Thanks to maverick films like The Conjuring and It Follows, American horror cinema is experiencing a renaissance, of sorts. But it’s important to note that the bulk of the 2000s has been dominated by foreign horror. While American cinemas are content to produce sequels to their most popular franchises, foreign filmmakers have been generally making serious, innovative films that redefine what horror films might look like. Here are a list of the few most interesting, and terrifying, foreign films of the last decade.
An Austrian film from the directing duo of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, Goodnight Mommy plays as kind of checklist of terrifying elements. Creepy twins? Bandaged figure? Insects? Check, check, and check. The story follows two twins whose mother returns to them after undergoing face surgery.
The two brothers begin to suspect that the woman in bandages is not actually their mother, and seek the mystery behind her disappearance. What makes Goodnight Mommy so effective is its willingness to go into extreme territory, uping the horror to unexpected heights. Critics noted the film’s quiet atmosphere, championing Goodnight Mommy as an exemplary slow burn.
I Saw the Devil
I Saw the Devil, a South Korean film which effectively blurs the line between hero and villain, is an exemplar of the sort of extreme cinema South Korea has become known for in recent years. The identity of the film’s serial killer, and the special agent tasked to find him, are revealed early on.
Where the film twists and turns however is when our hero, Kim Soo-hyun employs sadistic methods to track down the serial killer Kyung-chul. In the realm of violent cinema, rarely do we see the “good guy” go to such lengths to physically and psychologically torture the killer. The game of cat and mouse is really a tug-of-war of who is more evil, killer or the cop.
We Are What We Are
A Mexican horror film following a family of cannibals, We Are What We Are approaches its subjects with a level of comical detachment, elevating the material to fairytale heights.
A 2013 American remake of the film with the same name moved locations to the American south, and in doing so upped the gothic horror levels to 11. Regardless of which version of the film you decide to see, We Are What We Are has exemplary, unique style.
If you need any example of found footage horror done right, look no further than the Spanish language [REC]. While it was also remade in English in 2008 as Quarantine, [REC] just has a level of excitement and ferocity the American remake couldn’t match. Following a Spanish reporter and her cameraman, the two find themselves trapped inside of an apartment along with its many tenants. Soon, the trapped residents begin finding themselves picked off one-by-one. [REC] quickly established Spain as a powerhouse in international horror cinema.
Let the Right One In
Yet another foreign film remade in the English language the Swedish vampire thriller, Let the Right One In utilized its child actors to mine real emotional depth from its Vampire story. While the film followed a young boy falling in love with a vampire, this romantic romp quickly revealed a willingness to go very dark, very quick. Given the cold atmosphere of its Swedish setting, this is one vampire film that defies all sorts of conventions.
The Babadook is regarded as one of the best horror films in recent years, and for very good reason. Anchored by Essie Davis’ amazing performance as a single mother in Australia raising a troubled child; she one day comes across a disturbing children’t pop-up book that tells the story of the “Babadook”. What follows is an immensely terrifying, and strikingly stylish film of the horror and stress of parenthood as embodied by a modern day boogeyman. It helps that the Babadook is quickly becoming an iconic horror movie monster, one whose style will surely become instantly recognizable as the film’s status as a cult movie continues to grow.
We figure Canada is foreign enough, if it means that the Ontario-based horror film Pontypool can be included in this list. Taking place in a lone radio station in the middle of Canada, Pontypool is a unique zombie film that relies on its clever premise, and stylish presentation to create a north North American 28 Days Later. I promise you won’t find another zombie film with as unique a premise, or hilarious a cast as Pontypool.Photos via Stadtkino Verleih, Showbox, Filmax, Sandrew Metronome, IFC Films, Maple Pictures, Toho