The horror genre is stereotypically thought of as being one that rarely evolves; if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. But that’s far from the case, as we’re constantly seeing new horror movies that push the genre forward and do things we never even thought possible.
That has especially been true in the past few years, during which we’ve seen some genre films doing really interesting things. The latest in this line of innovative, original horror is A Quiet Place.
Here’s a look at some recent horror films that were quite inventive and helped to push the genre forward.
1. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
In Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, director Eli Craig starts off with an age-old formula: a group of college kids travel into the woods, only to be brutally murdered by hillbillies.
But Craig flips that on its head by showing us the perspective of the hillbillies. What if they actually aren’t trying to kill the kids at all? What if the whole thing is just a huge misunderstanding?
Though it’s more comedy than horror, that hilarious premise is one of the most unique we’ve seen in the 2010s. And the end product is absolutely hysterical and delightfully gory. It’s proof that in a genre so overloaded with cliches, it’s still possible for a film to build upon these formulas to create something entirely new.
Next: This movie also put a unique spin on a well-worn formula.
2. You’re Next
After decades of slasher flicks, Adam Wingard had a fresh take on the “final girl” concept in You’re Next. The phrase “final girl,” of course, refers to the last person left alive in a slasher; think Laurie Strode in Halloween or Alice Hardy in Friday the 13th.
Typically, she is an innocent girl not prepared for the situation who is subjected to horrifying brutality. But despite that, she usually makes it out alive through sheer perseverance. You’re Next changes things up by giving us a final girl, Erin, who is uniquely prepared for the situation she is placed in.
This leads to a final act in which the villains are actually the ones being hunted by the final girl, the total reverse of how it usually goes. Wingard delivers thrills inside familiar trappings in a way that feels satisfyingly modern, and the result is highly entertaining.
Next: This movie changed the way a lot of people think about horror.
3. The Cabin in the Woods
The Cabin in the Woods brilliantly plays on your expectations for a movie with that title. As with Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard take one of the most generic premises in the world — teens go into the woods and are picked off one by one — and change it up by imagining that the teenagers’ actions are being watched and manipulated, Truman Show style.
The Cabin in the Woods was hardly the first movie to send up horror tropes; it’s not even the first movie on our list to do so. But while some horror spoofs are satisfied with merely pointing and laughing at those tropes, this was a film that took everything we love and hate about the genre and recontextualized it, imagining there’s actually a compelling reason those annoying teenagers always act like such morons.
Surprisingly, the film did not spawn many copy-cats. But it has become a cult favorite and for many people has changed the way they think about the genre. Now, any horror movie you see could take place in the Cabin in the Woods universe.
Next: This great movie took a less-is-more approach.
4. It Follows
As Scream pointed out back in 1996, sex tends to have a negative connotation in slasher films. The final girl is always the innocent virgin, whereas her friends are the ones who engage in premarital sex, only to be brutally slaughtered. This makes it seem like sex is a bad thing that must bring about punishment.
It Follows takes the genre’s obsession with the consequences of sex and turns it inside out. In the movie, a mysterious entity will follow a person and kill them unless they pass the entity on to someone else via sex. Therefore, while sex does doom the protagonist at first, it is also her only way to survive.
The film can be interpreted on many different levels and is especially powerful when it speaks to the lead character’s trauma after having been essentially sexually assaulted. But it also reminds us that sometimes in horror, less is more; never do we see the creature in its “natural” form, and the film is better for it.
Next: Many critics considered this film to be the best of the year.
5. The Babadook
By the end of 2014, there was one movie that many critics hailed as not only one of the best horror films of the year, but one of the best films of the year period: Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook. In this Australian horror masterpiece, a widowed mother struggling to raise her temperamental son is haunted by a monster out of her child’s pop-up storybook.
That premise might sound like it could lend itself to camp. But what the film does so well is tell a grounded story about a woman dealing with grief. It just so happens that it also has a monster in it. At the same time, Kent does not sacrifice scares to tell this emotional tale; the film is as terrifying as it is poignant. Kent was not the first to do this. But hers is one of the best entries into this subgenre in modern times.
Although the film did not receive a wide release in the United States, it has gained much more attention since then and reminded millions of people of just how powerful horror can be.
Next: This slasher movie is a lot more original than you might expect.
While it’s certainly not on the same level as something like The Babadook, Unfriended is actually much more unique and original than you might expect from a low-budget slasher flick. In it, a group of friends hang out on a Skype chat, only for a supernatural force to begin haunting the call.
The movie uses technology to scare us in compelling ways. In one scene, the lag that often occurs on video calls makes us scream. In another, a song popping up on Spotify manages to be scary. Unfriended didn’t invent the idea of using technology to scare us — other films like The Den did it first — but many of its best gags were ones that had really never been attempted before.
It was also refreshing to see a technology-based horror movie that uses this technology in a realistic fashion and has a good understanding of how we use computers to communicate. In every sense of the word, it is a truly modern horror film.
Next: This is one of the best found-footage films ever made.
Creep is an entry into the found-footage genre, one of the most worn-out subgenres in all of modern horror. So how is it that Patrick Brice’s film managed to feel like nothing we had ever seen before?
Primarily it’s because the movie is at its core just a long conversation between two people, like a frightening My Dinner with Andre. It follows Aaron, a videographer who goes to work for a stranger, Josef, who posted an ad on Craigslist. All Josef wants him to do is film him all day. As things progress, it becomes clear that Aaron is in for more than he bargained for.
The film does have a fair amount of jump scares. But its most bone-chilling scenes rely on the subtly uncomfortable interactions between the two men; imagine the cringe comedy of The Office but as a horror movie. It is a genius piece of work, and one of the most compelling horror films of the 2010s.
Next: Many critics named this film one of the best of 2016.
8. The Witch
Although Robert Eggers’ The Witch is one of the most terrifying films of the decade, it’s also one of the most understated. It gets under your skin in a subtle way and lingers as you’re heading home from the theater.
Set in 1630s New England, the film explores the lives of a family of Christians who encounter supernatural forces. It’s a genuinely thought-provoking look at the dangers of repression that forces us to imagine how petrifying the lives of these puritanical characters must have been.
What was particularly great about the film, though, was that this was a mainstream horror movie hitting 2,000 screens with barely any jump scares. As was the case with The Babadook, it was a reminder that horror films don’t always have to be the cinematic equivalent of haunted houses; they can be art worth discussing the same way we might discuss the winner of Best Picture at the Oscars.
Next: Speaking of the Oscars, this film did receive several nominations at the Academy Awards.
9. Get Out
There’s no better sign of how revolutionary Get Out was than the fact that it was a serious contender to win Best Picture at the Oscars.
Get Out borrowed elements from a lot of films that came before it, from The Stepford Wives to Night of the Living Dead. But it was still a groundbreaking movie that came along and reminded us that horror can be the perfect genre to deal with issues like racism, both on a small and a large scale.
Jordan Peele’s film is still too recent for us to know whether it will have a practical impact on the genre. But if it does lead to an uptick in horror movies with something compelling to say about society, Peele will have not only made a great movie; he will have progressed 21st-century horror itself.
Next: Why A Quiet Place is worthy of being spoken about in these same terms.
10. A Quiet Place
A Quiet Place came along in 2018 to demonstrate that audiences will be totally fine with shutting up for 90 minutes and soaking in a movie with virtually no dialogue. Because monsters in this world will kill anyone who makes a sound, there’s only one single scene in the film where anyone talks at full volume.
Any other time the characters speak, it’s either through whispers or sign language. Many scenes are just completely free of anyone speaking at all. Horror films utilizing silence to scare us is nothing new; Don’t Breathe did so less than two years prior. But this almost total lack of dialogue, even in the first act, was what was so unique about A Quiet Place.
Director John Krasinski relies on brief exchanges, in addition to the visual language of film, to communicate almost everything he needs to. The degree to which the film utilizes silence is also even more extreme than something like Don’t Breathe. After all, there are some scenes with literally no audio whatsoever.
By the end of its opening weekend, A Quiet Place had already made back four times its budget. This was once again evidence that when a studio releases a great horror film that feels completely fresh, audiences will respond.
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