The indie darling A24 is known for bringing us some of the most critically acclaimed horror films of recent years. Often challenging and experimental, their films are notable for the variety of ways they approach the genre. Reflecting on everything from family, trauma, and loss to the terrifying beings that can lurk in the recesses of our subconscious, the horror films with the A24 stamp are largely memorable. They challenge the form and offer up fresh new visions that leave us with exciting new ideas bouncing around in our heads as a result. Here are A24’s 20 horror films ranked from worst to best.
The unparalleled worst of all the films on this list, it is hard to even fully consider Kevin Smith’s Tusk a movie. An idea born out of a podcast, that perhaps should have stayed there, it places us with Justin Long’s insufferable Wallace on a journey to Canada. Wallace is an arrogant and generally unlikeable podcaster who is making the trip to interview a strange, reclusive man for his show. When he arrives, he discovers not everything is what it seems as the man seeks to turn him into a walrus. As Smith himself described it, the film is a “more cuddly version of Human Centipede.”
The most notable aspect of the 2014 film is that it certainly challenges the idea of what can actually count as a film. The whole thing feels like a long punchline that doesn’t have the good sense to end. It is, quite literally, a stoned thought turned into a feature. It is defined by something resembling eccentricity and becomes the most boorish body horror film you’ll ever see. The film gets far too side-tracked including in a prolonged Johnny Depp cameo that just keeps on going until you wish it would all stop. Smith certainly gets points for how he somehow tricked all these people into making it with him, though the end result lands with a dull splash.
In what was just narrowly better than last place, Slice is a film that managed to get a lot of talent involved though it ended up with almost nothing to show for it. The most goofy of all horror comedies, it is set in a small town where a series of mysterious murders of pizza deliverymen mark the signs of something seriously wrong for the area’s residents. There is an intrepid journalist, some bumbling detectives, cheesy effects and it feels like it was trying to be a cult film without ever actually having the good craft to back it up.
It never really does anything interesting with the tropes of the genre, more often playing into them as opposed to taking them in a new direction. A stoner comedy without any degree of cleverness, it is about as entertaining as being trapped with a friend who got high and rambled about his idea for a script. Such stoner comedies can and have been great, though they were actually funny. This is almost entirely unfunny with hardly a laugh to be found anywhere. There might be a few jokes here or there that land out of sheer volume, though it never really makes any impression before you get hit with a deluge of bits that are met with silence. Horror and comedy can go together, see this year’s hilarious Werewolves Within, though Slice would have been better off if it was left on the cutting room floor.
Life After Beth
Speaking of other horror comedies, the charming but meandering Life After Beth is one that has a lot of good within it even as it ranks so low on this list. It follows Dane DeHaan as Zach who is struggling with the accidental death of his girlfriend. The titular Beth, played by an outstanding Aubrey Plaza, then returns from beyond the grave and re-enters Zach’s life. The troubled lovers will have to work through their fraught relationship and figure out what is going on with her. It is that dynamic that is the core of the film and is equal parts funny as it is engaging. It holds a sweet spot in my heart, though that can’t overcome the rest of what drags it all down to an early grave.
It is still by no means terrible as the performances of all the cast are universally solid. In particular, Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly as Beth’s parents hit all the right comedic notes. It gets very dark, though not in a way that feels out of place. It should have worked far better, though it just becomes far too repetitive and disjointed. Plaza is a good actor to build a film around as she has been absolutely stellar in subsequent films like Ingrid Goes West. This film just begins to lose steam and can’t regain it. What would have worked as a great sketch or short film gets stretched until it almost breaks.
A straightforward and typical monster flick with a title that tells you most of what you need to know, The Monster is a road trip journey interrupted when a mother hits an animal on the road while driving with her daughter. Before this, mother Kathy (Zoe Kazan) and daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) already have a strained relationship. Much of this stems from Kathy’s alcoholism that Lizzy bears the brunt of, often having to be the adult in the relationship and take care of the parental figure who is supposed to be there for her. That will all come into focus when they remain stranded on the road awaiting help as some sort of beast lurks in the forest. Together, the duo will have to find a way to work together and survive the threat facing them.
Writer and director Bryan Bertino has made some interesting work, with last year’s The Dark and the Wicked being particularly praiseworthy, though that never quite materializes here. Everything plays out about as you would expect with some added degree of emotional growth conveyed through flashback. It just lacks a deeper impact, both in its scares and its story. It is completely uninterested in going down any new paths, instead becoming increasingly predictable and even leaning into moments that fully lose themselves in cliché. It is aggressively simple in its execution. Simple isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t going to blow anyone away.
The Hole in the Ground
An entry that fully leans into the creepy as hell kid vein of horror, The Hole in the Ground is about that and so much more. It follows single mother Sarah (Seána Kerslake) who lives with her son Chris (James Quinn Markey) in the rural Irish countryside. One night, Chris disappears behind their home and comes back behaving rather differently. This leads Sarah to believe he may be an imposter and that it is somehow all tied to the titular hole that is in the forest near their home. It soon becomes a psychological nightmare where Sarah begins to notice Chris doing very un-childlike things though she struggles to trust herself in what she is seeing.
To its credit, the film does a competent enough job of messing with some of your expectations and has many strikingly horrifying visuals that carry the film through a largely unoriginal story. It never loses your attention as you get drawn deeper in, though you come out the other side feeling like it just missed out on all it could have been. The parental fears of losing your child or, perhaps worse, not being able to recognize them anymore is a story full of potential. Potential that, regrettably, never gets realized. There is a good final note that it all ends on, though the journey in which you get there is where it falls into its own narrative pit of playing it safe.