Netflix offers thousands of movies to choose from, and while it’s good to have options, sometimes sifting through all of those films for some spooky thrills can be rather laborious. Luckily, we’ve done the digital grunt work on your behalf and combed the service for the best offerings currently available in the world of screams. From gruesome throwbacks to new cult favorites, here are our picks for the best horror movies on Netflix for January.
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The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Winter break has come for the students of an Upstate New York Catholic school, but freshman Kat (Kiernan Shipka) won’t be going home; her parents haven’t shown up to collect her. She is stuck for the night with Rose (Lucy Boynton), an older student whose parents have also failed to show up. In the lonely school, amid snow and dark skies, horror slowly unfolds. Director Oz Perkins keeps the film going at a deliberate pace, letting the creepy imagery and increasingly odd behavior of the characters build up to a frantic climax. The Blackcoat’s Daughter won’t, for the most part, make anyone scream with shocking scares, but it might unnerve you with its eerie atmosphere and swelling tension.
Train to Busan
A simple recipe for creating a horror movie: Take a group of people, strand them in one location, add monsters, and shake it up. Train to Busan illustrates the flexibility of this formula. Set in South Korea, the film begins with a variety of people, including workaholic businessman Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) and his daughter, Su-an (Kim Su-an), boarding a train for Busan. Unfortunately, an outbreak of zombie flu is striking Korea that morning, and one of the passengers on the train is infected. Soon enough, a ravenous wave of the undead is chasing the living through the train as the country outside falls into chaos. Train To Busan is a taut, frantic thriller that makes the zombie genre seem fresh again.
2004’s Shutter is a classic entry in the annals of Thai horror, a creeping ghost story with well-placed scares and a plot about karmic retribution. The film opens with Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee) and her boyfriend, a photographer named Tun (Ananda Everingham), enjoying a night of drinking with Tun’s friends, but on their drive home the night takes a turn to tragedy when they hit a woman crossing a road in the dark. They drive off without checking on her, and Tun begins to notice strange distortions in the photos he takes, while Jane has ghastly visions of the woman they killed. For much of the film, Shutter is a straightforward ghost story, but its carefully executed scares and a few neat twists help it stand out from the crowd.
Robert Eggers’ eerie directorial debut, The Witch is a horror film with a distinct vision; a Colonial period-piece with appropriately archaic dialogue and a fascination with Puritan religious anxieties. Set in 17th-century New England, the film follows a family exiled from their settlement due to father William’s (Ralph Ineson) disagreements over scripture. William takes his family — wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and twins Mercy and Jonas — to the edge of a dark, remote forest, where they build a home. When an unseen force takes the family’s newborn child, Samuel, however, it becomes clear that something wicked lives in the woods and the rest of the family may soon be in danger, too. The Witch moves confidently, teasing out its scares in a deliberate fashion, and the film’s unique setting and atmosphere are striking.
Social media horror is starting to become its own genre. Joining the questionable ranks of films like Unfriended and Friend Request is Cam, from director Daniel Goldhaber and screenwriter Isa Mazzei, one of the better films so far about the horrors of life online. The film follows Alice (Madeline Brewer), a woman who makes a comfortable living as a “cam girl,” performing erotic acts on live streams for an adoring audience. Alice is stressed by the unceasing competition of the webcam industry; she’s pushing hard to be one of the top 50 performers. One day she finds that she has been locked out of her account — and is forced to call customer support, which should be frightening enough — and things take a turn for the creepy when she realizes that someone is still streaming via her account, someone with her same face. Cam is a creepy thriller built around a case of stolen identity and a protagonist with a fresh perspective.
Director Gareth Evans is best known for his frenetic martial arts films like The Raid, but his breakneck style translates well to horror, as seen in Apostle, the story of a man racing against time in a dangerous, creepy setting. The man in question is Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens), an estranged son of a wealthy family, who finally returns home when his sister is kidnapped and held for ransom by cultists. Thomas journeys to the desolate island where the cult makes its home, pretending to join so that he can search for traces of his sister. As he plumbs the community’s depths, he slowly unravels the mysteries of the cult and their disturbing practices. Apostle is a galloping, gruesome ride, with the ominous atmosphere of the island village eventually exploding in gore and brutality. It might not be the most cerebral exploration of religious horror, but it is thrilling.
The horror anthology XX features four short stories of the grotesque and the macabre, each from a different female director. The segments include The Box, a creepy tale of a young boy who sees something horrifying that changes him; Don’t Fall, about a group of campers who run afoul of a monster in the woods; and Her Only Living Son, the story of a woman whose teenage son displays increasingly disturbing and violent behavior. With anthology films, the quality of the various segments tends to vary, and that’s true of XX as well, but the tales are wildly different, and at under 90 minutes in total, it’s a breezy collection of scares.
Under the Shadow
The Persian film Under the Shadow drew a lot of comparison to The Babadook (see below), and it’s easy to see why. Both films follow mothers caring for troubled children while supernatural forces torment them. Under the Shadow begins during the war between Iran and Iraq in the ’80s. Shideh (Narges Rashidi), a former medical student who had to abandon her career after the theocratic government took power in the Iranian revolution, became a housewife, living with her husband, Iraj (Bobby Naderi), and their daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) in an apartment in Tehran. When Iraj, a doctor, is sent to the field as part of the war effort, Shideh must care for Doras alone. After a missile strikes their building, Dorsa begins behaving strangely, convinced that a spirit is haunting the building, and as strange events unfold, Shideh must confront the possibility that something supernatural is happening. Under the Shadow is a moody movie, as much a study of Rashidi’s disenchanted housewife as it is an exercise in terror.
James Wan built a reputation as a talented horror director with film franchises like Saw and Insidious, but 2013’s The Conjuring is where he truly established himself as a modern master of horror. Set in 1971, the film follows Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), a married pair of paranormal investigators. After a tense prologue in which they investigate a cursed doll, they get a visit from a woman named Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor). Carolyn and her family recently moved into an old farmhouse, and they’ve been experiencing signs of a haunting. The Warrens come out to investigate, walking into what might be their most disturbing case. The Conjuring is a masterful film, with an unsettling atmosphere and great direction that builds up to every scare.
Maddie Young (Kate Siegel) is a deaf author who prefers to live out in the woods, where she can write free from the distractions of the city. Her isolation proves to be a hazard, however, when a masked man (John Gallagher Jr.) appears, kills her neighbor, and then sets his sights on Maddie. Alone with the killer, far from help, Maddie must use her wits to survive. Director Mike Flanagan has established himself as a horror director willing to experiment with the boundaries of horror — with films like Oculus and the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House — but Hush is a master class in the basics, a film with a tight script, a small cast, and a heaping helping of tension. It’s a lean beast, but a frightening one.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Norwegian director André Øvredal made a name for himself with his 2010 found-footage-fantasy Trollhunter, which managed to convey a sense of massive scale within a genre known for keeping a tight focus and leaving monsters to the viewer’s imagination. In The Autopsy of Jane Doe, he’s made a more straightforward horror tale, but an effective one. The film begins at the scene of a crime, as police investigate a house with multiple homicide victims inside, and find the body of an unidentified woman half-buried in the basement. The corpse ends up at the local morgue, where father/son coroner duo Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austin (Emile Hirsch) work late into the night trying to identify the cause of death. Although Jane Doe’s corpse seems pristine on the outside, as they investigate, they find bizarre signs of trauma within, and strange disturbances in the morgue hint at some lurking danger. Although the film’s plot doesn’t quite stick the landing it sets up, it’s a sparse, well-made horror movie, one that puts the work in to make its scares hit hard.
Based on Stephen King’s 1992 thriller of the same name, Gerald’s Game was one of Netflix’s earliest successes in the original film game. This profound, provocative story follows a married couple, Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) on a weekend vacation to their lakeside cabin in hopes of reigniting their stagnating relationship. They decide to spice it up with some bondage but Gerald suffers a heart attack in the midst of passion, leaving Jessie handcuffed to the bed with nobody to free her. Bound and plagued by hallucinations of Gerald and of people from her past, Jessie struggles to free herself and suffers a psychological breakdown. Another fine output from director Mike Flanagan, of Hush and Oculus fame, Gerald’s Game will get the blood pumping despite the story’s bottled setting.
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