Sometimes bleak endings are necessary, or at the very least more interesting in horror. Constantly clinging to the idea that everything must work out because of x, y, and z will only lead to disappointment. And let’s face it, if the premise is already ominous, there is a possibility things won’t end well. Especially if you’re dealing with slashers or zombie horror.
Do I always enjoy not-so-happy endings myself? Yes and no. I’m a complicated person, alright? More often than not I remember an ending if it’s especially upsetting or nihilistic. And in the case of the following horror films, I will never forget how they ended.
So without further ado, here are seven of horror’s bleakest, most nihilistic endings. Reader beware, spoilers abound for the films included on this list.
The Thing (1982)
It’s a fact that The Thing is a sci-fi horror classic with incredible special effects. Based on Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, a group of scientists in Antarctica fight for their lives against an alien creature. There are plenty of badass moments with realistic characters that aren’t moronic. In fact, they are all smart but paranoia and the sheer terror of an alien creature that can mimic and appear as their victims would make anyone freak the hell out. If you take a group of rational individuals and throw them into that predicament, chaos would ensue.
Then there’s that ending. People speculate and have their own theories about MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Childs (Keith David) being the last survivors and how one of them is potentially The Thing. But it doesn’t matter because the chances of survival are low. This is one of horror’s bleakest endings because even though they survived a horrific ordeal, there’s still no hope. MacReady fought bravely against the creature and lost a lot of people, only to slowly freeze to death alongside Childs. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. All they have is scotch and a dying fire.
The Descent (2005)
Caves and claustrophobia are already frightening on their own. Add in cannibalistic cave people and instability and you’ve got one hell of a horror movie. The Descentis a must-watch for any horror fan. The cast is all women, and the script’s emotional beats are perfectly woven into the story. It’s scary even before the creatures come into play. The film is straightforward in that it focuses on a group of women that embark on caving and discover more than just a new cave system. But there’s so much more to the story and the title alludes beyond cave exploration.
Many people don’t know that the film has two endings. The UK ending isn’t remotely like the US ending. Either way, the film ends bleakly for both Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and Juno (Natalie Mendoza). Sarah makes it out in the American ending but she’s in shock and suffers from another hallucination. Meanwhile, in the UK ending, Sarah’s escape was a hallucination and she wakes up in the caves again and sees her dead daughter as the crawlers’ sounds draw closer to her. Both endings can be considered bleak for obvious reasons. The UK ending is even more depressing, but it adds to what is already a hopeless film. Knowing that Sarah clung that tight to a hallucination is one big oof sound.
Ils (Them) (2006)
New French Extremity horror films pack a different punch altogether. Ils (Them)isn’t about gore and violence against the victims, it’s about building tension and pure fear. The movie is about a couple that lives in the middle of nowhere and is thrust into a nightmarish situation where unknown strangers stalk them. The concept of home invasion is already terrifying, and for these invaders to not be people in creepy masks adds another layer.
Ilsis quite a bit like The Strangers (2008) if you’re looking for a comparison. The couple tries to flee but is relentlessly chased throughout their own home. How many people are trying to get them? That question will linger in your mind as terror amps up. Knowing there’s nobody around to save them also plays into the fear. The ending may not satisfy everyone, certainly not after what the couple endured. Clémentine (Olivia Bonamy) watches her lover get dragged away and almost escapes their attackers. Her attempts to scream for help from the sewer system failed. In the end, it’s revealed that the killers were young kids and teenagers. It’s so bleak because they could have survived.
If you are squeamish then I don’t recommend watching this infamous New French Extremity horror film. Inside is a film about a widowed pregnant woman attacked in her home by a woman who wants her unborn baby. Sarah’s (Alysson Paradis) predicament is only made worse by her being pregnant. And for someone to seek to harm you by cutting you open with scissors is…a lot. The reason she’s being attacked isn’t revealed immediately. She’s thrust into survival mode and has to fight back against La Femme (Béatrice Dalle).
Sarah suffers greatly as she suffers physically, but also kills her mom by accident. There’s nothing triumphant about this film because our protagonist’s chances of survival are slim from the beginning. Her husband is dead, she’s pregnant, and a woman is trying to steal her baby. Everything is stacked up against her and even when help arrives, they are also taken out.
The ending is incredibly bleak because Sarah’s water breaks after an obscene moment of violence. She then asks La Femme to do a C-section when she’s unable to push the baby out. The film literally ends with Sarah being dead on her stairs and La Femme sitting with Sarah’s baby. Nothing ends well whatsoever.
If I’m being honest, Martyrs in its entirety is bleak as hell. There’s no spark of hope for our main characters at any point. The film follows Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) who seeks revenge against her former captors who tortured her. And her friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui) who has stuck by her side since they were children. Lucie and Anna suffered tremendously from childhood to adulthood. And there’s no hope for either as the film progresses.
Anna is captured by the same organization that took Lucie as a child. As soon as that happens there’s no chance of escape. It becomes a matter of how much Anna can handle and what happens afterward. She endures torture and despair that is hard to watch. Normally horror films at least allow for more moments of escape. The secret society wants to know what comes after death. And the film ends with Anna being flayed alive, forced to whisper what she sees, one of the society members kills herself, and Anna is left catatonic on a table.
Trauma is depicted violently throughout the film and Lucie never escapes what happened to her as a child. And as a result of being close to her, Anna suffers the fate that Lucie would have suffered as a child. The reason the ending is so bleak isn’t difficult to figure out. At least I hope not.
Eden Lake (2008)
Yikes on a million bikes, a romantic getaway descending into total hell is literally the exact opposite of ideal. Eden Lake follows a couple that goes on a mini vacation that goes upside down when they’re terrorized by some local kids. The film hones in on political ideas in the UK at the time and is effective in making children and teens seem terrifying. They aren’t supernatural or obscenely strong, they just operate in a large group. Everything that unfolds is nail-biting and frustrating, to say the least.
The performances are really strong and the characters come across as regular people in a horrible situation. Due to how tight-knit the local community is, there was always little chance of receiving help and the ending proves that. Jenny (Kelly Reilly) is forced to survive against ruthless kids, deal with the death of her boyfriend, and in the end, is blamed for those deaths. The ending is so bleak because when Jenny thinks she’s out of the woods (pun not intended), she ends up in the house of the gang leader. And is murdered in the bathroom by some of the adults (who don’t listen to her explanation).
The Lodge (2019)
Horror set during extreme weather conditions usually has a hopeless feeling to them. The Lodge is definitely one of those. The plot follows Grace (Riley Keough) who cares for her fiance’s children in a rural cabin during the holidays. And from there she suffers from unexplained events that result in a breakdown. There are many Catholic aspects to this film, including discussions of extreme cults, and trauma. It’s a very slow-moving psychological horror film, but it pays off when things really start to unfold.
There are many disturbing moments that occur throughout the film. And the snowy atmosphere creates an ominous feeling because there’s nowhere to go. Risking death by going outside isn’t worth it, even if the danger is in the cabin. As soon as it’s revealed that the kids were fucking with Grace to such an extreme that they hid her medication as well. The whole thing is so incredibly horrible and Grace firmly believes they are in purgatory. The film ends with the kids’ dad dying and them likely dying at the kitchen table.
The bleakness comes from the idea of gaslighting someone to the degree, Grace losing her mind, and how an entire family was taken out as a result. None of it was necessary!
Did your favorite bleak horror ending make the list? What should have made the cut? Let us know over on Twitter @DreadCentral.
Tags: Featured Post