The Best Horror Movies of the Decade You’ve Never Seen

Lesson of the Evil (2012)

Seiji Hasumi is a kind, attractive man and one of his school’s most popular teachers. He’s also cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. From the shack in the woods where he lives to his penchant for killing crows in the buff, he’s an odd man with his own sense of morality. When the teens at his school begin disappointing him with their cheating and bullying ways he crashes their overnight project to teach them all one final lesson.

Takashi Miike’s output is frequent but highly inconsistent when it comes to quality and content. When he’s on, he’s on, though, and this wonderfully grim thriller is Miike at the top of his game. It’s a fluidly arresting and constantly engaging style throughout, and the filmmaker infuses the violence with a darkly comic sense of humor that makes for one immensely entertaining watch. There’s a delicate balance at play as Seiji is entertaining and some of the teens are obnoxious, but it’s still made clear that his actions, while fun to watch (for shame!) are wrong. Obviously.

This being a Miike film, and one from outside the US, it’s disturbingly comfortable showing teenage protagonists gunned down and murdered in violent ways that eschew fantasy – ie Jason or Freddy-type kills – in favor of death at the wrong end of a gun barrel, and while CGI blood is visible it doesn’t lessen the result. This is probably part of the reason why no US label has released the film yet. (Happily, import discs are within reach.)

Lesson of the Evil is not currently available in the US.

Thelma (2017)

A young woman leaves home for the first time to attend college, and while her parents support her they’re also afraid – both for her and for those around her. Thelma’s prone to seizures, and they’re related to an innate telekinetic ability that’s growing in power within her mind. She’s unable to control it, unsure where it came from, and unaware of where it will lead her.

This Norwegian masterpiece earns its spot as the country’s 2017’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film with a coming of age tale unlike any other. From its cold opening featuring a man preparing to shoot a child in the back to an ending that leaves you reevaluating everything that’s come before through new understanding, the film gives viewers a powerful woman coming into her own and fighting against pressures both natural and unnatural including anxiety, religious oppression, and a desire to truly be herself. It’s a slow burn, but it’s also never less than a gorgeous, fascinating, and surprising watch.

Director/co-writer Joachim Trier and co-writer Eskil Vogt previously collaborated on the captivating and emotionally devastating Oslo, August 31st (2011), and their move into genre film-making is every bit as affecting while also delivering those bloody thrills and epic chills. Eili Harboe’s performance as a young woman well beyond her depths takes hold and leaves viewers frightened and shaken by the uncertainty, and as increasingly dark beats occur it becomes clear just what we’re witnessing – and the horror of revelation has rarely been captured this beautifully.

Thelma is available to stream and on DVD.

They Look Like People (2015)

Wyatt and Christian are old friends who cross paths randomly one day, and upon discovering that Wyatt is in a bad place in life his friend invites him to stay. Their banter picks up almost immediately, but it comes equally clear that Wyatt’s issues go beyond the norm – he’s hearing voices, and they’re telling him that demons are invading our world in the form of the people around him. And the voices need Wyatt to kill the demons.

At its core, this is a story of a mentally unwell young man on the verge of murder, but writer/director Perry Blackshear’s feature debut is interested in more than mere thrills. He crafts a friendship that feels real between the two men, and with both of them lonely in different ways the film’s power comes in part from caring about these guys and seeing ourselves in their struggles. It’s an affecting film in ways and degrees to which most horror movies can only dream.

And it is a horror film. Don’t let its strengths on the emotional and character fronts suggest otherwise as Blackshear ratchets up the terror and tension throughout to terrific effect. The shadows reveal movement and sounds that disturb and unsettle, and as Wyatt’s agitation grows our concern for Christian and others ramps up dramatically. One sequence involving Wyatt inviting Christian’s love interest into the basement is a nerve-shredder. This is another slow burn, but it’s one you won’t forget.

They Look Like People is available to stream.

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