When reclusive professor Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) discovers a physically identical version of himself starring in a rented film, it sends him hurtling down a rabbit hole of paranoia and stalking. He lurks in the shadows, determined to uncover the identity of the mysterious man who looks exactly like him. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Dune), Enemy is a slow-burning psychological thriller that just about edges itself into the surrealist horror category. It’s a worthy notch in Gyllenhaal’s belt as the patron saint of playing weird guys who live their lives on the margins of society (he starred in Nightcrawler the following year, The Guilty a couple of years ago and, of course, made a name for himself via cult sci-fi thriller Donnie Darko, to name just three). Enemy cleverly straddles the line between our lived and imagined realities, posing questions about our subconscious and how it influences our day-to-day decisions.
This “secret” prequel to director Ti West’s X was shot on the fly in New Zealand, back-to-back with last year’s slasher movie that introduced us to scream-queen Mia Goth’s title character. Whereas X was a loving update of Seventies blood-frenzies such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, director West describes this 1918-set melodrama as a “demented” Disney movie, complete with a continuous orchestral score and Technicolor lushness. These counterintuitive stylistic touches only make the horror in this origin story of Pearl – the murderous decrepit farmer’s wife in X – all the more eye-popping. Much like one of Pearl’s preferred killing tactics, this is just a wild stab in the dark but: we bet that the third part of the trilogy, sequel MaXXXine, about to start production in LA, will be the scariest yet.
Ari Aster’s seminal folk horror is made all the more terrifying given that the whole thing takes place in broad daylight. There are no boogeymen hiding in the corner here, only shitty boyfriends and poison-swigging cult members. Aster’s second act post-Hereditary didn’t disappoint. It made a star of Florence Pugh, whose expressive turn as Dani soon became part of the meme canon after Midsommar’s release, and raised the bar for commercial horror. In one of the most unsettling films of the 2010s Dani, who just lost her entire family, embarks on a trip to a festival in Sweden with her toxic partner Christian (Jack Reynor) in a bid to clear her mind. But the pastoral idyll is soon replaced by all manner of disturbing occurrences (poor Will Poulter). Flower crowns will never quite feel the same.
Saint Maud (2019)
An outstanding writing and directorial debut from Rose Glass, with a breakout performance from future Elvish queen Morfydd Clark. She plays Maud, a prim and proper nurse caring for a dying woman in a dark house in an unnamed British coastal town. But from the outset, we sense that Maud’s adherence to the Hippocratic oath (OK, that’s for doctors, but you know what we mean) might be a little wanting. We first meet her slumped in an operating theatre, hospital scrubs covered in blood, next to a patient who has expired in clearly traumatic circumstances. Then, as a palliative carer for bohoformer dancer Amanda Köhl (Jennifer Ehle), it’s apparent that Maud has undergone a religious conversion-turned-perversion. This is psychological horror at its most surgically effective. Nurse, the screams!
Often credited with giving horror a much-needed shot in the arm, Ari Aster’s debut feature was so massive that its lead actress Toni Colette still gets asked about it in interviews. She plays the perpetually grief-stricken Annie Graham, who’s first mourning the death of her mum, then her daughter (Milly Shapiro). In the aftermath, a series of bizarre and downright terrifying events begin to envelop the Graham family, eventually suffocating them under the weight of a curse that’s been passed down through generations. Proper gore underscored by nerve-rattling acting from Colette and Shapiro.
The Witch (2015)
The film that introduced us to the unflinchingly vivid Eggers-verse (see also: The Lighthouse and The Northman) and made a bewitching star of Anya Taylor-Joy, this Puritan-era folkloric horror is the stuff of sepia-toned nightmares. Taylor-Joy is enthralling as the is-she-or-isn’t‑she sorceress of the title, a teenager blamed for the ills (failed crops, dead babies, the usual) befalling her settler family in the Salem-era New World. The most terrifying figure, though, might be the family goat. Director Robert Eggers will have to go some ways with his next horror, a remake of Nosferatu, to give us a screen star as chilling as cloven-hoofed Black Philip.