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Best horrors
Photograph: Time Out

The best new horror movies of 2023 (so far)

The big-screen chillers that have scared us senseless this year

Written by
Sean McGeady
Contributors
Gil Camargo
,
Helen O’Hara
,
Phil de Semlyen
&
Stephen A Russell
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Emerging from the pink-and-grey phenomenon that was Barbenheimer like a hand emerging from the ground, ace Aussie chiller Talk to Me is the latest in a broad array of horror movies to storm, creep and skulk into our cinemas this year. There have been atmospheric supernatural meditations (Enys Men), slowburn freak-outs (Infinity Pool, Knock at the Cabin), demonic deluges (Evil Dead Rise, The Boogeyman) and meme-worthy horror comedies with tongues in their cheek and menace in their hearts (M3GAN). Even a few of the non-horror films, Beau Is AfraidTár and Oppenheimer among them, have lent into the ghostly trappings of the genre.

In short, we’ve never been too far from a satisfyingly upsetting night at the pictures so far in 2023. Not everything has landed, admittedly, with Scream VI showing its age, Insidious: The Red Door creaking on its hinges and Winnie the Pooh: Blood And Honey probably causing AA Milne to turn in his grave. But the good has firmly outweighed the bad, and gorehounds, Dead Heads and genre aficionados have had plenty of reasons to celebrate – and it’s not even Halloween yet. Here’s our pick of the best of the year so far.  

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Best new horror movies

  • Film
  • Horror

‘Mommy’s with the maggots now.’ Director Lee Cronin keeps it in the family in this franchise revival, as he relocates the torment from a blood-spattered shack in the woods to a dilapidated LA high-rise. But Dead Heads need not worry: Rise captures the spirit of the series – and then some. Cronin forces the best of Sam Raimi and Fede Álvarez’s movies into a wood-chipper, scoops up the resulting viscera and reassembles it as his own marauding modern remix, packed with as many fresh ideas as it has gory callbacks.

No One Will Save You
Photograph: 20th Century Studios

2. No One Will Save You

​Last year it was Preythis year it's this brilliantly jittery home-invasion horror that takes the mantle of Movie That Really Deserved A Big-Screen Release (Instead Of Just Being Dumped On Hulu). Booksmart's Kaitlyn Dever is a traumatised shut-in whose remote house is suddenly stalked by terrifying extra-terrestrials, and who doesn't even have an intrepid dog for moral support. Directed by Brian Duffield with show-don't-tell economy (it's almost entirely dialogue-free), No One Will Save You wears its influences on its sleeve – Invasion of the Body SnatchersSigns, A Quiet Place etc – but still feels fresh and genuinely creepy.
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  • Film

It’s a case of ‘like father, like son’ in Brandon ‘son of David’ Cronenberg’s ingenious and disturbing sci-fi, a movie that enshrines Mia Goth as the year’s undisputed queen of horror (and everything else, tbh). Goth plays the kind of femme fatale who always seems to lead innocents like Alexander Skarsgård’s holidaying novelist into deep bother in movies – and so it proves, although in even more dark and demented ways than you might expect. The fusion of Philip K Dick-adjacent social satire with Cronenbergian body horror makes for a deliciously compelling and icky watch.

Skinamarink
Photograph: Shudder

4. Skinamarink

Story is secondary to feel in this suffocating nano-budget hell experiment. Skinamarink invites you to spend a night on the carpet with Kevin and Kaylee, whose parents are missing and whose house has its own ideas of playtime. The film’s swirling artificial grain conceals threats and gives rise to new ones – stare at Skinamarink long enough and you’ll start seeing things that aren’t there. Scarier still, director Kyle Edward Ball says there’s something buried in the background that no audience has ever noticed. Slow cinema has never been more unsettling.

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  • Film
  • Horror

Freaky dolls never fail on screen, especially when they’re as inventively designed and hilariously malevolent as the psychotic A.I. in this wildly entertaining Blumhouse ride. For a brief moment at the beginning of the year, the usually unnervingly statuesque M3GAN danced across our timelines as a viral sensation. But the movie, starring Get Outs Allison Williams as a self-absorbed toy designer who creates an indestructible but, well, totes adorbs monster, is far more than just a fleeting social media phenomenon. With modern horror master James Wan behind the story, it plays on our fears of sentient tech in a way that had us pining for Alien’s milk-spewing corporate droid Ash.  A sequel is already on its way – and probably more than one.

  • Film
  • Horror

Best known for their YouTube channel RackaRacka, twin brothers Danny and Michael Philippou have a sick sense of humour. Their A24-approved debut feature concerns an embalmed hand that grants its teen users a reception with the dead. Let the idle spirits in for longer than 90 seconds, though, and they might decide to stay. Thankfully for fans of destabilising dread, savage gore and cameras panning slowly across dark rooms, the teens’ timekeeping is a little sloppy. Standby for some of the grisliest possession scenes you’ll see all year.

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Saw X
Photograph: Alexandro Bolanos Escamilla/Lionsgate

7. Saw X

After the wild swings of Spiral, the Saw franchise returned to original villain John ‘Jigsaw’ Kramer (Tobin Bell). The ailing Kramer is fooled by a medical scam and enacts bloody revenge on thoseresponsible. Cue incredibly intricate traps and chilling body horror, but also murky questions about who’s worse: torturer or victims. It’s icky, but in a way the fans loved.

  • Film

Whether she’s fraternising with an alligator or dry-humping a scarecrow, Mia Goth always commits to the bit. She plays Pearl with unhinged glee in this dusty prequel to Ti West’s X and the upcoming MaXXXine. Set on a Texas farmstead in 1918, the film glides from the glorious to the gross-out – tipping its cap to Golden Age Hollywood musicals en route – as Pearl is corrupted on her quest to become a chorus girl. Stick around for the most unnerving end credits you’ve ever seen.

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  • Film
  • Horror

M Night Shyamalan’s best film since Signs skips shocks and dials down the twists in favour of atmospherics and slow-building dread. Essentially a one-set chamber piece, it has four mysterious strangers intruding on a couple’s rural retreat demanding a human sacrifice in order to stave off the Apocalypse. It’s the kind of Book-of-Revelation-level craziness they don’t tell you about on Airbnb. Knock at the Cabin sees a talented filmmaker stripping things back to their essence: mood, blocking, acting and sound design, as he keeps you firmly in the shoes of the frazzled pair at its heart and wondering why Dave Bautista is standing in their front room with a halberd. 

  • Film
  • Horror

This anti-idyll set on a Cornish island is a folk horror-inspired mystery that’s hypnotically unsettling. It follows Mary Woodvine’s wildlife volunteer as she gets to grips with an bizarre flower and life in isolation, and comes veiled in a fog of Tarkovsky-esque enigma and reverberates with the threat of something truly terrible unfolding – much in the spirit of The Wicker Man. In short: it could only be the handiwork of Mark Jenkin, a director capable of putting his own unique spin on influences that would overwhelm less assured filmmakers. Shot on 16mm film and full of handcrafted ’70s aesthetics, the mystical vibes are powerful enough to turn us all into druids.

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Huesera: The Bone Woman
Photograph: Cinépolis Distribución

11. Huesera: The Bone Woman

A big hit in its homeland last year, this debut horror film from Mexico City-based director Michelle Garza Cervera is built around a chilling but universal story of motherhood and femininity. Valeria (Natalia Solián) is a woman trying to fit in and hide her past, but her pregnancy awaken something sinister that won’t leave her at peace. And before you can say ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, her life has spiralled into demonic chaos. The sound design is impeccable – the cracking of bones will haunt your nightmares – and there’s barely a moment when you don’t feel bodily chills. The scares are never cheap, though – there’s real elegance in its use of horror tropes to unpick the grim judgment of society.

  • Film
  • Horror

It’s no shock that, after decades of callbacks to German Expressionism and silent cinema, Nicolas Cage was finally cast as the Prince of Darkness. But this ain’t your daddy’s Dracula. Instead, Renfield focuses more on the Count’s bug-eating familiar, with Nicolas Hoult’s gaslit servant attending group therapy sessions and trying to shake off his narcissistic boss. The schlock-comedy action is toothless but Renfield is worth watching just to see Cage vamp – what better way to chew the scenery than with a mouth full of Nosferatu-style fangs?

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  • Film
  • Comedy

‘I’m a proud Black woman,’ says Neve (Ashley Madekwe). Her actions say otherwise. Low-key dread gives way to a riveting home invasion thriller in this stylish exploration of class betrayal and the British POC experience from first-time writer-director Nat Martello-White. Having fled a difficult life in London years earlier, Neve has ensconced herself in an all-white Wiltshire village, where she stifles her identity for the sake of socialites that will never truly accept her. That is, until her past crashes the party.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter
Photograph: Studiocanal

14. The Last Voyage of the Demeter

Our undying fascination with vampire mythos across continents and millennia is undeniable. So it is that screenwriter Zsak Olkewicz and Bragi F Schut spun a short newspaper clipping and a captain’s log from Bram Stoker’s epistolary novel Dracula into an Alien-alike, two-hour haunted house at sea movie helmed by Troll Hunter director André Øvredal. If it’s not quite as fun as his grim fable, there are still thrills to be had as the prince of darkness – Javier Botet, part-Nosferatu, part-bat Gary Oldman in design, way too much CGI – picks off the crew led by Game of Thrones actor Liam Cunningham’s captain one-by-one. Could be bloodier, but still has bite. 

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We Have a Ghost
Photograph: Netflix

15. We Have a Ghost

Christopher Landon helped resuscitate the slasher genre with 2017’s Happy Death Day and 2020’s Freaky. Here, the writer-director puts down the knives and dials up the whimsy for an Amblin-style adventure in which a teenager must defend a mute ghost, Ernest, from the CIA, as well as a dad with dollar signs in his eyes. The highlight comes as the internet learns about the spirit in the attic and we get a montage of rib-ticklingly accurate Ernie-related TikTok memes. 

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