My Top 10 Horror Movies of the Past 10 Years

10. Insidious: Chapter 2

Insidious: Chapter 2
By far the most underrated of the three Insidious films, this sequel delivers more scares than the original while also remaining a true companion piece to it with narrative reveals that compliment the predecessor perfectly.

9. Sinister

Few horror movies look pure darkness in the face as unflinchingly as Sinister, which uses a home video aesthetic to depict horrifying acts of violence that threaten to drive its protagonist (played by Ethan Hawke) over the edge.

8. It Follows

It Follows
David Robert Mitchell crafts a brilliantly simple conceit — what if an STD actually presented itself spontaneously in human form? — for this creepy thriller with loads of stylish throwback touches and a killer soundtrack by Disasterpeace.

7. The House of the Devil

The House of the Devil
Other entries on this list have clear influences from horror cinema of the ’70s and ’80s but with its slow burn narrative and faithful lo-fi palette, The House of the Devil truly feels like it comes from an entirely different era altogether.

6. You’re Next

You're Next
This subversive take on the home invasion sub-genre has plenty of clever plot twists to keep audiences on their toes and the kind of all-out gory spectacles that you might otherwise find in some of Wes Craven’s best work.

5. The Orphanage

The Orphanage
Borrowing from some of the visual cues that made executive producer Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth such a resounding success, Spanish director J. A. Bayona puts his unique spin on this ghost story about a mother’s journey to return to her son.

4. The Babadook

The Babadook
Drawing influence from both traditional gothic horror and classic silent films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, this bone-chilling fable creates a terrifying new creature in its titular character that feeds off the grief of a struggling single mother (played flawlessly by Essie Davis).

3. Goodnight Mommy

Goodnight Mommy
Featuring the creepiest cinematic twins this side of The Shining, Goodnight Mommy is an Austrian import that takes a case of mistaken identity to disturbing and unnerving extremes that will stay with viewers long after the chilling final shot.

2. Black Swan

Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky incorporated bits of psychological terror around the edges of his drug opus Requiem for a Dream and he puts that dread at the forefront of this dark tale about violent obsession and the endless pursuit of perfection.

1. Let the Right One In

Let the Right One In
A Swedish vampire movie may not seem to be the most conventional pick for best horror films of the past 10 years but not only does it have more than enough frightening moments to qualify, it also has outstanding performances and a poignant love story that’s sure to draw in horror purists everywhere.

Ouija: Origin of Evil **½|****

Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson and Henry Thomas in Ouija: Origin of Evil
Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson and Henry Thomas in Ouija: Origin of Evil

This prequel to 2014’s critically reviled but financially prosperous Ouija shares the titular board game as the focal point of its premise but is markedly different in a few key areas that make it more promising from the outset. Instead of being set in present day, the action of Ouija: Origin of Evil takes place in the hazy, autumnal glow of 1967, a time that in retrospect feels much less cynical and inherently more superstitious than today. Rather than being subjected to a group of mindless teenagers who make one stupid decision after another, the story here centers around a mother and her two daughters who are capable and intelligent in ways that make them easy to root for and care about.

The mother Alice, played by Elizabeth Reaser, raises the daughters by herself after her husband’s life is cut short by a drunk driver and she’s able to make ends meet by hosting bogus séances in her home with the help of her oldest Lina (Annalise Basso) and her youngest Doris (Lulu Wilson). Eager to introduce a new prop into their routine, Alice picks up a Ouija board at the local store but disobeys the instruction to never conduct a reading while unaccompanied by others. Unbeknownst to her, the spirits that she’s conjured begin to work through Doris and possess her in a manner that will be familiar to anyone who has seen any supernatural horror movie of the past 50 years.

With his previous efforts Oculus and this year’s Netflix release Hush, director Mike Flanagan is a solid match for this kind of material and while he gets off to a great start with convincing characters and an enticing setting, the genre clichés inevitably begin to pile up and stifle the bits of originality that exist elsewhere. It’s as if Universal knew that since this was the only horror movie to be released around Halloween this year, it had to cover as much ground as it possibly could to appeal to the widest audience. Flanagan picks from the best bits of genre titans like House on Haunted Hill, The Exorcist, and Poltergeist with varying degrees of success.

These odes to the past are also accentuated by flairs of nostalgic showmanship that permeate the film, whether it’s the throwback title card complete with the “MMXVI” copyright at the opening or the faux-changeover cues that blip intermittently in the corners. In fact, the lighting and the set design inside the house is so striking in its authenticity that these somewhat gimmicky touches may not have even been necessary in the first place. The inclusion of computer-generated effects into the mix also dampens some of the charm of the simple practical effects like the Ouija planchette springing to life on its own.

The performances are uniformly believable and most importantly, the actors don’t succumb to the campy elements that crop up later in the narrative. Best of the performers is the youngest actress Lulu Wilson, who brings the perfect level of creepiness to her possessed character and gives the film its most chilling moment with her monologue describing the sensation of being strangled to an increasingly distressed house guest. Ouija: Origin of Evil is perfectly serviceable for those looking for a grab bag of well-staged jolts but might be disappointing to hardcore horror fans seeking a future classic for their Halloween rotation.

The Accountant ***|****

Anna Kendrick and Ben Affleck in The Accountant
Anna Kendrick and Ben Affleck in The Accountant

Ben Affleck is equal parts John Nash and John Wick in The Accountant, a new action thriller that’s much more exciting than its title may lead one to believe. Suspension of disbelief is crucial for enjoyment, not only in regards to the central casting (you’ve probably already decided whether or not you’ll buy Affleck as an autistic genius) but also as it pertains to the dubious plot elements that build on top of one another as the story progresses. There are bits of dark humor mixed in that suggest the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously and I would say that’s good advice for any audience member to follow as well.

Affleck’s titular character is a methodical mastermind who masquerades as a small-town CPA using the alias Christian Wolff but makes his real living tracking down missing funds for international criminals and other powerful organizations. In order to evade heat from a probing, high-level Treasury officer (J.K. Simmons), he takes on a more legitimate assignment for the prosthetics company Living Robotics when their in-house accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) spots some financial inconsistencies. The two form an unlikely bond as they work to uncover the suspected embezzlement, throwing around accounting terms and math equations as an unorthodox manner of flirting with one another.

With an advanced background in military combat, courtesy of an army-trained father, the imposing Wolff turns out to be just as dangerous with a sniper rifle as he is with an Excel spreadsheet. This comes in handy when he and Cummings are marked as targets for an unnamed assassin (Jon Bernthal) after their snooping at Living Robotics proves to be more dangerous than they had anticipated. As the two make a run for it together, they uncover secrets from within the company and also from Wolff’s turbulent past that lead them to the inevitable culprit (and, in similar fashion, an inevitable shootout).

It’s clear that this film wants to have it both ways, with director Gavin O’Connor trying to evenly split time making both a free-for-all action melee and a heady adult drama. It’s not always the easiest hybrid to negotiate, as the visceral combat can prove overwhelming on its own and the storyline tends to get more convoluted when left unchecked for too long. If the mixture of brain and brawn exists on a sliding scale, The Accountant is at its best when it splits the difference and finds its rhythm somewhere close to the middle of these two genres.

Aside from these more broad categorizations, the movie is also layered with interesting details and idiosyncrasies that give it its own original spin on otherwise familiar material. Like variables in a complex math equation cherished so thoroughly by the lead character, small visual cues like a dent on a thermos or the brush strokes of a stolen painting lead to larger payoffs farther along in the story. It all adds up to a somewhat peculiar and highly entertaining piece of action fare; a brainy shoot-em-up that might make taxpayers think twice about double-crossing their CPAs come tax time next year.

The Girl on the Train **|****

Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train
Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train

The would-be Hitchcockian thriller The Girl on the Train stars Emily Blunt as the newly divorced Rachel, who copes with her loneliness by turning to alcohol and spending her days as a passenger on a train that passes by her old neighborhood. From the comfort of the cabin car, she’s able to keep tabs on her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), along with their newborn daughter Evie. Her subtle stalking takes a dark turn when she spots their next door neighbor Megan (Haley Bennett) in the midst of an affair and decides to confront her about the alleged behavior.

The primary mystery then centers around the Megan’s subsequent disappearance but to keep audiences guessing until the final reveal, director Tate Taylor constructs his story in a way that cheaply exploits Rachel’s alcohol-induced blackouts as a narrative gimmick. The fuzzy flashbacks grow in definition not because our protagonist is actually remembering things more clearly but rather because Taylor arbitrarily chooses which extra shot or camera angle he can add to hypothetically boost the suspense. The details of a key event prove to be more tedious than titillating with each re-visit and I was eventually hoping an extra was strapped with a GoPro somewhere in the scene so that we could finally get one coherent shot and just be done with it.

Of course such a notion is far too frivolous and playful to be considered by any of these characters, who are seldom allowed to exist outside a narrow spectrum of misery and self-loathing. Everyone is painted with the same broad strokes of discontent in a manner that feels both needlessly glum and wholly manufactured to make the audience mistake their moodiness for maturity. Only a handful of character interactions register as authentically human, while the rest are ripped straight from the soap operas and potboilers that likely acted as inspiration for the bestselling novel from which the movie was adapted.

These fleeting moments of honesty are brought forth from a staunchly committed performance by Blunt, whose Rachel serves as one of the film’s sole access points for empathy and humanity. Her bruised heroine mirrors the struggles of Nicole Kidman’s character from the thriller Before I Go To Sleep but Rachel’s alcohol dependency adds another challenge from a physical acting perspective atop the emotional workload that’s already in place. As an unreliable narrator, she forces us to battle our sympathy for her situation with our allegiance towards a version of the story that’s both sensible and satisfying.

The casting elsewhere is first-rate and the lack of other standout performances is likely a symptom of the sub-par material rather than a deficit of talent from the actors. As the sullen sexpot Megan, Haley Bennett reminded me of a more blasé and less relatable Jennifer Lawrence and Rebecca Ferguson, a revelation in last year’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, doesn’t have the chance to develop anything meaningful in her repressed role. With awkward direction from Tate Taylor and a screenplay that favors shallow reveals over believable drama, The Girl on the Train simply doesn’t have what it needs to stay on track.

The Magnificent Seven ***|****

Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt in The Magnificent Seven
Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt in The Magnificent Seven

This crowd-pleasing remake of the 1960 Western (itself an adaption of Akira Kuraosawa’s 1954 classic Seven Samurai) brings a 21st century refresh to the star power and charisma that made the original such a success. The Magnificent Seven may not be an entirely necessary or reverent update but with such a timeless story at its core, it seems inevitable that this tale will be retold for years to come. Besides amping up the action level a considerable amount, director Antoine Fuqua also touches on themes of race and poverty in ways that make it more relevant to the current cultural climate.

Denzel Washington fills the Yul Brynner role as warrant officer Sam Chisolm, who is called upon by the recently widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) to put a stop to the tyranny imposed by the villainous miner Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) on her small town of Rose Creek. To get the job done, Chisolm recruits six willing men with varying backgrounds, including the misfit gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) and legendary sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke). After running a smaller group of enforcers out of Rose Creek, Chisolm and his band of outsiders help train the locals to defend their town against the impending return of Bogue’s looming army.

The stellar cast of the original, which also included screen legends Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson, was one of its most notable attributes and the same can also be said of this newer iteration. Washington is the perfect fit for a towering, no-nonsense gunman and Pratt once again channels his likeable goofball energy into another winning role. Other standouts in the group include Byung-hun Lee as the knife-wielding assassin Billy Rocks and Vincent D’Onofrio, chewing up the scenery as a hunter buried under layers of animal pelts who speaks with an oddly high voice that had me cracking up during most of his line readings.

One area in which The Magnificent Seven is markedly improved over its predecessor is in the staging of the action sequences, which supplants the inconsistent foley gunshot sounds and unconvincing wound-clutching for violence that feels believable without being gratuitous. One of the highlights of Fuqua’s last Washington collaboration The Equalizer was the climactic standoff in a hardware store and he employs the same kind of cat-and-mouse tactics with the showdowns here too. The pacing could still stand to be a bit less frenetic but his camera gives us enough room to breathe and a tactile sense of location within the confines of this modest town.

Traditional Westerns aren’t nearly as common now as they were in the ’50s and ’60s, as films like Hell or High Water and The Revenant have incorporated Western themes into more modern and experimental forms of storytelling. These twists on the genre can obviously lead to excellent results but there’s also something satisfying about seeing a no-frills, popcorn shoot-em-up like this, especially when the direction is so sure-handed. Depending on how The Magnificent Seven fares at the box office, it may lead to a slew of other Westerns like it for a younger generation to call their own.

Sing Street ***½|****

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna in Sing Street
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna in Sing Street

Set in Dublin in the mid-1980s, Sing Street is a coming-of-age tale whose subject Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is abruptly forced to transfer to the state-run school Synge Street after his family falls on hard financial times. One day after classes, he strikes up a conversation with an aspiring young model named Raphina (Lucy Boynton) and in an effort to impress her, Conor claims that his band is looking for someone to star in their next music video and that she would fit the bill perfectly. Of course, Conor isn’t actually in a band, so he hastily recruits some members for his new musical endeavor, including multi-instrumentalist and rabbit enthusiast Eamon (Mark McKenna).

With his previous movies Once and Begin Again, Irish writer-director John Carney has kept music at the heart of his work and proves once again that few people capture the spontaneous energy behind music creation on film better than he does. His characters use their instruments and voices to bare their souls but the way they tell their stories through their music also helps the narrative grow organically from their emotions. Songwriters understand that ebullient feeling of putting just the right chords and notes together to make the perfect song and Carney puts that joy on screen for each musical number.

Another emotional linchpin for me in this film was Conor’s endearing relationship with his older brother Brendan, played by Jack Reynor. A college dropout who has seemingly given up pursuing any personal goals of his own, Brendan sees the creative potential in Conor and acts as a sort of musical and spiritual mentor to his younger brother. Sporting an admirable LP collection and various bits of sage advice (“no woman can truly love a man who listens to Phil Collins” was my personal favorite), he makes it his mission to give Conor the kind of education that he could never get from his classes in school.

The late night listening sessions in Brendan’s room serve as a bit of a respite for the brothers, with the boisterous sounds of the record player masking the shouting matches between their acrimonious parents. Elsewhere, Conor faces cruelty from both bullying schoolmates and oppressive teachers that threatens to extinguish the creative spirit he has worked so hard to cultivate. Carney adds these bits of real life anguish and torment to temper the typically cheery musical scenes and remind us that even though these characters find joy in creating and performing, it’s often in response to the less-than-ideal conditions of their personal lives.

Of course, the quality of the music itself is key to appreciating this kind of film and the songs here are as catchy as the 80s  pop tracks that inspired them. The band’s first hit “The Riddle of the Model” has a stabby synth lead right out of an A-ha single and the group’s best song “Up” has an infectious chorus that reminded me of Men At Work’s peak material. It’ll be a shame if none of these get nominated for Best Original Song next year but even if they don’t, Sing Street will still stand as another charming and vibrant victory for John Carney.

Green Room **½|****

Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat in Green Room
Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat in Green Room

Green Room chronicles fictional hardcore punk band The Ain’t Rights as they tour the Pacific Northwest from one grungy club to another, siphoning gas and scrounging cheap food along the way. Out of desperation for cash, they reluctantly take a gig at a neo-Nazi bar but when their bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin) is accidentally witness to a brutal murder, a group of panicked bouncers forces him and his bandmates (Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner) into the green room along with the recently deceased body. A tense game of cat-and-mouse ensues when the band members lock themselves in the room and the bar’s owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart) attempts to negotiate with them on the other side of the locked door.

This is the third feature from writer/director Jeremy Saulnier and as a follow-up to his unexpected and brilliant revenge tale Blue Ruin, this feels a bit more unfocused and capricious by comparison. We’re surrounded by seemingly smart characters who may have interesting bits of dialogue or inspired moments during the setup but when the plot kicks into gear, they turn into the kind of dumb decision-makers that have plagued lesser horror movies in the past. The stand-off in the titular location obviously has the highest potential for sustained tension but once things progress from there, Saulnier becomes much more interested than blood over brains.

These characters aren’t defined by their own words as much as they are by their actions and the visceral moments of chaos that erupt perhaps speak louder than any bits of expository dialogue ever could. The violence of Green Room is amply gory and often sadistic but also messy and sometimes awkward in a way that tends to make it both believable and unpredictable at the same time. There’s almost a casual and unassuming nature to the brutality and some of the killings are downright uncinematic in the way that they dismiss traditional horror death beats of setup and payoff, which should delight fans looking for something different in the genre.

The casting choice of Patrick Stewart as the leader of the skinheads is unquestionably an inspired one and while his performance is certainly convincing, the script doesn’t give him the kind of authoritative dialogue that could have established him as an intelligent, menacing threat. When the character is first introduced, I was hoping his presence would inspire a wordier kind of standoff negotiation between himself and the band that would allow him to assert his intellect into the situation. Instead, he barks orders at his goons and speaks in the kind of shorthand that almost seems deliberate in its ability to shake off an attentive audience.

In addition to Stewart, the rest of the cast does a fine job of keeping their characters grounded in a situation that is constantly spiraling out of their control. The film’s guiding performance by the late young talent Anton Yelchin is sobering in retrospect and a dispiriting reminder of how many of his future films we’ll sadly never get to see. With its punk rock ethos and aberrant violence, Green Room has all the marks of a B-movie classic but it too often gets in its own way with artistic touches that mix up the message.

Everybody Wants Some!! ***|****

Blake Jenner and Glen Powell in Everybody Wants Some!!
Blake Jenner and Glen Powell in Everybody Wants Some!!

Richard Linklater, the undisputed king of the hangout movie, follows up his 12-year project Boyhood with this so-called “spiritual successor” to his 1993 breakout Dazed and Confused which pioneered a genre and introduced the world to a sea of fresh new faces. Like that film, Everybody Wants Some!! places its focus on feeling and mood over a concrete sense of story and narrative but its setting and characters are more limited compared to the sprawling high school landscape of Dazed. As that’s the case, it’s not as universal or open-minded as its big brother but there’s still plenty of fun to be had with this new band of hooligans.

We’re introduced to college freshman pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner) prior to his first week of classes as he moves into the house where he will staying with other members of the school’s baseball team. There he meets his new roommates, including seniors McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin) and Finn (Glen Powell), who run the athlete residence in a way that closely emulates the shenanigans of other on-campus fraternities. The film follows the players as they engage in various forms of juvenile behavior and pause from time to time to wax philosophical on the fortuitous nature of their situation.

Though this group of affable jocks doesn’t provide the kind of distinct and varied character base present in Dazed, it does allow Linklater to hone in on more prominent themes surrounding masculinity and male ego. A recurring motif throughout the film is the seriousness with which the character treat the inane activities in which they all participate. This juxtaposition is mainly played for laughs (save for a tense ping pong match between Jake and McDaniels) but as one of the fellow teammates points out, this compulsion towards competition is what makes their baseball team so highly regarded on a national level.

This kind of push-pull male bonding is representative of the film’s main through-line about how college is a landscape for one to establish themselves both as individuals and as a part of a larger group. As we are first introduced to the guys, they seem almost intentionally homogeneous by design but as the story progresses, they distinguish themselves through small moments that show flashes of their unique personalities. There’s not a strong urgency towards traditional character development because the cast is meant more to act as a crystallized version of an ideal college experience rather than a realistic depiction of people who struggle and succeed through life’s challenges.

In fact, Linklater makes it clear that Jake and his crew need not worry about much at all as their youth and status on campus provide them with a cushy collective existence. The film’s carefree spirit that mirrors this attitude can lead to some meandering storytelling and stagnant pacing but it’s ultimately crucial to the type of laid-back vibe that it captures so well. It may be a drag for those looking for something more tightly structured but if you’re, as the tagline states, “here for a good time, not for a long time”, then Everybody Wants Some!! delivers.