There are a ton of new directors making an impressive mark on the horrorsphere. Men and women who burst onto the scene with shocking entries that captivate audiences and critics alike. Recently, we hosted an episode of the Murmurs From the Morgue podcast to highlight some of our favorites; horror directors that have impressed the heck out of us and made us impatient to see more.
What do I mean by up-and-coming, you may ask? We’re looking at directors who have only made one or two horror films that are starting to get attention in the genre. So as much as I love Leigh Whannell, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, Alexandre Aja, and so on, I will note that their impressive roster of films unfortunately disqualifies them. Sorry guys.
Now, I’m not trying to pigeon-hole these directors as only working in the horror genre. Does this mean they’ll only ever work in horror? Heck no (though I secretly hope they do). In a few cases, these “horror directors” have already done quite a bit outside of the genre. So let’s just address that right out of the gate.
Because this list will be lengthy, we’ve divided it up over two articles. This list will cover mine (Kelly’s), so stay tuned to see Bri’s picks. And for our full, in-depth discussion, check out episode 4 of Murmurs From the Morgue (available on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts).
Now, onto the list!
Ari Aster – Hereditary, Midsommar
Now, if you listen to Murmurs From the Morgue this pick will be fairly obvious. It’s hard to even call Aster up-and-coming as he’s already made a pretty substantial name for himself, even with just two films under his belt. But, when it comes to modern horror directors, Aster is usually on the front of everyone’s mind, so I’ll discuss.
Aster comes from a family of artists (his mother is a visual artist and poet, his father a jazz drummer), so it’s no wonder his creativity flourished the way it did. As a child, he was drawn to body horror and kept a binder full of gruesome horror images — printed off in black-and-white from his home computer — that sparked his imagination and earned him a trip to the school counselor.
As a student at the AFI Conservatory, you must submit a short film thesis project. Aster noticed that many of the films they were shown (as a demonstration of what was expected from the students) were a specific kind of drama (the Oscar-bait type), so he decided to try and make something a bit… different. Enter The Strange Thing About the Johnsons (originally under the tentative title Like Father, Like Fun). Viewer beware, it’s disturbing in a way you really won’t expect.
It’s this kind of creatively traumatizing fare that we’ve come to expect from Aster, and we’re super keen to see more. Also, check out his short Munchausen. It’s less blatantly upsetting, but quite impressive.
Jordan Peele – Get Out, Us
Again, somewhat obvious, but Peele is such an impressive and talented director that I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about him. Even with just two films under his belt, Peele has become a household name, and it’s definitely well deserved.
Peele is a bit unique in that he’s had such a public presence for so long as an actor and comedian, but he’s started to shift his focus into genre as a writer, director, and producer. His work features a great focus on sociopolitical commentary (which, despite the opinions of many, is not uncommon within the genre) and much-needed representation, and has found a wide audience thanks to the power of his storytelling. His films are approachable and meaningful, opening the doors for fans both in and outside of the horror genre.
Directing is Peele’s passion — something he’s wanted to do since he was 13 years old — and we’re thrilled that he’s found a home in horror. I can’t wait to see what else he has in store for us.
Ryan Spindell – The Mortuary Collection
The Mortuary Collection has become one of my favorite horror anthologies. I first saw it at Fantasia Fest (you can watch it now on Shudder), and it caught my attention with the sheer visual spectacle of it all. Spindell — a huge fan of anthology horror himself — has a background in art and design, so he wisely took as much of the film’s budget as he could and funneled it into the art department. It pays off; every scene is rich with detail.
In his feature film debut, Spindell shows an incredible talent, weaving together an engaging collection of stories to form one cohesive whole. Moreover, he just seems like a genuinely delightful person who engages with the horror community and cares a great deal about the genre. I enthusiastically support his career and look forward to whatever he does next.
Brandon Cronenberg – Antiviral, Possessor
Possessor was my favorite film of 2020 — it’s rich in design, dark, cerebral, and puts a fascinating focus on the concepts of self-perception and performance. Cronenberg came up with the idea for the film when he was on press tours for his first film, Antiviral, and became hyper-aware of the performance of basic human interaction and the way we present ourselves to others. Antiviral, on the other hand, is about the cult of celebrity and the unhealthy ways that we obsess over complete strangers (though they’re packaged in a way that we feel like we know them).
As the son of the legendary David Cronenberg, Brandon has made a name for himself with his critically acclaimed high-concept sci-fi horror films that — while set in years past — use futuristic technology as a catalyst for the film’s grander themes. His work is clever and compelling, with phenomenal casting (in Possessor, Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott are just… wow, and Antiviral‘s Caleb Landry Jones is so damn good in literally everything), also featuring stunning cinematography by the consistently impressive Karim Hussein (Hobo With a Shotgun, Random Acts of Violence).
Issa Lopez – Tigers Are Not Afraid
Though she’s been involved in the Mexican film industry for a while, Lopez’s work was mainly writing for rom-coms and soap operas. With Tigers Are Not Afraid, she burst into the genre scene and blew us all away with a film that is visually and emotionally beautiful. I would go on, but it would take up several paragraphs (because I love that film so much), so you can read my review for my full thoughts.
With Tigers Are Not Afraid’s emotional resonance, centered on the innocence of children — which reminds one of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone — it’s no wonder that Del Toro took interest in her work. Lopez has an upcoming untitled werewolf western in the works with Guillermo Del Toro signed on as producer, and we should all be excited.
Remi Weekes – His House
With His House, Weekes wanted to create a film that shifted the conversation about asylum-seekers out of the mouths of politicians and activists and into the experience of those who are actually involved. It’s about a very isolating and confusing experience — both supernaturally and just in the experience of being an asylum-seeker under strict rules. Moving somewhere new can be disorienting, and Bol and Rial are struggling to adjust (though for different reasons).
It’s a powerful film that is not your typical haunted house story, and Weekes demonstrates his talent for raw emotion and genuine scares (for further proof of his horror skills, check out his short film Tickle Monster). The fact that his first feature was picked up for distribution by Netflix is wildly impressive, and I really hope to see more from him soon.
Sean Byrne – The Loved Ones, The Devil’s Candy
Australian director Sean Byrne has made two of my favorite horror films, and it’s an absolute crime that they took so long to get distribution. Seriously. The Loved Ones was first screened in 2009 but didn’t see a DVD release until 2013, while The Devil’s Candy blew my damn mind at TIFF in 2015 but didn’t see a full release until 2018. It’s criminal.
Anyways, Byrne’s films are emotional and thrilling; he’s a master at making you feel a weird sense of sympathy for the villain, despite how outwardly terrible they may be. They’re fraught with high-stakes, nail-biting tension and characters you genuinely care about, decorated with a delicate dressing of heavy metal. They’re great. I just hope that his next project — whatever it may be — finds its way to a wider audience with very little delay.
Rob Savage – Host
Host was born out of a prank Savage played on his friends that went viral on Twitter, and after the film was picked up by Shudder it rocketed to the top of a slew of “Best of 2020” lists. The screen-life film is genuinely scary and quite creative, especially considering everyone had to film all their own parts in isolation. When you get down to it, Host isn’t about the pandemic, it’s about isolation and how scary that can be in the right circumstances (and boy is a séance the right circumstance).
Fun fact, Host didn’t serve as Savage’s first exposure to séances. He had previously done a TV movie for Channel 4, all about a true haunting that took place in London in the 90s. For research, he met with mediums and joined a spiritualist church for about six months, doing séances every Wednesday night in a church hall in Hounslow. So there you go.
Following the wild success of Host, Savage has signed a three-picture deal with Blumhouse, so I can’t wait to see more from him. His next film is said to be a “sister piece” to Host, and will be an exploration of the world opening back up again after lockdown.
Josh Ruben – Scare Me, Werewolves Within (Coming Soon)
As a millennial, my first experience with Josh Ruben was through his CollegeHumor Originals, so it’s really exciting to see him work in a genre space. Of course, it makes sense that his horror films have a bit of a comedic flare. Ruben was a fan of horror films as a kid, but his tastes mostly leaned towards those films that had a bit of a comedy element — films like Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors, Beetlejuice, Tales From the Crypt, and so on.
Filmed in his hometown in 14 days, Scare Me (which Ruben also stars in) was written in the wake of MeToo, pointing a very frustrated finger at fragile masculinity and men who value their own accolades over someone else’s success, whose desperation for praise makes them squirm in the shadow of a woman’s greatness. It’s a performance-based sparring match between the film’s two leads — a talented female and her slightly bitter male counterpart — that benefits from a complete lack of romantic interest (their relationship is built on competition, which is way more interesting than sexual tension).
The technical elements of Scare Me really shine through, making this pseudo-anthology film a real storytelling showcase. It has me very excited for Ruben’s next feature, Werewolves Within, which is coming to theaters on June 25 and On Demand July 2. Click here to check out the trailer.
Coralie Fargeat – Revenge
French director Coralie Fargeat crashed into the scene with the brightly-colored and blood-soaked Revenge, inspired by films like Old Boy, I Saw the Devil, and the works of body horror king David Cronenberg. Films in which, as she says, “the bloody scenes are so excessive that they become absurd and poetic. I’m interested in when blood and flesh create something that becomes baroque and operatic. Tarantino does that in Kill Bill.”
Fargeat studied at the prestigious French cinema school Le Fémis, where she met and befriended another up-and-coming director, Julia Ducournau (Raw). As two strong female voices in French cinema, they are taking the world by storm. With Revenge, Fargeat has created a rape-revenge film that feels like a phantasmagorical experience, one that really maximizes on its titular act. Her heroine rises from the ashes (the phoenix being a recurring theme), and has captured a lot of attention in the process. I’m genuinely curious to see what she does next. You can watch her short film, Reality+, on YouTube.
Steven Kostanski – Father’s Day, ManBorg, Leprechaun Returns, The Void, Psycho Goreman
I’m completely cheating here because Kostanski has been making films for a while, but I feel like he’s just starting to get more attention thanks to the completely bonkers horror-comedy treasure that is Psycho Goreman.
Kostanski’s background is in special effects and makeup, so it’s no wonder that his films feature prominent practical gore and some really creative creature designs. As a kid, he was fascinated by but scared of horror movies, and it wasn’t until he saw Army of Darkness that he found his gateway. As a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, Army of Darkness seemed like a good entry point, and after watching through the rest of the Evil Dead films he got over his fear by discovering the wealth of creativity and ingenuity in those special effects.
He started making his own practical effects and stop-motion animation films, then after taking a course run by Dick Smith (The Exorcist), he started working in makeup effects professionally at the age of 18. Kostanski befriended the team behind Astron-6, and the rest — as they say — is history.
He’s my Canadian homeboy and I will watch any movie he makes. Those are facts.
Thanks for reading! Are there any horror directors you can think of that I missed? Well, stay tuned for Bri’s picks, and be sure to check out Murmurs From the Morgue for our full in-depth conversation.