One of the best things about the horror genre is that it always stays fresh. New directors are frequently welcomed in to make their marks, even after working on small productions with miniscule budgets (looking at you, The Blair Witch Project). Our podcast Murmurs From the Morgue just took a deep dive into the new faces of horror that will define the following decades, but we weren’t able to talk about all the amazing and shocking up-and-coming directors that we wanted to.
Specifically, we noticed that there are many directors just on the cusp of greatness, with one or two films under their belts and already gaining traction in the horror community such as Ari Aster and Jordan Peele, whom my podcast co-host discussed in her list.
If this list were made a decade ago, it may have included names like James Wan and Leigh Whannell (Saw, The Conjuring), Adam Wingard (You’re Next, Godzilla Vs. Kong), Mike Flanagan (Hush, The Haunting of Hill House, Doctor Sleep) or Jeremy Saulnier (Green Room, Blue Ruin) and while we love those directors, they already up and came, so it’s time to move over! (Just kidding; please keep making horror films.)
This list celebrates the accomplishments of more recent directors who may or may not have found their footing in horror so far. If you want to see even more directors to look out for, check out Kelly’s picks.
To hear even more discussion on these directors as well as jokes and anecdotes with two horror-loving ladies, check out our podcast Murmurs From the Morgue which you can listen to on our website, Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts. You can also follow us on social media for new episode updates.
So with that, let’s get listing!
Top 10 Up-And-Coming Horror Directors
Jennifer Kent – The Babadook, The Nightingale
Our queen of horror, Jennifer Kent, has proven herself not just once, but twice as a firecracker in the horror genre. Two incredibly original, boundary-pushing features have already placed Kent in the realm of legendary directors, and hopefully this is just the beginning.
An Australian filmmaker, Kent started out in the film business as an actress, partially because she wasn’t aware that women were even allowed to direct films. Tired of acting, her passion for film was revitalized after viewing Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, which led to her contacting Trier, a director known for controversial and disturbing films. Subsequently, she worked on the set of Trier’s Dogville, which inspired her to turn to directing.
Trier’s influence seemed to not end there. Kent’s work frequently engages in similarly taboo subjects, but taken in a different direction from a perspective that only Kent could bring. Whether it be a mother experiencing resentment and contempt towards their children (The Babadook), or the toxic power relationships between women prisoners and the men in charge of them under colonialism (The Nightingale), her films tend to shock, disgust and make one incredibly uncomfortable, all while recognizing these actions in the world around the viewer.
One could say The Babadook in 2014 was “ahead of the curve” when it comes to the recent uptick in what has been dubbed “elevated horror,” with other films like The Witch or Hereditary. As a debut feature, The Babadook is a monumental achievement for its creativity, story-telling and genuinely horrifying imagery.
Instead of sticking with a similar story or style, Kent was bold with her next feature choice. The Nightingale is an exploitative revenge drama centered in 1800s colonialist Australia, and pulls absolutely no punches.
As a female director, Kent believes that women make natural horror directors as they experience the most amount of horror in their day to day lives. As such, her films are never over-the-top with their presentation of female issues, but instead break apart and explore how these problems play out in society in the worst way.
Kent’s next film will be reportedly be titled Alice and Freda Forever which has been described as a true crime thriller focused on the relationship between two women.
Robert Eggers – The Witch, The Lighthouse
Perhaps the most well-known out of the last decade’s new horror film directors, Robert Eggers is basically a horror celebrity at this point after only two films.
His films have some of the most intricate historical research and appreciation behind them. The Witch was written based on transcripts of trials during the Salem Witch Trials, using the same language and words verbatim from the source. The Lighthouse, similarly, used time period-specific nautical books to write its dialogue.
Outside of having an intimate understanding of the situations he writes, his filmmaking methods are similarly authentic to the two differently-stylized films. The Witch was shot mostly with natural light and candles, and in The Lighthouse most of the intense weather conditions were real from their location.
His shots are often inspired by stylistically similar paintings, such as “Hypnosis” by Sascha Schneider, which very obviously resembles a shot from The Lighthouse.
Similar to Jennifer Kent, Eggers also pushes the boundaries of horror with often uneasy, disturbing depictions of human nature that subvert what is considered normal.
Eggers next film, The Northman, a larger-scale Vikings film starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Björk has already finished filming, and Eggers is also in talks to direct a remake of Nosferatu, a medieval drama called The Knight, and a miniseries about Rasputin. All hail Robert Eggers, the historical horror king.
Ana Lily Amirpour – A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Bad Batch
Iranian-American Ana Lily Amirpour made a name for herself through her blend of cultures and genres in her charmingly bizarre filmography.
Amirpour broke out into the scene with her first feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, which provided an incredibly unique update to the vampire legend the genre so desperately needed. Described by Amirpour as the first Iranian vampire spaghetti western, the savory blend of American cinema with Iranian new wave birthed a beautiful creation housing an iconic, skateboard-riding moody vampire.
Her second feature was The Bad Batch, which she describes as a post-apocalyptic cannibal love story set in a Texas wasteland. While it was not the masterpiece that A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night was, it was still a very stylized, violent film that was weird enough to stay memorable.
Her films thus far have had female main characters that are on the outskirts of society, struggling to either find their paths or connect with others. Amirpour herself embraces this mindset, and comes off as a very cool and individualistic personality, similar to directors such as David Lynch or Jim Jarmusch.
She’s an advocate for practical effects, which is impressive considering the state of the disabled main character in The Bad Batch.
You can check out her short films Six and a Half online.
Upcoming from Amirpour is Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, “a mind-bending adventure set in the humid, neon-lit streets of New Orleans. Inspired by adventure films of the 1980s and ’90s,” She’s also working on a reboot of the film Cliffhanger.
Alex Garland – Ex Machina, Annihilation
Another prominent heavy hitter in sci-fi horror right now is Alex Garland. Starting out as an author, most notably the writer behind the book that became The Beach (2000), he quickly made a name for himself as an inventive and dark horror screenwriter, penning 28 Days Later (2008), Never Let Me Go (2010), Dredd (2012) and Sunshine (2007).
Garland’s first foray into directing (which some people dispute was actually Dredd) was in 2014 with the dark sci-fi treatise Ex Machina, which he describes as happening “ten minutes from now.” As a debut feature, Ex Machina is supremely impressive in every way, from acting, script, cinematography, production design, everything. It was even nominated for the Academy Award for best original screenplay and won the Academy Award for best visual effects (against Star Wars: The Force Awakens!).
His next film, Annihilation, an adaptation of a book of the same name, was not as universally beloved as Ex Machina, but still defied taking a more conventional storyline, even after being pressured by its studio. Very controversially, Garland decided not to reread the book as he was adapting it, and instead wrote the script as if it were a dream of the book.
He has also recently done the miniseries Devs which carries on in his oeuvre of morbid sci-fi. It was recently announced that he will be working on a new film titled Men that will follow a woman traveling alone following the death of her ex-husband.
Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell – Turbo Kid, Summer of 84
The trio of filmmakers known by the moniker RKSS (Roadkill Superstar) are some of the most underrated horror creators out there right now. Hailing from Canada, they made some fun and gory shorts together before their first feature came about after a rejected segment for the horror anthology The ABCs of Death.
Their first film, Turbo Kid in 2015, a personal favorite of mine, is one of the most fun, blood-splattered, high energy horror hybrid films of the last decade. Taking place in an alternative 1997 where the Earth has become a dry, acidic wasteland, The Kid along with his eccentric friend Apple team up to defeat a dangerous boss. It has often been described as Mad Max on BMX bikes, and, might I add, 10 times as violent. Seriously, this film has some of the most crazy, over-the-top and violent practical effects I have ever seen.
Their second feature, Summer of 84, has perplexingly mixed reviews: perplexing because the film itself is such a fantastic critique of its own niche. A big leap from their first feature in tone and storyline, Summer of 84 seems to follow the recently familiar subgenre of ‘80s throwback horror films, specifically those with a group of kids riding around on bikes and solving local mysteries (see: IT and Stranger Things). However, the end of this movie is so shocking and unconventional that it cements the film as a powerful foil to those well-worn tropes.
In a way, both of their films have been strong love letters to ‘80s horror films, but are very different meditations on the time period. Turbo Kid is a slapstick comedy parodying movies such as Mad Max that ends up resembling something between a Troma film and a low-budget superhero film. Summer of 84, however, is a much darker, more serious retro film.
As of now, they are developing an 8-bit Turbo Kid video game, and have just announced they are working on a sequel to Turbo Kid.
Check out some of their short films available online: T is for Turbo, Demonitron: The Sixth Dimension, Total Fury, BAGMAN Profession: Meurtrier, Ninja Eliminator, and check out their Vimeo for more shorts.
Brian Duffield – Spontaneous (Writer behind The Babysitter, Underwater, Love and Monsters)
Another fantastic director more known for his scriptwriting is Brian Duffield. So far, Duffield has only directed one film, Spontaneous, from 2020, but he has also been the celebrated writer behind The Babysitter, Underwater, Love and Monsters, The Divergent Series: Insurgent and Jane Got a Gun.
Duffield has such a strong sense of dialogue in his writing, and most of his scripts tend to be fun and quirky while incredibly introspective to the human mind and society. Humor elevates rather than diminishing the characters or story in its work.
Spontaneous was my favorite horror film of 2020. It’s the story of a class of high school kids who start spontaneously exploding. Sounds dumb? Think again. This movie will trick you into thinking you’re watching a zany high school romance movie before plunging you into some of the darkest recesses of human emotion.
In the future, Duffield will be directing a film called Vivien Hasn’t Been Herself Lately which will be a ghost/haunting film, and No One Will Save You, a project that is keeping plot details hidden as of now.
Gigi Saul Guerrero – Mexico Barbaro, Culture Shock
Gigi Saul Guerrero is so up-and-coming and impressive that she doesn’t even have a feature film out yet. What this Mexican filmmaker does have, however, is a history of working on a few different horror projects, and an intense love and dedication to the genre.
She started gaining traction around 2013 with her segments in both the Mexican anthology film Mexico Barbaro and The ABCs of Death 2.5, and then with a web series she directed, La Quinceañera.
Her short El Gigante, which is streaming on Shudder, is one of the most fun, grisly and filthy stories that’s been done as of late, channeling a strong Texas Chain Saw Massacre vibe.
In Mexico, she is known as “la muñeca del terror” (the doll of terror) for her strong dedication and interest in horror. Her most notable work to date, while not a feature, was an episode in the anthology show Into The Dark with the episode Culture Shock, often regarded as one of the best entries in the series. It channels sci-fi elements, Mexican border horrors and the terrors of assimilation.
She self-describes her style as “gritty, gory with a Tex-Mex feel.” It definitely comes off as exactly that, and is an exciting style to see her continue in. While she personally is an extremely vocal, cheerful and inspirational figure, her work easily stands up as some seriously graphic images.
Guerrero’s first feature will be a horror film called Bingo. The film description so far is “In the Barrio of Oak Springs live a strong and stubborn group of elderly friends who refuse to be gentrified. Their leader, Lupita, keeps them together as a community, a family. But little did they know, their beloved Bingo hall is about to be sold to a much more powerful force than money itself.”
She also has two more Mexican anthology movies coming out in the near future.
David Robert Mitchell – It Follows, Under the Silver Lake
David Robert Mitchell became an overnight horror star in 2014 with his second feature film It Follows. Based on that alone, he deserves a spot on this list, but he also has a second horror feature that is equally as bizarrely horrific.
It Follows reached immediate acclaim due to its unconventional plot, original idea and execution, and dreamy, mish-mashed art direction that borders on a sci-fi dreamscape without focusing on it too hard. It also launched actress Maika Monroe into horror actress stardom.
It would be hard to follow up that film with anything, and as was expected Mitchell’s next feature in 2018, Under the Silver Lake was not as beloved, but I think it will one day reach cult status for its intricate and conspiratorial plot.
Both of his features have very much been a unique blend of dream logic, the bizarre, and reality. They coalesce in a way that never puts attention on the “unreality” aspects of what’s happening, acting instead as if both films are taking place in their very own realities.
Both also make use of incredibly iconic, weird and memorable props and production design, such as the clam phone from It Follows that people still to this day are perplexed by. With ambiguous time periods and puzzle-like plots that give few answers, Mitchell’s perspective is more than welcome in the horror genre.
Up next, Mitchell will be directing a film called Heroes & Villains that will be a different take on the superhero genre, and Ella Walks the Beach, “a drama about a young woman who spends 24 hours traveling along an iconic California beach, testing the waters of suddenly being single,” according to Deadline.
Julia Ducournau – Raw
So far, Julia Ducournau has only had one big feature film come out, but it’s a good one. Ducournau is the child of two doctors, and because of that her film and shorts have been deeply related to body horror, bodies falling apart, being eaten, rashes and very often specific to the female body.
Her feature film, Raw (2016), incorporates all those elements and more, and was a film that when it premiered had viewers vomiting in the theater. The film follows a vegan medical student who starts to develop an unnatural craving after being subjected to some intense hazing activities at the same school her older sister attends.
The change in the main character, played by Garance Marillier, alters everything about her mind and body, and Ducournau put a huge emphasis on the actress creating a drastic change in her body and posture as she starts to loosen up.
Ducournau has a slew of other shorts that you can check out. She is also slated to direct a film called Titane, which “follows a young man claiming to be a long lost child and a car hostess, whose hometown is seized by gruesome murders.”
Rose Glass – Saint Maud
Rose Glass has quite literally just broke out, with her first feature Saint Maud releasing in 2020 (or 2019, or 2021 depending on how COVID-19 affected the viewing). Despite being sidelined by the pandemic, Saint Maud captured the attention of critics and horror fans alike with its disturbing and unconventional story.
Saint Maud follows “Maud,” a delusional girl played by Morfydd Clark who’s newfound passion for Christianity lends itself to her neurotic state.
About her own religious background when it came to the film, Glass had to say: “It was the last thing I thought I wanted to make a film about. And then as I got older and started living my life and had that distance from it, from religion, that’s when I started to get more interested in it—as a bit more of an outsider. I’m interested in the psychology of religion, and what people get out of it. There’s so much blood and gore in the visuals. And part of me must have been attracted to that, the melodrama of it.”
As of right now Glass is not attached to any directing projects, but hopefully that will end soon as she closes out my list of up-and-coming horror directors. You can check out some of her earlier shorts here: Room 55, Moths, Storm House.
Upcoming Horror Directors Honorable Mentions
Anna Biller – The Love Witch, Viva
Anna Biller would be on the list if her films were more directly aligned with horror, but nonetheless she is an amazing director with incredible talent. All of her films have been some of the most accurate and luscious period pieces I’ve seen, and she seems to understand 1970s film conventions better than 1970s directors.
Her second feature The Love Witch made its rounds in the horror community (rightfully so) but that’s just the surface of her dedication to her art. She has another film, Viva, that functions as a 1970s soft porn film, and a slew of amazing shorts that replicate different film periods and conventions.
Her next project will be a 1950s period piece about the gothic myth of Bluebeard.
S. Craig Zahler – Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99, Dragged Across Concrete
Similar to Biller, S. Craig Zahler’s films are just outside of the horror genre for the list, but are definitely within an exploitative action genre that most horror fans would enjoy.
Originally a critically acclaimed author, as well as a death metal band member, Zahler made the switch to the film world with scriptwriting for Asylum Blackout in 2011. He made his directorial debut with Bone Tomahawk, a deliciously gory horror western (one of very few). He followed that up with the equally great prison exploitation flick Brawl in Cell Block 99 as well as the police/heist exploitation film Dragged Across Concrete. Each of his films are darkly introspective and flinchingly violent.
The next film he’s set to direct is Hug Chickenpenny, of which not much is known, and he is also attached to write multiple scripts.
Jeremy Gardner – The Battery, Tex Montana will Survive, After Midnight
Jeremy Gardner is not only a great horror director, but also a frequent horror actor. He previously appeared in Spring, The Mind’s Eye, Like Me, Psychopaths and Bliss. He also starred in the leading role in all three films that he’s directed.
With three films under his belt, starting with The Battery in 2012, he slightly falls out of category of up-and-coming, but he’s not as well known as he should be which is why he’s getting a shoutout.
Gardner’s first feature, The Battery, is a quirky, introspective zombie film that is one of the best in the subgenre. His latest film, After Midnight, came out in 2020 and was acquired by Shudder, and tells a heartwarming and off kilter love story through the metaphor of a monster.
He also released his second feature, Tex Montana Will Survive! entirely free on Youtube, so check it out.
He’s a frequent collaborator with other indie horror directors and frequently works on or appears in their films, such as Brea Grant, Mickey Keating, Joe Begos, Larry Fessenden and Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.
Currently he is not slated to direct anything soon, but will be appearing in Mickey Keating’s newest feature Offseason and The Leech directed by Eric Pennycoff.
Say hello to the faces the horror community will be seeing much more of in the coming decades. Don’t forget to check out Kelly McNeely’s picks for her top upcoming horror directors.
This is a short primer for all these great directors, but you can hear some more information on them in Murmurs from the Morgue’s latest podcast episode which you can listen to here, or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or any other podcast platforms.