Debate Club: Best Netflix horror

Debate Club: Netflix's best original horror films

Contributed by
Feb 6, 2019

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

Last week, we combed through Netflix's streaming options to pick the best original sci-fi and thriller films.

This week, we turn our attention to the studio's finest horror flicks. What's striking about our Top Five is that they take risks that might make these movies too difficult to get financed by traditional studios, even if they come from respected genre filmmakers or beloved horror authors.

High-profile movies like Bird Box and Velvet Buzzsaw have gotten more press, but below we salute the best of the bunch, many of them waiting to be discovered.

Before I Wake, Netflix

Before I Wake (2016)

Netflix swooped in to rescue this long-shelved horror film about grieving parents (Kate Bosworth, Thomas Jane) who adopt a young boy (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) with a disturbing power: he can conjure up their dead son.

Before I Wake was directed and co-written by Mike Flanagan, who has become one of the genre's most exciting new voices. Since crafting this mournful, eerie family drama, he's worked with the streaming colossus to adapt Stephen King's Gerald’s Game and the acclaimed 2018 series The Haunting of Hill House (based on the Shirley Jackson novel). He's a master of mood and emotion, leaving the cheap jump-scares to others.

Ravenous (Les Affamés), Netflix

Ravenous (2017)

Not to be confused with the (excellent) 1999 Guy Pearce/Antonia Bird film, this is a Canadian zombie thriller with a twist: the infected seem to follow a certain specific logic... but it's nearly impossible to tell what it is.

Ravenous is minimalist, almost slow cinema, which makes the inevitable shocks land even harder. It's a prickly little movie, not like any other zombie film you've seen — which is the best reason to watch it.

Apostle, Netflix

Apostle (2018)

Gareth Evans' follow-up to The Raid 2 isn't as viscerally thrilling as that film — honestly, what is? — but it's still an effective, spooky tale of a man (Dan Stevens) in the early 20th century trying to track down his sister, who may have been abducted by a cult.

The movie has Wicker Man vibes that Evans is happy to indulge, but there's a deeper vision here that slowly unveils. It's modest — maybe too modest after The Raid 2 — but it works.

Gerald's Game, Netflix

Gerald's Game (2017)

This Stephen King adaptation is reportedly one of Netflix's most popular movies, and with good reason: it has an absolutely killer premise, where a woman (Carla Gugino, who's fantastic) is tied to a bed by her amorous but abusive husband (Bruce Greenwood), who has a heart attack and dies.

The movie then becomes a survival tale, and it's harrowing and focused and extremely powerful. This is quietly one of the very best King horror adaptations.

CAM, Netflix

CAM (2018)

The ideas are just as upsetting as the scare scenes in CAM.

Longtime friends Daniel Goldhaber (director) and Isa Mazzei (screenwriter) chronicle the misadventures of Alice (Madeline Brewer), a successful cam girl who discovers that her online persona has developed a life of its own, which she can no longer control.

Based in part on Mazzei's own experiences, this psychological horror film plays with notions of identity in our social-media error — how the image we project to the world is often not representative of the real "us" — while exploring the relationship sex workers have with their clients. It's a smart, twisty film that feels increasingly relevant as we give more and more of ourselves away online.

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

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