After almost four years into a new decade, horror remains one of the most resilient and fascinating genres of this century. In fact, it’s fair to say that the cinema of chills has only grown in esteem. About 10 years ago, some critics were dubiously suggesting that horror movies were undergoing an “elevation.” Nowadays, though, scary movies’ popularity and respect just seems nearly ubiquitous.
In a time when everything is dubiously being stripped down and sold as “content,” horror remains one of the last refuges for filmmakers to make art—or at least a wild good time with a dancing robo-doll! With that in mind, we’ve put our heads together at Den of Geek to provide you with a list of the best horror movies of 2023 so far, for your viewing terror. Enjoy.
Talk to Me
Every year, at least one horror film comes along that dominates the zeitgeist and reminds viewers that there is nothing better than gathering in the dark to share in genuinely scary stories. Talk to Me is 2023’s such film. Written and directed by the Aussie brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, Talk to Me is a debut feature that lands like a five-fingered slap across the face—and with a dead medium’s hand at that.
That’s at least what the kids in the Australian suburbs say about the severed hand they pass around like a bong. Apparently, it belonged to a psychic who could commune with the dead. Nowadays though, it’s used by youths as a gag for social media. They get drunk, get high, and finally get possessed for 90 seconds at a time on TikTok while holding that hand and saying, “I let you in.” The problem for poor Mia (Sophie Wilde) is that sometimes the ghosts don’t want to call time at 90 seconds. A metaphorically loaded premise that invites a dialogue about substance abuse, generational trauma amongst families, and the afterlife, Talk to Me is also simply a relentlessly bleak film with an utterly devastating finale. If you’re looking for a new horror movie to actually get under your skin, let this one in. – David Crow
Brandon Cronenberg comes into his own as a genre auteur with his third feature, the pleasantly sick Infinity Pool. Beginning as a seemingly grounded commentary on a certain brand of privileged Western tourism, Infinity Pool drifts into something far more sinister when hacky novelist James (Alexander Skarsgård) absconds to a fictional country for a resort vacation with his girlfriend Em (Cleopatra Coleman). Em has the money, but James has the ego. And it’s flattered when he meets a fangirl at the resort, Gabi (Mia Goth), who seduces the couple into joining her into this country’s seedier nightlife where death and bad decisions await.
Being locked up for murder in a developing country is a nightmare, but discovering said country has a program for the wealthy where you’re allowed to clone yourself—and then have that clone executed in your place—is a whole other bag of surreal nastiness. Yet that’s only the tip of the iceberg as Goth gives a fantastically demented performance while guiding and nurturing James’ decadent descent into hell… and there are no escape from this trip. – DC
When Evil Lurks
Demonic possession movies feel like they’re a dime a dozen in 2023, and most of them are still just going through William Friedkin’s paces, either with a twinkle in their eye (like a certain Russell Crowe movie on this list) or with nothing to say (a la that sequel not on this list). This ubiquitous sameness, however, is what makes Demián Rugna’s Argentine original so refreshingly unique.
When Evil Lurks is a brutal and cruel exercise in suffering and despair. The film takes place in a heightened reality where demonic possession is common enough that in a nondescript town there are certain folklore remedies intended to save your life (or at least your soul) from eternal damnation. Unfortunately, they do not seem to work particularly well as possession spreads as if it were a zombie virus. And our ostensible hero, Pedro (Ezequiel Rodríguez), is both too hapless and dim to save himself—so what chance do his kids have when halfway through the film he attempts to get them outside of the demon’s path?
Why When Evil Lurks works is because of the often shocking and relentlessly horrific imagery. Rugna conjures genuinely twisted scenarios that will often catch you by surprise, and even when they do not, they can still stun with their attention to the gore and total annihilation. More a visceral experience in genre nihilism than a narrative, this one is a keeper for the true aficionados. – DC
Forget Stranger Things or Wednesday, two limp Netflix series that try to introduce younger viewers to chills and thrills. The definitive Zoomer horror flick is M3GAN with its TikTok-ready marketing and its ambivalent take on technology. Stories about killer dolls are certainly nothing new, as Chucky or The Twilight Zone’s Talking Tina can attest. But M3GAN gives the trope a decidedly 21st century spin, making the Model 3 Generative ANdroid neither a product of dark magic or a vengeful spirit, but of the ever-present internet and its corporate colonizers.
The script by Akela Cooper, based on a story she developed with James Wan, M3GAN leans into the absurdity of toys designed to sell friendship to kids. “I had a dog, she was my only friend / but she got old and died and I’m alone again,” declares the jingle that opens the movie, a commercial for Perpetual Pets that hock hideous-looking furry toys to parents desperate to protect their children from even the slightest pang of loss. And yet, Cooper and director Gerard Johnstone find notes of genuine pathos within the absurdity, getting a moving performance from child actor Violet McGraw as an orphaned girl living with her kid-ambivalent aunt (Allison Williams).
Not that any tween checking out M3GAN cares about that nonsense. They’re here to see M3GAN do a cool dance before offing a victim, or to hear social media star Jenna Davis deliver solid voice acting as M3GAN (young New Zealander Amie Donald performed M3GAN’s body). Smart, funny, and scary, M3GAN assures even old farts like me that the next generation of horror hounds have a bright (dark?) future ahead of them. – Joe George
The overwhelming majority of horror franchises do just fine without their survivors returning. Sure, it was cool when Heather Langenkamp returned for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, but how many times do we need to see Laurie Strode get killed? Still, when Neve Campbell revealed that Sidney Prescott wouldn’t be in Scream VI, we felt a disappointment that not even the return of Kirby from Scream 4 could assuage.
Universal deserves no credit for refusing to pay Campbell what she’s worth. But Sidney’s absence did allow Scream VI to be something of a reboot for the series, even more so than its predecessor Scream (5). Sure, Gail Weathers popped back in and the ghost of Billy Loomis still haunted the series, but with Sidney out of the way, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett could focus on the new characters, namely the siblings Sam and Tara Carpenter (Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega). By switching to the Carpenter siblings, the directors and screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick could breathe new life into the series while maintaining Scream’s themes of pop culture obsession and generational trauma.
Of course nobody goes to Scream for that heady crap. At the end of the day, all we really want are nasty kills and self-aware dialogue. To that end, Scream VI delivers in spades, balancing well-paced tension building with shockingly brutal moments, even for this franchise. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett make excellent use of the new New York setting, integrating highrises and back allies into the kill sequences. Scream VI proves that even after the principal creatives have moved on, the franchise can still deliver more of our favorite scary movies. – JG
No One Will Save You
20th Century Studios serves up yet another excellent Hulu original film we wish we could’ve watched on the big screen. But even if it has been relegated to streaming only, writer-director Brian Duffield’s throwback alien invasion flick is no less effective. Anchored by an incredibly versatile Kaitlyn Dever, who we hope to see in many more horror movies down the line, No One Will Save You plays like a modern 1950s sci-fi B-movie, specifically the kind where UFOs and strange aliens terrorize idyllic (and essentially helpless) American towns. Except this one has such a delicious surprise ending for its main character that you have to see to believe.
The film follows Dever’s Brynn, a young woman who lives alone in her late mother’s house in the outskirts of town where she’s not particularly welcome by her neighbors, although why they’ve ostracized her isn’t immediately clear. It’s only through spending more time in Brynn’s loneliness, and later the chaos of aliens breaking into her house, that we learn why she’s so alone and why she never speaks to anyone else in the movie’s brisk 93-minute runtime. The truth may change your perception of the entire film. – John Saavedra
Here’s the perfect movie for Oct. 31st, a spooky indie that basks in the chills of the Halloween season, down to the pumpkins that litter the backyard of the film’s classic horror movie setting: an old house hiding a terrible secret. Cobweb follows a lonely boy named Peter (Woody Norman), who lives in the creaky old house with his very peculiar parents Carol (Lizzy Caplan) and Mark (Antony Starr). Constantly picked on at school, things aren’t much better for Peter at home where he’s largely kept locked inside and isolated from the rest of the neighborhood. He also isn’t allowed to go trick or treating or to dress up, nor are his nights filled with anything but a plague of nightmares. And when Peter learns the mysterious voice that haunts him when he closes his eyes is more than just a bad dream, it all gets much, much worse.
Director Samuel Bodin (Marianne) builds a real sense of foreboding from minute to minute, as day turns to the low light of dusk and then to overwhelming darkness and another night of terror for Peter. The slow-burn of the first half of the film crescendos to a horrific reveal in the third act that you won’t soon forget. Norman, Caplan, and Cleopatra Coleman, who plays Peter’s concerned teacher, are particularly effective once shit really hits the fan. Go into this one without reading a single thing about it—besides this list, of course. – JS
The Pope’s Exorcist
It’s not often you get to see a franchise be born in real time while you’re sitting in the theater munching your popcorn, but the horror genre certainly offers up more opportunities than most. In 2023, we got at least two such bolts from the blue: M3GAN, and the rather unlikely low budget possession movie The Pope’s Exorcist starring Russell Crowe, who seems up for taking sillier, less Oscar-baiting roles these days. The two movies also had something else in common: they both became memes before their respective releases. M3GAN was a dancing robot killer, and therefore a slam dunk ripe for the TikTok generation, but The Pope’s Exorcist managed to win people over by simply putting Russell Crowe on a Vespa in a priest’s frock, and then saying “sir, just drive.”
The movie is admittedly a notable collection of all the classic possession movie tropes, but Crowe and director Julius Avery (Overlord) manage to make them sing, hanging the story on the true life exploits of the late Father Gabriel Amorth, who always did love the spotlight. Loosely based on the books An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories written by Amorth, the film follows Crowe’s Vatican-approved priest as he hotfoots it over to Spain to assist in the exorcism of a young boy where he always seems to have time for a cheeky joke, even when the furniture is flying. In no way is The Pope’s Exorcist a masterpiece, but it’s definitely a really good time. – Kirsten Howard
Knock at the Cabin
M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of celebrated horror novelist Paul Tremblay’s excellent The Cabin at the End of the World might have changed the ending for the worse, but the film as a whole is definitely worth your time. It’s on brand for Night 2.0, with the filmmaker now preferring limited location movies—this one is based almost exclusively in a remote cabin. There fathers Eric and Andrew (Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge) and their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) get an ominous knock from Dave Bautista and his fellow horsemen of the apocalypse stand-ins.
The family must make a terrible choice to save the world. Or must they? Is this real or is it a cruel joke? This is a brutal, emotional, and spiritual family horror elevated by terrific performance from the whole cast. And the change to the end from the book? While it lacks the heartbreaking heft of the novel, it makes sense for a mainstream film that manages to remain faithful in spirit even if not in plot. – Rosie Fletcher
Creatures and monsters who hail from ancient folklore were arguably invented to reckon with natural and human phenomena so incomprehensible that it’s easier to say “a vampire did it.” For his first horror movie, Pablo Larrain drolly revisits that sensibility for a deeply cynical satire bathed in dark humor and the blood of thousands. Indeed, it was thousands that Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet had murdered after he rose to power by way of a military coup in 1973.
In El Conde, Lorrain imagines Pinochet to be a literal bloodsucker (one of apparently many among the despots of world history) who fed off the soul and blood, as well as the wealth, of Chile. He also apparently faked his death and lives still as an undead corpse presiding over his family of unhappy adult children. He’s a revenant whose legacy haunts the citizens still.
El Conde features some ostensible genre trappings, including a young Nun (Paula Luchsinger) who claims she plans to exorcize and eliminate Pinochet, but the film’s evocative black and white photography and bemused tone suggests this isn’t a story about good versus evil. It’s a parable about how the greed and appetites of a single person can corrupt an entire people, even years after their death. – DC
Insidious: The Red Door
We wouldn’t recommend watching Insidious: The Red Door if you’re new to the Insidious franchise, but if you’ve watched at least the first two movies and enjoyed them, it’s worth checking out The Red Door’s efforts to bring the Lambert family’s strange story to a close. The eternally-lovable Patrick Wilson reprises his role as Josh Lambert in this one. He also directs the movie. Not content to stop there, Wilson further adds his stamp to the final(?) entry in the franchise by covering Shakespeare’s Sister’s classic pop song “Stay” with rock powerhouse group Ghost during the closing credits. It all makes for an earnest and thoughtful effort from Wilson in what could have otherwise been just another cash-grabbing Blumhouse horror sequel.
As for the story, we wouldn’t want to spoil too much of it, but the setup for The Red Door sees Josh divorced from his wife (Rose Byrne), estranged from his son Dalton, and with no memory of his disturbing trips to The Further in the earlier films. After accidentally going into The Further again, the now-adult Dalton (Ty Simpkins) is shaken. Meanwhile Josh is haunted by a strange spirit, and the two will have to mend their relationship to figure out why their family has become so inextricably tied to The Further and its demons. – KH
Evil Dead Rise
If you like horror you’ll probably like Evil Dead Rise. This gory addition to the franchise directed by Lee Cronin (The Hole in the Ground) expands the lore of Sam Raimi’s originals but doesn’t fuss about too much with plot. Instead this is a glorious celebration of splatter. It’s an earthquake in a tower block that uncovers the deadite-summoning book which goes on to terrorize sisters Beth and Ellie, not to mention Ellie’s three kids.
Alyssa Sutherland as Ellie puts in a game performance, carrying most of the horror in the first half at least. She’s a worthy addition to the deadite hall of fame, making top use of cheese graters, scissors and anything else to hand. Evil Dead Rise is relentless, it’s brutal, and no one is safe. And while it’s not funny per se (as in, this isn’t a comedy), the sheer extremeness the movie goes to, makes this wildly entertaining rather than just plain grim. A perfect Friday night horrorfest. – RF