Psychological Horror–The Last 5 Years: A Comprehensive List
Looking for a film or two that’s guaranteed to make you think? Compiled here is a list of films that both scared me to the core and left clean cuts turned infected wounds in my brain. This list will include my recent favorite psychologically scary films that either made my head spin, or made me want to rip my head off altogether. You’ll also find a mentioning of popular films which can be classified as Psychological Horror, but are on many other popular horror movie lists. A bonus Honorable Mention section, just to make sure everyone leaves with a new movie or two to look forward to. This is a SPOILER FREE ZONE. Stay tuned for my upcoming lists!
What is Psychological Horror?
To me, it’s about experience. My experience and how each piece of art tells me a story that transcends time. I want to be tortured and left for carrion, so I put MUCH weight on the way a movie leaves me feeling. I want to go into a film, get excited over dread, and leave the film worse off. If a movie encouraged my heartbeat to join the auditory cues and inspires me to tell someone else about it, you’ll find it on this list. If a film causes me to lose sleep, cry in horror, and pushes me to think about the world around me differently, you’ll find it on my list in the higher numbers. All of the films listed here are rated either R or TV-MA. None of them being kid-friendly.
I will not include certain movies I’ve seen on this list, for various reasons. If I get positive responses on this post, there are plans for many movies not listed here to go on other recommendation lists (i.e. foreign films, movies older than 2015).
I have tried to compile a list of films which are not as popular. I don’t want to take up spaces for the more well known films, so this list serves you best. Except for the final movie on this short list, which is here because I’m not smart enough to review it. Yet.
Those films are:
- Hereditary (2018)
- Midsommar (2019)
- It Follows (2015)
- Get Out (2017)
- Us (2019)
- The House That Jack Built (2019)
I did enjoy the movies above, and if you’re missing out on any of them, it’s time to get on it! If you’re looking for MORE. If you need more good, meaningful, horrifying AND terrifying Horror in your life, read on.
Scare Me! Spook Me! Freak Me Out!
In order of their effect on my psyche and my overall rating. Please note that not all of these films are considered as being a part of the Horror genre, but they certainly all hold horrifying stories.
15. The Nun (2018)
Director Corin Hardy adds to The Conjuring Universe with this dark, brutal, horrifying flick. Set in 1952, The Nun is the start to the storyline of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s accounts of life experiences. We follow the investigation of the death of a young nun. And it get pretty damn spooky.
Not only are there Mystery and Thriller qualities, there’s a touch of Psychological Horror, a touch that spreads ’til the very end. In addition to the great use of sound and lighting, the atmosphere is a dread filled and fear inducing promise. The first half is a tad sluggish, which is why it is not a higher number on the list. If you decide to only watch one film from this franchise, make The Nun it.
14. Hush (2016)
Starring Kate Siegel and John Gallagher Jr., this terror of a film is often classified as a Slasher Thriller. Meh. That’s fine, but this movie is much more than an average, surface level Slasher OR Thriller. Our main character being a reclusive author who’s under attack by a sadistic killer. Oh, I forgot to mention, SHE’S DEAF! Can you imagine yourself in her shoes? Just try.
The director of Hush, Mike Flanagan, uses lighting and sound in effective, smart ways. The reason Hush is so far back on my list isn’t because I didn’t like it as much as the others, but because it was formulaic and although this movie scares me at points, I haven’t lost any sleep. There’s blood, of course, and a few disturbing scenes, but the reason Hush made this list is purely because of the portrayal of our main character’s resilience. Great place for you to start on this list if you’ve ever felt like you’ve had to fight odds. So, all of you, I assume. It’s currently streaming on Netflix, so watch it while you can!
13. Mother! (2017)
Jennifer Lawrence turns heads with this killer performance. Darron Aronofsky, our writer/director, takes us on the Hellish journey from sanity to complete insanity, without batting an eye. We follow a woman when life abruptly changes because these particular strangers find their way to her doorstep.
With a runtime of over two hours, I’m pleasantly surprised with how much is fit in. The only reason this jaw-dropping film isn’t higher is because as the bloodfest of an end nears, I can see people being turned-off. You should make it out ok on the other side if you prepare to feel hopeless. Oh, and plan on getting offended. It’s available on Hulu at the time of this publication.
12. Cam (2018)
A Netflix movie on a top horror countdown? Yaaassssssss! Cam, directed by Daniel Goldhaber, is a piece of art, the way it weaves in and out of the everyday lives of every American. And in raw story, every human. We follow a ‘cam girl’, played by actress Madeline Brewer, as she desperately struggles to regain control over the recent chaos caused by a…look-a-like? a…doppelganger? an…alien? a…psycho?
Ripping open the wounds many Americans already have and bringing attention to the fear in everyone else is bottom line. With sophistication and care, Cam gives us little treats along the way, and we get a good sloppy kiss at the end. It’s on Netflix, check it out!
11. Head Count (2019)
Follow me on a mind-bending joyride filled with gorgeous camera work and an even more stellar score, audio cues, and aesthetics. Head Count socks Horror a good black eye in 2019. Our main character, played by Isaac Jay, gets sucked into a new group of friends while visiting his brother, and we’re twisted through the shocking events in the following days.
Elle Callahan, the director of Head Count, had a clear vision, and executed it with passion. I really wish I could put this higher on the list, but the first half is a little slow in getting off the ground. It may look like another Teen Slash ‘Em Up and Dish ‘Em Out by the cover, but the complicated emotions and moral concerns are pushed to the surface. It’s on Netflix!
10. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)
In this dreamy, corrosive flick, we follow a set of girls during winter break at an empty boarding school. Yes…a boarding school. I know, I know. It’s okay, don’t worry, just keep reading. Oh, yeah, and there’s some sort of, well, something’s amiss. I understand, this sounds just like many other horror movies around, but this is superb. A terrifying, concussive look into the eyes of evil.
The director, Oz Perkins, exhibits rich vision in this non-linear story. The beautiful Emma Roberts stars alongside a small cast, and they all give good weight to the severity of silence. I expect more character exploration in such a dark, soul-stirring horror, but the film does invite us for a little dance, and after we agree with excitement, we are thrown in the pit with a lion or two. Currently, it’s available on Netflix.
9. Braid (2019)
Colors, saturated and vibrant, wind us through this radical tale of symbolism and metaphor. Wrapped up in a box and garnished with a bow, I didn’t see how far this film, directed by Mitzi Peirone, stretches. After my first viewing, I left unsatisfied. I distinctly remember thinking “Huh. What the fuck? Okay…”, which is similar to my thoughts after my first viewing of Enemy (2013). And just like I did with Enemy, I gave Braid another chance.
We follow three friends on a hallucinatory kick, and over time it’s almost as if we begin to question the sanity of the film. Brilliant. It’s like watching a poem. A poem in a different form. I love very much when I gain more insight and can find literature in film during a second, sometimes third viewing, so yeah, totally, these movies should continue to be made. But it is not near the top of the list simply because the value isn’t as…accessible. I’m watching for Peirone’s next piece, watch her bloom into her final form. Available on Amazon Prime currently.
8. The Wind (2019)
IFC Films! I seem to be enjoying more and more of these in recent years. You too? We follow a hardworking woman, played by the gorgeous Caitlin Gerrard, try to live in the boonies during the American frontier. The dread peeks in and pushes through, little by little, until it’s got you by the throat. Director Emma Tammi knows how to create claustrophobia in isolation. Talent.
Sweet, sweet metaphor. This may take a second watch to fully comprehend each capsule of vital information, the deep scarring; and at times the film seemed long and tedious, which is why it’s sitting near center. The complicated relationships and tensions developed in each is a brilliant addition to this slow burn.
7. The Invitation (2015)
Paranoia festers as we follow a man, played by actor Logan Marshall-Green, attend a dinner party at, wait for it…his ex wife’s house. As his suspicion of his ex grows, we flip-flop in our loyalties. How cool is that? A movie can induce an experience like this?! Cool.
Although I wish lighting and sound were utilized more, Karyn Kusama, the director, knows how far in each direction to pull us. Very clever. The epic final few seconds of The Invitation is guaranteed to invoke a little smile. It’s available on Netflix, but has been for a while. If you haven’t seen it yet, now’s your chance!
6. The Neon Demon (2016)
Nicolas Winding Refn executed his clear vision in this slow burn Horror flick. The atmosphere brings a dream-like, visceral experience. We follow a character, played by Elle Fanning, and her spiral into conformity. The film feels vain, but I mean, the tension and point blank reality leaves a bleak outlook on humanity.
I’m impressed with the patience in The Neon Demon, the twisty, sometimes questionable pacing, leads to a grim payoff. To improve the film, there should be more given to us from the characters. I see development, but character depth isn’t fully realized. The possible political agenda is evident, but doesn’t take from the film’s gravity. It’s about time for a re-watch, it’s on Amazon Prime, anyone want to join me?
5. Green Room (2015)
Patrick Stewart a neo-Nazi? This alone rocks my world. We follow Anton Yelchin’s (miss you, buddy) character move through the consequences of the situation he’s found himself in. Stuck in a room at a punk rock spot, he and his buddies are forced to do what they can to simply survive. The special effects, the violence, looks real. Like, REAL. I found myself wondering if this is the most disturbing, graphic, fucked up movie I’d ever seen. I’m not certain to this day, but it’s definitely high up on that list.
Want a movie that may make you question those around you and uncover motives of even the most mundane of behaviors? Watch Green Room. Make sure you have plenty of time to decompress afterward, and you should enjoy this with at least one other person who’s not seen it. There are some horrifying pieces in this film, but I have yet to discover implicative horror that I should be considering for life. Oh! And it’s on Netflix!
Wait. A little disclaimer. If you puke during a viewing of Green Room, sorry. Heed my warning.
4. Unsane (2018)
Unnerving and unapologetic, Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane follows a woman who is (un)?voluntarily committed to a mental health facility, where she finds her stalker working the floor. The film screams for change and evolution of both ourselves and systems in power. Gorgeous.
It’s scary, haunting, and demands attention. Not only is it a mind bendy adventure from a little town between desperation and Hell, but it pushes us there with gentle nudges. Unsane is shot from an iPhone, neat! Making this piece even more relevant. I wish this was higher on the list, I just had a serious love affair with the remaining three features…Shh! Don’t tell my spouse. Please?
3. Daniel Isn’t Real (2019)
This beauty is guaranteed to please fans of Psychological Horror, Cosmic Horror, and Body Horror combined. Feast on this grisly tale of a guy reconnecting with a childhood imaginary friend. In this hypnotic witch hunt, we fight with ourselves while trying to figure out what, exactly, Daniel is.
Daniel Isn’t Real showcases the reason why movies are made. Just grab a beer, pack a bowl, and sit back and enjoy. I’d find myself questioning some aspects Adam Egypt Mortimer included, but those aspects found their way to reason. After you try this film, move on to my number two choice, which was an earlier release from the same team of people.
2. Mandy (2018)
Nicholas Cage is still around? Apparently so, and boy am I glad. The film he was born to make. A role that could be filled by none other. In this trippy, heavy metal inspired piece, we follow a man (Cage) and his lover as their world is turned upside down by a travelling cult. Here, one of those films I said made me want to just rip my head off completely and let it roll across the wood floor. Okay…and we’re moving on…
It’s common to be unable to genre classify masterpieces, and Mandy is no exception. Panos Cosmatos knew exactly what he wanted to create, and did it. Flawlessly. I STILL think about this film, over a year later. The neon red glow mixed with the stylish, insightful score. Allow yourself to let go of all preconceived thoughts on what a movie should be before you sit down to watch this, and your mind will be blown. Find it on Shudder.
Psychological Horror: Honorable Mentions
- Ready or Not (2019)
- Nocturnal Animals (2016)
- Summer of ’84 (2018) See my full review here.
- Personal Shopper (2016)
- It Comes At Night (2017)
And my top Psychological Horror movie of the last five years is…..
1. First Reformed (2017)
Oh, how my psyche has suffered. Talk about someone born for a role…Ethan Hawke brings pain and severity to Paul Schrader’s lacerating direction. And a gift to humanity is born, a film we’d all be good to study. We follow a self reflecting pastor spiral after a meeting with an environmental activist. And it’s damn good. Dark and deceptive. Perfection.
I see so much of myself in Ethan Hawk’s character, and this scares the living shit out of me. It was a ‘paranoia obsessed and couldn’t find motivation to push forward in life until I broke down my feelings on this piece’ kind of thing. I lost sleep, my appetite, and felt pure hopelessness. Days later, after my thoughts were arranged in a manageable manner, I of course moved on. Every once in a while this piece pops back up in my mind.
But Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of turmoil in First Reformed is beyond something you can practice. It’s something only another who has first hand experience with torturous thoughts can reproduce. I feel…undeserving of this film. Now it’s time for you to experience this too.
PARZZ1VAL–How To Connect:
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