I talk about comedy a lot, and I write jokes on Twitter, so you might assume comedy is my favorite film genre. You’d be totally wrong. See what happens when you make assumptions? I’m actually a huge horror fan—not that horror and comedy are mutually exclusive. And since I’ve already made a post telling you what comedies you should watch, I figured I might as well do something similar for horror. While I have a great appreciation for the classics (favorites: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary’s Baby), I wanted to focus on films made in the 21st Century. (Look, I had to narrow it down somehow.)
So here are seven modern horror films I think you should watch, in no particular order.
1. Jennifer’s Body (2009). Written by Diablo Cody, directed by Karyn Kusama. I lied. This one’s first because it is my favorite modern horror film. It’s also one of the most unfairly maligned movies in recent memory. This is a sharp, witty, and—best of all—female-centric horror movie. It’s certainly not the scariest on the list, but it appeals to my sensibilities perfectly. Horror can be funny without being silly; it can offer social commentary without hitting you over the head. And why all the Megan Fox hate? This role is perfect for her. Bonus points for the queer undertones, which are overt long before the girl-on-girl action.
You might also like: Ginger Snaps (2000). Another great blend of horror and comedy, with strong female characters and high school metaphors.
2. Hostel: Part II (2007). Written and directed by Eli Roth. I once got in an argument with a friend over this movie. She said she could never watch it as a feminist and a human rights activist—I guess the implication being that I hate women and love torture. Which, uh, no. In many ways, this film is a play on the rape-revenge genre (I Spit On Your Grave, The Last House on the Left), so, yes, you see women suffer. But the women are your point of identification, and there is great satisfaction in the revenge. If you’re being tortured in the first half of the film, you’re also—spoiler alert—castrating your captor in the second.
You might also like: The Devil’s Rejects (2005). Lots of torture, but Rob Zombie’s film is interesting for the way you’re forced to identify with the torturers.
3. À l’intérieur (Inside) (2007). Written by Alexandre Bustillo, directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. Of all the movies on the list, this one was the hardest for me to sit through. It is completely brutal, a product of a movement Artforum’s James Quandt dubbed “New French Extremism.” Thematically, the story of a pregnant woman terrorized by a woman trying to steal her unborn child is horrifying. That aside, the violence is shocking and relentless. It’s also completely necessary to the film. Even if you have to watch this movie through your fingers, you have to watch it.
You might also like: Trouble Every Day (2001). Another New French Extremism movie with Beatrice Dalle, who is honestly just really scary.
4. Frozen (2010). Written and directed by Adam Green. You know what’s scary? A seemingly invincible urban legend serial killer. (Green’s Hatchet and Hatchet II.) You know what’s scarier? Getting stuck on a fucking ski lift. Frozen tells a very simple story: three friends are left hanging on their way up a snowy mountain. They have to survive frostbite, hunger, and wolves—things most of us don’t have to contend with, but that are grounded in reality. Frozen does a great job making the open air feel like a confined space—these three are outdoors, but they have nowhere to go. That sense of claustrophobia is palpable throughout.
You might also like: Buried (2010). Perhaps more thriller than horror, Buried is one of the best claustrophobic film I have seen.
5. The House of the Devil (2009). Written and directed by Ti West. This is a bit of a strange pick—not because it isn’t great, but because the film takes place in the ’80s and is very much indebted to the decade. Nevertheless, it is a modern horror film that is remarkable for the way it avoids and subverts so many modern horror conventions. I’m also a big fan of movies that traffic in subtlety, only to arrive at an over-the-top conclusion. The huge reveals aren’t what makes it scary—that’s the suspense. But the switch from creeping dread to “holy shit” is a fantastic mindfuck. You thought you knew what was going on, but you had no idea.
You might also like: The Last Exorcism (2010). Without giving too much away, this movie’s structure shares a few notable features with The House of the Devil.
6. Splice (2009). Written and directed by Vincenzo Natali. Yes, really. Here’s yet another movie I think most critics just didn’t get. It does have its share of ridiculous moments, though I’d argue all are intentional. In some ways this sci-fi horror film could also be called a dark comedy, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing. There are plenty of movies about science gone wrong—don’t mess with mother nature, and all that—but Splice also includes incest, rape, and pedophilia. These aren’t intended to shock, but rather to unnerve the audience, and it is indeed a movie to squirm through.
You might also like: The Fly (1986). OK, it’s not a post-2000 movie, but it’s a classic, and you should watch it immediately.
7. The Hills Have Eyes (2006). Written and directed by Alexandre Aja. Let’s get this out of the way first—I am a huge fan of Wes Craven’s 1977 original. But Aja’s remake of The Hills Have Eyes is one of the few recent horror reboots that gets it right. The film follows the original pretty closely, until a certain point at which it goes off-the-walls crazy. In my mind, a good remake should honor its source material, but also expand on it. Not to mention the fact that Aja, a New French Extremism director, has a fantastic style. I loved about half of Haute tension, but he lost me with the awkwardly homophobic twist.
You might also like: The Last House on the Left (2009). While it’s not perfect, it also does some interesting things with Wes Craven’s original. Plus, Aaron Paul!