Sometimes, we need to prepare ourselves to watch a movie. That’s why we marathon all eight Harry Potter movies before any new Fantastic Beasts release and why we watch all the Star Wars movies before a new addition to the franchise.
But when a new movie doesn’t come with others backing it up, we construct makeshift watchlists. Here is one to prepare you for Hereditary, a horror movie that is already out. Due to its success, it will most likely be one of the biggest Halloween-esque films in decades.
It is this standalone property that makes Hereditary, and movies like it, all the more special, so I made it a rule for this list.
I realized it would be much harder to compile a list when most films are either remakes, sequels, or prequels, but I stuck with it. Some honourable mentions that unfortunately didn’t fit the bill are the 2013 Evil Dead remake and 2016’s The Conjuring 2.
Three rules for this Hereditary pre-watch list: the film had to be released in the 2010s, it had to be a standalone, and it had to fit the horror genre — no thrillers. Sorry, you won’t find Green Room or Don’t Breathe on here.
1. The Babadook, 2014 — directed by Jennifer Kent, Australia
You’ve probably heard of The Babadook. In the four years since its release, it has acquired a sort of cult following. And for good reason. The Babadook follows a mother and son duo who find an eerie storybook on their doorstep one day. What ensues is a haunting by a boogeyman that makes for innovative scares.
One of the reasons I appreciate The Babadook as much as I do — and why I think it is perfect for this list — is that it really utilizes the most that it can within the film medium to make your body literally shiver from fright.
You cover your ears when you’re scared in anticipation of loud noise?
That’s fine; The Babadook has imagery that will tattoo itself onto your consciousness.
You cover your eyes when you’re scared in anticipation of such tantalizing imagery?
That’s fine; The Babadook arguably has the most unsettling sound effects that will condition you to grow anxious, like when you hear nails on a chalkboard.
And the best part? Absolutely no jump scares. All of the thrills in The Babadook are created thanks to tension and storyline.
Yes, it really is that good.
2. Under the Shadows, 2016 — directed by Babak Anvari, Iran
If The Babadook seems a little overwhelming to you, it’s best to start off with Under the Shadows, a simple yet effective Iranian horror movie that showcases its horror in the same manner, but in a significantly less intense way. In a war-torn Tehran in the ’80s, a mother and daughter must stick together and battle an evil that presents itself within their apartment building.
Not only is Under the Shadows an incredibly clear cultural vignette of a city divided by war, but it perfectly balances political commentary with complex family dynamics and good, old-fashioned horror. Under the Shadows is a lot easier to watch than The Babadook, but it is nonetheless an extremely effective horror movie.
3. The Witch, 2015 — directed by Robert Eggers, US
The Witch received a limited release in 2015; it was a revelation of a horror movie. The Witch is as much a period piece as it is a horror movie: set in 1630s Puritan New England, a family is plagued by a witch — or are they? — and they begin to grow distrustful of each other, leading to a horrifyingly memorable finale.
The Witch, like The Babadook and Under the Shadows, relies on a calculated storyline, a well-curated score, and cinematography to instill tension.
There are no jump scares or cheap loud noises. The fear is warranted. And don’t believe the buzz, because The Witch is incredibly watchable. You’ll be hooked from the first minute.
4. Raw, 2016 — directed by Julia Ducournau, France
I was a little hesitant about putting Raw on this list. On the surface, it doesn’t appear to have many fantastical aspects. But once you delve further into its reality and the story arcs that Julia Ducournau expertly builds, you come to find yourself facing a world that is nothing like our own, and yet eerily similar.
Raw follows a young girl, raised by a family of cult-like vegetarians, as she enters her first year of veterinarian school. There, she must wade through new and foreign temptations to find out who she really is.
Despite what the title may suggest, Raw is not solely a dissertation on vegetarianism. The film examines the awakening of identity and hunger, both literal and spiritual. It does so in such inconspicuous ways that the moral of the story hits you rudely only after you’ve finished watching.
What makes Raw so scary is that it is essentially the product of feeding Western society and norms through a distorted filter. It feels familiar but doesn’t look like it.
In short, Raw is the funhouse-mirror reflection of human nature and obsession, and if that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.
It’s also gory — beware.
5. The Wailing, 2016 — directed by Na Hong-jin, South Korea
I am not going to mince words or wax poetic. The Wailing is, by far, the scariest and the most astonishing movie I have ever seen. It is also criminally underrated, and so I hope that if you consider yourself even a slight horror fan, you’ll give this treasure a watch.
The Wailing has a runtime of two and a half hours and follows a detective in a small village in South Korea as he handles what can only be called a zombie-like disease outbreak. But this is not a zombie movie in the slightest. The villagers suspect that an old Japanese man, a recent immigrant, is the cause of the virus and, as you can predict, madness ensues.
The Wailing examines xenophobia and paranoia better than any political drama ever could. The film references the relations between Japan and South Korea, the use and reliance of shamans, and overall spirituality and religion in South Korean society. It forces you to become vulnerable, to give yourself up to the narrative and reality of the story. And once it makes you vulnerable, it bombards you with one horrific scene after another.
It is riveting and jaw-dropping, with no unnecessary jump scares. The Wailing is the perfect film to get you prepared for any further — potential — horror you may see in Hereditary.