Aarjan's 19 best Horror Films 2000-2010

by headless_aarjan | created - 06 Aug 2011 | updated - 08 Aug 2011 | Public

The thing about being a horror fan is that often times you have to look through a hell of a lot of garbage before finding a hidden gem. These are some of those that I have found. And while the Hollywood studios have continued to churn out remakes, reboots, sequels and other such nonsense, it is generally in the independents and the non-American films that some of the best horror films of the last decade are to be found.

In no particular order:

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1. Martyrs (2008)

R | 99 min | Horror

7.1
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

A young woman's quest for revenge against the people who kidnapped and tormented her as a child leads her and a friend, who is also a victim of child abuse, on a terrifying journey into a living hell of depravity.

Director: Pascal Laugier | Stars: Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin, Robert Toupin

Votes: 66,882

No other horror film has had as much of a shock effect on me. Relentlessly brutal from beginning to end, both graphically as well as psychologically, Martyrs has to be one of the most unique experiences I have ever had watching a film, let alone horror film. The torture sequences, though far less bloody than many other recently released films tagged with the dreadful misnomer of 'torture porn', such as Hostel and Wolf Creek, have a scarring and unforgettable effect on the viewer. The absolutely masterful ending additionally makes this one go down as a masterpiece in modern horror.

2. Inside (2007)

R | 82 min | Horror

6.8
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Four months after the death of her husband, a woman on the brink of motherhood is tormented in her home by a strange woman who wants her unborn baby.

Directors: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury | Stars: Alysson Paradis, Jean-Baptiste Tabourin, Claude Lulé, Dominique Frot

Votes: 31,923

Vicious, bloody, and plain nasty. Another gem in the crown of France's horror renaissance of the 2000s. While it is not nearly as psychologically effective as Martyrs, the level of extreme violence, the rather controversial plot, as well as the absolutely ruthless antagonist played by Beatrice Dalle make this another must-watch for any fan of horror.

3. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

R | 115 min | Drama, Horror, Mystery

7.2
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65 Metascore

A family is haunted by the tragedies of deaths within the family.

Director: Jee-woon Kim | Stars: Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum, Soo-jung Lim, Geun-young Moon

Votes: 47,053

Beautifully executed ghost story crafted by one of South Korea's contemporary cinematic masters. A perfect example of the fact that horror films do not need to be excessive in their splatter and gore, but should rather be a portrayal of very basic human emotions of guilt, loss, pain, fear and regret, all of which combine to create this excellent little film.

4. Jiao zi (2004)

Not Rated | 91 min | Drama, Horror

6.8
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In Hong Kong, Aunt Mei is a cook famous for her home-made rejuvenation dumplings, based on a millenarian recipe prepared with a mysterious ingredient that she brings directly from China. ... See full summary »

Director: Fruit Chan | Stars: Pauline Lau, Tony Ka Fai Leung, Bai Ling, Meme Tian

Votes: 7,675

Made by Hong Kong director Fruit Chan, this sinister film works more as a morality tale and fable, rather than a simple horror film, albeit with some particularly nasty ingredients. A particularly chilling performance from Bai Ling caps off this wonderful film about the price that we are willing to pay for eternal youth.

5. Thirst (2009)

R | 133 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

7.2
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73 Metascore

Through a failed medical experiment, a priest is stricken with vampirism and is forced to abandon his ascetic ways.

Director: Chan-wook Park | Stars: Kang-ho Song, Ok-bin Kim, Hae-suk Kim, Ha-kyun Shin

Votes: 34,446 | Gross: $0.30M

Another Korean master, Park Chan-Wook, whose Vengeance Trilogy has to feature in some of the finest cinematic works of the decade, directed this fantastic vampire film at a time when the topic seems to be exhausted beyond rescue, and breathe fresh life into it. Darkly comical as well as brutally horrifying, Thirst never for once backs down from its ultra-stylistic camerawork and musical score. Much like most of his other works, almost each frame can be dissected as a beautifully rich painting with stunning colours and composition

6. The Orphanage (2007)

R | 105 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller

7.5
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74 Metascore

A woman brings her family back to her childhood home, which used to be an orphanage for handicapped children. Before long, her son starts to communicate with an invisible new friend.

Director: J.A. Bayona | Stars: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep, Mabel Rivera

Votes: 129,519 | Gross: $7.16M

Another wonderful ghost story, this one from Spain, that resonates with real human emotions. Although at times the melodrama does seem a tad excessive, the generally excellent acting, and the great atmosphere created under the vaulted ceilings of the orphanage setting make this a really fantastic watch.

7. May (2002)

R | 93 min | Drama, Horror

6.7
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58 Metascore

A lonely young woman traumatized by a difficult childhood and her increasingly desperate attempts to connect with the people around her is sent into a murderous tailspin.

Director: Lucky McKee | Stars: Angela Bettis, Jeremy Sisto, Anna Faris, James Duval

Votes: 28,770 | Gross: $0.15M

One of five American films on this list, the level of creepiness in May is simply on a different level. Angela Bettis' performance is stunningly convincing as the socially outcast titular character with the lazy eye, for whom things just get from bad to worse as the film progresses. It truly makes the viewer feel uncomfortable while watching. And while the film only really gets particularly nasty towards the end, one can almost feel that coming for its entire duration. As darkly funny as painfully tragic.

8. Frontier(s) (2007)

Unrated | 108 min | Horror, Thriller

6.3
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44 Metascore

A gang of young thieves flee Paris during the violent aftermath of a political election, only to hole up at an Inn run by neo-Nazis.

Director: Xavier Gens | Stars: Karina Testa, Aurélien Wiik, Patrick Ligardes, Samuel Le Bihan

Votes: 21,923

Using a plot recycled a hundred times - that of a group of attractive, young people getting stuck with a group of backward lunatics in the middle of nowhere - Xavier Gens' Frontiers does manage to still come across as original. Particularly its execution (the scene where two of the protagonists are trying to escape through the tunnel being a highlight) makes the film no less brutal than its compatriot counterparts (see nos. 1 and 2 on this list) and at times simply terrifying.

9. Session 9 (2001)

R | 97 min | Horror, Mystery

6.5
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58 Metascore

Tensions rise within an asbestos cleaning crew as they work in an abandoned mental hospital with a horrific past that seems to be coming back.

Director: Brad Anderson | Stars: David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Paul Guilfoyle, Josh Lucas

Votes: 47,129 | Gross: $0.38M

Criminally underrated and underexposed, this gem of a film from Brad Anderson takes another classic horror film plot (group of protagonists in old mental asylum), and makes it utterly chilling. The ending is also highly effective in both its subtlety as well as its excellent use of location to create a bleak and desolate atmosphere that works perfectly.

10. The Machinist (2004)

R | 101 min | Drama, Thriller

7.7
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61 Metascore

An industrial worker who hasn't slept in a year begins to doubt his own sanity.

Director: Brad Anderson | Stars: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, John Sharian

Votes: 307,863 | Gross: $1.08M

Brad Anderson once again proves his deft ability to create very morbid and dark environments in his films, in The Machinist. Part Fight Club, part Memento, Christian Bale's terrific performance, coupled with the deathly emaciated figure he had to become, make this film a masterfully crafted painful study of repressions, guilt and very basic human psychological flaws.

11. I Saw the Devil (2010)

Not Rated | 142 min | Action, Drama, Horror

7.8
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67 Metascore

A secret agent exacts revenge on a serial killer through a series of captures and releases.

Director: Jee-woon Kim | Stars: Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, Joon-hyeok Lee, In-seo Kim

Votes: 83,097 | Gross: $0.13M

Difficult to say whether or not it is a horror film, however, the violence is plainly uncompromising. Certainly not for the faint of heart, this film pivots on show-stealing performances from Oldboy's Min-Sik Choi, and Byung-Hun Lee of A Bittersweet Life (by the same director Jee-Woon Kim, who also made A Tale of Two Sisters) caught up in a game of cat and mouse as a special agent is ruthlessly pursuing a serial killer who killed his wife, leading to some of the most violent scenes ever put on film, all the while seriously blurring the borders between good and evil.

12. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

R | 99 min | Comedy, Horror

8.0
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76 Metascore

A man decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living.

Director: Edgar Wright | Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis

Votes: 433,300 | Gross: $13.54M

Yes of course it's a comedy, and a damn good one at that, but most surprisingly, it works really well as a stand-alone horror film as well. Taking classic elements of Romero's zombie classics, the Edgar Wright-Simon Pegg team did an exceptional job with this film.

13. Eden Lake (2008)

R | 91 min | Horror, Thriller

6.8
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65 Metascore

Refusing to let anything spoil their romantic weekend break, a young couple confront a gang of loutish youths with terrifyingly brutal consequences.

Director: James Watkins | Stars: Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Tara Ellis, Jack O'Connell

Votes: 64,318 | Gross: $0.01M

While on the one hand it is certainly a lot of Daily Mail fearmongering of working class 'chavs', making the political undertone more than dubious, the product is nonetheless pretty terrifying on many levels. Most of all, there is a brutish element to it that makes it somehow, at the very base of one's imagination, think that it is actually possible for some of these events to take place, unlike many other horror films.

14. The Mist (2007)

R | 126 min | Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller

7.2
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58 Metascore

A freak storm unleashes a species of bloodthirsty creatures on a small town, where a small band of citizens hole up in a supermarket and fight for their lives.

Director: Frank Darabont | Stars: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher

Votes: 242,578 | Gross: $25.59M

Thomas Jane's overacting, and the seemingly silly plot aside, what makes this film so brilliant is that it is actually very much about the humanity of horror, rather than the fantastical elements that make up this film. It is about how people react to one another when faced by unknown threats. Do they unite and see it through as one, or do they break down and end up destroying one another? The devastatingly painful ending itself makes the film very much worth watching.

15. Trick 'r Treat (2007)

R | 82 min | Comedy, Horror, Thriller

6.8
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Five interwoven stories that occur on Halloween: An everyday high school principal has a secret life as a serial killer; a college virgin might have just met the guy for her; a group of teenagers pull a mean prank; a woman who loathes the night has to contend with her holiday-obsessed husband; and a mean old man meets his match with a demonic, supernatural trick-or-treater.

Director: Michael Dougherty | Stars: Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker, Rochelle Aytes

Votes: 69,169

This delightful horror anthology that has all the makings of an instant cult classic. Fantastic storytelling, the blackest of black humour, and a stellar cast all make this a real treat for any fans of horror films.

16. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

R | 118 min | Drama, Fantasy, War

8.2
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98 Metascore

In the falangist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world.

Director: Guillermo del Toro | Stars: Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú

Votes: 518,891 | Gross: $37.63M

Another borderline call regarding genre, but certain elements are most certainly terrifying. This beautifully shot, and beautifully narrated film combines elements of fantasy, war, and a coming-of-age story all in one. All of it is topped off by director Guillermo del Toro's unmistakably twisted and fascinating visual aesthetic.

17. High Tension (2003)

R | 91 min | Horror, Thriller

6.8
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42 Metascore

Best friends Marie and Alexia decide to spend a quiet weekend at Alexia's parents' secluded farmhouse. But on the night of their arrival, the girls' idyllic getaway turns into an endless night of horror.

Director: Alexandre Aja | Stars: Cécile De France, Maïwenn, Philippe Nahon, Franck Khalfoun

Votes: 59,168 | Gross: $3.68M

I personally did not find the much-polemicised twist as convincing as many others have, however, it still bears very distinctive devices of French horror (perhaps being one of the films that really started the trend in the early 2000s). Additionally, as soon as it gets going, it picks up to a *beep* crazy pace, which certainly makes it live up to its title.

18. Irreversible (2002)

Not Rated | 97 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

7.4
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51 Metascore

Events over the course of one traumatic night in Paris unfold in reverse-chronological order as the beautiful Alex is brutally raped and beaten by a stranger in the underpass.

Director: Gaspar Noé | Stars: Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel, Jo Prestia

Votes: 96,382 | Gross: $0.75M

Difficult to call this a horror film once again, but it contains some of the most unforgettable and excruciating scenes I have ever seen. Coupled with the sleazy, dark, and dreary style of the film, it is certainly not for the weak hearted, and leaves the viewer with a very bitter emptiness and sense of discomfort. In fact, perhaps it was this, rather than Haute Tension, that really started the new trend of French extreme cinema.

19. The Loved Ones (2009)

R | 84 min | Horror, Thriller

6.7
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When Brent turns down his classmate Lola's invitation to the prom, she concocts a wildly violent plan for revenge.

Director: Sean Byrne | Stars: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine, Jessica McNamee

Votes: 31,220

Brilliant indie-horror from Australia that has all the relentless brutality of Wolf Creek, but with the backdrop of a love story. Perhaps rather an anti-love story. Robin McLeavy does an immense job portraying the primary antagonist with every bit of rage, dementia and anger as any of the most iconic horror villains I have ever seen. The subtlety, gentle tones and sparse dialogue all add to this wonderful little gem.