For some blessed reason, the turn of the century ushered in some of the most unique and exciting additions to the horror genre. Many of these post-millennium, or "modern," #horror films often originated in countries outside of the US or were US adaptations of successful foreign hits. In celebration of this inventive variety of spooky stories, here are 13 post-Y2K horror films that you should definitely check out. Enjoy not sleeping.
1. 28 Days Later (2002)
Director: Danny Boyle
This movie remains one of the most monumental contributions to the horror genre thanks to the Boyle's "reinvention" of the zombie. Pre-28 Days, zombies were often portrayed as shambling figures capable of being tricked, but #28DaysLater turned them into bloodthirsty sprinters powered by a monkey-originated "rage virus" (HIV/AIDS metaphors likely intended, but not emphasized). The film starts as a mystery when the protagonist wakes up from a coma in a hospital not long after rage zombies have taken over most of the country, but quickly turns to nail-biting thriller as we follow his fight for survival across what (and who) is left in the UK.
2. The Ring (2002)
Director: Gore Verbinski (adapted from Hideo Nakata’s 1998 Ringu, Japan)
Not everyone agrees that #TheRing is a successful remake of Hideo Nakata's fantastic #Ringu, but it's personally one of my favorites. Curses as a horror trope don't generally seem to translate well to American audiences, especially when the cursed object is a VHS tape (practically a foreign technology now to the film's modern target audience), but Verbinski translates it well. I'd say this success lies in his ability to create a growing atmosphere of dread, build Hitchcockian-style suspense, and cast the brilliant Naomi Watts, who was fresh off of her #MulhollandDr debut and clearly ready for her down-the-well close-up. If we're picking one of the numerous American remakes of Japanese horror films, I feel The Ring pays the homage to its host culture best.
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3. Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
Director: Edgar Wright
Similar to 28 Days Later, the Simon Pegg-Nick Frost duo helped reinvent the zombie genre in another revolutionary way — by turning the trope into a comedy. Rife with biting, black, British humor and themes of unconditional bromance, this is the one zombie movie that has a genuine feel-good component to it. Albeit, a limited feel-good component — it's still a zombie movie, and Pegg fans should know he has never been one to introduce laughs without a heavy dose of heartbreak.
4. The Descent (2005)
Director: Neil Marshall
This (unbelievably awesome) film follows six women as they spelunk into what they believe is a previously undiscovered cavern, only to become caved in with an army of flesh-eating creatures who live miles below ground. Any monster movie can be scary just based on the shocks and gore, but #TheDescent intensifies it even further by playing on basic human fears of tight spaces, heights, darkness and being trapped with no way out. It helps that the women all also happen to kick ass, even when they're outnumbered. These aren't your traditional Final Girls.
5. 28 Weeks Later (2007)
Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
It's rare that I recommend a horror sequel, especially when none of the original cast returns, but #28WeeksLater is a great follow up to 28 Days Later, if for very different reasons. The title should tell you everything you need to know about the movie, and you can probably deduce that — if this is a subsequent story — things still aren't going down too well after rage zombies have taken over the UK. This tension turns the film more into an action-horror-thriller with interesting cultural commentary due to the obvious shift in the nationality of the protagonists. You'll likely miss the psychological drama and mystery of the first film, but the new scares and a priceless scene that involves helicopter blades and loads of zombie guts makes this film completely worth the watch.
6. Trick 'R Treat (2007)
Director: Michael Doughtery
County: USA & Canada
I love a good B-movie, and #TrickRTreat is B-level fantastic. The movie is told in a way reminiscent of sharing spooky stories around a campfire. Rather than one linear plot, the movie intertwines several classic-spooky stories into one fascinating narrative, all of which occur on the same Halloween night and involve separate-yet-related characters (think: Magnolia meets R.L. Stein). It is appropriately gory and consistently eerie, which left me with the same creepy feeling I used to get as a child when watching Are You Afraid of the Dark. Most importantly, this movie never takes itself seriously, which makes it an overall spooky blast.
7. Let The Right One In (2008)
Director: Tomas Alfredson
This Swedish-language film is precisely the kind of horror film I would recommend to people who hate watching scary stuff. It's filled with very few "jumps" or "scares," rather playing like a story of love and friendship between one 12-year-old boy and one female-appearing vampire who has been 12 for a very long time. No worries — this is not #Twilight. If anything, it feels like what #StrangerThings would be like if it had vampires instead of alternate-universe monsters and was conceptualized through the lens of a Swedish director. The end result is a very beautiful film that's more moving than terrifying.
8. Pontypool (2008)
Director: Bruce McDonald
#Pontypool follows the events that occur around a radio station hosted in the titular Canadian town on a day where everyone's speech and cognitive capacity suddenly and inexplicably regress to infancy and their behaviors rapidly become homicidal. While classified as a horror film, what makes Pontypool so unnerving is rather the fear of not understanding why people are suddenly going full-zombie. If you're dying for a hint going in: Kill is Kiss.
9. The Conjuring (2013)
Director: James Wan
#TheConjuring was probably the first time in a long time that I became excited about American horror cinema again. Allegedly based on "true events," the film follows the creepy occurrences of a haunted house encountered by the same two demonologists that tackled the highly controversial Amityville house haunting. Despite feeling contrived at times, the cinematic haunts we get along the way make it a very enjoyable addition to the horror scene. Assisted by a terrific performance from Vera Farmiga, who works wonders with the cliches that sadly makes up the majority of her part, this old-fashioned style scare is worth the jumps.
10. The Babadook (2014)
Director: Jennifer Kent
Admittedly one of my all-time favorites, this movie is as much a psychological thriller as it is a classic monster movie. This film doesn’t necessarily reinvent the genre, yet it still manages to feel new (and, consequently, quite creepy). Even if you dislike horror, #TheBabadook is worth watching simply for Essie Davis’s Oscar-worthy performance as a grief-stricken mother who fears she might be losing it when a children's book suddenly appears in her home and begins to come to life.
11. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
County: USA (Persian-language)
While shot in the US, #AGirlWalksHomeAloneatNight is a Persian-language film set in a fictional Iranian town aptly called “Bad City.” Best described as a punk-vampire-western, the black-and-white film follows a vigilante vampire who feels straight out of Eastwood’s Unforgiven. All I really want to say about this film is that it’s amazing, beautifully feminist, and the most empowering take on the vampire trope I've ever seen on film. It brings plenty of gore, but this is a vampire you'll catch yourself wanting to root for. Watch it ASAP.
12. It Follows (2015)
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Many love to debate the true meaning and metaphors of #ItFollows, but I like taking it at face-value: A shape-shifting, life-sucking monster is passed between people like an STD and will only go away when the “infected” has sex with another person and, consequently, passes it along to them. Despite a simple (and bizarre) sounding plot, Mitchell is able to create an unrelenting air of unease and tension around a monster that ultimately just...follows. Several members of the young cast also shine in their roles, particularly Maika Monroe and Olivia Luccardi.
13. The Witch (2016)
Director: Robert Eggers
This film received a wide diversity of reactions this year, largely for its pace, old-fashioned take on witchcraft, and strong religious themes. Personally, #TheWitch remains one of my favorite movies of 2016, especially for how well it serves as a reminder of how chilling the demonic-witch focus can be. Despite there being some graphic and gory elements to it, this movie isn't about "jumps and scares." Expect to leave this film feeling unsettled and ready to put off the next camping trip instead.
What are some of your favorite modern horror films?
This post originally appeared on www.psychologyoffilm.com. For more film recommendations and character-limited movie rants, check me out on Twitter at @PsychOfFilm.