For most people, their introduction to sensory deprivation horror was likely in 2018, either through Bird Box or A Quiet Place. These movies are perfect examples of sensory horror: movies that take away one of our main preceptory senses. In A Quiet Place, we have limited sound; in Bird Box, the characters aren’t allowed to see.
To be clear, both Bird Box and A Quiet Place are phenomenal movies, and they both make the list. But they certainly weren’t the first in the genre (which is where we’re going to start). You probably wouldn’t expect to see an Audrey Hepburn film here, but here we are: coming in at #6 is the 1967 classic Wait Until Dark.
6. Wait Until Dark (1967)
This one is not only the first sensory deprivation horror (or more rightly classified as thriller) that I ever watched, it was probably one of the first ever made. It tells the story of a young blind woman being tormented by robbers—until she turns the tables, cuts the lights, and starts to fight back. Interestingly, the film is adapted from a stage play. I’ve never seen the play, but I’ve heard stories of audiences covering their faces and looking away. So what makes the movie worthy of the top six? The combination of Audrey Hepburn’s stellar acting, a plot unique for its time, and the sheer suspense really bring it all to life. It won’t jump out and make you throw your popcorn, but it’ll keep you on the edge of your seat for sure.
5. The Silence (2019)
The world is under attack by supernatural creatures who hunt by sound. Familiar? If you’re thinking of A Quiet Place, you’d be right. The Silence is pretty much identical in plot. It even follows a family that communicates using American Sign Language with their deaf daughter. The parallels are incredible, but there are a few diversions. For one, The Silence is gorier. If you like blood and guts, this is the one for you. The enemy creatures are also different—more like pterodactyls instead of demogorgons. Regardless of the similarities to another film on this list, The Silence is pretty great. Good plot, fun characters, heaps of tension, and a satisfying conclusion.
4. The Silencing (2020)
Another one you may not have heard of before. It falls more into thriller than pure horror, but it still delivers. Featuring Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones as the lead, the plot is a unique mashup of Richard Connell’s 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game and character backstories from 2013’s Prisoners directed by Denis Villeneuve. You get a solid mix of detective mystery story and brutal horror. Honestly, this one makes the list simply because I was blindsided by the concluding twist. It caught me by surprise in the best possible way. That can be tricky for horror to pull off, but The Silencing did it well.
3. Don’t Breathe (2016)
Talk about epic twists! This one felt more like an offering from M. Night Shyamalan than director Fede Álvarez of Evil Dead fame. The basic premise is simple: a group of thieves know of an old blind man with lots of cash. They decide to take it. The man fights back in a manner akin to Wait Until Dark. But when the group of thieves discover the blind man’s secret chained up in his basement… everything gets insanely wild. I won’t spoil the surprise. Just go watch it. I can’t really recommend the 2021 sequel as it just didn’t provide anything new, but the first installment is certainly a quality one.
2. A Quiet Place (2018)
You knew it would make the list. A Quiet Place is simply an incredible film. The acting is absolutely top shelf, and it brings to life what would otherwise be a more predictable post-apocalyptic monster movie. If you’ve seen any clips, you already know the best moment: Emily Blunt giving birth in dead silence. It is hard to imagine a more brutal scene in any horror movie. I saw this one in theaters, and it was so quiet that people stopped eating snacks, sipping soda, or even breathing until it was over. Even after seeing the movie a handful of times, it still gives me chills.
1. Bird Box (2018)
“Under no circumstance are you allowed to take off your blindfold. If I find that you have, I will hurt you. Do you understand?” That line was incredible. Sandra Bullock delivered it flawlessly. I can still hear it in my head as though she was right in front of me. If you’re reading a list of the top sensory deprivation horrors, there’s a 99% chance you’ve already watched Bird Box, so there isn’t too much left to say. The movie dominated horror circles for at least a year after release, and few films since have come anywhere close to matching it. I will say one thing that might be unexpected: go read Josh Malerman’s 2014 novella. It is short, maybe a two-day read, and well worth it. The writing style is extremely unique—perhaps off-putting to some—but worth the time. It kept me up at night for all the right reasons.
There you are: six movies (and one novella) for the watchlist. Think we missed anything? Let us know in the comments.
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