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The best horror movies of 2023

The best scary films of the year largely came from outside of the Hollywood system

Infinity Pool, Evil Dead Rise, and Talk To Me were among the best horror movies of 2023.(Universal/Studiocanal/Altitude)
Infinity Pool, Evil Dead Rise, and Talk To Me were among the best horror movies of 2023.(Universal/Studiocanal/Altitude)

What were the best horror movies of 2023? Scary movies came in all forms and approaches this past year, though if you looked at the widely distributed studio films, the chief template would seem to be the franchise entry. Recent hits were followed up and classics were rebooted, with the results sometimes proving surprisingly satisfying (Saw X, Scream VI) and just as often, not so much (Meg 2: The Trench, The Nun II, The Exorcist: Believer). To find the really good stuff, though, you had to venture into the realm of the independent releases, many making their commercial debuts as streaming titles.

Read more: The best movies of 2023

Here’s where the really good, frightening and original work was largely happening, and it makes up the bulk of the following top ten (of movies that received UK theatrical or digital release in 2023).

These were the best horror movies of 2023...

Attachment

ATTACHMENT, (aka NATTEN HAR OJNE), from left: Josephine Park, Ellie Kendrick, 2022. ph: Soren Kirkegaard / © Shudder / Courtesy Everett Collection
Josephine Park, Ellie Kendrick in Attachment. (Shudder/Everett Collection)

Girl meets girl in Denmark, girl takes new girlfriend home to London—but this isn’t the opening act of a romcom, but the setup for that rare fright film that doesn’t just incorporate Jewish folklore, but uses that culture as the basis for domestic drama as engrossing as the genre trappings. Home, for Leah (Ellie Kendrick), is shared with her overbearing mother Chana (Sofie Gräbøl), and Leah’s partner Maja (Josephine Park) becomes dismayed not only by Chana’s behavior, but her growing certainty that dark forces are present in the house.

It’s often said that one measure of a great horror movie is that you could take out the scary stuff and the story would still be captivating, and that’s certainly the case with Attachment.

Attachment is streaming on Shudder.

Birth/Rebirth

Marin Ireland, so good in indie films ranging from The Dark and the Wicked to this year’s Eileen, gets one of her best roles yet in Laura Moss’ medical shocker. She plays Rose, a morgue worker whose side project is no less than transcending death, and who finds the perfect subject when the young daughter of midwife Celie (Judy Reyes) dies in her hospital. After Rose brings the girl back to life, Moss and co-scripter Brendan J. O’Brien weave a haunting and resonant variation on the timeless Frankenstein themes, digging deep into issues of parental and scientific responsibility while fully delivering the fear factor.

Birth/Rebirth will be available to rent and own from 22 January, 2024.

Evil Dead Rise

Evil Dead Rise. (Studiocanal)
Evil Dead Rise. (Studiocanal)

Four decades after Sam Raimi’s original turned the genre on its severed head, Irish filmmaker Lee Cronin delivered a reboot that begins with a cheeky nod to the original’s lo-fi wizardry before fully delivering the equally gruesome goods.

Relocating the Deadite action to a rundown apartment building, Cronin alters the focus from imperiled friends to a family that is literally torn apart by the possessive forces issuing from the Naturom Demonto. Though made on a significantly higher budget, Rise recaptures the gonzo energy and claustrophobic frissons of Raimi’s classic.

Evil Dead Rise is streaming on Netflix.

Herd

Mitzi Akaha and Ellen Adair in Herd. (Dark Sky Films/Everett Collection)
Mitzi Akaha and Ellen Adair in Herd. (Dark Sky Films/Everett Collection)

How do you create a zombie/infected thriller that stands out among the horde of similar films? You make it more about the living struggling to survive, and tap into very of-the-moment sociopolitical themes. Ellen Adair and Mitzi Akaha play a lesbian couple stranded in the rural Midwest during a virus-spawned ghoul outbreak, and find shelter with a local militia group — who might pose an equal threat to the women’s safety if the nature of their relationship is discovered.

Writer/director Steven Pierce and co-scripter James Allerdyce make their dramatic points forcefully and gracefully, assisted by a strong cast (including Jeremy Holm, also seen this year in Ted Geoghegan’s gripping Brooklyn 45), punctuated by infected attacks that hit so much harder because we care about the people involved. Seek out this small but potent film on VOD platforms.

Herd is available to rent or buy on digital.

Huesera: The Bone Woman

HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN, (aka HUESERA), Natalia Solian, 2022. © XYZ Films /Courtesy Everett Natalia Solian in Huesera: The Bone Woman. (XYZ Films/Everett Collection)
Natalia Solian in Huesera: The Bone Woman. (XYZ Films/Everett Collection)

Impending motherhood is generally perceived as a blessed event — but for Valeria (Natalia Solián), it’s a source of anxiety and possibly supernatural visitation. Mexican filmmaker Michelle Garza Cervera, working from a script she wrote with Abia Castillo, digs deep into the many internal and external pressures afflicting Valeria after she becomes pregnant, with her growing doubts exacerbated by unnerving visions.

Themes of family and religion, sterling cinematic craft and a tremendous performance by Solián combine for an absorbing viewing experience that builds its horror slowly but inexorably to blood-chilling levels.

Huesera: The Bone Woman is streaming on Shudder.

Infinity Pool

Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgard in Infinity Pool. (Alamy/LMK)
Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgard in Infinity Pool. (Alamy/LMK)

Following Antiviral and Possessor, this third feature by Brandon Cronenberg confirms him as one of the most original talents on the current genre scene. His transgressive and perverse imagination is on full view as struggling writer James (Alexander Skarsgård) encounters a predatory admirer (horror's 'it girl' Mia Goth) while on vacation at a beach resort.

She leads him into some very dark and dangerous areas, literally and figuratively, resulting in body horror, deep psychological disturbance and an eventual break from reality into hallucinatory territory. It’s a wild ride that’s not for every taste, but a feast for anyone into strange, distinctive cinema.

Infinity Pool is streaming on NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership.

Raging Grace

Leanne Best, Max Eigenmann, David Hayman in Raging Grace. (Doppleganger Releasing/Everett Collection)
Leanne Best, Max Eigenmann, David Hayman in Raging Grace. (Doppleganger Releasing/Everett Collection)

Opening in UK cinemas December 29 just in time to qualify for this list, Paris Zarcilla’s remarkably assured debut feature is part of a subset of compelling recent fear films (also including His House and Nanny) that plumb the tensions of the immigrant experience.

The terrific Max Eigenmann plays Joy, an undocumented Filipina single mother struggling toward a better life for herself and her little daughter Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla). She lands a housekeeping job in an expansive London home where one of her tasks is to feed medicine to the owner’s vegetative uncle—and that’s all you should know about the story, which takes several genuinely surprising, startling turns.

The bloodcurdling developments mesh seamlessly with Joy’s struggles against smaller hostilities in a standout film that deserves wider discovery.

Raging Grace is in UK cinemas from 29 December.

Skinamarink

Skinamarink (IFC Midnight/Everett Collection)
Skinamarink (IFC Midnight/Everett Collection)

Love it or hate it — and lots of people had one or the other reaction — Kyle Edward Ball’s experimental exercise in elliptical fear was one of horror’s greatest conversation pieces of 2023. Tapping into childhood terrors elicited by odd noises late at night while trying to sleep, Ball creates the true feeling of a nightmare captured on film, as a couple of little kids discover that they’re alone in their home late at night, their parents gone, the doors by which they might exit missing... and something or someone ominous in there with them.

Showing us very little but suggesting volumes of impending doom via precise composition and unearthly sound design, Ball depends on his viewer’s minds to fill in the details of what’s going on, to the point where those up to that challenge might well find their own subsequent dreams becoming haunted.

Skinamarink is streaming on Shudder.

Talk To Me

Talk To Me (A24)
Talk To Me (A24)

Danny and Michael Philippou’s sleeper success works not just because the brothers came up with a chillingly original premise and develop it in fresh and frightening ways. The duo, who honed their craft on YouTube videos, sic their occult evil on a group of teen friends whose social-media-infused lives feel fully authentic in a way so few youth-oriented films manage to capture.

The time-honoured basic idea — reaching out to the spirit world leads the spirits to reach back in most unfriendly ways — is fleshed out for maximum suspense and shock value, unfolding with a kind of relentless dreadful logic that has you hoping the characters can escape the awful downward spiral they’ve become trapped in, while remaining horribly certain that things can only get worse.

Talk To Me is streaming on Netflix.

When Evil Lurks

WHEN EVIL LURKS, (aka CUANDO ACECHA LA MALDAD), Emilio Vodanovich, 2023. © IFC Films / Courtesy Everett Collection
Emilio Vodanovich in When Evil Lurks. (IFC Films/Everett Collection)

Argentine filmmaker Demián Rugna first made his rep with 2017’s Terrified, and that’s a pretty accurate descriptor of the experience of watching his latest feature. Frequently brutal and consistently uncompromising, Lurks takes us through a world where demonic possession is so commonplace that there are established rules and individuals to deal with them.

When a couple of rural civilians attempt to do such a job on their own, they unleash an awful malignance upon themselves, their loved ones and neighbours, their every attempt to solve the situation somehow making it worse. And we’re right along with them every step of the way, unable to take our eyes off the escalating ghastliness in which no-one — not even children or pets — is safe.

When Evil Lurks is streaming on Shudder.

Read more: The best of 2023

Watch a trailer for When Evil Lurks