In the 2000s, Hollywood was shaken by the remake craze. Suddenly, studio creatives had run out of ideas, and a trend started during which your favorite films were being remade. Horror was, of course, the most popular genre at the time, and horror remakes were the place to go when you wanted to show your skills. Needless to say, there were winners and losers.
During this rocky period of horror, original films were still giving people something to talk about. Found footage had been born and would be exploited endlessly, and production companies like Dimension Films focused their efforts on originals and sequels that would bring people back to theaters in the tension-filled environment of post-9/11. You could recognize directors, IPs, and yes, performers that dared step into the less respectable territory of horror films.
Many did, and many actually stayed on this side of cinema. The one that would require a different dramatic skill and represented a risk for their careers. There were notable horror performances in the 2000s, but in the following list are those that are more obscure and are definitely among the underrated performances of genre films in the weird decade of a new millennium.
The following list may contain minor spoilers
15 Nicole Kidman – The Others (2001)
A remake of the 2001 horror film starring Nicole Kidman.
Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others takes us to England during times of war. Grace Stewart and her two children, Anne and Nicholas, live in a huge manor in complete isolation. She waits for her husband to come back from the battlefield, and the children are photosensitive to sunlight. When new caretakers arrive at the mansion seeking work, Grace hires them. At the same time, spooky stuff begins happening. It seems there’s something lurking in the dark.
One of the Best in Gothic Horror
Nicole Kidman gives life to Grace in The Others, and it’s hard to argue against this being her best performance. Kidman compiles the elements of classic horror and twists them around to portray her own version of a character’s breakdown caused by the film’s final twist. But this is all about the buildup and Kidman playing anything but the usual “hysterical female” part. It’s hard to find such an elegant performance in modern horror. Though she was recognized for her performance, it was always associated with the “oh, but it’s horror” discussion and is often forgotten as one of the best.
14 Marcia Gay Harden – The Mist (2007)
The Mist, based on Stephen King’s novella, tells the story of a small Maine town called Bridgton, whose residents are shaken by the sudden arrival of the military. A few minutes later, the entire town gets engulfed in a thick mist that forces the customers at a local supermarket to lock themselves in. Strange flesh-eating creatures reside in the mist, but they aren’t the only threat the survivors will have to face.
A Reflection of Something Eerily Real
Marcia Gay Harden plays Mrs. Carmody in The Mist. Carmody is a religious fanatic who instantly associates the mist with some sort of rapture and starts a whole revolution in the claustrophobic space where everyone is trapped. When she manages to convince others that a sacrifice must be made, Frank Darabont’s excellent film takes on a religious undertone that perfectly gears with the film’s third act. Harden’s performance is a great representation of fundamentalism that went unnoticed because of the film’s resemblance to B-movies.
13 Isabelle Fuhrman – Orphan (2009)
- Release Date
- July 24, 2009
Jaume Collet-Serra’s Orphan tells the story of a family going through grief, as Kate’s latest pregnancy ended in tragedy. John tries to comfort her to no avail. Not even her other children, Max and Daniel. It’s only when they decide to adopt Esther that things start looking up. Esther comes Russia, but she’s very talented. She’s also very mysterious, and when violent events start taking place around the Colemans, they start suspecting it may all have to do with the family’s new member. It’s a film loosely based on a true story.
A Very Underrated Performance by a Young Actor
Esther is played by Isabelle Fuhrman in her first Hollywood appearance (her debut was in 2007 in Hounddog). The child actor cleverly transitions from innocent girl to villain as expected, and all the tropes of her character are complied with. However, the film can’t be solely supported by this. When Fuhrman must raise the stakes of the character, she does so with a confidence that’s hard to find in young performers. This couldn’t have been an easy role. Fuhrman would reprise her role with a 2022 prequel that was strangely very effective and very well done, given the obvious changes to her appearance.
12 Jennifer Carpenter – The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
The Exorcism of Emily Rose tells the story of Father Richard Moore, a priest who has been accused of negligent homicide. Erin Bruner, a fierce lawyer, decides to represent Moore in court. But it won’t be an easy job: Moore has been accused of subjecting 19-year-old Emily Rose to an exorcism that ended with her death. The film is based on the real-life case of Anneliese Michel.
Perhaps the Greatest Exorcism Performance Ever
Jennifer Carpenter was in charge of portraying Emily Rose in the genre-bending horror drama The Exorcism of Emily Rose. It’s not exactly a horror film because it doesn’t confirm any kind of supernatural fact related to the case, but it’s creepy enough to make you think and wonder if there were some demonic forces at play. Exorcism films are usually effective by nature, but this time it’s all about Carpenter’s ability to make us believe that this wasn’t just a case of an untreated mental illness. Her physicality is “bent” in such unnatural ways that at some point you will have trouble believing her scenes aren’t manipulated with CGI. Her performance is that good.
11 Christian Bale – American Psycho (2000)
Mary Harron’s 2000 dark comedy horror film, American Psycho, is based on the novel of the same name by Bret Easton Ellis. In the film, Patrick Bateman is a successful investment banker living in New York City in the late ’80s. At least, that’s what he does during the day. At night, he becomes a violent serial killer, preying on innocent people who confuse him for a wealthy yuppie.
A Difficult Film Led by a Charismatic Maniac
Few people know how difficult it was to make American Psycho. Harron had prepared herself to make the film, but then she was replaced by Oliver Stone, who was forced to hire Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead character. The two couldn’t agree on how to approach the film’s narrative, and Stone was replaced by Harron, who said she wouldn’t make the film without Christian Bale in the lead role. It was one of the most important decisions in modern horror, as Bale was able to perfectly portray Bateman’s nihilistic self. His characterization of evil is iconic, but the primary satirical component of his performance rules above everything.
10 Naomi Watts – Mulholland Drive (2001)
Mulholland Drive is a David Lynch joint that tells the story of a young woman who wants to become a Hollywood starlet. Betty Elms arrives at Tinseltown, eager to make her dreams come true. She meets Rita along the way, and they instantly become inseparable as Rita tries to recover her memory after a car accident that left her amnesiac. What happens after is a series of events compiled in pure Lynch form, a series of connecting dots that you can only give logic to if you know what a Lynch film is all about.
How Would You Act in Your Own Nightmare?
Not much is often highlighted in the performance department when it comes to the world of Lynch’s films. It seems his imaginative and surreal spewing of images is compelling enough to draw the attention of viewers who seek a very distinct experience. However, Naomi Watts’ performance as Betty (and other characters) in the fantasy horror film Mulholland Drive is one of the few that stands out because it fully reflects one of the identifiable aspects of the simple part of the film’s narrative. She’s naive, of course, but her evolution into something far more primal is played out flawlessly by the young actor, who also complements very well with Laura Elena Herring (Rita and others).
9 Peter Mullan – Session 9 (2001)
Cult horror film Session 9 tells the story of a group of workers who start working removing asbestos from a building structure that used to be a mental asylum. Tensions between them, and the pressure to finish the job, quickly prove to be too much for a couple of them, who start seeing some things that perhaps aren’t real.
Session 9 Is the Most Interesting Film You Never Saw
Scottish actor Peter Mullan plays Gordon Fleming in the film, the owner of the company in charge of the task. Sure, he’s supposed to lead them, but slowly he becomes entangled in the mystery as he starts noticing there are ghosts lurking in this place. A traumatic personal life is also slowly revealed, as his mental stability falls prey to whatever walks around what used to be Danvers State Hospital. Mullan’s performance is one of the best of his career, as he perfectly embodies a leader whose sanity strongly succumbs when he realizes the dangers of the project he’s leading. The 2001 film is one of the most underrated horror thrillers you can watch today.
8 Angela Bettis – May (2002)
In May, by writer/director Lucky McKee, May Dove Canady is a lonely woman who can’t socially perform in any scenario. She’s inevitably lonely, and some consider her to be too weird. Maybe it’s her lazy eye, or her weird behavior while working at a veterinary clinic. Her only friend seems to be a doll called Suzie, which May keeps locked up in glass. One day, she meets a cute boy, and she quickly falls for the guy. This will be the beginning of a very important and progressive character reveal for feminist horror film, May.
A Cult Horror Film That Deserves More Attention
Angela Bettis, the very underrated actress and director of horror indies, plays May in one of the most interesting performances of the decade. In May, we experience a young woman’s awakening through a promise she creates in her own mind. It’s not exactly unpredictable where this one goes, but McKee does a great job in never portraying the outcome as a horror mockup, but as something inevitable considering May’s upbringing. She’s not to blame for what happens, and Bettis does an excellent job at accomplishing empathy for a character that otherwise would be very hard to identify with.
7 Belén Rueda – The Orphanage (2007)
- Release Date
- May 20, 2007
- Belén Rueda , Fernando Cayo , Roger Príncep , Mabel Rivera , Montserrat Carulla , Andrés Gertrúdix
J. A. Bayona, the director of this year’s Society of the Snow, made his directorial debut with The Orphanage, a widely acclaimed horror film that transcended frontiers and actually made an impression in Hollywood. In the film, Laura is married to Carlos, and they move with their adopted son to Laura’s childhood home, an abandoned orphanage that needs to be restored. Spooky events ensue, but then their son, Simón, disappears without a trace. This sends the family down a spiral of mystery that only gets creepier when secrets from Laura’s past rise to the surface.
A Classic Ghost Story Led by a Very Good Actor
Belén Rueda, the veteran Spanish actor, gives life to Laura in the film produced by Guillermo del Toro. Rueda is the typical “damsel in distress” that is taken for the hysterical female. But Laura’s story quickly twists around our perception of where the film may go at some point. When it finally enters its final stage, The Orphanage becomes a contemplative and beautiful ghost story that will drive you to tears, and it’s mostly because of Rueda’s very honest depiction of motherhood in horror. It is one of the best non-English scary movies you can watch today.
6 Sergi López – Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy film, Pan’s Labyrinth, takes us to Spain in the mid-1940s. The Spanish Civil War is over, and military dominance is visible and violent. Ofelia, her mother Carmen, and her husband, Captain Vidal, are staying in a country house with several members of the military forces Vidal leads in his hunt for rebels. Ofelia is a rebellious child who finds comfort in the fantasy land that she’s able to access through a labyrinth. In this underground world, she meets a faun who believes she’s a reincarnated princess and must come back to the kingdom.
One of the Greatest Villains You’ll Ever See in Cinema
Sergi López, a Spanish actor mostly known for comedic performances, gives life to a despicable man and one of the best villains in del Toro’s universe. Vidal is a great representation of unearthly evil, whose heinous acts reveal early on that hate has consumed whatever was left of his humanity. It’s not about what he does, but about what you believe he can do. When he finally confirms what we fear of him, Pan’s Labyrinth takes a dark turn that’s reminiscent of del Toro’s ability to include socially relevant themes in fantasy and horror.
5 Keanu Reeves – Constantine (2005)
Inspired by DC and Vertigo’s Hellblazer, Constantine tells the story of John Constantine, a sort of modern-day exorcist and demonologist who uses his expertise to help the innocent fight the demons who want to enter our realm. John suffers from terminal cancer, but he has a deal with an angel who can extend his life if he can help the innocent, especially a detective who believes her sister’s death is related to the occult. The film was a massive hit among audiences, and it was mostly because of who played Constantine.
The Anti-Hero We All Miss
Well, it was action star Keanu Reeves. However, the film’s pretty different from what he had done in the past. In Constantine, Reeves plays an anti-hero who resorts to chain-smoking even when suffering from lung cancer, because he just doesn’t care. Reeves’ melancholic attitude towards basically everything is essential when portraying a character whose sense of dread is almost tangible. It’s one of Reeves’ most underrated performances, one that people don’t exactly remember as it’s part of the superhero universe, and one that sadly hasn’t been revisited again.
4 Bill Moseley – The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects tells the story of the Firefly family as they escape justice and decide to run away after the events of the first film of the franchise, House of 1000 Corpses. Now, Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding aren’t just the villains in the movie. Now, they’re the stars of a road trip that sends them down a rampage through the South, where they will come across innocent victims who will fear the wrath of the nihilistic killers who will smile as they pillage.
What Does the Devil Look Like?
Bill Moseley comes back to play Otis Driftwood in a role that was one of the good things about the first film. He really embodied evil, and with a sociopathic manner, he made us understand the twisted family values. However, in The Devil’s Rejects, all bets are off. Otis is now a great representation of what has to be the Devil on steroids. Deep inside his mind, there’s only hate and contempt for the basics of humanity. Moseley does this so naturally, and it goes so well, that it’s hard to believe there’s an actor behind Otis.
3 Béatrice Dalle – Inside (2007)
Directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, Inside, also known as À l’intérieur, tells the story of Sarah, an expectant mother who’s still recovering from a horrible car accident. Her husband has died in it, and now she’s all alone, preparing for her baby’s arrival. On Christmas Eve, someone knocks on her door. Sarah answers, and it’s a woman asking for help. Sarah tells her to leave, and she lies to the stranger, saying her husband is asleep. When the stranger tells Sarah she knows her husband is dead, a home invasion thriller begins. One of the best you will ever see.
The Most Underrated Villain on the List
Inside is one of the scariest films made in France. And Béatrice Dalle is largely responsible for this. She plays the woman arriving at Sarah’s doorstep, who submits the poor pregnant woman to an ordeal of violence that audiences will never recover from. Methodic and relentless, the woman will not stop until she completes her mission of killing Sarah. But there’s a reason for this, and it’s a great character reveal that will confirm once again why Dalle is a perfect villain in the new wave of French horror.
2 Michael Shannon – Bug (2006)
- Release Date
- November 11, 2006
William Friedkin’s Bug takes viewers to a gritty motel where two lonely people meet and enter a cocoon of absolute paranoia that only exists in their minds. Agnes is a waitress who still grieves the disappearance of her son and suffers from an abusive relationship. Things change when she meets Peter, another lonely man whom she bonds with, even after her ex-husband Jerry shows up again and threatens her. After their first night together, Peter and Agnes fall into a state of total delusion and thus begin their descent into something very dark.
Friedkin Accomplishes a Perfection Rendering of Madness
Friedkin’s direction of this underrated feature is impressive. Only in his hands would a film of this nature be possible, given his skill at manifesting something primal in characters that face extreme circumstances. In Bug, he does a first, and he has Michael Shannon‘s range at hand. Friedkin designs Shannon’s transformation from a lonely and average drifter into a broken person, only held together by the power of his hallucinations and the bond he has with Agnes. Shannon’s depiction of a mental breakdown will give you nightmares. Actually, the whole film will.
1 Matthew McConaughey – Frailty (2001)
In Frailty, a stranger arrives at an FBI agent’s office with an important reveal: his brother is the killer responsible for a string of recent crimes. But first, he will tell his story. It all has to do with his and his brother’s childhood, during which their father had a sudden revelation one day: he would become a divine slayer, getting rid of all the demons in the world. Through the flashback, we learn about the traumatic story of Fenton and Adam, the two boys divided by their views about what their father decided to become.
Matthew McConaughey’s Only Step Into Horror
We’ll do you a solid and refrain from spoiling one of the greatest and most underrated horror flicks from the 2000s. Just know that Matthew McConaughey gives a strong performance as the mysterious stranger who arrives at agent Wesley Doyle’s office. Halfway through the film, the truth about the siblings is revealed, and McConaughey’s performance becomes the center of an exciting twist that confirms Frailty is a gripping horror experience perfectly directed by actor/director Bill Paxton and one you should see right away.
To stay in the spirit of horror, let’s take a look at the 15 scariest horror movies of all time, according to Rotten Tomatoes: