10 Best Socially Conscious Horror Movies of the 21st Century

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10 Best Socially Conscious Horror Movies of the 21st Century

Socially conscious horror movies, or social horrors, add a layer of reality to a frightening scenario. This type of horror film entwines itself with some societal issue for audiences to connect with the characters on a deeper level, rather than just yell at them not to split up with a killer on the loose.

The realism portrayed in social horror films is often heightened, though it still encapsulates the plausibility found in more traditional horror films. The emerging genre usually concerns itself with issues of class, gender, race, national identity, sexuality, and alienation, usually to comment on societal inequity. Thanks to Jordan Peele’s amazing 2017 film, Get Out, social horror films have become a genre that is gathering a lot of attention.



10 ‘The Platform’ (2019)

The distribution of wealth in a capitalist society weighs heavily in the plot of The Platform through rich symbolism and a bleak, dystopian aesthetic. The Spanish Sci-Fi film is set in a prison-like facility known as the Vertical Self-Management Center, which keeps individuals in a small concrete cell with another person, nestled above an array of other cells above and below. In this random arrangement, the top level is served a vast amount of food, which the cellmates eat to the best of their ability until it is time to move the food down.

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In exchange for a diploma, Goreng (Iván Massagué) has voluntarily enrolled for six months, while his cellmate Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor) has been sent there to serve his year-long sentence of manslaughter. Their friendship becomes short-lived as they move about the levels, rampant with grim consequences and an incurable hunger for more.

9 ‘Green Room’ (2015)

'Green Room': individuals held at gunpoint

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Horror is condensed into primarily a small room backstage,Green Room is a film that takes its thrills to center stage. The Ain’t Rights — Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Tiger (Callum Turner), and Reece (Joe Cole) — are a punk band who haven’t had much success on their tour until they booked a job in Portland at a bar. Arriving at the venue, they realize they are the opening act for a Neo-Nazi black metal band, The Cowcatchers, and are in a bar full of skinheads.

The film’s conflict begins unintentionally. After their set, Pat goes into the green room to retrieve Sam’s phone, only to stumble on the dead body of Emily (Taylor Tunes) with Neo-Nazis standing over it. Eager to keep the organization under wraps, skinhead leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart) orders all witnesses to be eliminated, starting an all-out war between the small band in the big sea of evil. Grounded in the sense of reality, Green Room focuses on its characters and how they navigate through a life-or-death situation while still being scary.

8 ‘Hereditary’ (2018)

A still from 'Hereditary', showing a mother leaning over her daughter

In Ari Aster’s directorial debut, Hereditary became one of the most notorious horror films ever. Deeply seeded within a fractured family dynamic is something more sinister; a haunting legacy threatening the family’s survival. Annie (Toni Collette) feels relieved when her emotionally-detached mother, Ellen (Kathleen Chalfant), passes away. Although a wife to Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and mother to Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro), Annie struggles to form any connection with her family, and when another tragedy hits, all hope is lost.

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Created to be a bleak drama that explores what happens when a family does not come together to support each other during periods of turmoil, Hereditary is as horrifying on an emotional level as it is for its entertainment factor. It deconstructs the light at the end of the tunnel by pitting family members against one another, abandoning the sacred dynamic of a normative family usually present in films.

7 ‘The Invisible Man’ (2020)

Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia holding a knife in 'The Invisible Man'
Image via Universal Pictures

Inspired by H.G Well’s 1897 novel of the same name, the film adaptation of The Invisible Man received worldwide praise for its depiction of domestic violence, using it as the forefront of the horror to comment on believing victims and the trauma that arises from such occurrences. Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) stars in the film as a survivor of her violent husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who she assumes to be dead after she finally leaves him.

When she arrives back at the house after it is left in her name in Adrian’s will, Cecilia begins to feel like she is not alone; and concludes that her husband is manipulating his knowledge of optics to become invisible, and thus torment her for leaving in the first place. A wider metaphor for the long-lasting fear of being in an abusive relationship, utilizing psychological thrills in an effective way that is a sad reality.

6 ‘Us’ (2019)

A still from 'Us', with a woman in a red jumpsuit holding scissors to her chest

Ignoring the ramifications of privilege has never been more prevalent than in Us, Jordan Peele’s third masterpiece that revolves around political commentary and critiques. Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) has been troubled by a doppelgänger she met as a child. When she, her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), and children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) go on vacation with friends (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker), the families are tormented by doppelgängers called “the Tethered;” a failed experiment hidden away by the government, with members ready to kill their original counterparts.

Bouncing between 1986 and the present day, Us outlines the radicalization of an underground political movement. Us provides commentary on the abuse of power through science and exploration of oppression: for privilege to exist, it must exist on the backbone of suffering. Full of details, nuances, and fear, Us is the perfect social horror film to delve into.

5 ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ (2001)

A creepy boy standing in the middle of a sewer in 'The Devil's Backbone'

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Guillermo del Toro‘sgothic horror movie was set in Spain in 1939 — the final year of the Spanish Civil War. It reminds viewers that the scariest force to reckon with is ourselves, not the supernatural. Casares (Federico Luppi), a doctor, his friend’s wife Carmen (Marisa Paredes), a groundskeeper Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), and Conchita (Irene Visedo), a teacher, help run an orphanage during the war while hiding gold in support of the Republican Loyalists.

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When young orphan Carlos (Fernando Tielve) arrives, he is confronted with a whispering voice that warns him of a mass death among the people in the orphanage. An evocative horror film, The Devil’s Backbone is a political allegory depicting how the past is never really dead, and actions will end up having consequences. Fascist Spain is a location del Toro would later revisit in Pan’s Labyrinth, one of the best Spanish horror movies ever.

4 ‘Train to Busan’ (2016)

Passengers on a train scrambling as a zombie virus breaks out in 'Train To Busan'

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

Zombies and the social horror genre may sound a little jarring, but Train To Busan managed to reinvigorate the dying zombie genre through its tightly-packed setting and intense commentary on survival and class privilege. The divorced workaholic Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) becomes the story’s main character when he takes his daughter, Su-an (Kim Su-an), on a train ride to Busan to visit her mother. Aboard the train, an infected woman quickly spreads a virus, turning many into zombies and leaving all on the train in danger.

Through various characters, the movie traverses selfishness and selflessness in a claustrophobic setting, forcing the characters to help or hinder those around them. Class warfare becomes a subtle undertone amid chaos in the same vein as in Titanic, where the lower class is the first to become infected while the rich keep themselves insulated. Rugged individualism is warned to be fatal in Train To Busan, where coming together is much more than boosting morale.

3 ‘Get Out’ (2017)

A man crying in Jordan Peele's 'Get Out'

Known as the film that invigorated the term “social horror,” Jordan Peele’s groundbreaking and impressive debut Get Out is scary as it is poignant. What viewers are set up to believe to be a simple horror movie starring an interracial couple quickly realizes that the film encapsulates a deeper critique of the microaggressions and brazen racism that still lurks in the modern world. Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuga) is a Black photographer set to meet the parents of his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams).

Upon meeting Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), Chris begins to suspect a racial intolerance among the family and their friends but becomes too deeply embroiled in the family’s plans to be able to escape. Often cited as one of the best horror films of the 21st century, Get Out makes villains out of the mundane — middle-class white liberals — as a way to disguise an obvious plot from the beginning; through their ignorance, racism blooms.

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2 ‘Under the Shadow’ (2016)

A frightened woman against a wall in 'Under The Shadow'

A Persian psychological horror, Under The Shadow, is a thought-provoking feminist film that is tense and distinctive. Set in Iran in the 1980s post-war, Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is banned from resuming her studies at university because of her involvement with a left-wing student group. Despite a rampant war closing in, Shideh refuses to leave her home with daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi); where they both become sick and Shideh ignores her growing PTSD as the trauma of her war-torn country worsens.

When the Ebrahimi family (Ray Haratian and Aram Ghasemy) moves in with their mute cousin, Dorsa begins to believe in the legend of Djinn, becoming plagued with nightmares. Unable to grasp the internal horror that may be lurking inside the house, Shideh refuses to leave, drawing forth what hides under the shadows. The film depicts everything as dangerous and notes how independent Shideh remains despite the growing violence and dangers to herself and her daughter. What starts as a natural fear of war turns into something much more sinister, bred in the waters of an anxious time.

1 ‘His House’ (2020)

A masked villain in a still from 'His House'

Like Under The Shadow, His House is a horror film that first and foremost entangles itself with the experience of individuals in a war-torn country. Bol (Wunmi Mosaku) and Rial (Sope Dirisu) successfully escape South Sudan but unfortunately lose their daughter Nyagak (Malaika Abigaba) to the stormy waters as they cross borders into London. Once settled in, the couple struggles as outsiders.

Bol attempts to assimilate into the culture despite the racism, but Rial clings desperately to their past as much as she can. Soon, the couple begins to see the ghost of Nyagak and an unknown man, who they believe to be an apeth, or evil spirit, looking for repayment for their wrongdoings. Unaware of what they did wrong, Bol and Rial must face the apeth and simultaneously keep their place in London to avoid deportation. A metaphor for dealing with the ghosts of the past in a pivotal time when new beginnings must be at the forefront, His House is lacking in gore, but thriving in thrills.

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