A look at the decade’s most Oscar-worthy horror films (apart from Get Out) — from The Babadook to Raw

Prahlad Srihari

Mar,01 2018 12:39:02 IST

Oscar nominee Get Out is a game-changing horror film that questions how far America has come in terms of its attitudes towards black people. Jordan Peele’s taut exploration of the micro and macro fears of being a young black man is especially relevant in the current cultural and political climate.

But its Best Picture nod at this year’s Oscars also meant a lot for another stigmatised community: horror filmmakers.

Get Out fan poster. Image via Twitter

Get Out fan poster. Image via Twitter

Get Out legitimised and redeemed a much maligned genre and when the film became a global cultural phenomenon, the Academy finally had to take notice. It proved horror can be just as thought-provoking a genre when helmed by intelligent filmmakers — ones who find new twists or fresh ways of presenting its core elements. After all, horror is nothing but an exploration of what we project into a void of the unknown, the unexplained and the unforeseen.

And if the Academy cared enough to look, there have been plenty of engaging character studies — with good plotting and creative storytelling — that illustrate the genre’s potential. These films are at — if not above — par with the more Oscarbatory historical costume dramas they usually seem to like. While no one's asking them to nominate The Human Centipede or Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, there have been plenty of other unique, unconventional horror films — like Get Out — that also deserved its attention.

Here’s a look at some of the more well-crafted horror films, from the last decade, that should have got a similar nod of approval from the Oscars.

Raw (Julia Ducournau, 2017)

Julia Ducournau's Raw blends cannibalism and coming-of-age tales in a provocative horror film.

Julia Ducournau blends cannibalism and coming-of-age tales in the provocative horror film, Raw.

While Get Out deservedly won all the acclaim and topped the numerous "2017's Best Horror Movies" listicles online, if you paid close attention, a French-Belgian film called Raw came second in many of them. In newcomer Julia Ducournau's film, Justine (Garance Marillier), a strictly-raised lifelong vegetarian is overcome by cannibalistic fervour after being forced to eat raw meat for the first time during a freshman initiation ceremony.

Calling Raw just another body horror film is disregarding the fat on the bone as it is also an uncompromising depiction of the various anxieties of a teenage girl approaching adulthood — from her sexual awakening to body image issues. Cannibalism merely is a symbol of the messy business that is adolescence in this rich coming-of-age allegory. Stylistically filmed with plenty of grotesque yet gorgeous imagery, Ducournau's debut feature feels like Lady Bird on bath salts.

The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

The Witch is an atmospheric period piece set in 17th century New England.

The Witch is an atmospheric period piece set in 17th century New England.

2016 saw another promising directorial debut — Robert Eggers' exquisitely crafted period piece, The Witch. Set in a small, isolated farm bordering the New England wilderness in the 1630s (a few decades before the infamous Salem witch trials), the film follows a devoutly religious Puritan family who hope to start a new life after being cast out from their commune over a theological clash.

However, things begin to unravel immediately as their crops wither, their infant son mysteriously vanishes, their goats milk blood and their kids start speaking to a potentially demonic goat referring to him as Black Phillip. It soon becomes clear that there's a primal, malevolent spirit lurking in the woods behind their farm and as the family’s faith begins to disintegrate, they grow increasingly suspicious of one another. They accuse their wide-eyed teenage daughter, who's on the cusp of womanhood, of witchcraft and black magic. A creeping, slow-burn dread mounts throughout its narrative before ending in a chilling climax.

The Witch is an extraordinarily well-researched horror film about religious paranoia and family dynamics in 17th-century America. It reveals a conservative society's deep-seated fear of a woman's burgeoning sexuality at a time when sexuality and witchcraft were synonymous. Though Eggers uses a minimalist aesthetic in the film, the atmospheric dread and the eerie music makes for a remarkably authentic experience.

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014)

A widowed mother and her young son are menaced by a malevolent children's book monster in The Babadook.

A widowed mother and her young son are menaced by a malevolent children's book monster in The Babadook.

Horror films, over the years, have caught a lot of flak over their misrepresentation of mental illness. Demonising those with mental and behavioral health challenges as murderous, delusional villains is only going to amplify the stigma attached to mental illness (Take the rather distastefully titled Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho for example). But horror which understands its character's complex mental health issues isn't just more sensitive and non-stigmatising, it's a lot scarier. Jennifer Kent's The Babadook is a perfect example of this.

The Australian horror film tells the story of Amelia, a single mother still reeling from the death of her husband who is killed in a car crash while driving her to the hospital to deliver their son, Samuel. As the grief-stricken and unhinged mother struggles to raise her increasingly violent and disturbed son, the titular black-hatted bogeyman begins to torment them and invades their home through a mysterious children's pop-up book.

Babadook, the Jungian-type shadowy phantasm is a physical manifestation of Amelia's repressed grief, her loneliness and the resentment she has built up over the years towards her son. Kent gives traditional horror conventions like "the demonic child" and "the monster lurking in the shadows under your bed" a bold, new twist to explore psychological trauma. Essie Davis plays the emotionally troubled mother with remarkable conviction in this low budget frightfest. Even if The Babadook didn't get an Oscar nod for Best Picture, Davis surely deserved a Best Actress nomination.

It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014)

It Follows defies many of the misogynistic 80s slasher tropes.

It Follows defies many of the misogynistic 80s slasher tropes.

Like Raw, David Robert Mitchell's It Follows is another thematically-rich film about adolescent angst. The story centres on a nineteen-year-old girl named Jay (Maika Monroe), whose sexual encounter with a seemingly sweet guy — she presumed she knew — in the backseat of a car, has horrifying unintended consequences. No, not a pregnancy scare or an STD. Yeah, maybe if it stood for a sexually transmitted demon — and a stalking poltergeist at that.

It Follows is a parable about safe sex but delivers the lesson without getting all preachy or condescending. Borrowing genre conventions from the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s, the film gives a novel twist to the misogynistic 'death by sex' trope — where preserving virginity is a requirement for survival but promiscuity leads to a bloody conclusion. Between the enchanting soundtrack, the beautifully-executed tracking shots and the John Carpenter vibes, It Follows not only raises the bar for future horror films but demonstrates the endless possibilities of a much-maligned genre.

Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)

Two outcasts find comfort in each other's company in the predatory world of Let The Right One In.

Two outcasts find comfort in each other's company in the predatory world of Let The Right One In.

Let the Right One In is a dark yet tender Swedish vampire film directed by Tomas Alfredson. Set in the suburbs of Stockholm, the film tells the story of twelve-year-old Oskar, an outcast who is mercilessly bullied at school by his classmates. When he befriends the neighbourly vampire Eli, Oskar not only finds revenge but love. Easily the best thing to have come out of the vampire phenomenon, Let the Right One In uses vampirism as a metaphor for social exclusion and isolation while also tackling important issues like bullying, victimisation and body shaming.

Adapted from the 2004 novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist, it is a captivating and unique love story of two outcasts in a predatory world. For those averse to watching subtitled movies, there's always the Hollywood remake, Let Me In. Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz, it is one of the rare remakes that is well worth watching and stands on its own merit.

Other honourable mentions: Goodnight Mommy (Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, 2014), Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari, 2016)

Updated Date: May 09, 2018 23:26 PM