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.
‘Under The Skin’ is a daring envisioning of Michael Faber’s novel, following an alien seductress that goes by the name of Laura, played by Scarlett Johansson, roaming the grids of Glasgow preying on young men. Directed by Jonathan Glazer, whose wealth of experience in glossy ads and music videos is hugely evident in his striking visuals. It is only his third feature, and his first for about a decade, so it is interesting to see his style bleed through into a full-length film wrapped around a fully developed narrative. The haunting sci-fi thriller takes on themes human existence and is by no means easy viewing, leaving the viewer on edge for its entirety due to a deeply unsettling soundscape.
The plot juxtaposes the voyeuristic qualities of Taxi Driver with the colloquial patter of River City, making for some cringe worthy dialogue interspersed with explorative cinematography. Laura continually asks Scottish residents for directions, pulling up in her transit van and luring them in with her sweet London inflection. Some scenes were shot by hidden camera with non-actors, creating a documentary vibe which sits oddly alongside the futuristic score and the dead stare of an emotionless yet predatory Johansson. The tension in the opening hour is like nothing else I can recall, but as the extraterrestrial creature appears to have an identity crisis after a fascinating encounter with a disfigured man, the plot loosens its grip slightly, giving a welcomed moment or two to breath. That being said, it remains aesthetically interesting throughout and twists to a mind-boggling finale that bravely and defiantly refuses to explain itself.
Furthering an exciting turn in focus, Scarlett Johansson undergoes a physical transformation for the role, weirdly not dissimilar to her dehumanisation for her portrayal of an operating system in Spike Jonze’s Her. In both, she’s shed the blonde bombshell beauty that has helped her carve her career to tackle tricky subject matter. Her disguise of jet black hair, snow white complexion and voluptuous red lips give off a scary new look and her performance is mesmerising as she draws us into her murky liquid limbo. Her interactions with her victims are suitably awkward as budding lotharios deliver their chat-up lines with humorous Weegie charisma. Angel’s Share star Paul Brannigan is the stand out amongst the bunch. He approaches Laura in a busy nightclub but his naive advances get him a very different evening than he had bargained for.
An ambitious picture from a clear visionary mind, ‘Under The Skin’ has pacing issues but its use of Kubrick-esque imagery and chilling sounds have a lasting affect. The strong concept maybe could have worked even better if condensed down to a shorter format as the story arc peters out a little around halfway in. It is refreshing though for a filmmaker to discard conventions in order to push their ideas to the surface and Glazer no doubt plies his trade as only he sees fit, creating an undeniably unique cinematic experience, anchored by a spellbinding lead performance.