There’s something comforting about watching horror movies as the world outside spirals into chaos. There are only a finite number of things that can go wrong for the protagonists and by the end, the axe-wielding psychos (usually) get their comeuppance. The anxieties end the moment the film does. I set out trying to list the best horror films on Netflix. The platform’s selection is sparse, and to further whittle it down, I haven’t included classics like Psycho (1960) and The Shining (1980), precisely because they’re classics and if you’re looking up lists for horror, you’ve watched them already. So, in no particular order:
Director: Mike Flanagan
So many horror films lean heavily on sound to drum up tension or induce fright that it’s refreshing to find one that uses soundlessness to reflect the perspective of its hearing and speech impaired protagonist (Kate Siegel), whose house is stalked by a crossbow-wielding creep. Director Mike Flanagan effectively mines horror out of a single location, staging a cat-and-mouse game that stays thrilling through the entirety of its runtime. (Another horror movie that uses sound, or the lack of it, to great effect is A Quiet Place, also streaming on Netflix.)
The Ritual (2017)
Director: David Bruckner
Four men take off on a hiking trip to Sweden, haunted at first by the recent death of their friend, and then, by something lurking in the wilderness. Director David Bruckner wisely chooses not to reveal the film’s monster for the most part, relying on movements, symbols and exquisite sound design — a low rumble here, the sound of a branch breaking there — to fill in the gaps and build dread. It’s terrifying, as are the endless woods that stretch on for miles with no obvious exit.
Under The Shadow (2016)
Director: Babak Anvari
Set in 1980s Tehran, director Babak Anvari’s debut follows former medical student Shideh (Narges Rashidi), whose young daughter is convinced they’re being haunted by djinns. It doesn’t take long for Shideh to start seeing apparitions too. Is the internalized trauma of war causing the two to lose their grip on reality or is there really something sinister at play? The film, alternating between spookfest and fierce feminist fable, leaves plenty of room for doubt.
Director: Patrick Brice
A cautionary tale about why it’s never a good idea to answer advertisements posted on the internet. Struggling videographer Aaron (Patrick Brice) accepts an assignment to film Josef (Mark Duplass), a stranger who quickly begins blurring the lines between friendly and fearsome. The film’s nighttime sequences, shot found-footage style, are eerie, but one set in broad daylight is terrifying in the way it breaks horror movie rules — a character does everything right, takes every precaution, and still winds up dead.
Gerald’s Game (2017)
Director: Mike Flanagan
Jessie’s (Carla Gugino) husband handcuffs her to the bedposts in an attempt to spice up their marriage, and then drops dead. The situation she’s trapped in is crippling, as is the trauma it unlocks in her mind. Set almost entirely in one room and propelled by Gugino’s powerful performance, director Mike Flanagan adapts a Stephen King novel long considered unfilmable, displaying how the natural and supernatural can disturb in equal measure. (Another King adaption, 1922, is also streaming on Netflix and is just as good.)
The Perfection (2019)
Director: Richard Shepard
The quest to excel, and the immense pressure accompanying it, evoke a dread of their own. Director Richard Shepard amplifies these anxieties in a grisly revenge tale as he follows Charlotte (Allison Williams), a once-great cellist who meets the musician who replaced her. What follows is twist after twist, each more delirious and gory than the previous one, building towards a final shot that will stick with you long after the credits roll.
The Invitation (2015)
Director: Karyn Kusama
Will (Michiel Huisman) turns up at his ex-wife’s house for a party, but can’t shake the feeling that something’s not quite right. Director Karyn Kusama takes this sense of foreboding, couples it with the awkwardness and tension of large group dinners and gradually dials it up as the scenes and guests get increasingly unnerving.
The Cabin In The Woods (2011)
Director: Drew Goddard
If you’ve ever felt like you’re watching a horror film pieced together by a committee intent only on ticking off genre tropes one by one, director Drew Goddard knows exactly what you mean. He employs these cliches only to satirize them in the film, in which a group of college friends head to a remote forest on vacation and unwittingly become part of a worldwide murder ritual staged by technicians. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and the meta humour keeps it fun.
Directors: Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke
An Australian zombie survival drama that’s more tender than terrifying. In Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke’s film, a man (Martin Freeman) bitten by a zombie has 48 hours to get his daughter to safety before he turns into one himself. While admittedly light on horror elements, the film is still a compelling, nuanced portrait of life in a post-pandemic world.
Director: Coralie Fargeat
A rape-revenge tale minus the exploitative male gaze. Socialite Jen (Matilda Lutz) painstakingly hunts down the men who left her for dead in the desert in this Coralie Fargeat film, which hurtles towards a climax so brutal, it will have you questioning just how large the production budget for fake blood was.
Train to Busan (2016)
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
A zombie film set mostly inside the confines of a train feels like an uncomfortable metaphor for the times we’re living in — stuck indoors, afraid to venture out for fear of being infected, hyper aware of the people around us. Director Yeon Sang-ho focuses the story on a fund manager (Gong Yoo) and his daughter (Kim Su-an) trying to survive the nightmarish journey from Seoul to Busan, investing the film with an emotional undercurrent that outlives its images of the walking dead.
Director: Anvita Dutt
Twenty years after five-year-old Bulbbul is married to a wealthy, much older man, the men in her village begin dropping like flies. Director Anvita Dutt flips the chudail (witch) mythology on its head in this stunningly shot film set in 1880s Bengal, which doubles up as a takedown of the patriarchy.