Horror comes in cycles. It would seem that every decade brings about a new type of horror that brings the genre forward in some way. New voices come, inspired by the old. Old voices return, reshaped to suit a new generation. The 2010s might go down in history as one of the best decades of horror since the 1980s. While there were disappointing films (every decade has their fair share), the greats eclipse them.
However, there is a film that stands above the rest. One that remains great among the greats of all time. In a decade filled with masterful scares and thrills, which horror movie of the 2010s stands as one of the greatest of all time?
2010s Brought Back Franchise Horror
During the 90s and 2000s, franchise horror stagnated. There were a few attempts made at making a long-lasting franchise, like what happened in the 80s with Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. While Scream, Saw, and Final Destination successfully spawned healthy franchises, most didn't. Jeepers Creepers, Candyman and Hostel started strong but dwindled. Once Saw started dying, franchise horror looked dead.
But then a few very important films came out. While Paranormal Activity started in 2007, it didn't form a healthy franchise. Not like 2010's Insidious, 2013's The Conjuring, or 2013's The Purge -- all of which spawned healthy franchises that continued to succeed with each new installment. There were a few other films that almost spawned franchises, of course, such as Insidious and Unfriended, but the successes far outweighed the negatives.
In prior decades, many attempts were made to revive older horror franchises. Freddy vs. Jason was a success, but few franchises learned from its example. Instead, horror franchises were remade. And with each new remake, audiences lost interest.
But the 2010s brought back many an old franchise. Remakes like Evil Dead, Suspiria and, most notably, IT all drew in huge audiences. In addition to remakes, soft reboots helped revive several other old franchises. Ash vs. The Evil Dead, Curse of Chucky and Halloween (2018) revived iconic horror franchises without ignoring the elements that brought franchises fame in the first place.
New Voices of Horror
With the rise of low-budget horror, however, several new voices entered the scene. James Wan, in many ways, entered the horror scene back with Saw, but the 2010s allowed him to come into his own, reshaping the horror genre with Insidious and The Conjuring. But Wan is just one of the numerous new directors in 2010s' world of horror.
Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook, The Nightingale), and Andy Muschietti (Mama, IT) have all left a huge impact on the genre with only a few films. However, other directors, such as David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation, Lights Out), Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House, Gerald's Game), Fede Álvarez (Evil Dead, Don't Breathe) and André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) have all brought something new to the table.
Still, there's one new voice in horror that manages to stands out amongst the others. Jordan Peele's one-two punch of Get Out and Us put him on the map. Peele's brilliant writing earned him an Oscar, making Get Out one of the few pure horror films to earn an Oscar since 1991's The Silence of the Lambs won Best Picture.
Tributes and Re-Imaginings
However, with every new voice, several films managed to take a step back when they opted to reimagine or reinterpret tropes from yesteryear.
Many films attempted to create a straight-forward tribute to the old genres of yesteryear. It Follows brings the John Carpenter aesthetic of the 80s to the modern era. Revenge pays tribute to older films such as I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left. Old ghost stories enjoyed a revival in the aptly named Ghost Stories. Italian giallo films found a comeback thanks to giallo tributes like The Editor and Knife+Heart.
Others attempted to satirize or deconstruct the genre. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil deconstructed the murderous hillbilly genre of horror. You're Next subverts common tropes of the home-invasion and slasher genres.
Undeniably, the most successful horror tribute was Cabin in the Woods. The film subverted every horror trope in a way no film since Scream had managed to do. The film has earned its cult classic status.
Streaming Helped Low-Budget Horror
But to highlight the biggest new names would be a disservice to the lesser-known films that came out this decade. Due to the proliferation of streaming in the 2010s, several filmmakers found new venues for their low-budget or unorthodox horror films.
Netflix helped introduce audiences to Raw, The Perfection, The Void, Train to Busan, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, and Veronica. While new services like Shudder created curated catalogs of obscure horror for fans, offering fans a chance to watch Terrified, Knife+Heart, Satan's Slaves, and Kuso.
All these and many more offered fans a chance to watch unusual films they'd never have a chance to see otherwise. But one film stood apart. One that has been omitted up until this point. One horror film that managed to reach the heights of what horror has to offer.
The Best Horror Film of the Decade Is...
A24 has released many of the decade's most profoundly haunting horror films. The Babadook and Hereditary both are masterpieces in horror that deserve praise. But their film The Witch may be the single most profoundly haunting film made in the 2010s.
What makes The Witch so profoundly disturbing is how it manages to tap into so many collective fears while showing precious little. While the film appears to be just a movie starring a scary witch, it's actually a biting social horror story that exploits social paranoia and the restrictive hierarchy of religious fundamentalism. It exploits the fear of fathers who are incapable of supporting their families, of daughters who fear their mothers might loathe them, and of sons who come to understand the newfound urges of puberty.
All of it is told in a unsettling, isolated atmosphere that suffocates its characters. This stifling world overwhelms the audience with religious fanaticism, patriarchal gender roles, and despair that life will never improve. It's telling that here selling your soul to Satan and becoming some unholy monster is somehow the happy ending.
Director Robert Eggers's follow-up film, The Lighthouse, has a lot to live up to.