First of all, I’d like to say that this list isn’t necessarily a top 5 ranking, but rather my personal 5 favorite films from A24. A studio that has more than proven to be one of the very best studios/production companies out there. And I dare say that they’ve produced some of the better horror films of the last years. Sure they are always a bit auteur-ish, ambiguous, and, sometimes, even a tiny bit confusing, but at the end of the day, they always try to deliver us some kind of message (if that always works is another question entirely).
When I tried to come up with this list, I sadly had to let some films go (I very much adore 2019s The Lighthouse, but I couldn’t have two Robert Eggers films on this list), and some others I, unfortunately, haven’t even seen yet, due to geographical reasons (I’m pretty sure Ti West’s Pearl might’ve made this list after all the acclaim it’s received thus far, or Bodies,Bodies,Bodies for its clever new approach to the slasher genre). One of the best things about horror films from this particular studio (or really, any film) is that they are mostly sure to divide audiences and critics alike (some people still don’t know how they feel about Ari Aster’s sophomore feature, Midsommar). But even if they disappoint people, at the very least, basically every A24 film is incredibly gorgeous and profound in its delivery. I guess what I’m really trying to say is that horror films are mostly better when they are indie films instead of bigger franchise films, solely designed to create a whole ton of money. At the end of the day, though horror films are so successful because they are so cheap to make and therefore create a profit rather easily (latest examples include: the crowdfunded Terrifier 2 and, on the other hand, the studio film, Smile).
Hereditary (2018) – dir. Ari Aster
Ari Aster’s Hereditary is already widely considered to be a cult classic, and rightfully so. Even if you didn’t like Aster’s directorial debut (which is completely insane to hear because he’s already established himself as one of horror’s most influential filmmakers in such a short time, partly due to his assured direction and screenwriting), it still leaves at the very least a little impact. On the other hand if the film works for (as it clearly did for me) it’ll leave a deep impact because you’re deeply disturbed and want to forget everything you’ve just seen as quickly as possible.
Amongst awards pundits and Oscar enthusiasts, Hereditary is also infamous for Toni Collette’s notorious snub on Oscar nomination morning. Most people, if not in fact, everyone who’s seen this deeply layered film, can agree on the fact that Collette was absolutely breathtaking as the mother of the family, Annie Graham. In some of her scenes (there’s one particular such scene involving a bone-chilling scream), I will literally not be able to forget for the rest of my life.
It Comes At Night (2017) – dir. Trey Edward Schultz
I do have to admit that it’s been a little while (more like two years) since I last watched Trey Edward Schultz’s critically acclaimed film (who would go on to direct one of 2019’s very best films, Waves), and if I’m frank I probably should’ve watched it again before including it in a “favorite”, but this film is still living in my mind really vividly.
Probably the first thing I should say about this is that it’s not so much a film spiked with cheap jump scares here and there, but rather an unnerving, soaring, psychological slow burn about human decay and isolation. This film is made to stick with the viewer after the credits roll (or, after the last shot if you don’t watch the credits). And the perfect on-screen combination of Joel Edgerton (he really became one of my favorite actors after giving one great performance after the next, I couldn’t urge you more to check out Barry Jenkins’s The Underground Railroad if you haven’t watched it yet) and Christopher Abbott (he’s quite the established indie-darling by now) should be considered required viewing for every cinephile.
Under The Skin (2013) – dir. Jonathan Glazer
This one is incredibly ambiguous and profound in its actually very simplistic presentation. Basically, all that everyone needs to know is that Scarlett Johansson is playing some kind of extraterrestrial being that’s actually not really developed at all. I strongly think that a lesser filmmaker would’ve brought in some kind of world-building (centered around Johansson’s character), but we don’t need that. It’s way more unsettling to not know anything about her rather than to know her whole life story.
The film’s opaque meaning is further amplified by its eerie atmosphere, achieved because of the beautiful score composed by Mica Levi (they sometimes let the film sound like some kind of grand epic). The film becomes so attractive because it doesn’t explain anything to you, and following Johansson stalking her prey like some kind of predator just feels like watching someone perform their daily routine.
The Witch (2015) – dir. Robert Eggers
When the conversation about the best horror films of the 21st century arises, Eggers’s folk horror film cannot be amiss. Eggers himself has quickly become one of the biggest voices in the horror genre, making a name for himself with his meticulously crafted films. As mostly all of the films on this list, you’ll find that The Witch is yet another slow burn, (I don’t know what it is with me and slow burns, I reckon these kinds of films can/or will leave the biggest impact on you and stick with you the longest) slowly examining the descent, of one family in New England, into madness.
Not just Robert Eggers achieved his breakthrough with The Witch, but also the incredibly talented Anya Taylor-Joy. Now almost a household name, this was actually her first role (aside from a single guest credit on a TV show called, Endeavor) but she already loomed as such a commanding force. Setting a story about a witch in 17th century New England (or generally any historic setting) really does prove to be the best recipe to get an unsettling horror film (for other unsettling horror films set against a historical backdrop, you should also check out Eggers’s second film, The Lighthouse).
X (2022) – dir. Ti West
The newest inclusion on this list has already developed an entire franchise with its prequel Pearl and the third film (the sequel to X) Maxxxine coming next year. At first look, this appears to be a gory, albeit artsy, slasher film set on some random farm in rural Texas in the late 70s. X does unravel to become a character study and psychological film about deeply layered themes such as ageism and beauty. Though the antagonist, Pearl, is an elderly, ravaging, murdering lunatic who just wants to get laid, the film makes you feel at least some level of empathy toward her (maybe I’m the only one, though).
I heard that Mia Goth is supposedly even better in Pearl, she absolutely crushed it in this one playing dual roles as the tough heroine and final girl, Maxine, and covered and plastered in makeup and prosthetics as the antagonist, Pearl (I found out recently that a lot of people didn’t actually know this, another reason why it’s so incredibly well done). As a big fan of slasher films, X was an exciting and somewhat satisfying new entry into the genre, and I personally can’t wait to watch Pearl and Maxxxine.
NOTE: These are not actual reviews of the films in question, but only little (two paragraphs each) descriptions of them!