The indie darling A24 is known for bringing us some of the most critically acclaimed horror films of recent years. Often challenging and experimental, their films are notable for the variety of ways they approach the genre. Reflecting on everything from family, trauma, and loss to the terrifying beings that can lurk in the recesses of our subconscious, the horror films with the A24 stamp are largely memorable. They challenge the form and offer up fresh new visions that leave us with exciting new ideas bouncing around in our heads as a result. With the newest addition to their pantheon of challenging horror, the patiently painful folk horror, Lamb, now taking the world by the horns it is worth taking a look back at all the films that have come before it. Here are A24’s 20 horror films ranked from worst to best.
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The unparalleled worst of all the films on this list, it is hard to even fully consider Kevin Smith’s Tusk a movie. An idea born out of a podcast, that perhaps should have stayed there, it places us with Justin Long’s insufferable Wallace on a journey to Canada. Wallace is an arrogant and generally unlikeable podcaster who is making the trip to interview a strange, reclusive man for his show. When he arrives, he discovers not everything is what it seems as the man seeks to turn him into a walrus. As Smith himself described it, the film is a “more cuddly version of Human Centipede.”
The most notable aspect of the 2014 film is that it certainly challenges the idea of what can actually count as a film. The whole thing feels like a long punchline that doesn’t have the good sense to end. It is, quite literally, a stoned thought turned into a feature. It is defined by something resembling eccentricity and becomes the most boorish body horror film you’ll ever see. The film gets far too side-tracked including in a prolonged Johnny Depp cameo that just keeps on going until you wish it would all stop. Smith certainly gets points for how he somehow tricked all these people into making it with him, though the end result lands with a dull splash.
In what was just narrowly better than last place, Slice is a film that managed to get a lot of talent involved though it ended up with almost nothing to show for it. The most goofy of all horror comedies, it is set in a small town where a series of mysterious murders of pizza deliverymen mark the signs of something seriously wrong for the area’s residents. There is an intrepid journalist, some bumbling detectives, cheesy effects and it feels like it was trying to be a cult film without ever actually having the good craft to back it up.
It never really does anything interesting with the tropes of the genre, more often playing into them as opposed to taking them in a new direction. A stoner comedy without any degree of cleverness, it is about as entertaining as being trapped with a friend who got high and rambled about his idea for a script. Such stoner comedies can and have been great, though they were actually funny. This is almost entirely unfunny with hardly a laugh to be found anywhere. There might be a few jokes here or there that land out of sheer volume, though it never really makes any impression before you get hit with a deluge of bits that are met with silence. Horror and comedy can go together, see this year’s hilarious Werewolves Within, though Slice would have been better off if it was left on the cutting room floor.
18. Life After Beth
Speaking of other horror comedies, the charming but meandering Life After Beth is one that has a lot of good within it even as it ranks so low on this list. It follows Dane DeHaan as Zach who is struggling with the accidental death of his girlfriend. The titular Beth, played by an outstanding Aubrey Plaza, then returns from beyond the grave and re-enters Zach’s life. The troubled lovers will have to work through their fraught relationship and figure out what is going on with her. It is that dynamic that is the core of the film and is equal parts funny as it is engaging. It holds a sweet spot in my heart, though that can’t overcome the rest of what drags it all down to an early grave.
It is still by no means terrible as the performances of all the cast are universally solid. In particular, Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly as Beth’s parents hit all the right comedic notes. It gets very dark, though not in a way that feels out of place. It should have worked far better, though it just becomes far too repetitive and disjointed. Plaza is a good actor to build a film around as she has been absolutely stellar in subsequent films like Ingrid Goes West. This film just begins to lose steam and can’t regain it. What would have worked as a great sketch or short film gets stretched until it almost breaks.
17. The Monster
A straightforward and typical monster flick with a title that tells you most of what you need to know, The Monster is a road trip journey interrupted when a mother hits an animal on the road while driving with her daughter. Before this, mother Kathy (Zoe Kazan) and daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) already have a strained relationship. Much of this stems from Kathy’s alcoholism that Lizzy bears the brunt of, often having to be the adult in the relationship and take care of the parental figure who is supposed to be there for her. That will all come into focus when they remain stranded on the road awaiting help as some sort of beast lurks in the forest. Together, the duo will have to find a way to work together and survive the threat facing them.
Writer and director Bryan Bertino has made some interesting work, with last year’s The Dark and the Wicked being particularly praiseworthy, though that never quite materializes here. Everything plays out about as you would expect with some added degree of emotional growth conveyed through flashback. It just lacks a deeper impact, both in its scares and its story. It is completely uninterested in going down any new paths, instead becoming increasingly predictable and even leaning into moments that fully lose themselves in cliché. It is aggressively simple in its execution. Simple isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t going to blow anyone away.
16. The Hole in the Ground
An entry that fully leans into the creepy as hell kid vein of horror, The Hole in the Ground is about that and so much more. It follows single mother Sarah (Seána Kerslake) who lives with her son Chris (James Quinn Markey) in the rural Irish countryside. One night, Chris disappears behind their home and comes back behaving rather differently. This leads Sarah to believe he may be an imposter and that it is somehow all tied to the titular hole that is in the forest near their home. It soon becomes a psychological nightmare where Sarah begins to notice Chris doing very un-childlike things though she struggles to trust herself in what she is seeing.
To its credit, the film does a competent enough job of messing with some of your expectations and has many strikingly horrifying visuals that carry the film through a largely unoriginal story. It never loses your attention as you get drawn deeper in, though you come out the other side feeling like it just missed out on all it could have been. The parental fears of losing your child or, perhaps worse, not being able to recognize them anymore is a story full of potential. Potential that, regrettably, never gets realized. There is a good final note that it all ends on, though the journey in which you get there is where it falls into its own narrative pit of playing it safe.
15. In Fabric
A film which had so much going for it that it breaks my heart to put it this low, In Fabric tells the story of a killer (in both appearance and in nature) dress. The first part of the film follows a brilliant Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Sheila, a divorcee who stumbles upon a dress that will alter the course of her life. The blood-red gown begins to haunt her and even destroys her washing machine. The film is silly yet hypnotic, making you wonder both at the dress and its witchy properties as well as what will happen with Sheila. She is an interesting character that should have remained the focus of the entire film, and it is to its detriment that they shifted her off-centre.
Inexplicably, the film takes a hard turn and removes Sheila from the majority of the story. Instead, we are plopped into a new situation with new characters who come across the dress. While there are some interesting threads that remain, this decision entirely abandons the most compelling part of the story and suffers dearly for it. The remainder of the film feels like a retread of everything that was already seen, going back through the discovery of the dress and its properties. The ending does prove to be appropriately over the top and redeems it slightly, though not nearly enough. It is a huge narrative misstep as it tears the audience away from the far better character it was building up and dumps you with others who just can’t compare.
A hallucinatory drug trip of a film, Climax is a horror film that only could be made by the auteur director Gaspar Noé. It is more restrained and straightforward than some of his prior films, like the expansive masterpiece Enter the Void, though still contains the director’s indelible stamp of surrealness. It focuses on an ensemble cast of a dance troupe that are drugged and begin to descend into madness that will leave them uncertain of what is real. It is a technical marvel with many extended shots of both dancing and violence (sometimes where they are occurring at the same time). These scenes are impossible to look away from, even when you may want to, as it boggles the mind to comprehend how it all came together and where it is all going next. It always keeps you on your toes, shifting from comedy to horror in the blink of an eye. It is truly a spectacle.
There is some degree where the story and the acting leave much to be desired. Much of this is forgivable as many of the cast were selected for their dancing prowess as opposed to their acting. However, in moments where acting is required, it falls flat. Sofia Boutella as Selva is an exception, though no one else can match the levels of genuine terror she creates as she begins to lose her mind. The story itself feels like a secondary aspect, leaving a regrettably empty and exhausted feeling at the core of it by the time it all ends. It is by no means a bad movie, though it just can’t quite hold a candle to what is to come on this list.
Before you even say it, yes, Enemy is not entirely a horror film in the conventional sense. Most would describe it as more of a psychological thriller, though that ends up leaving out a lot of the more horrifying aspects, especially its visuals. Loosely based on the novel The Double by Jose Saramago, it has Jake Gyllenhaal pulling double duty as two men who look the exact same though are opposite sides of the same coin. When one discovers the existence of the other, their worlds begin to blur as their lives become intertwined. It is quite unsettling with many sequences that alarm and intrigue in equal measure, wrongfooting the audience at nearly every chance it gets.
The film is less one to be taken literally, as in that there aren’t two identical men walking around at the same time. It is more about how they express different sides of who this person is. There is the creepy use of spider imagery, including a particularly unnerving moment where a woman has the head of an arachnid, that makes your skin begin to crawl. These images are what draw from horror cinema even as it is much more about the internal horrors of what one man is capable of. The outside terrors are manifestations of his inner turmoil. Once you begin to pick up on what is happening it is all rather blunt, while still being a flawed yet intriguing look at the psyche.
12. Saint Maud
A film that deserved far better of a release than it got, Saint Maud marks the point where this list starts to get really good. An incredible feature debut from writer-director Rose Glass, it’s a film about faith and loneliness that proves to be a brutally painful study of its central character. It stars a convincing Morfydd Clark as Maud, a nurse who is caring for Jennifer Ehle’s ailing Amanda. Maud believes that she is being directed by her faith and begins to drift increasingly into deeper levels of delusion that stem from that. It is a nightmarish descent that comes from both a deeply felt performance as well as many expertly captured sequences that make the most of haunting visuals. It is truly unsettling, cutting right to your very soul with each scene.
It is all centered around pain, both physical and spiritual, that deepens the dread the longer it goes on. It isn’t a long film, though at some moments it feels like an eternity. This is not a critique but a compliment as the ability to make time feel like it is weighing upon you while watching a person in such agony is a true achievement. Every injury Maud inflicts on herself as she spirals out of control just twists the knife further and further until you almost can’t take it anymore. The final moments drive this all the way home, creating one of the most impactful final frames of any film on this list. It is an image that will remain forever seared in your mind.
The most recent of the films on this list, Lamb is a story of family and loss that plays out in the most terrifying place in the world: rural Iceland. Actually, it is a quite beautiful though painfully remote location where the isolation is precisely the point. It follows a farming couple who have lost a child and are now living a life devoid of any joy as they struggle in silence with their grief. That is, until they discover an unexpected gift that brings new life to the farm. Initially a joyous moment for the couple, they remain blissfully unaware of a looming presence that is circling their home. It is seeking to take back something, revealing that the gift may actually be a curse in disguise.
Talking about this film requires being almost coy about what is going on as there is a lot that is darkly funny, even approaching some degree of surreal silliness, which may catch some viewers off guard. However, the film plays it almost entirely straight and explores how the whole point is that the couple are willing to accept something so absurd as a way to heal. In particular, Noomi Rapace as the mother instills her character with a quiet grace that is masking a deeper sadness which can quickly shift into violence. It plays out against a beautifully shot setting that is expertly juxtaposed against the dark forces at play here. The final moments ram the point home with a painful yet fitting conclusion that leaves little hope in the bleak, bleak world the film fully inhabits.
10. Green Room
The most brutal and gory of any of the films on this list, Green Room creates horror from the terrors of real-life white supremacy that befall an unsuspecting punk-rock band. Starring the late Anton Yelchin in a nuanced performance as Pat, he must face Patrick Stewart in rare form as the cruel white supremacist leader Darcy. When Pat’s struggling band takes a gig in Oregon without knowing who it will be for, they find themselves trapped inside the green room with a group of modern day Nazis outside seeking to kill them. With nowhere to turn, they will have to fight and scramble to get out alive. It is a gritty, realistic take that is incredibly gruesome.
Yet that is precisely what makes Green Room such a memorable piece of work. There is so much death and violence that absolutely feels terrifyingly real. The predicament and way it plays out is intentionally uncinematic. There is no catharsis, no emotional triumph. The life or death fight the characters find themselves in is a hell without any redemption to be found. The pain of every loss is felt with a soul-crushing intensity as it hammers home the reality of what is being faced. It is an unrelenting masterpiece that, even in the small victories found in the end, makes clear there is no happiness to be felt here. There is only death and violence, a grim reflection of our world with the all too human monsters within it.
9. The Blackcoat’s Daughter
With yet another bleak entry on this list, this one may be the most underseen and underrated of any of recent horror. A stunning directorial debut from writer-director Oz Perkins, who would go on to make last year’s visually magnificent Gretel & Hansel, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a film almost entirely built upon atmosphere. The less you know about it, the better. The basic story is that there are two students, played by Kiernan Shipka and Lucy Boynton, who find themselves left behind at a prep school over the break. Seemingly disconnected from that, a mysterious woman (Emma Roberts) is making her way on a journey through the winter. That all sounds very vague, though trust me when I say this film is truly something special.
From the creeping score that hits every note perfectly to the sense of dread that the film continuously builds, it all creates maximum impact. It is a slow burn that contains a raging fire at its core that, much like the furnace that is seen throughout the film, is just waiting to set the world alight. It is one that more people should have seen as it regrettably never really took hold. It is worth taking a chance on, even if you aren’t entirely sure where it all is going. The ending, in particular, ties it all together nicely, offering up a final scene that reveals the tragic sense of disconnection and loss that the film was most centrally about. It is a hidden horror gem that deserves far more attention.
8. High Life
Another entry that some may object to being considered a horror, High Life is a blend of science fiction and horror from one of the most exciting directors of our time, Claire Denis. A reflective yet still deeply terrifying look at space travel, the film has an absolutely stacked cast of Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André 3000, and Mia Goth. The characters all find themselves on an interstellar journey as part of an experiment to see whether life can be born in the most inhospitable conditions of space. The experiment itself is deeply unethical and goes to some truly depressing places, crafting an experience that is wholly one of a kind.
One scene portrays a black hole that tears open your mind in a moment of glorious yet terrifying annihilation. The film’s depiction of space is all its own, frequently playing by its own rules while also showing moments of the awesome power that can be found in the darkest reaches of our galaxy. When I first saw it in a theater, there was a moment where several people walked out though that just reaffirmed how it challenged the form in the best way possible. It also contains a beating heart at the center of it, proving to be a story of father and daughter that is as sentimental as it is sad. It is a beautiful balancing act of a film.
Before you pull out your pitchforks that Hereditary is ranked outside of the top five on this list, please know that it could have easily been much farther up. The feature debut that made writer-director Ari Aster one everyone wanted to see more from, the film is a haunting tale that flips the script on many common conventions of the genre. It stars a terrific Toni Collette as Annie, the mother in a family grieving a tragic loss. It is a deadly and dire look at how familial trauma plays out in painstaking detail. There is horror to be found in every corner of their home as it becomes increasingly clear that their lives are doomed to be suffering for the rest of time.
If you consider yourself anyone who admires horror, then you’ve likely already seen this. However, for the sake of those who haven’t, suffice to say the ending takes rather unexpected turns that caught some off guard. It still all works as a cohesive whole, especially when the precise visuals are so haunting in how they resemble the models that Annie creates in the spirals of her grief. The score by Colin Stetson, with the ending use of ‘Reborn’ in particular, perfectly compliments the artistry on display amidst the tragedy. It is a hard watch, with moments of just unimaginable pain, though it all makes for a powerful piece of work.
6. It Comes at Night
Now we get onto the one that may be a more divisive pick. It Comes at Night is a great film done dirty by a misleading marketing campaign. Even as the title itself may have been somewhat of a misdirect, though it makes sense when read as being about paranoia, the trailer was the nail in the coffin. People went in expecting a monster movie when it most certainly is not that. Instead, it is a much more interesting look at fear and isolation that can drive people to commit monstrous acts. Writer-director Trey Edward Shults was coming off the micro-budget family drama Krisha with something that was utterly unexpected yet completely fascinating. It is a tension filled study of humanity when pushed to the absolute breaking point.
What pushes all the characters to the edge is fear of each other and, in the world of the film, the disease they may carry. All of the people in this world are traumatized and that informs their every action. The film is pitch black tonally and visually, often relying on the darkness of the scene to increase the suspicion of what is happening. By the time the tragic conclusion plays out, your emotions are almost completely fried. There is one final scream that still echoes around inside my head because of the sheer agony it conveys. When I saw it in theaters, someone broke into uncontrollable sobbing. It all completely wears you down to the bone with the final scene alone. It is a masterful, bleak portrait of our worst selves.
5. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
The most genuinely funny film on this list, even the ones that bill themselves as horror-comedies, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos creating some of his best work. Intentionally awkward yet no less alarming, the film finds a tonal groove that elicits humor and fear in equal measure. It centers around Colin Farrell’s Steven, a seemingly kind father who is caring for Barry Keoghan’s Martin. Martin’s own father died and Steven has stepped in to offer support, even though he may be somewhat culpable as the doctor who was tasked with operating on him. Martin begins to torment the family, leaving Steven’s wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) wondering why her children Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic) must suffer as well.
It is a revenge tale that features the director’s distinct vision for storytelling that always just feels a little bit off. This unique feeling manifests in everything from a strange spaghetti eating scene to when Steven attempts to get direction on which one of his children he should allow to die. Much of the dialogue feels stilted, yet not in a solely monotoned way. The conversations just always feel like it is a group of aliens discussing what it is like being a human. This is not a criticism, but a compliment as it leaves you always wondering what on Earth a character will do based on what they say. Drawing inspiration from Greek tragedies, it ends with a sacrifice that is done in a darkly absurdist manner that still is no less impactful. The performance by Keoghan is worth seeing the film for alone, as he captures the obsession mixed with sadness of a boy who has lost his father and is seeking justice. With many beautifully framed shots, even occasionally from above, it all conveys a feeling that we are casual observers of a runaway train that is doomed to crash.
4. The Lighthouse
A movie about birds, masculinity, and Willem Dafoe’s flatulence, The Lighthouse is a roaring good time that is all about two 1890s lighthouse keepers slowly losing their sanity while secluded on a remote New England island. The first is Dafoe’s Thomas, who runs the operation, and the second is Robert Pattinson’s Thomas who works for him. Yes, they are both named Thomas, and no, that isn’t an accident. This Robert Eggers written and directed tale is all about playing with the reliability of its characters. Shot in gorgeous black and white, it creates a transportive effect that captures the dreadful claustrophobia of being so thoroughly isolated with nowhere to go. Both performers fully commit and complement each other absolutely perfectly.
Even as Pattinson is ostensibly the lead, it is Dafoe who gives the film some of the highest highs. He gets one moment where his voice takes on heights unheard in any of his past performances as he confidently belts out a thoroughly overwhelming monologue. With his eyes wide and his mouth open as far as it appears to go, it is absolutely fantastic acting. It is perhaps only rivalled by what preceded it when the two men are drunkenly arguing with each other that just consists of them saying “what” back and forth before Pattinson talks about having sex with a steak. I swear this all happens in a movie that still is full of many frightening visuals and hints of mythical monsters. It is among the most gloriously unhinged tales you could ever hope to find.
Okay, everyone take a deep breath. Are you ready? Midsommar is a better film than Hereditary. Both are still really good, though what Aster accomplished with his second feature was nothing short of breath-taking. It all centers around Florence Pugh’s Dani, a kind-hearted and broken woman left traumatized by the death of her entire family. Seeking something to fill the growing void left behind, she accompanies her egotistical and distant boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) to Sweden for the chance to take part in the midsummer festival. What seems like a chance to recover from her loss is only the beginning of a new nightmare where the locals are not what they seem. The person Dani arrived as will not be the one who leaves. The most remarkable part of Midsommar is how Aster makes the daylight such a terrifying place. Where most horror is about what is left unseen in the darkness, this film operates in the brightness of the day.
The stark and sometimes overwhelming vibrancy of the visuals confound the eyes as it begins to feel like a different world where the characters are almost trapped in the sun. In the film’s final scenes, every moment can be seen with an unencumbered clarity that only makes it all the harder to stomach. The horror comes from seeing the visceral imagery and frightening moments being presented with all the vibrancy of nature as a backdrop. No matter how beautiful the flowers are around it, you won’t be able to admire them for far more fearful things are happening. In the midst of all this, Pugh gives a truly devoted performance with a character that grows and changes so much in the time that we see her through. She is adrift in a suffocating sea of pain and is seeking something resembling a home with people who care about her, making her a prime target to be taken in by this world. In the final moments, when she is completely lost, her final smile sends chills down the spine as we witness the final phase of her descent.
2. The Witch
A film that demands your attention if it doesn’t already have it, The Witch is a truly remarkable piece of filmmaking. It was the debut film of Anya Taylor-Joy who plays young Thomasin, a girl whose family is banished and must go to live alone out in the woods in 1630s New England. It is there that they find initial peace that is quickly dashed when a young child disappears that only marks the beginning of woe and misfortune that will befall them. Every single detail cries out with alarm at what is happening as the family is soon utterly consumed by the darkness of the woods.
In particular, the film makes an excellent use of sound to ratchet up the tension. This is especially true in the haunting conversation Taylor-Joy has in the final scenes about whether she would like “to live deliciously.” It is all very subtle and stripped down though no less impactful. It narrowly was one that could have been given the top spot and its place in second is not at all a reflection on it being anything less than outstanding. There isn’t anything that needs to change with the way it is constructed as it is a masterfully crafted film in every sense of the word. There just can only be one that comes before it and nothing can compare to the best film of this list.
1. Under The Skin
A true triumph of cinema and all that it can be, Under The Skin is as perfect a film as you can get. It is amongst the best horror films, not just when it comes to A24, but of all time. Ethereal, hypnotic, and terrifying all wrapped into one, it is an imaginatively evocative piece of art without comparison. Directed with a sharp eye for visual splendor by Jonathan Glazer and very loosely adapted from the novel of the same name by Michel Faber, it is also one of the strongest films of Scarlett Johansson’s filmography. She plays a being that wanders the earth seducing then abducting men and taking them into a dark void where their bodies are subsumed then destroyed. She begins to second guess this existence and goes on the run to seek out who she is.
Without revealing too much of the film’s journey, which is one best experienced for yourself, suffice to say that the character Johansson is playing is not of this Earth. That creates a unique and effective lens in which to tell the story as she is threatening, yes, yet also naive about the world. It has many moments of striking terror that are conveyed with magnificent yet mortifying visuals. It all is paired with one of the most all consuming and arresting scores by the fantastic Mica Levi who knocks the doors of what is possible with composing for film. It all builds to an ending that is poetic yet devastating, peeling back the layers of the richly textured story before our very eyes. It is a nearly impossibly good film that can never be forgotten once it’s seen.
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Every A24 Horror Movie Ranked From Worst to Best