The best scares always come from unexpected places. In the last few years, there have been a spate of indie horror films that have broken into the mainstream. Without the same star power or effects as your typical studio horror film, these scary movies rely on mood, style and character to create a feeling of dread, rather than jump scares. The latest is “Hereditary,” the debut film of Ari Aster that premiered at Sundance and is quickly earning a reputation as one of the scariest movies ever. If after seeing it you have a renewed taste for fright, here are nine other recent horror gems that use their modest scale to their advantage.
Set in 1630s New England, a family is banished from their village and starts to unravel when their baby vanishes. Starring “Split’s” Anya Taylor-Joy, Robert Eggers creates a world devoid of God in this thunderous and bleak religious melodrama.
Released in the wake of Anton Yelchin’s untimely passing, Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room” is a grizzly and intense thriller in which a young punk rock band witnesses a murder and fights off a group of Neo Nazis, led by Patrick Stewart no less. Saulnier expertly contains conflict, depth and gore within small confines.
“It Follows” takes the horror trope of getting punished for having sex to a new level. This monster slowly stalks you when you sleep with the wrong person, and the only way to pass it on is to bed another partner. It’s a film about guilt that forever haunts you and the fear of being watched. And check out the haunting synth score by Disasterpiece.
The monster at the center of “The Babadook” is a personal demon, not a literal one. Essie Davis is insanely good as a single mother on the brink of a mental breakdown as she attempts to care for her troubled young son. Jennifer Kent’s drama is a psychological heavyweight that examines how parents feed their demons to quell the pain.
This elegant, yet sadistic horror film from Austria resembles Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games,” yet the home invader was under the victims’ noses all along. A mother undergoes reconstructive facial surgery, but her two twin boys don’t recognize the woman beneath her bandages.
“Under the Skin”
Scarlett Johansson gives the most daring performance of her career in Jonathan Glazer’s surreal, experimental film. Johansson plays something between an android and alien symbiote who seduces men in order to envelop them in a dark, infinite pool of nothingness.
“Only Lovers Left Alive”
Leave it to Jim Jarmusch to make the coolest vampire movie ever. “Only Lovers Left Alive” drips with style, wisdom and ironic humor as Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play hip, immortal layabouts. The fact they’re vampires might just be an excuse for them to wear sunglasses indoors.
Karyn Kusama is a rapidly rising female director, and for good reason. Her film “The Invitation” plays on agitation and insecurities between a group of old friends and some suspicious strangers at a lavish dinner party. It would be fascinating for just the unnerving dread of an awkward gathering of friends, but Kusama then provides the film a killer twist.
“It Comes at Night”
The only monsters we ever see in “It Comes at Night” are the ones that live under one roof. Trey Edward Schultz’s moody, atmospheric thriller plays on our country’s present division and how mistrust in others can come back to harm us.