Horror can be a divisive genre for Christians. But as we’ve argued before, while horror is commonly misused, it can be a great vehicle for powerful and true messages. But how do you tell the good from the bad? To get you started, here are some horror films that we recommend.
The Babadook (Vidangel recommended)
First off, this is one of my favorites. The Babadook is gorgeously and German expressionistically shot, it is spine-tingling in direction and setting, as well as gutsy in its attempt to nearly devoid itself of any jumps. But who said that made it lighthearted? The film follows a sweet yet perhaps bitter mother; one that has had dealt with utter loss, as well as constant badgering from her rambunctious and deeply troubled son. The film transitions, however, in tone and meaning as a dark force takes possession of the mother, by an elusive creature named the Babadook. The film in its most minimal form is a parable on grief. One that is stunningly and explicitly symbolized from start to finish. In this complicated and metaphorical tale, we see how grief and resentment lead to a fragile, broken, and lonely life. It seems in the end, the only way to live with and endure this burden is through confronting and coexisting with the matter. Though, don’t take it this as a heartfelt approval, this film is darkly disturbing in its imagery and allusions, and contains perhaps the greatest horror performance of all time (Essie Davis is somehow altogether heartbreaking and instantaneously terrifying).
Consider this selection a sequel to my previous. I’ll state first off, this particular choice is here due to its complimenting elements that Babadook possesses. Though don’t take that to mean it’s not one I consider altogether fantastic. What 1408 is essentially doing is carrying on this sequential theme of grief to the next level. What John Cusack’s character does here is openly display sarcasm, pessimism, and complete hatred even to the thoughts of a spiritual realm (though his character literally makes ends meet off false haunted folklore). He was once a man of happiness, creativity, and purpose. But when tragedy hit, his interest in life (both physical and especially eternal) are all but hardened. The film (depending on the version you chose – I prefer the DVD original to the Blu Ray/Streaming) doesn’t give full closure to this man of brokenness and resentment in faith. It does, however, illustrate that the problems he faces are mirroring the battle within. All this is complimented by a haunting, claustrophobic, personal, and far more atmospheric and enjoyable odyssey than that of typical jump-scare films in the horror repertoire (which I occasionally turn my nose up at, admittedly).
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Very few films can be described as “Christian horror,” but if anything fits that mold, it is The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Directed by Scott Derrickson of Doctor Strange fame, the film portrays a devout Christian who is inhabited by not just one, but a horde of demons. Emily’s faith is central to the film in both plot and theme, and the suffering of the righteous, as well as how the righteous suffer, is explored to great effect. That in and of itself is a fantastic framework, but it is also just a great film. Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson are as great as always (the latter in my favorite role I’ve seen him in), and Jennifer Carpenter is extremely convincing from start to finish. Between the talent, the terror, and the themes, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is well worth the time and the fright. This is the film that changed my perspective on horror as a genre, and I highly recommend it.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
While the inclusion of a silent German film from the 1920s may challenge the viewing habits of many, I highly recommend you give this film a watch. Informed by the retrospective horror of Germany’s role in World War I, Dr. Caligari is a film that engages in a powerful critique of authority structures, with fascinating ethereal set pieces and horror archetypes that were formative for the genre. Caligari himself is a mad scientist in a carnival, parading around a sleepwalker as a scientific specimen. But as murders start to pick up around the madman and his creation, more turns up around this story than meets the eye. At just over an hour of runtime, it’s a great introduction to the German expressionist films of the 1920s, and offers both an engaging murder/mystery and chilling social commentary.
The Saw series is more commonly known for its seemingly endless sequels of torture and “gore-fest” style scares. James Wan’s original horror masterpiece is far from this narrative. Slammed by critics but beloved by the horror audience, Saw is a genuine psychological thriller that tests our moral limits. Unlike the unnecessary sequels, this film asks the question; how much do we appreciate the life we have? Each victim in the “torture room” has a personal sin (drug abuse, suicidal thoughts, workaholic). Jigsaw set them each victim with a “game”. If the victim wins, they live. If they lose, they die. In each case, the antagonist uses their faults against them in hopes to use torture in order to make each victim more appreciative of their life, and potentially cure them of such mental disease. With a lot less gore than the subsequent films in the series, Saw forces viewers to question the validity of his tactics. James Wan truly brings a new and original take on psychological horror, with one of the greatest twists in modern horror that will allow this film to stand the test of time.
Unlike many horror films, The Descent is heralded by both critics and horror fans alike. An all-female cast that truly shows the diversity in female characters in an action/horror setting. Fresh off his cult hit Dog Soldiers, Neil Marshall creates one of the best onscreen allegories of motherhood depression. This film follows a group of women on a spelunking expedition in an attempt to district our main protagonist from the tragic accident involving her husband and child just one year earlier. Inside the cave, the women become trapped. In an attempt to escape, their friendship is tested as the nature of human survival takes over when they find out they are not alone. The Descent is a truly haunting tale, as the viewer finds themselves becoming more and more claustrophobic with every frame. This can’t-miss-film proves the power of human will and just how strong we can be in our darkest moment.
Are there any films you think we should have included? Let us know in the comments!