October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about underrated 2010s horror movies that are actually super good is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to modern horror. My heart wants what it wants… and usually, it wants the finest goopy, practical foam latex the 1980s could muster. So, as a horror fan, I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to the 2000s, arguably the last true decade where horror movies were widely reviled and dismissed as a genre for degenerate perverts. While my own hang-ups with noughties horror don’t have anything to do with being on a moral high horse, I am still complicit in undervaluing what the decade has to offer. The popular knee-jerk reaction by some to shit on 2000s horror quickly falls apart when you take stock of its boons: Them (2006); Martyrs (2008); Session 9 (2001); The Mist (2007); The Last Winter (2006) — the list goes on and on.
I bring up the bias against the genre in the 2000s because it’s crucial in understanding how we wound up with the concept of “elevated horror” in the 2010s. When you see articles like “The 2010s Were The Decade When Horror Got Smart,” a line in the sand is being drawn between when genre films are worthy of critical praise… and when they aren’t. So as much as journalists might tell you that the 2010s marked a turning point in horror’s longstanding dismissal, if we look closely, the bias against the genre is still very much alive and well.
Case and point: the following list. There are plenty of incredible horror films from the 2010s that deserved a lot better than the critical pummelling they took from critics at the time. And the ten films listed below represent the cream of the unfairly-maligned crop. To prove our point, in compiling this list, we only considered films with aggregated critical scores of less than 60% on Rotten Tomatoes. So from one bias-haver to another, keep an open mind and enjoy the following list of underrated 2010s horror films as assembled by Rob Hunter, Anna Swanson, Chris Coffel, Brad Gullickson, Jacob Trussell, Valerie Ettenhofer, and yours truly.
10. The Neon Demon (2018) – 58% RT
A gorgeous, glowing nightmare that thrums with palpable dark energy, The Neon Demon is a bold movie that clearly lost points with critics somewhere along the way. Was it the implication that Los Angeles isn’t just a soul-sucking place but a sexy snake pit filled with people who will literally eat each other in the name of aesthetic dominance? Was it the necrophilia scene? It couldn’t have been Keanu Reeves playing against type as a creepy motel owner who tries to make Elle Fanning’s teen model swallow a knife, right?
Okay, on paper, maybe it makes sense that people jumped ship on this one. But Nicolas Winding Refn’s sleazy, beautiful, wildly assured dip into the modeling underworld is still one of the most memorable entries in the style-over-substance canon. It’s also elevated by a stunning performance from Fanning, who adds depth to the role of a small-town girl whose talent for smizing lands her in a neon-drenched West Coast fever dream. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
9. The First Purge (2018) – 55% RT
The 2010s weren’t a major decade for emerging franchises. But one that undeniably made waves was The Purge. Unabashedly politically charged, the films have created a topical image of a dystopia where all crime is legal for one night. For the fourth franchise entry, it made complete sense to make a prequel that explains exactly how this all started. Set in Staten Island, The First Purge chronicles one night for the citizens who have become political guinea pigs to study the effect of a trial purge. With some rather clever film techniques used to depict surveillance and an engrossing cast of characters, the film is a lively franchise entry that further deepens the world of the series. It might not be the very best in the series, but it’s absolutely worth your time. (Anna Swanson)
8. Escape Room (2019) – 50% RT
Did you know that they made a Saw movie for kids? And that it’s pretty darn fun? A charming horror-thriller that will swiftly introduce the uninitiated and the young to close-quarters ensemble nightmares, Escape Room is the Disney Channel answer to torture porn. And it turns out that that’s a good thing!
Directed by Adam Robitel (of The Taking of Deborah Logan fame), Escape Room sees a group of six strangers dropped into a high-rise from hell full of deadly puzzles based on their past traumas. While Escape Room definitely follows in the footsteps of the likes of Chosen Survivors and Exam, it brings a modern sense of scale (and production value) to the table that is a delight to behold (the upside-down dive bar set is especially fun). While many critics dismissed the film for being “silly” and “contrived,” it’s worth remembering that Escape Room comes from a long line of knowingly ridiculous B-Movies that are less concerned with being airtight puzzle boxes than goofy-ass rollercoasters. Escape Room is an underrated brain-off hoot of 2010s horror… and sometimes that’s just what the doctor ordered. (Meg Shields)
7. Brightburn (2019) – 57% RT
Not only was David Yarovesky’s Brightburn a good movie when it hit screens in 2019, but we’re also pretty sure that this anti-hero origin story is going to age like a fine wine. In a cinematic landscape dominated by crowd-pleasing superhero movies, this James Gunn-produced sci-fi/horror flick is a breath of fresh air. Brightburn is basically the answer to the question of what you’d get if We Need To Talk About Kevin and Clark Kent’s origin story got in a head-on collision.
The Breyers have been struggling with fertility. And one night, a crashed spaceship answers their prayers. Twelve years later, the couple begins to suspect that Brandon, their miracle child, may not have their (or humanity’s) best interests at heart. Gory, gleefully morally ambiguous, and unapologetic about its B-Movie sensibilities, Brightburn is a gem that you should absolutely check out if you dismissed it upon its initial release. (Meg Shields)
6. 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019) – 45% RT
This list could easily be four times as long. But keeping it to a top ten has resulted in a solid mix of movies that are often far better than their reputation might suggest. This sequel to a pretty okay killer shark flick is fairly standard for much of its run. But it manages some thrills along the way with its tale of sisters trapped underwater with a hungry shark. What puts it apart from the pack, though, is director Johannes Roberts’ decision to jazz up the set-pieces with a slasher mentality and copious use of “Donato reds.” The result is a killer shark thriller that shifts away from the expected setups to deliver sequences and scares more akin to stalk and slash films. It’s an entertaining and visually thrilling descent into animal horror. And it’s absolutely worth a watch before your next trip to the beach. (Rob Hunter)
This list of underrated 2010s horror movies concludes on the next page…
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