10 of the Best Genre Films of the Past Decade

The term “genre film” is somewhat hard to pin down. It refers to films that are horror, sci-fi, thriller, western, action, or some mix of these (as is usually the case), but not all films in these genres are genre films. There’s a certain quality to genre films that you just realize after seeing enough of them. Maybe it’s the way they play with tropes so you get something you didn’t expect. Maybe they double down on the genre and breathe fresh life into it. Whatever those specific qualities may be, I know a genre film when I see one, and they make up some of my favorite movies. Here are ten of the best genre films of the past ten years.

10 Cloverfield Lane

Courtesy of The Verge

Courtesy of The Verge

I was invested in 10 Cloverfield Lane before I knew what it really was. Originally titled Valencia when pre-production started, 10 Cloverfield Lane follows Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as she wakes up in an underground bunker with the paranoid Howard (John Goodman) and seemingly-too-laid-back-about-it-all Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.). Howard tells her there’s been some sort of chemical attack above ground, and that he’s rescued her from a car crash. As the film progresses, we learn that may not be entirely true. One of the greatest elements of 10CL is that we never know the truth until Michelle does. We learn what she learns. There’s no dramatic irony to be found here, making 10 Cloverfield incredibly tense all the way through. Even in the quieter moments, you feel something isn’t quite right. Director Dan Trachtenberg deftly guides us through the film. I saw it twice in theaters, and neither experience felt poorly paced. I was surprised when the ending came, in disbelief that 104 minutes had already passed. 10 Cloverfield is one of the more popular genre films in recent memory, and should not be missed.

Bone Tomahawk

Courtesy of Village Voice

Courtesy of Village Voice

Bone Tomahawk is an interesting blend of genres. It’s not too often we get a horror crossed with a western, but S. Craig Zahler certainly pulls it off. Bone Tomahawk follows four men as they set out to rescue some townspeople from a group of cannibals. The cast is really wonderful, featuring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, and Matthew Fox (who’s really been under the radar lately). Bone Tomahawk is a slow-burn horror film, which, when crafted right, results in a great payoff. Zahler doesn’t fill every second of the movie with terror. Instead, we get brief glimpses into the horror the cannibals present, and it simmers, building up for the finale. Another aspect of this film I really enjoy is the subdued music. Music is really important for a horror film. Too much can throw off a scene, and slight missteps can ever-so-slightly affect the experience. Bone Tomahawk balances its visuals and its music, neither overpowering the other. I didn’t hear a lot of buzz for Bone Tomahawk, but the response I did see was overwhelmingly positive. I have to agree. This film should be high on your list if you haven’t already seen it. If not for the content, do it for Kurt Russell’s incredible beard.

Coherence

Courtesy of Movie Nation

Courtesy of Movie Nation

Coherence is an excellent example of what you can do with limited resources. The film follows a group of friends getting together for a dinner party. They start talking about the comet that’s going to pass over them that night. When the comet enters the sky, the night takes a turn for the worse. Writer-director James Ward Byrkit captures naturalistic performances. While it certainly helps to have lesser-known actors and actresses for each role, I never felt like I was watching a performance. I was watching a group of friends reconnect and struggle as the night worsens. There’s a slight puzzle element to the narrative as well. I can’t really say anything about it without spoiling an important plot point, but trying to follow it as the story plays out makes the film all the more engrossing. Just when you think everything is in place, the plot twists, leaving you to put the pieces back together again. Coherence is a captivating sci-fi film that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Dredd

Dredd gained a lot of attention when it came out on Blu-Ray and DVD. A box office disappointment, Dredd is now something of a cult flick, a rightfully so. Dredd‘s location feels similar to The Raid in that the film takes place within a concrete tower. However, whereas The Raid‘s action is more calculated, Dredd feels more balls-to-the-walls. It’s not the craziest stuff you’ll ever see, but it’s one hell of a ride. The slow-motion is gorgeous, with saturated colors filling your view. Karl Urban is a perfect fit as Judge Dredd. His gravelly voice combined with being a veritable badass of the law makes for compelling character. His Judge-in-training, played by Olivia Thirlby, has some tricks of her own. I didn’t know what to make of their pairing before watching the film, but they work well together on screen. Dredd isn’t a perfect movie, and it has plenty of elements we’ve seen before. The way Dredd makes use of these elements is what’s noteworthy. If you want an ass-kicking good time, Dredd is the film for you.

Green Room

Courtesy of artsBHAM

Courtesy of artsBHAM

Green Room was one of my most anticipated movies of this year. You’d think that much hype would inevitably let a person down, but I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. Green Room follows a small punk band that decides to play a venue full of white supremacists, as they desperately need the cash. Just as they’re about to leave, one of the band members (Anton Yelchin) discovers a dead body, resulting in the whole band being held hostage. Part horror and part thriller, writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s bone-crunching flick gets the heart pounding. Every exchange between the band and the leaders of the group (which includes a terrifying performance from Sir Patrick Stewart) is tense. Each interaction makes you question what the supremacists are waiting for and how the band could possibly escape. As much as I love the film, it’s not without its shortcomings (mainly in the character department). However, that’s not too big of a problem for this film. The characters don’t really need to be completely fleshed out, as the focus of the film lies on the grander plot rather than the characters themselves. Despite this, Green Room is absolutely captivating. You might as well start the film on the edge of your seat because that’s where you’ll be for most of it.

John Wick

Courtesy of Collider

Courtesy of Collider

John Wick is another film that, while not a box office disappointment, got much of its current reputation from home video sales. The film follows aptly-named John Wick, a retired hitman who gets thrown back into the business when some gangsters beat him up and kill his dog, which was given to him by his late wife. If I were John Wick, I’d be pissed too. I’m usually not very animated during movies. I might shift in my seat a little, but I’m not moving more than that. John Wick got me up on my feet several times as I watched Wick fight for his own justice. The intense action and drive of the character really got my blood pumping. Every hit, every gunshot, and every stab boosted my adrenaline. The tension between fight sequences kept the feeling going, keeping me on my toes. John Wick was helmed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, both former stuntmen and stunt coordinators. The experience they had from those positions really helps to not only legitimize the action more than typical Hollywood flair, but to create hard-hitting action sequences. Similarly, Keanu Reeves’ dedication to role conveys the physicality of every scene, and makes Wick a character we can really empathize with.

Resolution / Spring

Courtesy of The AV Club

Courtesy of The AV Club

Resolution and Spring are two excellent films from the team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Benson and Moorhead co-direct, Benson writes, and Moorhead does cinematography, and both take on other positions as well, such as producing and editing with other crew members. Resolution is a meta-horror film about two friends. Chris (Vinny Curran) has fallen off track. He lives in an abandoned house and has a drug problem. Michael (Peter Cilella) takes it upon himself to help Chris. He holds Chris hostage in the abandoned house in an attempt to break Chris’ addiction. When I first saw Resolution, I thought it was a drama. Why was it categorized as a horror film? It was still a good movie, but I was confused. It wasn’t until the last twenty to thirty minutes of the film that I started to see the bigger picture. I can’t say too much without spoiling the film, but everything that happens at the end of the movie makes you reconsider the film as a whole.

Courtesy of Drafthouse Films

Courtesy of Drafthouse Films

Spring is much more upfront about its content, but it’s still portrayed in a more subdued manner. The horror is built up scene by scene, each one giving us a little bit more. Spring follows Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci), who recently lost his mother. In an attempt to escape it all, he goes to Italy, where he begins working on a farm. During his time there, he meets a girl who isn’t exactly who she says she is. A blend of horror, romance, and sci-fi, Spring breaks the traditional horror mold is more of a character piece that includes horror rather than the other way around.

I’ve included Resolution and Spring together not only because they share the same team of creators, but because of their content in relation to other recent horror films. While there are plenty of great non-stop horror films available, Resolution and Spring offer dialed back takes on horror and other genres, and are impressive films in their own rights.

Snowpiercer

Courtesy of Newcity Film

Courtesy of Newcity Film

Many sci-fi films suffer from being too bluntly sci-fi. They throw every trope you can think of in your face, as though sci-fi hasn’t advanced at all in the past thirty years. The best sci-fi films include science fiction as an integral part of the story, not as a novelty. Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer takes place during a post-apocalyptic winter, a result of climate engineering gone wrong. What was left of the population now lives on Snowpiercer, a train that runs perpetually, sustaining the life it carries. The front of the train is for the upper class as they live lavishly, with plenty of food and leisure time. The back of the train is consumed by poverty. They eat manufactured bricks of black sludge and spend their time under surveillance by upper-class guards. For the back, enough is enough. They start a revolt, battling their way to the front of the train. Snowpiercer‘s existence does not depend on science fiction. Rather, sci-fi serves as a framework for a story of class warfare. The action is hard-hitting and enhanced by captivating cinematography, making the film easily memorable and rewatchable.

Under the Skin

Courtesy of Wallpaper Abyss

Courtesy of Wallpaper Abyss

I have difficulty trying to come up with a meaningful tagline for Under the Skin. Scarlett Johansson is a nameless woman in Scotland who seduces men at night, brings them back to her house, and harvests them. That doesn’t even get down to the core of what this movie is about. Under the Skin is haunting and deeply atmospheric. For many genre fans, not much in Under the Skin is particularly excessive, or even close to being over-the-top. There are a few scenes that are particularly disturbing, but the unsettling nature of the film is thanks to the finely-crafted atmosphere and Johansson’s performance. She doesn’t have much dialogue in the film, so we rely on her ability to communicate purely through facial expression. Under the Skin showcases a fantastic performance from Johansson. It’s one of the best examples of “show, not tell” as far as the medium is concerned. We see every moment as Johansson’s character begins to understand the situation she’s in, which connects nicely to earlier events in the film. If you’re looking for something a little more abstract, Under the Skin could be the perfect fit.

The Witch

Courtesy of ComingSoon.net

Courtesy of ComingSoon.net

I was very excited for The Witch to come out. I watched the trailer multiple times leading up to its release, showing it to all my friends to try and get them on board. I monitored all the local movie theaters, checking every day to see if they’d updated their movie times. The first theater didn’t have it. The second theater didn’t have it. In typical cliché fashion, the third theater was showing it. I made plans immediately, and was at the theater that weekend. Like Green Room, I almost expected my own excitement to result in an inevitable disappointment. Luckily, I was wrong. The Witch is very tense. Taking place right on the verge of the Salem witch trials, The Witch introduces us to a family that loses a baby. Hysteria grips the mother, and accusations of witchcraft are made, dividing the family. It’s an atmospheric, slow burn. The forest on the edge of the family’s property looms over us as it does them, drawing us into its darkness. The Witch is a terrifying portrayal of the fear that consumed 17th century New England.

There you have it. There are plenty of fantastic genre films from the past decade, but this list (hopefully) captures a diverse range of them. What are some of your favorite genre films?