If you look back through the history of horror movies, you’ll find a surprising number of examples of top shelf horror which stand as the respective director’s only venture into the genre. The Shining, Alien, The Exorcist, and Jaws— all examples of wonderfully horrific, genre-defining films that stand as the singular, straight-up horror venture by a great film auteur. Which begs the question: are there any working filmmakers in the contemporary moment who are secretly sitting on the next horror classic? Below, I explore seven options.
7. David Gordon Green
Rationale: All of David Gordon Green’s films (absent of his shallow comedies) feel like a peek into someone else’s dream. The surrealism is hypnotic, intoxicating, and it provides a David Lynch-like potential that Green has yet to explore. Lower the lighting, inject the characters with questionable motives and stomach-churning secrets, and suddenly Green is frolicking in a whole new landscape.
Best Existing Evidence: The psychological trauma of Snow Angels offers a pool of despair that would work wonders if placed on the front lawn of horror.
Is It Likely to Happen: Green made The Sitter. Who knows what his next decision will be?
6. Lynne Ramsay
Rationale: In each of her three feature length films, Lynne Ramsay has explored themes of hopelessness, despair, mortality, and true evil. Ramsay has one of the most objective and unobtrusive cameras in the business today. Her ability to witness the events of her films instead of borrowing the events for the sake of her narrative is unprecedented. If Ramsay could lend that talent to a horror narrative, it could be downright bone-chilling.
Best Existing Evidence: When Kevin becomes Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Is It Likely to Happen: She’s proven herself daring from the first act of her first full length movie. There’s a chance.
5. Darren Aronofsky
Rationale: Nightmarish imagery isn’t unfamiliar territory for Aronofsky. He’s probably come closer to horror than anyone on the list. But he’s never stepped cleanly over the line. Aronofsky has incorporated elements of the supernatural and the psychotic in his films and has displayed an uncanny ability to edit both to full jarring effect.
Best Existing Evidence: The nightmarish montage of Requiem for a Dream, which rivals The Ring‘s central video as the most upsetting student short film to appear in a major feature.
Is It Likely to Happen: It seems inevitable, doesn’t it?
4. Alfonso Cuarón
Rationale: In 2012, Directors Laura Lau and Chris Kentis teamed up for Silent House, a feature length horror film which tried (through clever editing) to present itself as one uncut extended tracking shot. Ultimately the final product was a disappointing one, but the novel technique concept was an unfulfilled promise worth revisiting. Who better to revisit that technical idea than the famed master of the uncut take? Cuarón has implemented 8-to-12-minute shots to place the viewer into the ultimate position of empathetic understanding. And if a director can fully utilize empathy in a horror narrative to that degree, the audience is already at his mercy.
Best Existing Evidence: Children of Men has a backdrop of apocalyptic horror, but Gravity borrows Hitchcockian suspense. Between his two masterpieces, there exists every reason to believe that this might just happen.
Is It Likely to Happen: Recently reported to be involved with a prequel to The Shining, there seems to be a reason for horror fans to hold out hope for this one.
3. Katheryn Bigelow
Rationale: It’s not a reach to say that the two most unnerving films since the turn of the millennium have belonged to the same director. The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty both tiptoe along a razor’s edge in their observation of tactical military storylines. If that same nervousness could be achieved in, say, a ghost story, every jump scare would be rendered exponentially more effective. Bigelow’s talent for inspiring bated breath could easily translate into the loudest screams theaters have ever seen.
Best Existing Evidence: Strange Days, and if you haven’t seen it, see it.
Is It Likely to Happen: Not at all.
2. Jeff Nichols
Rationale: Take Shelter dealt with doomsday prophecy and schizophrenia. Mud was a dark fairy tale. Details of Nichols’ next feature suggest a plot built around a teenager with supernatural ability. And he’s never missed a step. Each Nichols’ movie is bitingly tense, hypnotically certain. So far, Nichols is only three films in, and that’s enough to make me hope that he leaves his fingerprints on every genre. He’s the best young director at work today, and horror fans would be lucky to see his skill influence their arena.
Best Existing Evidence: The dream sequences of Take Shelter accounted for the most effectual horror filmmaking of 2011.
Is It Likely to Happen: The path is documented above. It’s going to happen.
1. The Coen Brothers
Rationale: What genre is left? The Coens have simultaneously mastered and subverted the expectations of every major film genre. They are responsible for some of the funniest, most emotionally impactful, perplexing, intelligent, and even downright scary moments of modern cinema. Their technical achievement has elevated over a dozen twisted exercises into traditional film genres. They are, simply stated, the best living filmmakers and they have dabbled in every category of genre but one.
Best Existing Evidence: Anthon Chigurh is the xenomorph meets Mike Meyers meets Hannibal Lecter.
Is It Likely to Happen: Maybe it’s my inner fanatic speaking, but it seems like a matter of time, doesn’t it? I mean, heck, I even have the idea in place…