Both grief and loss are very dangerous monsters. In addition, the horror genre has illustrated how villainous they are in exaggerated yet terrifying ways. Also, some of the best horror films show how grief forces some people to tap into their depressive and/or violent instincts.
The latest horror film “The Curse of La Llorona” is a demonstration of grief. It depicts a widow (Linda Cardellini) protecting her children from “La Llorona,” a ghost from Latin American folklore. “La Llorona” is the malevolent spirit of a woman who lost her children. In honor of the film’s release, here’s a list of the top ten best horror/fantasy movies about grief and loss.
10“Pet Sematary” (1989)
dir. Mary Lambert
Writer Stephen King is a master at the exaggerated. For example, “Carrie” is a fantastical illustration of a high school outcast getting back at her tormentors. Also, “Pet Sematary” provides an allegory for how loss makes us do the most heinous things. When a father loses his son in a fatal accident, he buries his body at the cursed burial ground in his local woods. Once the son comes back to life, his resurrection proves that sometimes, dead really is better.
9“Don’t Look Now” (1973)
dir. Nicolas Roeg
After a married couple loses their daughter, they travel to Venice to forget their troubles. However, the husband (Donald Sutherland) continuously sees a strange person roaming in the streets in a red raincoat. Because his daughter wore a red coat when she passed, he keeps believing it’s her. His constant belief provides a nearly literal demonstration of chasing old ghosts. Even if this stranger might not be his daughter, his grief keeps blinding him into believing so. Could he be right? It’s unclear up until the film’s jaw-dropping climax.
dir. Lars von Trier
“Antichrist” is easily the heaviest film in director Lars von Trier’s filmography. That is certainly saying something since his films tend to be quite depressing. However, only one of his films has Charlotte Gainsbourg doing unspeakable things to a man’s particular body parts. “Antichrist” may be quite unpleasant due to its reliance on shock value. But its portrayal of the traumatic nature of loss still remains effective.
dir. Wes Craven
“Scream” is a horror satirization, murder mystery, and a portrait of grief all rolled into one. Understandably, people tend to focus on its self-referential style which influenced the horror genre for years to come. That being said, the way it handles its main character Sidney (Neve Campbell) coping with her mother’s loss remains undiscussed. In fact, it’s been a key plot point throughout the whole series. Even if it’s a harsh reminder, “Scream” shows us that grief is something that doesn’t go away but can always be faced.
6“Friday the 13th” (1980)
dir. Sean S. Cunningham
The original “Friday the 13th” is arguably the best in the series. One reason is that the killer has an understandable motivation. After Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) lost her son who accidentally drowned, she sought out retribution. As previously mentioned, grief forces some people to tap into their most violent instincts. Even if Mrs. Voorhees herself is quite villainous, her grief is just as lethal as the knife she uses as her murder weapon.
5“The Babadook” (2014)
dir. Jennifer Kent
The titular monster may come from a fiction storybook and also be an unorthodox queer icon. But it’s still a psychological manifestation of the main character’s feeling of loss. After being left a widow, Amelia (Essie Davis) tries taking care of her son. But when the Babadook enters their lives, it takes a severe toll on Amelia who becomes more rattled as the film progresses. The way Amelia psychologically unravels is like a snake that sheds its skin. All the pain she’s kept buried for so long starts to resurface. Amelia’s conflict shows that even if one actually tries to suppress their grief, it always finds ways to come back.
4“A Monster Calls” (2016)
dir. J.A. Bayona
Losing a parent is always tough but a boy losing his mother at a young age is downright horrific. Connor (Lewis MacDougall) may be in denial over the fact that his mother (Felicity Jones) is dying. However, it’s still completely imminent. Also, he befriends an imaginary monster (Liam Neeson) as a way of coping. As a result, the film becomes a beautifully orchestrated mix of dramatic realism and majestic fantasy. Although, Kleenex may be required when watching this.
dir. Ari Aster
“Hereditary” is easily one of the most gut wrenching depictions of grief put on screen. It’s not just one of the best horror films about grief. It’s also one of the best films about grief in general. Even just the film’s dinner scene, which would’ve easily been Toni Collette’s Oscar clip, is a grand portrait of the painful feeling of loss. Speaking of Collette, her performance as a woman reeling over her mother’s death is an immense powerhouse. She is firing on all cylinders and easily delivers the best performance of her career.
2“The Orphanage” (2007)
dir. J.A. Bayona
As it turns out, director J.A. Bayona is a master at blending both grief and the supernatural. However, while “A Monster Calls” was more fantastical, “The Orphanage” offers more chills. It isn’t scary in a typical, “jump out of your seat” kind of manner. Although, it still manages to find ways to linger on you. Whether it’s due to the haunted house setting or a creepy kid wearing a sack mask, an unsettling atmosphere always remains present. Plus, one particular scene where the protagonist Laura (Belen Rueda) plays a game with the ghosts in the house proves to be the most unsettling.
1“The Devil’s Backbone” (2001)
dir. Guillermo Del Toro
“The Devil’s Backbone” might not specifically be about grief. However, it is set during the Spanish Civil War and with war comes grief. Also, the ghost named Santi (Junio Valverde) is a manifestation of the lives that pass during war. His haunting presence shows that the memory of those who succumb to such tragic circumstances never fades. In addition, because Santi is a child, he shows that it’s not just valiant soldiers that pass. The film’s war elements along with its supernatural storyline brilliantly go hand in hand. Then again, the mix of historical context and the supernatural is what writer/director Guillermo Del Toro does best.