Arts and Entertainment writer Justin Nguyen shares his favorite horror film recommendations to watch while practicing self-isolation in quarantine.
(Trigger Warning: Death, Gore, Suicide)
Horror might not be the genre most people would turn to in the middle of an international public health and sociopolitical crisis, but it’s where I can always find comfort, no matter the context. No other genre can depict the material and affective conditions of life in such creative fashion as horror can, and as a longtime fan, I’ve now had the chance to watch a host of new movies and revisit some old favorites. New or old, these are movies that express the embodied experience of isolation and the oppressive architectures of the home.
“A Tale of Two Sisters” (2003)
Kim Jee-woon’s psychological horror masterpiece follows teen sisters Bae Su-mi (Im Soo-jung) and Bae Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young) who return to their family’s gothic hilltop mansion after an unspecified period of absence, where they’re met by their distant father, a cold stepmother, and a few ghostly apparitions who appear at every room in their home. It’s an unrelenting slow burn that keeps its viewers in the dark for the bulk of its runtime, relying on atmosphere and the increasing strangeness of events that linger around each corner. As the sisters are forced to confront the literal and figurative ghosts of their past, tensions between the sisters and their stepmother are driven to their breaking point. By the end, you’ll never look at a dresser in the same way again. This movie is available for streaming on Shudder.
Not only is Matthew Holness’s “Possum” the most recent film on this list, but it’s also the scariest. A former children’s puppeteer named Philip (Sean Harris) returns to his decaying childhood home in the countryside after a fall from grace to dispose of a mysterious suitcase containing one of his creations. After a local boy goes missing, questions arise from Philip’s creepy uncle Maurice (Alun Armstrong) around the family’s past and Philip’s possible culpability. Both likely suspects, Philip and Maurice are fantastic counterparts, with their bodies and faces mirroring the grime and decay of their decrepit home. Like “A Tale of Two Sisters,” “Possum” reveals its secrets at an agonizingly glacial pace, but it culminates in one of the most brutal and horrifying twists in recent horror memory. This movie is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Kairo” is not so much a traditional haunted house movie as it is a meditation on isolation and the home as a space of withdrawal in the early computer age. Kurosawa might have initially made “Kairo” in response to his anxieties around the coming of new media and the widespread social isolation it might inspire, but the film’s pertinence is perhaps greater now than ever in the real context of quarantine and our ever-increasing reliance on technology — and my ironic writing of this listicle. The film follows a group of twentysomethings who, after one of their co-workers goes missing, discover a cyber curse that induces anyone who comes across it to commit suicide. Coming out of the golden age of Japanese horror, “Kairo” features some of the most unsettling sequences of both spectral and virtual encounters of any film from the period. It’s a must-watch for any horror fan, just maybe not too late at night. This movie is available for streaming on Tubi.
Who said haunted house movies have to be scary? Inspired by his then 10-year-old daughter’s fears of being attacked by her mirrored self, the late Nobuhiko Obayashi created this cult classic. A visual feast of mindless campy fun, the film follows Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami), a high school girl who invites her group of similarly oddly-named girlfriends to her aunt’s mansion for the summer. After two of the girls go missing, the group realizes that Gorgeous’s aunt might not be who she seems, and the rest is a chaotic fever dream of devilish kills as different parts of the house try to consume the girls alive. This movie is available for streaming on The Criterion Channel.
“The VVitch” (2015)
Last year’s “The Lighthouse” might have provided quality meme fodder for the psychological effects of self-quarantine, but director Robert Eggers’s first feature “The Witch,” stylized as “The VVitch,” is much more effective in its unnerving depiction of a family in isolation in colonial New England. Cast away from their colony as a result of father William’s (Ralph Ineson) aberrant religious beliefs, a family must survive on their own in the harsh New England wilderness. After their youngest child goes missing at the edge of the forest, a series of hardships falls upon the family and they slowly descend into paranoia, blaming their eldest daughter of the witchcraft producing their misfortune. “The Witch” is a masterclass in atmosphere and tension, with Eggers’s deep attention to historical accuracy lending itself to the suffocating landscape of the colonial wilderness. This movie is available for streaming on Netflix.
Images courtesy of Slant Magazine, Film Threat, Bloody Disgusting, Scream Horror Magazine, Film School Rejects
Art by Anthony Tran for the UCSD Guardian.