This article is part of our ongoing series, 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Horror is not a fast game. The misery of existence drags at a snail’s pace. You want it to be over, but the end will seemingly never come. Scream all you want, time ticks at its pace. Some of the genre’s best efforts take full advantage of this agonizing, measured speed. The cameras linger; the edits won’t come. You’re trapped to feel every scratch and slash of your protagonist. You put up your money. You paid to watch. The mean filmmakers — the honest filmmakers — are going to make you suffer for such a choice.
Below you will find a collection of grizzly torments, carefully considered by Chris Coffel, Valerie Ettenhofer, Kieran Fisher, Rob Hunter, Meg Shields, Anna Swanson, Jacob Trussell, and yours truly. Each film cherishes the leisured crawl of a nightmare you can’t wake up from.
10. The Wailing (2016)
Slowburn horror gets a bum rap sometimes, but while it’s not everyone’s cup of blood there’s a real satisfaction to be found in horror films that take a leisurely approach to building terror and tightening the tension. When done right it leaves viewers on edge throughout and helpless by the third act. Na Hong-jin‘s The Wailing is a masterclass in the menacing crawl even as it punctuates and perforates the air with increasingly odd and disturbing reveals, beats, and visuals. It wants viewers to think about what they’re seeing and to figure out where their allegiance should rest, but it doesn’t make it easy. Instead, Na’s film offers up something of a challenge, and for those willing to pay attention and follow along the reward is something extraordinary. (Rob Hunter)
9. The Wicker Man (1973)
Even with the Director’s Cut, Midsommar fucking wishes. The Wicker Man has no fucks to give and time to spare with a creeping sense of unease that mounts steadily until Christopher Lee is prancing about in drag with murderous intent. The Wicker Man isn’t just influential on folk horror, but in a more general sense in the way it sets out its artful traps for our unwilling protagonist, steering him (and us) wrong until it’s all too late. Like the best of its creed: The Wicker Man is a slow burn until it isn’t; a steadily heating pot of red flags that only reveal themselves at the boiling point and we realize Sergeant Howie never stood a chance. (Meg Shields)
8. Let The Right One In (2008)
Tomas Alfredson‘s Let the Right One In is a beautiful coming of age tale about the difficulties of growing up and falling in love with the neighbor girl who also happens to be a vampire. The movie takes its time and while some may call that slow, I prefer to call it deliberately paced. Regardless of what you choose to call it, the film’s gruesome finale is well worth the build-up. (Chris Coffel)
7. The House of the Devil (2009)
Some people think of slow burns as, well, too slow, but I prefer to think of the best ones as tightly coiled. They unspool a little at a time, at the perfect pace for their purpose, and quicken the closer you get to their center. Ti West’s The House of the Devil is a world-class slow burn, a modern movie that’s a throwback in nearly every way. Filmed on stellar-looking 16mm and imbued with the conspiratorial sense of classics like Rosemary’s Baby, the movie starts with a typical premise: a young woman (Jocelin Donahue) who is strapped for cash takes a night-time babysitting job. A series of small, unnerving moments early on are tied together by the camera’s intrusive gaze, and when the film’s done piling on the dread and the plot finally hits a crescendo, it transforms into a hellish thrill ride that’s well worth the wait. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
6. Pulse (2001)
When you think of J-Horror, two things come to mind: Sadako and Kayako. And while Ringu and Ju-on are stone-cold classics in their own right, sparking an entire era of filmmaking, it is Pulse with its slow creeping horror, that will forever stand the test of time. Despite it being about a very specific moment in the birth of the internet, Pulse rightly predicts the isolating effect that comes with our own interconnectivity. Are we but ghosts in the machine, sitting behind a screen invisible to the world, our budding addictions arresting human development? These are the big lofty questions that Kiyoshi Kurosawa attempts to reconcile within Pulse, a film that looks at modern technology through the lens of an old-world ghost story, using classic elements of the genre to take its time in getting to its scare setpieces. With an ensemble cast, Kurosawa builds his world through multiple disconnected characters layering on top of each other as the film crawls to its apocalyptic finale. If uncontrollable dread is something you look for in your entertainment, then you’ll find no better film than Pulse. (Jacob Trussell)