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Why I took them off the list: I decided to continue my mission to compile the best underseen sci-fi, horror, and fantasy from decades past and decided to turn my attention to the last one we completed. So, without further ado, let’s dig into underrated gems of these genres from the 2010s.
Before I Wake (2016)
Directed by the enormously talented horror specialist Mike Flanagan (Oculus, The Haunting of Hill House), Before I Wake is not his best feature effort by any means. But, as with his other work, it’s still a fascinating narrative that works more as an exploration of the effects of trauma than outright terror.
The lack of the former probably turned off a lot of people who thought this was a jump-scare-filled horror, and, in fact, Flanagan specifically asked for it not to be marketed as such. Add to this a widely delayed release, and the film pretty much limped onto streaming without many people taking notice. But if you decide to give it a try, you’ll find that it’s a thought-provoking and beautifully shot domestic drama with some inventive dark fantasy elements.
Jug Face (2013)
A bizarre low-budget folk horror film, Jug Face looks like another throwaway, cheaply-made genre flick on the surface. But in execution, it comes across as an inspired mix of Winter’s Bone and The Wicker Man, mixing lived-in realism with unsettling occult elements.
Admittedly, it has a rather thin premise – a backwoods community worships a mysterious pit and supplies it with a human sacrifice whenever a local ceramicist makes a jug with the victim’s likeness. But it manages to conjure and sustain an enigmatic and creepy mood throughout its runtime, and you really root for the central protagonist to escape her fate. In the end, it remains one of the most offbeat and intriguing examples of the genre in recent memory.
Suburban Gothic (2014)
After making a startling first impression with his debut feature Excision (2012), writer/director Richard Bates Jr. swung much harder into humorous elements with his follow-up, this wacky horror/comedy starring Kat Dennings and Matthew Gray Gubler. The pair play young outcasts who team up to investigate when Gubler’s character is forced to move back into his parent’s suburban home, only to find it seemingly haunted.
With little else on their hands, the cynical duo tries to find a way to rid the home of the spirits and cure their existential malaise at the same time. Although pretty light on the horror part, Suburban Gothic is a pretty funny comedy, with a viciously sarcastic sense of humor that generates some great laughs. It’s visually inventive, Dennings and Gubler make for appealing leads, and Ray Wise and John Waters prove to be inspired casting in supporting roles.
The Love Witch (2016)
Like the previous horror/comedy film on this list, The Love Witch is low on terror, but big on sly humor. A visually gorgeous, Technicolor pastiche of late 60s and early 70s cinema, it’s a subversive send-up of the era’s gender politics that comes across as a far more self-aware and kinky version of classic sitcom Bewitched.
It’s never less than a complete joy to look at and the music, cinematography, and costume/production design fully transport you to an off-kilter fantasy world. Plus the cast, particularly Samantha Robinson as the titular character, completely nails the tone of the material.
These Final Hours (2013)
I didn’t have many expectations for this low-budget Australian apocalyptic thriller before I first saw it. But it turned out to be a pleasant surprise: a gripping drama with a solid emotional core that manages to convey some big, terrifying stakes despite its limited focus. The main character’s arc is pretty satisfying, and it convincingly portrays an unraveling world gripped with panic and terror.
This incredibly underrated Spanish psychological thriller/period horror film is criminally underseen, so was a total no-brainer for my list. Set in1950s Madrid, the story focuses on 2 sisters who live an isolated, lonely life almost exclusively confined to their small apartment. Older sister Montse is clearly troubled and intensely agoraphobic, and clings to their sheltered existence. But problems arise when an unexpected visitor gatecrashes their home, and her younger sibling gets some much-needed exposure to the outside world.
Incredibly claustrophobic, most of Musarañas’ horror comes from the tension that arises as the increasingly unhinged Montse slowly loses her grip on reality. However, it definitely has some bloody, gory shocks in store as well. Above all else, the film works as well as it does due to the incredibly talented Macarena Gómez’s bravura central performance, which reaches a commendable crescendo of hysteria that’s utterly terrifying.
The Innkeepers (2011)
I considered including director Ti West‘s scarily visceral found footage fllm The Sacrament (2013) on this list, but decided to go with his previous effort instead, a pleasingly low-key horror flick. The Innkeepers draws much of its entertainment value from the comedic dynamic between its leads, Sara Paxton and Pat Healy. They play 2 lowly hotel employees who suspect their historic workplace is haunted and set out to prove it before the place is shut down for good.
Shot at the real (and supposedly haunted for real) Yankee Pedlar Inn in Connecticut, the film is hugely atmospheric, shot with long, slow Steadicam shots, and boasts unsettling sound design that gets under your skin. It may be a bit slow-paced for some tastes, and the ending is a bit of a let-down, but it’s a creepy, old-fashioned ghost story that should appeal to fans of West’s other work.
Check out We Are Still Here (2015) for another great underrated horror film from the 2010s with a similar vibe!
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)
Somewhat overshadowed by the release of stone-cold horror classic Midsommar just a few weeks earlier, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark definitely deserves a look from genre fans who may have missed it during its theatrical run. While admittedly skewing more towards a younger audience than that earlier movie, it’s equally full of nightmarish imagery that will linger long in the memory, almost ripped directly from the illustrated books on which it’s based.
But what makes it great, in my opinion, is the fact that it’s a pleasingly retro-feeling flick that learns more into an Amblin-esque adventure vibe than the typical horror tropes. Plus, it admirably develops its teen characters more than you might expect so that you actually care about the appealing group and if they make it out of the nightmare alive.
The Congress (2013)
The Congress is a lot of things: it’s a hybrid live-action /traditionally animated film, a satire of the entertainment industry, and a futuristic sci-fi tale that covers similar ground to a couple of episodes of Black Mirror. It’s positively stuffed to the brink with ideas, which makes it a hard film to summarize.
It’s also visually stunning, and Robin Wright gives a remarkable performance that’s one of her best. While some of its subplots don’t quite land, The Congress is always interesting and worth watching just for the beautiful, retro-style animation.
Sorry To Bother You (2018)
Nowadays, it’s rare to see a film that feels utterly original and truly an authored vision of an incredibly talented creative mind. The almost unclassifiable Sorry to Bother You most definitely fits that category. In theory, it’s a surreal fantasy comedy with some sci-fi elements. But it’s also a scathing social satire, a sweet love story, and a political call to action. And it has a batshit crazy, late-game twist you absolutely won’t see coming.
Led by engaging performances by LaKeith Stanfield and Tessa Thomson, the film is full of inventive visual flourishes, and hilarious, though sometimes shockingly, dark satirical comedy. Writer/Director Boots Riley employed many of the same elements to great success in this year’s Amazon series I’m a Virgo, proving he’s far from a one-hit wonder and an exciting talent to watch.
So, what did you think of my list of underrated 2010s horror, sci-fi, and fantasy films? Any egregious omissions? Let me know in the comments!