In the ten years since it burst onto the scene, A24 has accomplished something virtually unheard of in the film industry: establish itself as a distributor with a fanbase that rivals those of the biggest directors.
Through a carefully curated lineup of acquisitions and original projects, the company has become synonymous with crowd-pleasing independent filmmaking executed at the highest possible level. And its effortlessly cool marketing campaigns and brand collaborations have turned its logo into the ultimate stamp of approval for any project seeking film geek street cred.
While the brand is elastic enough to be applied to a wide variety of projects — this is the company that released both “Moonlight” and “Spring Breakers,” after all — you can generally recognize an A24 movie when you see one. It’s always going to be an auteur-driven work that unapologetically swerves away from mainstream trends in favor of pushing the indie film zeitgeist in a weird new direction.
While A24 has dipped its toe into almost every genre under the sun at this point, horror remains a key brick in the company’s foundation. The distributor is almost singlehandedly responsible for launching the so-called “elevated horror” craze by working with directors like Robert Eggers and Ari Aster who injected overtly dramatic themes into their genre films. But it’s found just as much success by releasing ridiculously fun midnight movies like Kevin Smith’s “Tusk” and Ti West’s “X” and “Pearl.”
Horror is often the genre that gives independent filmmakers (and distributors) the most freedom to experiment, as low budgets and built-in audiences make it relatively easy to recoup one’s investment. A24’s many forays into the horror space embody that ethos, as the distributor has gifted cinephiles with a decade’s worth of provocative films that range from the satirical to the utterly haunting.
In many ways, the story of independent filmmaking in the 2010s and 2020s is the story of A24. It’s the company that every filmmaker wants to work with and every distributor wants to emulate. If you want to watch some of the best horror filmmaking of the century, the A24 library is a great place to start. Keep reading for our 13 favorites.
13. “Tusk” (dir. Kevin Smith)
What It Is: A midnight masterpiece from Kevin Smith about a podcaster whose trip to Canada takes a dark turn when he’s captured by a man who wants to surgically turn him into a walrus.
Why It’s Terrifying: …you heard the “wants to surgically turn him into a walrus” part, right? Smith manages to craft a genuinely compelling piece of body horror by fully committing to his ludicrous premise, giving Michael Parks’ deranged surgeon a tragic backstory that almost makes you see where he’s coming from. While “Tusk” will always be remembered for the human/walrus hybrid suit that Justin Long eventually dons — a serious contender for the most ridiculously fucked up image A24 has ever released — it holds up because it doubles as a psychological thriller that justifies its choices with sharp writing. —CZ
12. “X” / “Pearl” (dir. Ti West)
What It Is: Ti West’s “X” introduced the world to two iconic Mia Goth characters: Maxine, the young porn star whose sharp wits and toughness turn her into a Final Girl; and Pearl, the octogenarian murderer whose horniness has not declined with age. Goth played both roles, using an impressive amount of prosthetics to do battle with herself. The film could have stood on its own as a nostalgic send-up of grindhouse slasher movies from the 1970s, but West and Goth took things a step further by releasing “Pearl” a few months later. The secretly-shot prequel takes the action back to 1918, allowing Goth to play a younger version of Pearl in an equally depraved Technicolor fantasy. With the 1980s-set “MaXXXine” still to come, the series has all the makings of an elite horror trilogy.
Why It’s Terrifying: Mia Goth. The British actress elevates some fairly standard (but extremely competent) material into something special due to her knack for playing creepy characters. Maxine and Pearl are very different people, but they’re both fueled Goth’s haunting confidence while doing messed up things. —CZ
11. “Enemy” (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
What It Is: Jake Gyllenhaal stars two identical looking men who each become obsessed with stalking their doppelgänger. Their attempts to get to the truth about their eerily similar appearances takes them on a journey through a series of underground pseudo-orgies and their deranged shared unconsciousness in this early masterpiece from Denis Villeneuve.
Why It’s Terrifying: To paraphrase Elaine’s stuffed crust pizza take from “Seinfeld,” it’s gonna be years before they find a way to cram more creepy men played by Jake Gyllenhaal into a single movie. The actor has made a career out of playing sleazebags better than anyone, and seeing him pull double duty is a sight to behold. Also, anyone with a case of arachnophobia might want to sit this one out. —CZ
10. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
What Is Is: Yorgos Lanthimos and Colin Farrell reteamed for this pitch-black horror satire about a doctor who is tormented by the evil son (Barry Keoghan) of a patient he was unable to save. When the teenager convincingly threatens to slowly kill the man’s entire family if he doesn’t sacrifice one of his three children, the man is left to make an impossible choice.
Why It’s Terrifying: Lanthimos made a name for himself by forcing his characters to choose between paradoxically awful solutions to their problems (see: “The Lobster”). Like many of those films, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is less notable for the actual moral dilemma at its core (which we’ve seen in everything from the Old Testament to Greek tragedy) than for the chilling clinical detachment that its characters approach it with. Scenes of kids attempting to curry favor with their suburban father in an attempt to avoid being ritualistically sacrificed are as funny as they are tragic. It’s another one of the fully fleshed-out dystopias that only this Greek auteur could dream up. The premise is made all the more convincing by Keoghan’s villainous turn, as he gives such a deeply evil performance that you start to believe all of his threats. —CZ
9. “Saint Maud” (dir. Rose Glass)
What It Is: Morfydd Clark leads writer/director Rose Glass’ feature debut and A24’s best bit of blasphemy. “Saint Maud” is a painful portrait of the titular Maude, a pious young woman giving end of life care to Amanda: a shrewd modern dancer played by a magnetically mean Jennifer Ehle. Calcified in the cruelty of her terminal cancer diagnosis, Amanda tugs at the threads of Maude’s Catholic faith until the strange nurse’s fastidious care turns to dangerous devotion.
Why It’s Terrifying: Plenty of horror films find their scares balancing viewer perception on a knife’s edge. That’s particularly true when it comes to the supernatural, frequently making audiences ask, “Is the ominous presence our hero’s experiencing real, or a hint that this person isn’t a hero at all?” Glass’ teeth-grating hidden treasure (which regrettably had its popularity undercut by a straight-to-streaming release on Epix during COVID-19 lockdown) is clear-cut in its perspective on Maude’s reality versus unreality, and morality versus immorality, in the end. But the intensely sensorial film — punctuated by bizarre, rapturous moments shared between Maude and God, shorthanded by Glass as “godgasms” — takes its time before making that scorching proclamation and salting the earth behind it. —AF
8. “Bodies Bodies Bodies” (dir. Halina Reijn)
What It Is: Your basic whodunit gets a Gen Z horror-comedy upgrade in “Bodies Bodies Bodies”: director Halina Reijn’s neon-accented exploration of contemporary twentysomethings and social media-fueled finger pointing. Rachel Sennott and Amandla Stenberg stand out in a cast that also boasts Pete Davidson, Lee Pace, Chase Sui Wonders, Maria Bakalova, and Myha’la Herrold. When a tumultuous friend group stays at a mansion to ride out a hurricane, an “Among Us” type game of hide-and-seek turns lethal — before the ensuing mystery-solving makes matters much worse.
Why It’s Terrifying: “Bodies Bodies Bodies” isn’t scary in the traditional sense, as even its most diehard fans will admit. But what it lacks in proper slasher terror it more than makes up for with an eerie, familiar toxicity that’s murderously annoying to behold and feels almost too real to withstand. “You’re gaslighting me!” “You are so toxic.” “I can’t believe you’re making this about you.” Based on a story written by Kristen Roupenian, the author behind the viral “Cat Person” story, Sarah DeLappe’s script is a slippery thing of bullshitting beauty that makes a villain out of the exact kind of person A24 marketed the movie to. —AF
7. “Under the Skin” (dir. Jonathan Glazer)
What It Is: An unnamed woman (Scarlett Johansson) preys upon men around Scotland, luring them to a house where they are drowned in a liquid abyss.
Why It’s Terrifying: There are plenty of movies about otherworldly and alien creatures, but few films feel as genuinely alien as “Under the Skin.” The icy, abstract film explains almost nothing about its premise — where the woman at its center comes from, what her goals are, who the motorcyclist that seems to be working with her is — in favor of letting the audience immerse themselves in its deeply unsettling spell. Glazer’s clinical direction, Johansson’s detached performance, and Mica Levi’s unforgettable score create a film that’s captivating — and terrifying — in its unknowability. —WC
6. “The Lighthouse” (dir. Robert Eggers)
What It Is: Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) are two lighthouse keepers in 1890s New England. As the inexperienced Ephraim spends four weeks under the apprenticeship of the demanding Thomas on a small rocky island, the two men are driven to madness by a storm, isolation, and their own clashing personalities.
Why It’s Terrifying: Nothing is more horrifying than having a roommate. The film unfolds at an unbearably slow pace, as the relationship between Ephraim and Thomas starts cordial before fraying slowly, with moments of surprising intimacy in between that leaves the audience on edge about where this delicate bond may go. As Ephraim descends further into madness, the film piles on terrifying images of mermaids and sea creatures. But that all feels like window dressing for the central fear of how humans can drive each other to the brink. —WC
5. “Midsommar” (dir. Ari Aster)
What It Is: After the horrifying death of her family from a murder-suicide, college student Dani (Florence Pugh, in the role that really made general audiences take notice of her) tags along with her apathetic boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends on a bro trip to Swede Pelle’s (Vilhelm Blomgren) ancestral Hårga commune. As they celebrate the commune’s midsummer festival, Dani quickly realizes that the villagers are hiding dangerous secrets from her and her friends. But when her relationship with Christian begins to rapidly deteriorate, she also finds comfort in the Hårga’s tight-knit society, and their horrifying actions become increasingly easier for her to stomach.
Why It’s Terrifying: One of the prime examples of the internet-created “good for her” film subgenre, “Midsommar” is an unnerving watch because of how effectively it mimics the cult’s brainwashing of Dani on the viewer. For all the weirdness of the Hårga commune, the sun-drenched cinematography and the kindness Pelle and his fellow villagers show towards Dani makes it easy to brush aside the red flags — especially when Christian is such a perfectly written bad boyfriend. The horror of the film isn’t any of the murder and torture, it’s the realization after you watch how the cult preys upon those that are broken and lost, and just how easy it is for them to do it. —WC
4. “Beau Is Afraid” (dir. Ari Aster)
What It Is: An anxious, pajama-clad man’s attempt to visit his mother quickly devolves into a harrowing odyssey through the darkest depths of the human psyche (by way of Nathan Lane’s house).
Why It’s Terrifying: While the premise of “Beau Is Afraid” is less overtly murder-y than Ari Aster’s first two films, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s any less unsettling. The film might be his most incisive look into the way that childhood experiences shape the rest of our lives. Viewers can essentially expect to strap in and watch the most vulnerable man in the world take a three hour beating from everyone he loves — and nature itself. Everyone can form their own opinions about where the line between Beau’s reality and hallucinations is, but it almost doesn’t matter. The film is a gut-wrenching artistic representation of the way that shame and anxiety show up as insurmountable external forces that shape every choice we make. —CZ
3. “The Witch” (dir. Robert Eggers)
What It Is: A chilling New England folktale about a family of exiled Puritans who find that, despite spending their lives repressing themselves in an attempt to avoid evil, the very dark magic that they fear so greatly has begun to infiltrate their lives.
Why It’s Terrifying: “The Witch” was our first major glimpse into the mind of Robert Eggers. While the auteur’s films are notable for their meticulous period accuracy, he’s become an arthouse sensation for his willingness to plumb the darkest corners of the human condition in search of timeless truths about the things that make us broken. The symbolism-laden film paints sexual repression and religious fanaticism as futile efforts, making the case that evil is an unavoidable force that’s always going to find its way into our lives. While surface level readings of the film can easily spin it as an indictment of 21st century political villains, it’s a modern classic because it eschews the typical “good versus evil” narrative in favor of a more unsettling acceptance of the inevitability of darkness. —CZ
2. “Hereditary” (dir. Ari Aster)
What It Is: Ranking among the scariest movies ever sicked on audiences, “Hereditary” stars a career-best Toni Collette as Annie Graham: a grieving woman reeling from the death of her estranged mother. The unrelenting family drama that often follows such discomforting tragedies intertwines here with a demonic possession story featuring an early act twist on par with the shower stabbing of Janet Leigh in “Psycho.”
Why It’s Terrifying: Ari Aster’s feature debut scarred the movie-going masses. Sure, you might hear “meticulously crafted consideration of generational abuse from the guy who brought you the short ‘The Strange Thing About the Johnsons,’” and shudder now. But before Aster was synonymous with the A24 brand and extreme emotional horror, the collaborators’ set up a brilliant marketing misdirect. It propped up kid actor Milly Shaprio as a Regan MacNeil-type before shocking viewers with one of horror’s all-time great frights, and the rich details Aster included in the film — from occult symbolism to Annie’s painstaking work as a miniature artist — made the bluntness of that surprise all the more… head-spinning. —AF
1. “Green Room” (dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
What It Is: “Blue Ruin” director Jeremy Saulnier’s hard-as-fuck escape horror stars the late Anton Yelchin as Pat: a bassist and band leader for the touring punk group the Ain’t Rights. Following a rocky concert for some skinheads — say it with me kids, “When the neo-Nazis look pissed, you don’t go back for the phone charger!” — Pat, guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat), drummer Reece (Joe Cole), singer Tiger (Callum Turner), and another woman named Amber (Imogen Poots) find themselves trapped inside of a backstage green room with no way out.
Why It’s Terrifying: Patrick Stewart delivers an understated but still bone-chilling performance as Darcy, the owner of the venue and leader of the skinheads, alongside some of the scariest dogs in cinematic history. Combine that with the most excruciating knife scene in recent A24 memory (seriously, Pat ends up with bloody string cheese where his arm should be), and you’ve got a play-it-til-you-ruin-it type banger. As sharp and precise in its structure as real punk music, “Green Room” delivers consistent claustrophobic fear without ever letting you find a mental corner to get comfortable in. That gnawing agony is peppered with brilliant bursts of comedy that will keep you smiling all the way through the torment and up until its killer last line. —AF
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