A collage featuring some of the best folk horror movies (clockwise from top left): 'The Wicker Man,' 'Midsommar,' 'La Llorona,' 'Apostle,' 'The Witch'

The Most Frightening Folk Horror Movies

In this modern world of neverending real-life horrors, many of us turn to nature for respite. But what the wannabe Walt Whitmans of the world won’t tell you is that in the great outdoors, a lot can go wrong. Think rundown old farmhouses haunted by sinister inhabitants. Legends of haunted woods where witches observe obscene rites. Dark gods of the old country that wander the wilds, demanding sacrifice. That is what we call folk horror.

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And folks, these films will show you that there ain’t nothing hygge about it.

The Blair Witch Project

A filmmaker is terrified in 'The Blair Witch Project'.
(Artisan Entertainment)

The wilderness of Maryland is beautiful! Lush! Vibrant! And—as Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez show us in The Blair Witch Project—it’s lousy with witches. As many of you may know, the east coast is haunted af. Just teeming with ghosts and ghouls and goblins of all sorts. The Blair Witch Project is about three young filmmakers who decide to document the horrors of the Maryland wilds in their search for the elusive Blair Witch. Trapped in the woods with no way out, they sure as hell find her.

The Ritual

Four men stand in the woods in "The Ritual"
(Netflix)

David Bruckner’s The Ritual is about four college buddies mourning the death of one of their oldest mutual friends. The decide to process their grief like real men, by avoiding therapy and going on an adventure in the wilds of Sweden. They soon find themselves stalked by a malevolent presence, an elder being still worshipped by the inhabitants of the hinterlands. The film features one of the best designed movie monsters EVER MADE.

The Witch

Kate Dickie as Katherine in The Witch, dressed in Puritan clothing, standing outside a cottage with Katherine's son Caleb
(A24)

The Witch might as well be an origin story for the haunted wilds of the east coast, a sort of unofficial Blair Witch prequel, if you will. In Robert Eggers’ debut feature, after a Puritan family is excommunicated from the safety of their New England village, they are forced to survive alone in the harsh winter. To make matters worse, they are being stalked by a bonafide devil-worshipping, curse-weaving, shapeshifting witch! As if life in the 1600s wasn’t hard enough.

Antlers

A little boy walks away from another boy and into the woods in "Antlers"
(Searchlight Pictures)

Scott Cooper’s Antlers tells the tale of one of the most terrifying North American monsters in existence: the wendigo. A creature of Native American myth, the wendigo is an evil spirit capable of wanton death and destruction. In a quiet little Oregon town, a school teacher and her sheriff brother get mixed up with a freaky student who is being haunted by the creature of legend.

Midsommar

Dani (Florence Pugh) sobs while women in folk dress scream along and comfort her in 'Midsommar'
(A24)

Ari Aster’s Midsommar is a bit of a bommar—I mean, bummer. Grieving from the sudden death of her entire family, a young woman accompanies her emotionally distant boyfriend and his friends to a small village in Sweden. At first, the place is a hygge paradise! Fresh air! Fields of wildflowers! Kindly locals! But once the group becomes acquainted with the locals’ less than kindly traditions, things take a turn for the worse. A better daylight horror flick there never was.

The Wicker Man

A man gesticulates to a crowd of onlookers while a towering wooden statue stands behind him "The Wicker Man"
(British Lion Films)

Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man starts off like a perfect little transcendentalist romp: A Scottish police officer is sent to a small island in order to investigate the disappearance of a missing girl. Sure, whatever! She’s probably just off playing with seagulls or something! Time to kick back for a little off-the-grid vacation, right? WRONG. The police officer soon runs afoul of the island’s culty inhabitants, who still practice some of the oldest rituals known to man. Sourdough baking? Close. Human sacrifice.

The Wailing

A man cradles his ill daughter in 'The Wailing'

The Korean countryside village in Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing would be the perfect location to do some fishing or write some horny Whitman poetry—if the locals would just stop killing each other. A police officer is called to investigate a series of bizarre inter-family murders in an otherwise quiet part of the country. The murders coincide with the arrival of a mysterious foreigner, and the town’s population are convinced that the two are connected. The film is a parable about the poisonous power of racism, and its ability to spread violence and doubt even in peaceful communities.

Apostle

A man with an axe stands in a rural village looking ready to fight in "Apostle"
(Netflix)

Despite its name, there is nothing Christlike about Gareth Evans’ Apostle. It’s more Antichrist-like if anything. In the early 1900s, a man travels to a remote island to rescue his sister from a kooky cult, only to find out that the cult might actually be onto something. What I mean to say is that some of their “out there” beliefs turn out to have some horrifying basis in reality, much to the chagrin of our hero. Turns out that you can make a land fertile through blood sacrifice! The only problem is … you need a CONSTANT supply of blood.

La Llorona

María Mercedes Coroy in 'La Llorona'
(Shudder)

Jayro Bustamante’s La Llorona is a story about one of Latin America’s most famous figures of legend: La Llorona, “the weeping woman.” While the particulars of the legend of La Llorona differ from place to place, she is often depicted as a ghostly woman who wails in the night near bodies of water, lamenting the death of her children. In this film, the ghost of La Llorona haunts an aging Guatemalan general who orchestrated the real-life genocide of native Mayans in Guatemala in the early 1980s. After the general is acquitted of his charges, the people engage in protest and call for justice. The ghost of La Llorona is going to make sure that justice is served.

Kwaidan

Cult Movie- Masaki Kobayashi's 'Kwaidan'
(Toho)

Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan is an anthology film with segments based on some of Japan’s most famous ghost stories of old. It’s quite a lineup. We’ve got people getting attacked by evil, sentient strands of hair! A murderous lady ghost who lives in snowstorms! A blind musician preyed upon by the spirits of the dead! And—worst of all—a haunted teacup. Many of these stories are hundreds of years old, but there is a good reason that they have survived this long. They’re just that scary.

(featured image: British Lion Films / A24 / Shudder / Netflix)


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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.