Since it's nearing Halloween, it's time to start reflecting on the horror films of the last 10 years that have done some damage to our psyches and given us any number of uneasy, sleepless nights. These 10 films are what I believe to be the best the last decade has had to offer. It's been a unique decade for horror films, with the advent of the "gore porn" taking over our megaplexes and forcing us to look at grisly images with all the class and dignity of some teenage punk saying, "Wanna see something cool?" before pulling out his phone to show you "2 Girls, 1 Cup." This last decade, though, has also been a time in which many filmmakers have used horror film to deal with some very dark feelings about the state of our world. Of course, the best horror always comes from the darkest of times. The aughts had a lot to offer, even as most of the sheep were lining up to see the latest installment of "Final Destination" or "Saw."
These films are in alphabetical order.
28 Days Later (2002)
Danny Boyle's exhilarating take on the zombie apocalypse reinvigorated the genre and set into motion a decade of zombie obsession. A man (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma after 28 days only to find that the world has been ravaged by a "rage" virus, turning most people into flesh hungry monstrosities. While many zombie purists hate the idea of "infected" people being considered as frightening as undead cannibals, there is no denying that 28 Days Later is all sorts of disturbing.
The Descent (2005)
A group of women go spelunking in an unknown cave in Rob Marshall's dark and twisted film. The claustrophobia evoked by the cave setting, combined with the intense sound editing are enough to make this a creepy, tense movie, but the inclusion of some of the most unsettling cave dwelling monsters ever put to celluloid put this over the top. The Descent earns every scare in conjures, taking the time to build its female protagonists beyong mere caricature into a group of unique and interesting women trapped in one dreadful situation.
Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Looking back on this now, I realize that Sam Raimi had made his commentary on greed and our nation's financial collapse with Drag Me To Hell. On the surface, it's an intense, creepy movie with a darkly comic premise: an ambitious loan officer (Allison Lohman) rejects the pleas of a poor, grotesque gypsy woman and is cursed in the worst way imaginable -- in three days Hell will open up and its demons will claim her. Under the surface, though, it's a twisted allegory about corporate greed.
A single father raising two boys one day shows up at breakfast claiming to have had a vision from God. The vision: God has sent a list of demons who must be destroyed. Turns out these "demons" are all people. Is Dad's decision to act on this murder, or is he doing the work of the Lord? Frailty asks this question without passing judgment, making it all the more chilling. Bill Paxton directs this debut feature with a steady hand, amping up the tension moment by moment as we witness these events through the eyes of the children.
High Tension (2003)
Alexandre Aja's 2003 film is as trippy as they come. Two girls on winter recess from school visit one of the girls' family. Late on the first night, there's a home invasion, and all the family is murdered, and one of the girls is kidnapped. The remaining girl goes in pursuit of her friend, and it only gets more twisted from there. Aja's direction in this film is top notch, and while the finale may stretch the limits of credulity a bit, the film is admirable for taking lots of risks throughout.
Let the Right One In (2008)
I would consider placing Let the Right One In on a list of the best romances of the aughts as well. It's not that the movie is so lovey-dovey, but that it's central relationship is better developed and realized than virtually anything in mainstream cinema. Oskar is a bullied teen who discovers a backbone after he meets the mysterious Eli. Eli, we discover, is a vampire, and her presence is symbolic of endless misery of adolescence. Few films have both moved and terrified me as much as this one.
This movie goes places other films fear to tread. It begins as a revenge story of a 20-something woman, and her friend, seeking out the married couple that held her captive and tortured her as a child. It devolves into a torture-porn in which we discover the nature of the child's torture. Unlike films like Hostel, Martyrs takes the time to develop its characters so when the torture begins, you're not just recoiling in horror at what you are seeing, but you're trapped in terror because of the amount of care you have.
If you were lonely, what lengths would you go to end that feeling? Well, in May, the title character decides to make herself a doll composed of human parts. This is a warped film, but features a central performance by Angela Bettis that ranks right up there among the finest in the horror genre. She plays May as a tortured youth, but who tries so hard to fit in despite her oddity. You can't hate May even as she does the unthinkable, because were the conditions just right, you could be just like her yourself.
Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Guillermo del Toro is one of the most gifted visual filmmakers. His compositions, cinematography is meticulous and beautiful. In Pan's Labyrinth, he puts his gift to great use, creating a dark and haunting world that is as full of wonder as it is of danger. Little Ofelia, tormented by her abusive stepfather, runs away to a nearby labyrith and falls into a new and strange world in which she learns what she must do to return to her real father. While this is not traditional horror, it is dark, chilling, and disturbing, not to mention Oscar winning.
Saw may very well be the first modern "gore porn." But more than that, it's a twisted mystery that at its heart is a remarkably moralistic take on the ills of American society. It also introduced one of the most inventive movie killers in Jigsaw, which spawned an slew of half-baked sequels (but then again, so did Friday the 13th, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street). What makes this movie so clever, though, is its insistence that in order to save our own lives, we will no doubt do the most horrific things imaginable.