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13 Horror Filmmakers You Need to Know

Meet the next wave of moviemakers who’ll scare you to death

Horror Filmmakers; Goodnight Mommy; The Babadook; The Witch

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Horror, more so than any other type of film, seems to have an unquenchable thirst for new blood.

Maybe, as The Cabin in the Woods suggested, it's to appease the appetites of the Ancient Ones. Or — less likely, but still somewhat plausible — it's because horror movies are suspended between tradition and novelty. As anyone who's seen the Scream movies knows all too well, the genre has hard rules that filmmakers love to tweak and audiences expect to be followed. But no other kind of film is as aware of, and devoted to, its own tropes. And no other kind of cinema is as hell-bent on finding new ways of violating them to create something new.

But the changing of the guard can be hard to notice, because horror's breakthrough filmmakers have an uncanny knack for emerging from the shadows fully formed. These are people who are pushing the genre forward with the urgency of someone being chased by demons. From body horror to documentary, Satanists to puritans, the tightknit U.S. festival scene to the deceptively bucolic fields of Austria's farmland, the next wave of gore and ghastliness is nearly as diverse as the dark obsessions that drive its makers.

These are the 13 new horror filmmakers you need to know, if only so you can put a name to your future nightmares. A few work in pairs, others fly solo — all of them will scare the daylights out of you.

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Rafy/A2; IFC Midnight/Everett; Radius TWC/Everett

Ana Lily Amirpour

Born in England to Iranian parents and raised in California on a steady diet of David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky, Amirpour's feminist-film-with-fangs debut — A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) — orbits around an innocent-looking vampire who stalks the shadows with a big secret under her chador. Told in Farsi but shot in the dusty outskirts of exotic Bakersfield, this haunted, personal multi-cultural kaleidoscope is as hard to pin down as it is to stop watching, and it may be the most ineffably American horror film of the 21st Century. Her next film, a cannibal romance called The Bad Batch, suggests she's ready to sink her teeth into the genre for the long haul.

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Rafy/A2; IFC Midnight/Everett; Radius TWC/Everett

Rodney Ascher

Credit documentarian Rodney Ascher for expanding the genre beyond the fictional: For his first feature, Room 237 (2012), Ascher invited people to unpack their deranged fan theories about Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining, reminding you that the best horror movies don't end when the credits roll. He followed that up with The Nightmare (2015), which found him illustrating the experiences of folks who suffer from "sleep paralysis" through recreations creepy enough to make you fear that these night terrors are contagious. More than any of his contemporaries, Ascher is driven by a primal curiosity to explore where our fears come from, whether they start on a screen and in our own head.

Southbound

Courtesy of TIFF

Roxanne Benjamin

A major player behind the scenes for the last few years, Roxanne Benjamin has recently added  director to her cup-runneth-over resumé; she's the one responsible for the best segment of the uncommonly focused, unapologetically demented horror anthology Southbound. Tense and unnerving, her episode about an all-girl rock band who get a lift from an eerily upbeat older couple makes it clear that Benjamin has learned a thing or two from her extensive time on set. Look for her name to be on the credits — hopefully with "Directed by" attached to it — of new horror classics for years to come.

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Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's first feature, Resolution (2012), is the product of two filmmakers frustrated with a stagnant genre: It's a cabin-in-the-woods story in which the heroes can only escape with their lives by thinking up a satisfyingly original ending for their own story. Their follow-up, Spring (2014), is an unholy marriage between Before Sunrise and An American Werewolf in London, following an American ex-pat bro who falls hard for an Italian girl with monstrous baggage. This duo reminds you that horror occasionally has to defile expectations — something their next film, a revisionist biopic about legendary British occultist Aleister Crowley, should do in spades. 

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Sean Byrne

A rapturously violent tale about a demented high school girl who abducts her crush on prom night, Tasmanian director Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones (2009) is the Lord of the Rings of torture porn — a film so elegant and operatic in its over-the-top–ness that even the genre's most dismissive critics were forced to take it seriously. (It's now streaming, legally, on YouTube). His latest, The Devil's Candy (2015) follows a Texas family who chooses to ignore their real estate agent's warning and move into a house with some serious demons in the attic. (In this market, who could blame them?) The film lit up festival crowds this fall, giving audiences a strong sense of what kindles Byrne's imagination: taking familiar genre ideas and ratcheting them up to 11.

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Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani

Say hello to the married Belgian couple who are keeping the bloody, baroque spirit of giallo alive. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani's movies are located at the sinister nexus between genre homages, perfume commercials and snuff films: Their breakthrough film, Amer (2009), features an unusual preoccupation with straight razors for a female coming-of-age story. The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears (2013) turns a story of a man looking for his missing wife into a deep dive down the rabbit hole of male fears and desires. They may have one foot planted firmly in the past, but they're always looking forward — in the digital age, they're the rare directors who can make a film that feels like it was literally cut with a knife.

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Robert Eggers

A Satanic slap of old school chills, Robert Eggers' The Witch (2015) unfolds like the Grimm-est of fairy tales: A family of 17th Century Puritans is exiled from their settlement and forced to relocate to a farm on the cusp of a haunted forest. Chaos reigns, naturally, and the film's hyper-accurate period detail hints at the years that the filmmaker spent as a costume and production designer. But its jet-black sense of humor — most apparent during the gloriously unhinged final reel — suggests that he's not lacking for self-awareness. Or ambition, for that matter: His next project is slated to be a remake of F.W. Murnau's iconic vampire masterpiece, Nosferatu. Even the most devout horror purists should be willing to watch him put his distinctive stamp on a classic.

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Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz

Shot with a cold art-house severity that makes its scares all the more disturbing, Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz's Goodnight Mommy (2014) is a textbook example of how big ideas can compensate for limited resources. The deeply perverse story of twin boys who begin to suspect that their mother's recent plastic surgery altered a lot more than just the bags under her eyes, this is a body-horror film that trusts in the power of an image that forces viewers to lean in and look closer. We're both excited and admittedly scared to see what this Austrian duo does next.

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Jennifer Kent

A profoundly moving reminder that the greatest movie monsters are born from our real fears and traumas, Australian actress-turned-filmmaker Jennifer Kent's feature debut The Babadook (2014) elevates a potentially silly premise — a widow and single mother is terrorized by the boogeyman from a pop-up book she reads to her son — into a raw, knowing story about the reality of living with grief. Her next film, a homicidal romance adapted from Alexis Coe's true-crime novel Alice + Freda Forever, promises to be another unnervingly authentic look at the cost of losing a life.

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David Robert Mitchell

Imagine if Jason Reitman had followed Juno with The Shining. That's the best comparison you could come up David Robert Mitchell's progression from directing a micro-budget teen flick The Myth of the American Sleepover to making It Follows (2014), a movie that opens with a frantic young woman being savagely murdered by an invisible monster. The story of a sexually transmitted entity that slowly (but relentlessly) stalks its target until they pass the bulls-eye onto someone else, the film is a clever allegory for the threat of getting an STD, the isolation of having one, and the fear of passing it along. Those anxieties that plague you in high school, the ones Mitchell so vividly revisited in his first movie? Yeah, it turns out they never go away.

In This Article: Cult Movies, Horror

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