes evident that the team behind the film aren’t taking themselves or the subject matter too seriously, which in this case is a good thing. Free from the formulaic reins of the scary movie, writer Simon Barrett combines a witty intelligent script with Wingard’s strong visual style, creating something that takes inspiration from faraway pots yet feels fresh and exciting – a cult classic in the making. The eighties electronic soundtrack blends works well while key scenes are smeared with exaggerated violence but with horror elements thrown in as well, it’s like a Nicolas Winding Refn Halloween party.
The complexities of the protagonist are portrayed with ease by former television actor Dan Stevens. Even when delivering his whip-quick retorts and keeping his unflinching cool, there is a blistering sense of menace behind his eyes. His charisma and presence are already generating talk of his capabilities to play James Bond, no doubt down to his admirable ability to mix humour with action. This talent culminates in a brilliant bar brawl scene where his character makes quick work of a gang of school-bullies who’ve been picking on Anna’s younger brother Luke. Equally effective is co-star Maika Monroe whose rebellious beauty brings the only glimmer of realism the story has. Madness ensues around her as this handsome stranger wreaks havoc on everything and everyone she knows and her performance is memorable. Star quality is demonstrated by both Stevens and Monroe, telling me this won’t be their last leading roles on the silver screen.
‘The Guest’ refuses to conform to genre expectations, moving seamlessly from a slow-burning character study to thrilling action-comedy to a horror-esque finale. The closing sections illustrate a craft in suspense in a location resembling the wreckage if a ghost train ripped through the Overlook Hotel. The violence used is double-edged, evoking reactions of both laughter and shock and the closing expletives in the script sum it up rather well. By playing up to stereotypes, Wingard entertains with a smirk across his face so when this guest packs up its belongings and moves on, you’ll be sad to see the back of it.