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  • Writer's picturecharlottelzang

My Top 10 Dark Fantasy Films to Watch Now

10 dark fantasy films to watch now

Reading might be my number one inspiration for my writing, but movies are a very close second. For one, they offer a quicker injection of influence, running only a couple of hours at most. (Unless, of course, you are bingeing the entire Harry Potter series or the uncut Lord of the Rings trilogy.) Secondly, their limited runtime makes for a broader story scope, leaving many of the unsaid intricacies for the viewer to decipher. Perhaps last, and a particular favorite of mine, are the residual images, the beauty that ignites thought and remains emblazoned in the viewers’ minds.

Perhaps this list can help inspire you, fellow writers. Maybe the list will help fantasy fans discover new films. Or maybe still, for all you fantasy book fans, this can be a list for you to dive into with relish, setting your books aside for a few hours to enjoy another art form.

Like all genres, there are a multitude of subgenres that go along with it. Dark fantasy films, or horror fantasy films, have always been one of my weaknesses. Between gothic fairytale retellings, myths brought to the silver screen, or peculiar takes on the afterlife, my affection for the subgenre of dark/horror fantasy is vast.

I will visit many of the subgenres of Fantasy Films in future Bookish lists, but here are my top ten (for now) in the Dark/Horror realm.

10.The Lovely Bones (2009)

Susie Salmon has been murdered. A teenage girl, whose life is taken too soon, looks down from her Elysian fields and narrates her story, watching her family suffer, and the man who took her life, continue living his. Many have said the book is better, and I can’t disagree. For one, there is a greater subtly and delicacy to the nature of rape and murder of a young woman in Alice Sebold’s novel. I don’t want to go into much critical detail, but the film does evoke tension, regardless of its lack of empathy. 

We know all along who the killer is, but the threat of him striking again is ghastly. Susie’s father, Jack’s (Mark Whalberg) burning desire to solve her murder, and the tumult of her sister, Lindsey’s (Rose McIver) struggle as one of the remaining children, is genuine and human. Overall, it might bother some audiences, but The Lovely Bones is a well-executed venture in the fantasy horror realm. 

10 dark fantasy films to watch now

9.Trollhunter (2010)

It seems a miserable life, that of a troll. You haunt the forests of Norway, living in damp caves and searching for Christians to eat. Given their isolation and the fact that there aren’t many Christians nearby, it is a horrible life indeed, made all the more terrible by being hunted because the government is sick of you taking out their powerlines. 

The film starts with some immature filmmakers trying to track down illegal bear hunters in the area. They stumble upon Hans (Otto Jesperson), a supposed candidate, with his disfigured Land Rover marked with some intense scratches and dents. He lets them tag along, and the three film students find themselves on the hunt for monstrously massive trolls. 

The effects are superb, even if the storyline remains unfinished and many plot holes left uncovered. For instance, the trolls can’t stand sunlight, which creates vitamin D, which helps develop bones, yet their number one cause of death is immediate calcification. It seems to me they’d have to have a lot of vitamin D. That’s neither here nor there. “Trollhunter” is an adventurous horror fantasy film that maybe should have taken itself a little less seriously.

10 dark fantasy films to watch now

8.Paperhouse (1988)

Anna is a young girl suffering from an adrenal fever. In school, she draws a picture of a house on a windswept plain, with the face of a sad boy in the window. The teacher admonishes her for the imagery, and she runs away upset, only to knock herself unconscious after a fall. Enter the dream world of the paper house. She speaks to the boy, who later becomes known as Marc, asking him to come and play. He says he cannot, for his legs won’t move, and she didn’t draw stairs in the house.

This film might not be as straightforward a horror film in the sense many might expect. While Anna takes responsibility for the world she is drawing, the one she enters in her dreams, there is no way for her to ensure everything is safe and accounted for. Her estranged father influences darkness in the picture, and she and Marc must vanquish a terrifying, blinded ogre influenced by one of her drawing mistakes.

The film’s tone is gorgeous and frightening in its simplicity, calling to mind the likes of a Bergman film. “Paperhouse” is not, in any sense, a children’s movie. It holds stark landscapes and circling storylines, touching on unhealthy home environments and rampant imaginations. Slow and steady, “Paperhouse” is understated and leaves no clear answers to its riddles.

10 dark fantasy films to watch now

7.The Changeover (2017)

The narrator and heroine of this creepy and moving film, Laura Chant (newcomer Erana James), must save her younger brother from a malevolent force in this coming-of-age horror, fantasy drama. Living with her single mother (Melanie Lynskey) and little brother Jacko (Benji Purchase), the story takes place after an earthquake has rattled the town. While walking, Laura and Jacko stumble on a quiet man, Carmody (Timothy Spall), living in the aftermath’s chaos. He invites Jacko in to look at all his pretty dolls (this sounds good to nobody), which ends with a bewitched stamp taking hold of the boy’s body.

Timothy Spall is unnerving to both Laura and the audience. His understated performance radiates across the narrative, even though he has little screentime. Erana James is exceptionally vibrant and does an excellent job of portraying her secret, supernatural gift, which is often only shown when she communicates silently with handsome but intense classmate, Sorenson Carmichael (Nicholas Galitzine).

The novel dives more into the lore of both her and Sorenson’s gifts, but this adaptation is concise and exceptionally well executed.

10 dark fantasy films to watch now

6.The Lure (2015)

Who doesn’t want a Polish, techno-musical about man-eating, teenage mermaids? Agnieszka Smoczynska’s classic fairy tale reimagining is a trippy escape down a rabbit hole of cabaret, music, and sex.  

Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Gold (Michalina Olszanska) are sister sirens who are about to capitalize on a meal when cabaret singer Krysia (Kinga Preis) interrupts. She leads them to the club, where they become entranced in sequined outfits and spotlights. The initial wonder of the human world, inevitably and perhaps predictably, begins to wane. Gold has maintained a cold distance, remaining voracious and animalistic, while Silver has fallen in love and wishes to assimilate with humankind. 

True, all of these are familiar tropes, but they spring to life with glitter and glam and scintillating punk rock musical numbers that flash off the screen. But don’t be fooled; The Lure is not all pop fun. There is a dark and vicious side to this film that, at times, is almost hard to watch. It may not be a new story, but Smoczynska has reimagined it with all the darkest shadows countered by brilliant neon.

10 dark fantasy films to watch now

5.The Company of Wolves (1984)

This is not a children’s film, nor a dark adaptation that some children might find palatable. It is a stylish and alarming attempt to point out the mystic roots of the Red Riding Hood lore. 

The film begins in the present but becomes a twist of dreams. The production team excelled at producing these dreamscapes, with gnarled trees, mist, and mossAngela Lansbury acts as the Grandmother, weaving tale after tale, each of which always goes back to the analogy of the beast hidden inside the man. 

The film is based on a novel and screenplay by Angela Carter. She is an author to explore if you are a fantasy fan or a fairytale retellings fan. Many of her works explore the fearsomeness of sexuality, and The Company of Wolves is no different. She illuminates the scary parts of fairytales, the aspects that are telling us what to beware of. 

The Company of Wolves has all the gorgeous, gothic fairytale feels you might be looking for. It is hypnotic and romantic, but not in a ‘love’ sense. We always know what is happening, and the scary part is that it so often resembles our own guilts and fears.


10 dark fantasy films to watch now

4.Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

If Alice and Wonderland were a horror tinted, sex-obsessed, 1970’s Czach new-age film, it would be Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. About a third of the way through, our protagonist, Valerie, says this is all in her head. Most likely, our audience has already begun to realize that everything that is happening occurs in a 13-year-old girl’s subconscious.  

Distinctly and strikingly real is the evocation of the emotional blindside at the onset of adolescence. The week in question begins when Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová) reaches menarche, indelibly visualized as blood splattering the head of a white daisy. What ensues, in a picturesque village, is part European folklore, part history. From vampires to corrupt clergy, Valerie’s imaginative week is spent learning who she can trust, the power of lust, and the malfeasance of greed.  

Valerie and Her Week of Wonder is a stunning movie, hypnotically filmed, with excellently executed production and costume design. You’ll want to live inside the frames of this movie.

10 dark fantasy films to watch now

3.Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)

An explosion of genres, this largely fantastical film is about quasi werewolves, French aristocracy, secret societies, Iroquis Indians, martial arts, occult ceremonies, swashbuckling, bordellos, incestuous longings, and slasher scenes. 

The film’s premise is perhaps taken from the true-life story of the Beast of Gevaudan, which in 1764 terrorized a remote French district, killing more than 60 women and children. It turned out to be a wolf. (For another ghostly animal legend, look to Ghost in the Darkness, which centers on man-eating lions in Tsavo, Kenya.) 

It begins at the end, or rather, with one man about to meet his end at the guillotine. Finishing his journal, he reveals that though a wolf was presented as the perpetrator, it was, in fact, something more darkly mythical. Enter Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan – an uncanny doppelganger for Triple H, legendary WWE wrestler) and his Iroquois sidekick Mani (Mark Dacascos – host of Iron Chef). An intellect and a martial arts expert who can talk to trees? It doesn’t sound very historically accurate, but let’s not point fingers. This is a fantasy film. 

Another gorgeous display of direction, cinematography, and production, The Brotherhood of the Wolf, is opulent, rich, and delicious. 

10 dark fantasy films to watch now

2.Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)

It seems impossible that this thrilling, engaging novel be transformed into a film, but somehow they not only made it work, it works in spades. (If you want an audiobook recommendation, this would be one of them. Narrated by Sean Barret, it is one of the best audiobook performances I have ever heard, and I’m not fond of audiobooks.)

Birthed to a careless mother into the mire and muck of cod heads and fishbones, Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) is nearly tossed out with the waste. Instead, he grows into a grim, taciturn survivor, struggling to keep afloat in the charnel dump that was impoverished Paris 300 years ago. Grenouille has two gifts. One, he has a supreme sense of smell. The other that he himself has no scent, a hint toward being the son of the devil, though such blatant explanation is smartly avoided. He eventually moves from tanner to perfumer, apprenticing with Baldini (Dustin Hoffman). Concocting delicious scents is easy for Grenouille, but after creating scents of all the earth’s natural elements isn’t enough, it is the scent of beauty itself he must conjure. This last pursuit turns him into a gruesome murderer.

Director Tom Tykwer evokes a film of horrible vices, gross pleasures, and pervading stink through supreme use of cinematography, production design, costume design, and sound. It is a dark, dark, dark film of obsession so pervasive as to shut out all other human experiences. The climax will overwhelm and haunt you for ages.

10 dark fantasy films to watch now

1.Valhalla Rising (2009)

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn has made a name for himself in psychological chaos, from Pusher to Drive, and onward into The Neon Demon. In Valhalla Rising, Refn trades in his usually precise plot and character development to create something more akin to a tonal poem. 

The opening sequence sets the scene; 1,000 AD, but despite the historical backdrop, nothing about this film can dispel the notion that it might be taking place in a more loosely fantastical setting. One might think it a hell on earth, a limbo even, but this overlying question is never answered. 

There is no lack of extreme and bloody violence, as a mute warrior, One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen – a secret crush of mine) fights his way from the slavery of Scottish brutes to the Christian Vikings on their way to invade Jerusalem. His sidekick, a young fellow slave (Maarten Stevenson), is his self-appointed companion and voice. Together they endure the long road to nowhere, battling their way forward to a destination unknown. 

Breathtaking to watch with long silences, astonishing cinematography, and more than enough theology to leave the audience contemplating what it all means, Valhalla Rising is crafted with incredible finesse. Refn could have easily fallen into the grindhouse action as other historically set films of this ilk (see The Eagle, 2011 with Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell) but instead crafts an epically poetic and moving film.   

NOTE:

Both #2 and #1 are interchangeable for me. Each equally magical, mystical, epic, and dark. They are lasting, thought-provoking, and lavish. 

I hope you enjoy and comment with any other titles I should consider here!

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