It’s October (and we’re not allowed to party in-person), so that means it’s the optimal time to put together a list of scary movies to watch as we lead up to the spookiest night of the year– Halloween! Horror films can be a hit or miss experience, so here are some suggestions to help save you some time and make the search a little easier!
Hit: The Visit
This M. Night Shyamalan ‘found footage’ thriller is absolutely bone-chilling, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I saw it. I’m not usually one for the ‘home video’ style but the film is still shot in high quality with minimal camera shakes, and unlike other horror movies like Paranormal Activity (skip, btw) the style enhances the storytelling. Without giving too much away, this movie is about two children who stay with their grandparents over the course of a week. What I really loved about this one is the unique way in which it balances comedy and drama as it lulls you into the disturbing behavior exhibited by its characters.
Skip: The Lodge
The Lodge isn’t the worst of the horror films I’ve seen, but it wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it would be. The film revolves around a father, his two children, and his girlfriend staying in a remote cabin in the woods. The father has to go back to civilization to attend to work matters, leaving the two children with the girlfriend for a few days. A blizzard hits and, as expected, unsettling events ensue amidst isolation. Overall, the performances aren’t the problem; Riley Keough’s been dubbed a “scream queen” for a reason. The issue is the slow pacing and intended plot twist falling flat, which left me wondering why I spent nearly two hours on this one.
Hit: A Quiet Place
You may have seen this one already because there has been buzz around it since it and its sequel came out, but if you haven’t seen A Quiet Place yet, definitely go for it! Directed by and starring John Krasinski, A Quiet Place centers around a family in a post-apocalyptic world where maintaining silence is critical in keeping away mysterious creatures with impeccable hearing abilities. I think what sets this movie apart from others is just how badly it makes you want the characters to prevail in spite of the odds.
Skip: It Comes At Night
Usually, A24 films are promising, and It Comes At Night received positive reviews among critics, but I found this one disappointing. It’s similar to A Quiet Place in that it is a survival post-apocalyptic horror film, but perhaps a touch less mainstream and instead of terrifying creatures, the film focuses on a highly contagious disease. I found that the movie meandered along (I’m pretty sure I yawned), and by the time it ended I still had questions that weren’t answered. I watched this one in March right before COVID-19 hit the states hard, and let me tell you the real life foreshadowing was more unsettling than any feelings the film aimed to elicit. It wasn’t cringey like some horror flicks; it just wasn’t captivating.
Ari Aster’s directorial debut Hereditary is a must-see. The story revolves around a family who discover secrets in their lineage, and it gets creepy. It’s not the most original premise-wise, but it’s what horror movies that rely on jump scares wish they could be. I’m convinced this one is going to go down as a modern classic.
Skip: The Conjuring
Ok, so I know I was late to the party but I didn’t see The Conjuring until recently. And, honestly, my world wasn’t completely altered after seeing it. I know it’s beloved among horror fans and inspired a number of sequels and spin-offs (some of which I’ve seen and would also recommend you skip). While the sequels and spin-offs I’ve seen relied more on the jump-scare approach, the original does not. But, unlike Hereditary, it doesn’t really offer anything especially unsettling. It’s another one that left me bored with its predictable trajectory.
This Spanish supernatural film directed by Paco Plaza tells the story of a girl who decided to use a ouija board and, of course, the consequences that follow. The spooky part: it’s loosely based on real events. The concept is age-old, but the cinematography sure is compelling. When it was released, the internet made it out to be far more terrifying than it actually was, but it’s still worth a watch. This is another one of those films that stands out because I connected with the characters, which isn’t always a guarantee when you sit down to watch a scary movie. (All I wanted was to protect Antoñito.)
Skip: The Prodigy
If you’re into the supernatural possession theme, skip The Prodigy and opt for the former. The Prodigy was mediocre at best. It’s about a boy who begins to display disturbing behavior prompting his mother to suspect dark forces are to blame. It’s just too predictable and plays into cliche horror film tropes, without any other redeeming qualities. I’ve seen others liken it to the Omen but worse, and I have to agree.
Midsommar is another Ari Aster film that I can’t recommend enough. I predicted the general trajectory of the movie within the first few minutes, but with Ari Aster it’s less about plot twists and more about the journey. The movie is about a couple who go on a trip with friends to Sweden to take part in a traditional midsummer festival, and… things get weird. This one is absolutely worthy of a re-watch if you’ve already seen it because there are so many details to soak up. It’s trippy, at times confusing, and without a doubt sinister.
Skip: The Invitation
This one shares similar vibes to Midsommar in that they both center around a group of people who go somewhere under seemingly normal circumstances only to find out something far more terrifying is happening. It’s more nuanced than that and has its own story, of course. A man receives an invitation from his ex-wife to a dinner party, and when he gets there things begin to seem strange. This film is a slow-burn, so I expected there to be a pay-off worthy of the built-up tension. But, I was disappointed and unlike Midsommar, there was far less to go back and appreciate from a critical standpoint. In summation, I finished the movie thinking it had wasted its potential.
I saw this movie recently without really knowing what it was going to be about or that it was a remake. It was a little hard to follow, but in the end, it all came together. It is set in 1977 and centers around a dancer played by Dakota Johnson who joins a dance company, which clearly holds secrets within its studio walls. I think this movie does a good job of depicting the true meaning of ‘horrifying’ with its gruesome imagery that I haven’t stopped thinking about since I saw it in July. The dance sequences are absolutely gripping. Side note: I was completely shocked to discover Tilda Swinton had two roles within the film.
Skip: The Witch
I had heard that The Witch had garnered substantial critical acclaim, so I went into this one with high hopes. The movie is set in the year 1630 and tells the story of a New England family struggling to make ends meet after being cast out of their community. They settle not too far from the woods, which reeks of danger and mystery. Perhaps it’s my own fault that I expected a plot twist that never came. Given the title, I had a sense of where the plot was going, so I figured there had to be more to it. Spoiler: there isn’t. The movie is generally slow-paced and consists mostly of a whole lot of atmosphere and not enough horror. I have yet to check out Eggers’ The Lighthouse (2019), but I have a feeling that will be slightly more psychologically terrifying than his debut (here’s to finding out).