Horror Film Watchlists

Eight understated horror gems you can watch on UK streaming services right now

There’s no shortage of horror to be found on film and TV streaming services, particularly the likes of Shudder, which specialises in the genre. But much of what’s on offer leans towards the lurid, gory type. The nine films I’ve selected below, on the other hand, typify the quieter, more understated – perhaps more literary – side of the genre. If you’re looking for something new to watch on those quiet lockdown nights, perhaps one of these will fit the bill…

November (dir. Rainer Sarnet, 2017)

November boasts a thrillingly audacious and bizarre opening scene, and maintains its fantastic style and pace from there, delivering a consistently surprising, strange, and visually stunning combination of fairytale and folk horror. In a medieval Estonian village, a peasant girl tries to use magic to cast a love spell, while the object of her affection lusts after a rich landowner’s daughter. Meanwhile, the village elders attempt to control their “kratts” – bundles of inanimate objects given life by a deal with the Devil himself. Shot with a sublime arthouse sensibility in striking black and white, it’s simultaneously gorgeous, absurd, and funny. Think a mixture of The Witch, Midsommar and Under the Skin, directed by Roy Andersson and watched over by the spectre of Ingmar Bergman.

Available on: Amazon Prime Video

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Soulmate (dir. Axelle Carolyn, 2013)

You don’t often come across a horror film in which there’s great chemistry between a ghost and the person they’re haunting. Then again, Soulmate isn’t your typical ghost story. A musician decamps to a rural cottage to recuperate after a bereavement; there, she begins to experience strange, but not entirely unwelcome, visitations. Director and writer Axelle Carolyn crafts a quietly beautiful film, the camera pausing to take in the picturesque Welsh countryside, the music elegantly disconcerting. It could almost be a love story… but there’s a sting in its tail. There’s something refreshingly old-fashioned, slow and considered about Soulmate, which is as much an exploration of grief and vulnerability as it is a ghostly tale.

Available on: Shudder

The Noonday Witch (dir. Jiri Sádek, 2016)

In the midst of a scorching summer, Eliška and her daughter Anetka move to a small rural community. Eliška struggles to bond with the locals, and Anetka sees an imposing, black-clad woman striding across the fields at the stroke of noon. The Noonday Witch or Polednice, also known as Lady Midday, is a figure in Slavic folklore – said to appear at the hottest and brightest point of the day – who seems to embody the disorientation one can experience in extreme heat. There’s plenty of that on display here, as every sun-baked shot evokes the oppressiveness of hot, dry weather. Concerning itself more with character and emotion than scares, The Noonday Witch is an effective mood piece that carefully unravels the secrets between mother and daughter.

Available on: Shudder

Don’t Leave Home (dir. Michael Tully, 2018)

An American artist who makes dioramas creates a show about mysterious disappearances, including one that happened in Ireland 30 years ago. She’s then contacted by the priest involved in the case, who wants to commission her to create a new piece. When she travels to Ireland, she finds herself alone among a very odd group of people, and experiencing repeated nightmarish visions. By turns magical and chilling, Don’t Leave Home is one of the quieter gems available on Shudder – a film that doesn’t necessarily fit the stereotypical definition of “horror”, but instead trades in the unsettling, the disquieting and the subtly weird.

Available on: Shudder

The Promise (dir. Sophon Sakdaphisit, 2017)

In 1997, two teenage girls make a suicide pact after their families’ livelihoods, both tied up in the construction of an immense tower block in Bangkok, are ruined by the financial crisis across East and Southeast Asia. One goes through with it; the other doesn’t. 20 years later the survivor, Boum, intends to sell the building but revisiting it disturbs the vengeful ghost of her friend, Ib. The Promise is a beautifully made film, full of vertigo-inducing shots of the abandoned tower (which is famous, and reputedly haunted, in real life). It’s also effectively creepy – watch out for the truly hair-raising sleepwalking scenes.

Available on: Netflix

The Hole in the Ground (dir. Lee Cronin, 2019)

Hoping to start afresh after an abusive relationship, Sarah moves to a house on the edge of a forest in the Irish countryside. A new problem presents itself when her son Chris starts to act strangely, and as his bad behaviour escalates, she comes to believe the boy in her house is not her son. While this premise is hardly new ground for horror, The Hole in the Ground is always compelling and often unnerving: it uses movement and sound to great effect, and is so gripping and self-assured it seems to zip by in minutes. It’s all anchored by an excellent performance from Seána Kerslake as Sarah. If you liked The Babadook, give this one a try.

Available on: Netflix

Atlantics (dir. Mati Diop, 2019)

While Mati Diop’s feature debut straddles multiple genres, it is undeniably a ghost story (and perhaps most rewarding when treated as such). In Dakar, Senegal, 17-year-old Ada’s marriage to a wealthy man has been arranged, but she is in love with Souleiman, one of many labourers working on a futuristic structure looming over the city. When a group of the workers disappear at sea, they are presumed to have drowned. However, this is not the last Ada will see of Souleiman. The most distinctive element of Atlantics is its astonishing cinematography (by Claire Mathon, who also worked on Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire), which adds a mysterious yet romantic quality to every frame. The resulting atmosphere will stay with you long after watching.

Available on: Netflix

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (dir. Oz Perkins, 2016)

Lily is a hospice nurse, employed to care for an elderly author named Iris Blum. Already uneasy in the creaky old house, Lily is further perturbed by Iris’s insistence on calling her “Polly” – the name of a character in one of her novels: The Lady in the Walls. By this point, we’ve already seen Lily notice mould on the walls, bubbles in the paint, and hear soft knocking in the night… Oz Perkins’ outstanding film plays with intertextuality within its own boundaries, meaning a constant revision of perceptions is necessary. It’s in its slowness, deliberation and cleverness that I Am the Pretty Thing really excels. Perkins saturates everything in unease, uses surrealism sparingly, and knows how to employ darkness and absence. The result is a film that is deathly quiet yet absolutely terrifying.

Available on: Netflix

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