Subtle Talents From the Crypt

Posted June 7, 2018 6:37 p.m. EDT

Meet five auteurs behind the new boom in grown-up horror.

Ari Aster

After making waves with the 2011 short film “The Strange Thing About the Johnsons,” a family drama that went into taboo territory, Aster, now 31, has delivered his first feature, “Hereditary” (released June 8), a bleak freakout that could be described as “Ordinary People” meets “The Omen,” with a little “Shining” thrown in.

THE EARLY YEARS: “I started by writing screenplays,” Aster said by phone. “By the time I graduated high school, I had four features that I had written and haven’t read since.”

THE INSPIRATION: “I wanted to make a sorrowful family tragedy that degenerated into a nightmare in the way that life can feel like a nightmare when things fall apart.”

WHY HORROR?: “If you make this film, where everything doesn’t turn out to be all right, as a drama, then good luck finding financing. But what’s a deterrent to an audience in one genre suddenly becomes a virtue in another.”

INFLUENCES: Growing up, he loved “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Don’t Look Now” and “The Innocents.” Of recent films, his personal favorite is the South Korean film “The Wailing,” which “takes as many genres as possible and mashes them together in the most coherent way.”

Fede Álvarez

A native of Uruguay, Álvarez, now 40, directed the 2016 breakout hit “Don’t Breathe” and is at work on a sequel. Although it wasn’t his first horror feature (that would be the much-debated reboot of “The Evil Dead”), the tale of young thieves who make a deadly mistake when they invade a blind veteran’s home took unexpected twists and, in a horror rarity, featured a disabled lead character.

GROWN-UP TASTES: Álvarez said adult horror may be having a moment because directors working now were teenagers when they first binged on films from modern horror’s golden age. “Those filmmakers go back to the late ‘70s and mid-80s, and that’s a time when horror became interesting,” he said.

SLAPSTICK, NOT SLASHERS: “Don’t Breathe” was inspired more by “Home Alone” than any single horror film, Álvarez said. “It’s about running to the window, and the man who invaded your home is still there,” he said. “It’s the same logic.”

FACING FEARS: “I’m interested in how much time we spend worried about things that statistically won’t happen to you, yet we’re afraid,” Álvarez said. “There’s a noise in the living room, and you find someone in your house. How many people does that actually happen to?”

Trey Edward Shults

This 29-year-old Texas-born filmmaker wowed critics in 2016 with his debut feature, “Krisha,” a domestic drama with serious horror undertones. He plunged full-on into horror with his 2017 follow-up, “It Comes at Night,” about a family walled up in a house in the woods facing a mysterious threat.

THE INSPIRATION: Images came to Shults over the years: a house in the middle of nowhere, a family, another family. But none of it clicked. “Then I lost my biological father to cancer,” he said. After a rough relationship in which they didn’t see each other for about a decade, “I went to him on his deathbed when he was full of regrets, and I just tried to help him find peace,” he said. “I wrote ‘It Comes at Night’ after that in a dark mental head space, full of grief.”

WHAT’S SO SCARY: The fear of the unknown is at the root of “It Comes,” Shults said. “The threat per se is never revealed in the movie, and it’s more about what this fear does to people.”

WHAT HE WATCHED GROWING UP:A lot of Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. ‘The first time I saw ‘Aliens,’ I snuck it and kept watching it all night. Then I realized the sun was rising, my dad was waking up, and I had to turn it off and act like I actually went to bed.”

David Robert Mitchell

The victims in “It Follows” see their menacing stalkers, but almost nobody saw Mitchell’s 1980s-throwback terror tale becoming the hit it did three years ago. He’s following that with “Under the Silver Lake,” a puzzle-filled homage to film noir starring Andrew Garfield.

SEX EFFECTS: In the infection-horror film tradition, “It Follows” was a macabre parable of a “supernatural STD,” as one critic wrote. Although Mitchell, who was 40 when the film debuted, shied away from explaining the film, he told MovieMaker magazine that “we’re all dealing with our mortality on some level. Sex and love are some of the ways that we’re able to push it away.”

LEISURELY EVIL: Mitchell has said an inspiration for the strolling creatures in “It Follows” was the “slow-moving threat” in “Creature From the Black Lagoon” (1954), one of his favorite horror films: “It’s literally this animal, and we just witness what it does and how people react to it,” he told the io9 website.

Jennifer Kent

In 2014, Kent put a terrifying spin on horror’s maniac-mother tradition with “The Babadook,” about a mom who fights a malicious figure awakened from her son’s storybook. Next for this Australian director, who doesn’t reveal her age, is the thriller “The Nightingale,” set in 19th-century Tasmania.

SCARES AND SORROW: A meditation on grief, “The Babadook” won over more than horror fans with its “interlocking ambiguities,” as A.O. Scott wrote in The New York Times. William Friedkin, director of “The Exorcist,” said on Twitter he’d “never seen a more terrifying film.”

THE UNDERLYING GOAL: “I latched onto this idea of facing the darkness,” Kent told The Times in 2014. “I wanted to tell the story of a woman who was forced to face the unfaceable.”

INFLUENCES: Kent cites early horror as inspiration, especially “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1928). But to her “The Babadook” defies the horror label. “I didn’t think about genre when I made this film,” she explained to The Washington Post in 2014. “And I certainly didn’t think of it as a horror film.”