WARNING! This second installment of The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen is not for the squeamish. But if you’re a fan of horror, then you simply must track down the films that comprise the best of the “New French Extremism” genre that has arisen in the new millennium. Films like High Tension (2003), Frontieres (2007), Inside (2007), and Martyrs (2008) pack a cinematic wallop like nothing you’ve ever seen before. I’m not one of those snobs that think foreign films are superior to home-grown ones by definition. But not only do these films make Saw and Hostel look like an ABC Afterschool Special, they do it in ways that truly push the boundaries of how cinema can impact an audience. Yes, they are bloodier. Yes, they are gorier. But these aren’t just mindless slasherfests or jump-out-from-the-shadows spookers like Hollywood routinely cranks out. The storytelling in each of these films is taut and thrilling, the technical aspects are impeccable, and the characters and situations are gritty and real, all of which serves to elevate both the horror and the humanity.
Why do I watch horror films at all? I’m not exactly sure, but I don’t think I’m after sick thrills. I think it’s for the same reason we slow down to look at traffic accidents. We know we shouldn’t, yet the more mayhem that is evident at the roadside, the more lingering our stares. A little fender-bender? Meh. But scattered glass, blood and a frenzied paramedic team? We can’t look away. Why? Perhaps because we carry around the knowledge of our own mortality from childhood. It’s not foremost in our minds every day, yet it’s always lurking in the dark corners of our psyches. Yes, seeing someone carved up with a power tool is kinda twisted, but then we also know it’s a tea party compared to the horrors found in the real world. Nazi death camps, 9-11, ISIL and Boko Haram… movie scares are tragically tame by comparison. But confronting images of death and terror — whether they be from the security of our driver’s seat or a theater seat — helps us deal with that knowledge in some strange, cathartic way. And film is the only medium through which we can really do that. The stage is too limited. Books and TV shows are too comfortable. The fact that we can be shocked and haunted by a simple series of staged, completely contrived images that we absolutely know is “only a movie… it’s only a movie” — even scaring some of us away completely — is an amazing phenomenon, and testament to the power of film.
And if that’s too heady for your taste, then how about this?: Even with subtitles, these films will scare the living shit out of you.