It’s that special time of year that we as a community unite together to celebrate the eternal horrors, mystery, and prestige of All Hallows’ Eve. What I’ve always loved most about October, aside from the haunted houses, jack-o-lanterns and costumes, are the abundance of art-house films that beautifully articulate the darker conditions of human life. Now is the time to let go of your reluctance toward the horror-genre and engage in stories that explore the supernatural!
Listed below are five contemporary films from the past decade that are a perfect fit for the Halloween season. Please be warned that these films are painfully toxic and brutal on the senses, but are guaranteed to leave you with an unforgettable experience.
“A Ghost Story” (David Lowery, 2017)
This ethereal masterpiece from David Lowery transcends the traditional ideas of what cinema can be in favor of a surreal meditation on love, loss, time, and existence. It is an abstract concept that will connect with you on a poignant emotional level, but also leave you clutching your seat induced with a wrenching fear of the unknown. “A Ghost Story” is simple in its storytelling and brilliant in its execution. It follows a young couple (Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck) who are torn apart by tragedy. After his death he is flung into a limbo or purgatory, stuck on the property where he died, forced to watch his wife live out her painstaking grief alone in the vacant rooms of their once beautiful home. It features an exquisite musical score that harmonizes with the lush imagery to match its ambitious ideas and themes. It is a truly original work unlike anything else.
“The Invitation” (Karyn Kusama, 2015)
From female director Karyn Kusama, comes “The Invitation”, a brilliantly designed thriller guaranteed to make your skin crawl! This film is set against the backdrop of an elegant dinner party where sinister happenings may erupt at any moment. The film centers on Will (Logan Marhsall-Green), who is invited by his ex wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) to their old family home for a congenial get-together with her friends. He is suffering from the loss of their son, and upon arriving, is shocked to find Eden no longer in a state of grief. She seems fully restored thanks to a life-altering perspective brought forth by a new support group she had recently joined. Is Will consumed with apathy and paranoia, or is Eden concealing a dark secret? Don’t spoil the surprise and just go watch it! It will be horrific experience you won’t soon forget.
“Goodnight Mommy” (Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz, 2014)
From Austria comes an unbearable exercise in sadistic dread; “Goodnight Mommy” will remind you what terror is. To put it simply, there is no shaking the haunting flourishes of grotesque imagery and chilling atmosphere that this film offers. Here we follow a pair of twins (Lukas and Elias Schwarz) who are enjoying their summer home in the countryside as they await the return of their mother. She had been away for reconstructive surgery and when she does return her face is covered in bandages. Lukas and Elias quickly become suspicious and begin to question whether or not their mother is who she says she is. “Goodnight Mommy” features one of the most horrific and twisted conclusions to any film in recent memory, but what really stands out among it’s artistic achievements is the restrained direction, singular screenplay, and superb sound design. The air feels stagnant within the home, which only makes the experience more suffocating.
“Under the Shadow” (Babak Anvari, 2016)
Set amidst a war-torn Tehran in 1988, “Under the Shadow” is a bone-chilling ghost story following Shideh (Narges Rashidi) and Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), a mother and daughter confined to their apartment as missiles threaten to destroy the city. They remain stubbornly in their home as the neighbors evacuate, and slowly begin to witness mysterious happenings within their walls. Shideh, desperate to maintain normalcy in their panic, promises to find Dorsa’s favorite doll that went curiously missing in the night. The director (Anvari) crafts an unbearable tension as the two characters descend into madness and mental sickness, blurring the line between reality and the surreal. Shideh soon comes to find that these occurrences may be due to the presence of a fabled force called the Djinn, a demonic spirit that “travels on the wind”. This film has secured its own distinguished identity among the best ghost stories in recent years. It is a period specific allegory on the anxieties of war and Iranian repression in 80’s, and features violent sound cues and nightmarish scares with gripping style and control.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” (Jim Jarmusch, 2013)
Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston star as vampires in this romantic thriller that celebrates the supernatural lore like never before. Jim Jarmusch, who always adds a tangible originality to each of his films, focuses not on the stereotypical characteristics of the genre, but instead digs deep into the human qualities of his protagonists; breathing life into the undead! The film takes place in the desolate landscapes of Tangier and Detroit, where underground musician Adam (Hiddleston), suffers a deep depression brought on by the direction of human society. He soon reunites with his centuries-old lover, Eve (Swinton), who reminds him of all the beautiful things in our world that they can still experience together. She begs, “How could you have lived for so long and still not get it? Life could be spent on surviving things, appreciating nature, nurturing kindness and friendship, and dancing!” Here we have two superior beings who, despite being undead in a collapsed futuristic society, have a clear understanding of the joys and quality of living. This story is an elegant film experience that will captivate you, elevate your spirits, and leave you breathless as you succumb to its spell!
If you enjoyed these films, make sure to check out the following as well:
“The Babadook” (Jennifer Kent, 2014)
“Mother!” (Darren Aronofsky, 2017)
“We Need To Talk About Kevin” (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)
“Stoker” (Chan-wook Park, 2013)
“Only Lovers Left Alive” (Jim Jarmusch, 2013)
“The Blackcoats Daughter” (Oz Perkins, 2015)
“The Eyes of my Mother” (Nicolas Pesce, 2016)
“The Neon Demon” (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016)
“Under the Skin” (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)
“Nocturnal Animals” (Tom Ford, 2016)
“The Skin I Live In” (Tom Ford, 2011)
“The Orphanage” (J.A. Bayona, 2007)
“Darling” (Mickey Keating, 2015)
“Crimson Peak” (Guillermo del Toro, 2015)
“Enemy” (Denis Villeneuve, 2013)
“Black Swan” (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)
“House of the Devil” (Ti West, 2009)
“The VVitch” (Robert Eggers, 2015)
“Funny Games” (Michael Haneke, 2007)
“Kill List” (Ben Wheatley, 2011)
“Sinister” (Scott Derrickson, 2012)