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Why I took them off the list: After compiling my list of underrated 2000s drama films, I decided it was time to highlight some underseen films from the era in horror, sci-fi, and fantasy genres.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in!
Dead Birds (2004)
This low-key chiller is obviously low budget (they even re-used the main set from Tim Burton’s Big Fish to save on cash). However, it’s a creepy, contained story of some Confederate soldiers on the run who take refuge in an abandoned farmhouse – only to find something supernatural lurking within.
The film has heaps of atmosphere, and a surprisingly great cast including Henry Thomas, Patrick Fugit, and Micheal Shannon. It also has some of the scariest practical monster effects I’ve personally seen.
Dead End (2003)
Another day, another early 00s horror with ‘Dead’ in the title about a group of people getting lost and running into something otherworldly. However, like the last entry, Dead End is an incredibly effective thriller that succeeds in getting under your skin.
The film plays like an urban legend come to life: a family driving to the in-laws on Christmas Eve decide to take a detour, only to find themselves trapped on a sinister, supernatural back road. Dripping with dread and atmospheric visuals, Dead End also benefits greatly from the presence of genre legends Ray Wise (Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks) and Lin Shaye (Elise in Insidious) in the lead roles.
The Box (2009)
There’s no getting around it, The Box is a deeply flawed movie. For starters, Cameron Diaz feels miscast in the lead role, and it has a disappointing downer of an ending. Additionally, the paper-thin premise of the short story it’s based on – that of a couple condemning a random stranger to die in exchange for a large sum of money – is bulked out by a slew of puzzling subplots.
However, there are flashes of the brilliance director Richard Kelly brought to the theatrical cut of Donnie Darko, and the movie looks fantastic. Additionally, Frank Langella and James Marsden both give effective and layered performances. Plus, the soundtrack by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallet is amazing and sorely deserves more recognition.
Kelly’s second film, Southland Tales (2006), is also severely underrated, although it’s been gaining more fans and recognition in recent years.
Coming across as a mix of Edward Scissorhands and Shaun of the Dead, Fido is a lovable horror/comedy that gives Billy Connolly a juicy role as the titular character. It takes place in an alternate 1950s where zombies have been domesticated and used to perform menial tasks, and a young boy adopts Connolly’s Fido as a pet, with predictably disastrous results.
Funny and somewhat sweet, the film looks beautiful and is a smart satire of suburban America. It also boasts a great supporting cast including Carrie-Ann Moss and Tim Blake Nelson.
This underappreciated sci-fi/horror film owes a lot to classic films in the genre such as Alien and Event Horizon. Nevertheless, it’s a tense, claustrophobic thriller that boasts some fantastic set design and a killer twist ending that’s hard to forget. Luckily, it’s gone through something of a re-evaluation in recent years and is getting a bit more recognition.
Expanded into a feature from a short section in the Three… Extremes (2004) horror anthology, Dumplings is an unnerving mystery/thriller that leans heavily into melodrama before shocking with a morbid reveal. The film follows an aging actress desperate to hang onto her youth, who hears that local chef Aunt Mei (Bai Ling) may be able to help her out. I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers, but safe to say that the tension rises as the 2 women manage to cook up some grisly and disturbing results.
House of the Devil (2009)
Ti West scored 2 huge horror hits last year with X and the (arguably even better) Pearl, so there’s never been a better time to go back and appreciate his breakout retro horror homage House of the Devil. Lovingly shot in a grungy 70s style, it’s a fantastic-looking, creepy, and tense slow-burn of a film, carried by great performances from Alex Essoe, Greta Gerwig, and Tom Noonan.
The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)
This truly bonkers Japanese film from director Takashi Miike is almost unclassifiable. It’s a comedy-horror with musical and animated interludes and a twisted sense of humor. But whatever it may be, it’s also great fun from start to end!
Pitch Black (2000)
Pitch Black, like Pandorum, liberally cribs from Alien in both its visual and production design and its story of a group of plucky survivors trying to survive a vicious extraterrestrial species on an inhospitable world. But what makes it great is the invention used to tell this tale on a clearly limited budget, and some truly great character arcs.
Although most notable for introducing the world to Vin Diesel as slippery intergalactic criminal Riddick, most people forget this film is really an ensemble piece that puts a variety of talented performers to great use. Kieth David and Cole Hauser are both great as the fearful holy man and ruthless mercenary, respectively, on a crashed spaceship.
But the stand-out character is definitely Radha Mitchell’s conflicted co-plot Carolyn Fry, who has somewhat of a guilty conscience after trying to jettison half of the passengers during the disastrous crash landing. She then spends the film trying to find some kind of impossible redemption, made even more heartbreaking by her final, desperate line in a climactic showdown with Riddick: “I would die for them”.
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Probably the best use of rotoscope animation yet put to film, this incredibly faithful adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi novel is visually stunning and uses its medium to complement its story in the best way possible.
The animation is incredibly inventive, yet doesn’t overstep the mark, adding minimal and smartly considered sci-fi touches to what it is, at its core, a deeply human story of the destructive power of addiction, mistrust, and extreme surveillance. The themes of Dick’s novel, and some never-better performances from Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, and Robert Downey Jr, come across loud and clear through the disorientating and trippy visuals.
So, what did you think of the list? Any glaring omissions? Let me know in the comments!