The 10 most memorable horror films of the last decade
In the last ten years, this genre has haunted the frontier between reality and fantasy, skilfully toying with that quandary.
Budding nostalgia for the present moment. The century is barely beginning and we know little about what this beloved genre holds in store. But, for now, let us take a brief look at some of them.
Through this list we realize that the past decade offered a considerable number of ancient curses, supernatural and natural presences filled with animal instincts, which become real threats through our unconscious.
1. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Scott Derrickson, 2005)
The best horror film of the decade, masterfully directed in every one of its dimensions and with clear control over all its elements. Since it relies on other genres, it has the power to surprise people who are used to films about satanic possessions ––presenting them a film centred in court and criminal investigation. Laura Linney’s character, Lawyer Erin Christine Bruner, sets the pace with her strong female presence guiding the plot, a kind of educated Erin Brockovich. Bruner is in charge of the legal defence of a priest who is blamed for the murder of a teenage girl who died during an exorcism. The collection of unsettling scenes –in which the fog becomes another character– will haunt the viewer for a long time after he’s seen them, usually around 3:00 a.m.
2. A Tale of Two Sisters (Kim Jee-Woon, 2003)
A Korean film which draws a beautiful Hamlet-like tale with a pinch of Cinderella. It skillfully jumps from psychological to ghostly terror; we are never sure what we’re watching: are these hallucinations or are they real? Two angelical girls who have just been released from their psychiatric treatment after a few traumatic events that the film gradually unveils move in with their father and stepmother (who they find terrifying). It is an interesting perception game that does not take place in the shadow, but in the full light of day in beautiful outdoor sceneries.
3. À L’Interieur (Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury, 2007)
The first act of this film reinvents Slasher vengeance in an extremely feminine manner; it is an unexpected interlude where the Horror genre seems inexistent. I’m talking about the spectacular car accident in which Sarah (Alysson Paradis) crashes into another car, whose passenger will return, years later, to take revenge. Apparently a thriller, it becomes the best Slasher film of the last decade.
4. Bug (William Friedkin, 2006)
The horror of paranoia and the darkest phase of chemical drugs, tangled with conspiracy obsessed thoughts ––A magnificent fable about New Age’s terrifying dark side. The experienced director of The Exorcist’s (William Friedkin, 1973) adapts a play to give us a profound lesson on how we are wasting our time in this era.
5. The Grudge / Ju-On (Takashi Shimizu, 2002)
This kind of film has been widely successful in Japan. A ju-on is a curse that remains in the house after someone has died violently, its fury is trapped in walls, and the person who enters is infected by these virus-type specters. An entire decade has gone by without us being able to forget this ghostly child, whose entire body is covered in the makeup of a Butoh dancer.
6. Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008)
Anna (Morjana Alaoui) is a lost girl that was found in amnesiac shock, walking in a catatonic state. Now, she has grown and has to discover why a dark sect chose her and what her fate is. Each bloody cut distils shocking and relentless violence, a clear representative of this type of French film, which marked an era.
7. The Orphanage (J. A Bayona, 2007)
This is a familiar drama turned into a phantasmagorical curse in a secluded location, in the purest classical style. Aligned with Jack Clayton’s marvelous The Innocents (1961), it is guided by a fairytale subtext, particularly alluding to Peter Pan; from there it also explores the conflict from the perspective of the children in the orphanage.
8. Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007)
The horror sub-genre known as Found Footage had given us many invaluable films before the success of The Blair Witch Project (Myrick y Sánchez, 1999). This “home video” portrays the intimacy of a couple’s bedroom that moves from their home. Yes, the film does make you jump from your seat, product of the best accomplished, amusement Haunted House. It takes us back to the beginning of the cinematographer, the new spectacle in the Nickelodeon’s personalized darkness.
9. Amer (Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani, 2009)
An abstract horror story that resembles a Giallo and almost seems to have been recorded in the 1970s. Here, shapes, colors, staging, but especially the use of sound effects place us in a different dimension, where our senses are dislocated and we can experience otherworldly sensations; it is almost a planetary experience, hallucinatory. It is full of classic generic landscapes that leave us with the inkling of a constant déjà vu.
10. The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2005)
A group of women who enjoy extreme sports plan a trip into an unmapped cave system, without suspecting they will find ancient threats inside that will make it impossible for them to leave. The film is clever and it makes the conflict among them an internal threat, as opposed to an external one. Female violence explored through the generic celluloid.
Two bonus films that defined psychological, phantasmagoric horror last decade:
White Noise (Geoffrey Sax, 2005)
Necrophilia for radio waves, memory’s sensuality through digital technology and the empathetic presence of an antihero, almost taken from Poe’s work and played by Michael Keaton (the best Batman). It presents a new sub-genre: the digital ghost film. An architect is so desperate to be in touch with his dead wife that he achieves it through electronic devices.
Dark Water (Hideo Nakata, 2002)
In the last decade, Expressionism created few environments that are as hypnotic as this dark and liquid Japanese film, directed by the brilliant mind that was behind the original version of The Ring. Every time we watch it, we end up drenched to the bone. Here, water is the conductor of darkness.
And, finally, one extra bonus that represents what happened to classic monster films in the new century:
Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)
Taking full advantage of the Found Footage genre, we watch a digital cassette that has two overlapping stories (one was recorded on top of the other). We stand before an interesting and post-modern combination of Godzilla (Honda, 1954) and L’Aventura (Antonioni, 1960). The feeling this trip arouses is quite interesting, evoked mainly by the woman we see in the flashbacks of the first story, like a ghost that keeps the story moving ––The terror of losing the love of our life to our darkest instincts, represented by that enormous hairy monster.
This review confirms that in the past decade, fear was relying on the doubt of what is real and what isn’t, the frontier between what we imagine and what’s outside. Horror often comes from the past, through our memories; it is not a real threat, but by acting impulsively we make it real. Our instincts are often our worst ally, there is no way we can use them appropriately through healthy socialization. Darkness still communicates with man through situations from the past which are repeated; collective karmatic acts which are an incessant echo.
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