I don’t know about the rest of you horror fans, but I LOVE a scary flick that takes me by surprise with a WTF horror premise/twist/outcome. You know the kind of film I am talking about, the ones that split horror lovers down the middle, with half of us positively gushing about it, and the other half complaining that it’s either boring or doesn’t make any sense.
A handful of these films have been huge hits, despite having gone straight to streaming, or being released simultaneously in theaters and streaming. That just goes to show that with theaters still not back to pre-COVID attendance, it is possible to produce streaming platform “originals” that can attract huge viewership.
*Note: This article contains spoilers for the films we are discussing.
Let’s start with The Night House, which was released in August of 2021. Unlike the remaining three films we will be discussing, this one falls firmly into the category of slow burn horror. I mainly include it in this list because its premise is so different from standard horror films, and about 75% of its running time leaves you wondering what the heck is going on. It’s still very engrossing though, and I really loved the novelty of the mystery once it was solved.
Like a lot of modern horror, The Night House deals with grief and trauma, with its main character Beth grieving the recent loss of her husband to suicide. As she tries to navigate her new life without him, she begins to experience supernatural events at night, and discovers some dark secrets about Owen.
When it finally comes to light that Owen was killing women who resembled his wife, then securing their bodies under the floorboards in a house that is identical to the one he and Beth shared (except the floor plan is flipped), we think that’s it: the mystery has been solved.
But, oh no, dear readers, there is a much darker story still to come in this WTF horror film. And, guess what? I am not going to spoil it, despite the spoiler warning I gave at the beginning of this piece. If you haven’t watched The Night House, please do. Just know going into it that you will need to devote your attention to the 110-minute film, and allow yourself to sit back and absorb it fully.
Before moving on, I have to give rhapsodic kudos to Rebecca Hall, who plays Beth. She plays the character in such a way that I felt like I was in her skin, experiencing her pain and fear even as she did. It would not have been nearly as impressive a movie without her.
Less than one month after the release of The Night House, Malignant made its debut, simultaneously released in theaters and on HBO Max. Malignant is NOT a slow burn, though the story itself unravels slowly. But the first hard-hitting incident happens within the first fifteen minutes, when Derek slams his pregnant wife Madison into a wall, causing her head to bleed. Madison has a graphic dream about a strange human-like creature killing her husband, then wakes up to find that her dream has come true (so to speak).
From there, we are drawn into Madison’s history as we find that she was adopted and has ties to a group of doctors who worked together at a research hospital. Some of these doctors have recently been victims of brutal murders, and of course, the police begin to suspect Madison.
She is not guilty, but we start to learn about Madison’s childhood “imaginary friend” Gabriel, who now seems to be the one committing the murders. The first WTF horror moment happens when we find out that A) Gabriel was very real, and was in fact Madison’s conjoined twin, whose half-formed face and body faced out of Madison’s back before they were surgically separated, and B) her head injury caused him to return, since his brain was still contained inside her head.
After this reveal comes a bloody WTF horror action sequence as Gabriel’s face bursts from the back of Madison’s head, operating her body BACKWARDS as he begins to slaughter everyone in the police precinct. My jaw literally dropped, and stayed that way through the entire sequence. It’s bananas.
Barbarian was released to theaters, then to HBO Max only last month, and immediately, EVERYONE was talking about it. What they weren’t talking about was the actual horror premise of the film; instead, we were only given the barest of story outlines. A woman checks into her Airbnb, only to find a man is already staying there. He talks her into staying…and from there, the story goes to radio silence.
There is a very good reason for people staying tightlipped about the bonkers story-behind-the-story of Barbarian, and it involves yet another WTF reveal, followed by a WTF sequence. This film is too new for me to feel comfortable giving spoilers, so you will just have to see it for yourself.
WTF horror often includes really strong female characters
Georgina Campbell is awesome as Tess, the woman who unwittingly books the wrong Airbnb, and Bill Skarsgard and Justin Long are also great as the two men who get caught up in the insanity. Don’t listen to the naysayers, just enjoy the crazy ride!
All of this brings us to the newest WTF horror film on this list, Amazon Prime’s Run Sweetheart Run. This is another film that it was almost impossible to get plot details for. But let me try to give you some info without totally ruining the crazy surprises in store.
Single mom Cherie works for a law firm, and receives a call from her misogynistic boss one day after heading home from work. He claims she double-booked him for a meeting with a very important client on the same night she made an anniversary dinner reservation for him and his wife. Cherie doesn’t remember doing so, but agrees to meet with the client in his place.
At first, Ethan is charming, and the two actually share a lovely evening together. So lovely, in fact, that Cherie allows herself to be persuaded to go into Ethan’s house for a drink at the end of the night. As the two go inside, the camera shows us the front door closing, and we see the POV from just outside the door. We hear some muffled noises, then Cherie sprints out of the door, crying, eye makeup running down her face. She is terrified, and we just don’t know why.
As Cherie’s evening progresses, Ethan continues to stalk her, finding her wherever she goes. He also kills most of the people who try to help her get away. Who (or what) is Ethan exactly? We more or less find out by the end of the film, as Cherie finds guidance from “The First Lady”, played by the husky-voiced Shohreh Aghdashloo.
As is the case in each of the films I have written about here, leading lady Ella Balinska gives it her all, and I was rooting for Cherie 100%. Her panic and fear felt very real, and when she squares her shoulders to face Ethan, I just wanted to cheer.
Pilou Asbaek (Game of Thrones) is appropriately evil and terrifying as the mysterious Ethan. That’s all you are going to get from me, watch Run Sweetheart Run for yourself if you want to know his back story, and how it all ends.
I hope you will check out at least one of these WTF horror films if you haven’t already, and please let me know if you liked them!
We want to know your favorite WTF horror films, tell us all about yours in the comments section.