Maybe it’s the internet desensitising us, or maybe it’s the real life horror of living under Tory and Republican rule. Whatever it is, nothing seems to scare us these days. If you walked in to any horror movie screening in the past five years – bar a few exceptions – chances are you’ve left giddy and entertained rather than deeply scarred.
But while you might think you’ve seen all there is to see, it turns out that might not actually be true. On Twitter this week, user @ilyclemmie asked a straightforward question: “y’all what’s the scariest movie you’ve ever seen. like something that TRULY shook you”. And while it summoned some predictable answers – hereditary, The Exorcist, The Shining – it also included some foreign language and indie titles that have slipped under most of our radars.
So what are the horror movies that genre fans found “TRULY terrifying” and said “made [their] skin feel foreign” on Twitter?
1. Aterrados (2017)
Set in a neighborhood in suburban Buenos Aires, this low-budget horror deals in stirring scares rather than the jumpy bait we’re used to. The premise is simple: something untoward is affecting the people who live there, and a team of supernatural investigators come in to figure out. The film is so effective that Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro is planning to executive produce an English language version. Expect possessed bodies and creatures under the bed; images that promise to scar you for life.
2. May The Devil Take You (2018)
Writer-director Timo Tjahjanto made such a splash with this Indonesian haunted house movie that it had a premiere screening at Venice Film Festival after it had hit Netflix in 2018. In the movie, we meet Alfie, a young woman who’s lost contact with her father , who reforms that connection after he’s found to be comatose in hospital and approaching his final days. Curious to learn more about her father’s life during their time apart, Alfie heads to his house, and in the process unleashes a malevolent supernatural spirit that threatens to inflict pain upon them all.
3. Martyrs (2008)
Credited as a leading picture in the New French Extremity movement, almost nobody would touch this indie horror when its filmmaker, Pascal Laugier, was trying to get it made. It’s not entirely surprising. Starting out in a slaughterhouse, where the film’s protagonist Lucie has been imprisoned for a year, ending up in an orphanage where she befriends a girl named Anna. Lucie tells her she believes she’s being haunted by a demonic woman. What ensues is a barbaric, unsettling movie about mind tricks and cultish behaviour.
4. Cairo (2001)
A critically acclaimed techno-horror with a cult following to boot, this Japanese movie envisions what life could be like if ghosts could haunt us through the internet. Split into two chapters, we first witness a ghostly being lure a plant store employee to suicide, catalysing a string of gruesome deaths and possessions. At the turn of the 21st century, Kairo’s concept was cutting edge. It set the path for a number of English language remakes.
5. Megan is Missing (2011)
Loading a movie with justifiable trigger warnings, this movie took five years to find a distributor brave enough to release Megan is Missing. It then took nearly a decade for it to find its cult audience via TikTok. It follows a 14-year-old girl, popular in high school, who agrees to meet up with a guy she’s spoken to online. When she subsequently goes missing, her best friend sets out to try and find her, uncovering harrowing found footage of her fate in the process. The film’s director Michael Goi was approached to remake it in Mexico, owing to its impact. He, saying he couldn’t endure spending a prolonged period of time declined with such a disturbing subject matter again.
6. Come and See (1985)
This Soviet anti-war film is not so much a horror as much as a military drama that captures the harrowing reality of wartime Eastern Europe. Directed by Elem Klimov, it remained out of print for decades before the cult distributor Criterion resurrected it. The movie, set in 1943, follows a teenage boy who, against his family’s will, joins the Belarusian resistance following the Nazi invasion of his home country. What he witnesses on that journey — violence in its most visceral forms — disturbs him for life. Part coming-of-age film, part war drama, it’s a necessary film for those brave enough to engage with it.
7. The Medium (2021)
This supernatural mockumentary was submitted to the Oscars as Thailand’s Best Foreign Language feature nomination last year. Set in the northeastern part of the country, it follows a documentary team who observe the life of a medium possessed by the spirit of a local deity. But as the filmmakers trace the medium’s meandering family tree, noticing the horrible fates of many within it, they start to question whether it’s a deity who lives within her. This slow-burn movie moves towards a seriously scarring conclusion.
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