21 Scary Movies About the Immigrant Experience

“Cinema is universal, beyond flags and borders and passports.” — Alejandro González Iñárrit, Mexican filmmaker

The cage trap in The Forever Purge (2021) is set after the annual Purge concludes by extremists who wish to eradicate “non-Americans”.

Those of us who are children of immigrants or actually made the brave decision to leave everything behind to relocate to a different country in search of a better life know that the migrant experience is filled with trials and tribulations, despite society’s intercultural philosophy. Immigration is a uniquely individual experience, influenced by a number of things: skin color, socioeconomic background, ethnicity, religion, and so much more. The experience defies simple categorization. The life-altering shift to a new country is filled with joy and challenges alike—triumph and prosperity on one end of the spectrum and the nation’s pervasive dehumanizing anti-immigrant sentiment on the other. 

His House (2020) features a character, Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), who questions whether ghosts could frighten her after the horrors she saw while fleeing South Sudan.

It’s a complex experience that has often been explored in cinema through themes of a relentless pursuit of a better life, cultural identity, belonging, assimilation, and so much more. Brooklyn (2015) adapts Colm Tóibín’s novel about a young Irish woman adapting to 1950s New York. A 17-year-old is forced to leave behind his home and family after a misunderstanding with a local Mexican cartel in I’m No Longer Here (2019). The gripping documentary The Other Side of Immigration (2009) showcases the harsh realities encountered by Mexican immigrants. The Joy Luck Club (1993) reflects on multigenerational Chinese women living in San Francisco and highlights the difficult lives immigrants face when moving to a new place with a different culture. 

There has recently been an emergence in horror of stories centered around immigration. Cataloged below are 20 horror movies that highlight the immigrant experience. 

Dirty Pretty Things (2002)

Chiwetel Ejiofor portrays an immigrant whose employer attempts to intimidate him into performing black market kidney “donations”.

This British thriller is centered around Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an immigrant who works the front desk at a West London hotel employed with numerous other migrants. One day he finds a human heart clogging a toilet in one of the rooms. Things only get stranger when his boss learns of his surgical background and tries to rope him in on an underground operation he runs out of the hotel, in which immigrants swap kidneys for forged passports. As tempting as the offer is, Okwe is adamant about abiding by his morals. The movie showcases the dehumanizing and exploitative conditions that migrants are forced to work and live in. It serves as a brutal reminder of the brutal consequences of anti-immigration policies and how capitalism values profit over human lives. 

Savageland (2015)

An amateur photographer captures evidence of a mass murder in a border town in Savageland.

Savageland is a mockumentary horror film that tells the story of a massacre that occurred in Santo Cristo, a town on the Arizona-Mexico border, in which the entire population of 57 residents is wiped out overnight, leaving behind only a trail of blood. There’s one lone survivor, Francisco Salazar (Noe Montes), an amateur photographer and undocumented migrant. Despite there being a lack of evidence against him, racism and anti-immigrant prejudice turn him into the scapegoat. A roll of photos he took, but lost, that night emerges and corroborates his innocence. They also show unspeakable horror and give a glimpse of more bloodshed to come. The movie highlights themes of racism, racial profiling, and the flaws of the American justice system. It’s a smartly crafted movie with haunting imagery that will stick with you.

Most Beautiful Island (2017)

Restricted to jobs that pay cash, Luciana struggles to get by in New York City.

Most Beautiful Island is a slow-burn psychological suspense film written, directed, and produced by Ana Asensio, who also stars. The movie chronicles the excruciating day of Luciana, a young undocumented immigrant from Spain trying to make ends meet in New York City, while working hard to escape her past. She takes menial, cash-pay jobs, as it’s all her status allows her. After meeting Olga (Natasha Romanova), a Russian emigre with a lavish lifestyle, she’s offered to fill in for her at one of her jobs. Little does she know it will require her to go through disturbing extremes in a dangerous game. The movie won the SXSW Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature. 

Into the Dark: Culture Shock (2019)

For more Hulu horror movies, see our constantly updated list of the best horror movies on Hulu.

Culture Shock is an entry into Hulu and Blumhouse’s Into the Dark film series, from Mexican writer-director Gigi Saul Guerrero, most known for horror pictures México Bárbaro (2014) and Bingo Hell (2021). The movie garnered a rating of 100% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Multiple critics and horror fans named it the best entry in the series. The story follows Marisol (Martha Higareda), a young Mexican woman desperate to cross the border into the US to create a life for herself and the child she’s expecting. Once she does, she comes to learn the truth: that the American dream is just an illusion, a theme explored by the movie along with the exploitation of migrant bodies. Horror legend Barbara Crampton also stars. 

His House (2020)

A refugee couple must either silently stay in their haunted council house or be deported in His House.

His House is a strong debut from promising writer-director Remi Weekes, and one of the most supreme Netflix originals. It won a BAFTA for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director, or Producer. The film is an atmospheric emotional horror deeply rooted in guilt and trauma with genuine chilling moments and standout performances. It follows a young refugee couple from South Sudan, Bol and Rial Majur (Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku), who have been finally granted probational asylum in Britain as they try to adjust to their new life. Bol makes an attempt to assimilate, while Rial clings to their culture. Both experience racism from their neighbors and their case worker Mark (Matt Smith). As they adhere to strict restrictions to avoid deportation, they’re haunted by an evil lurking in their house. 

No One Gets Out Alive (2021)

Without the ability to turn down work (because their options are so limited) or go to the authorities for help, No One Gets Out Alive shows why nefarious people seek out undocumented immigrants to exploit.

Netflix’s No One Gets Out Alive is based on Adam Nevill’s 2014 horror novel of the same name, although the movie changes a lot of big details from the source material. For instance, the protagonist in the book isn’t an immigrant, the novel takes place in the UK, and the evil that lurks in the house is much different. The film follows Ambar (Cristina Rodlo), an undocumented migrant who has just arrived in Cleveland from Mexico. After finding under-the-table work at a local garment factory, she can only afford to settle in a crumbling boarding house run by Red (Marc Menchaca), the suspicious owner. There, she finds herself kept awake by sobbing in the middle of the night, sinister nightmares, and disturbing noises coming from the basement. The movie explores the real-life terror of how vulnerable immigrants without papers are exploited and preyed upon in this country, and how their lives are viewed as dispensable. 

Nanny (2022)

Aisha (Anna Diop) works as a nanny to send money back home to her son in Senegal.

Nanny is Nikyatu Jusu’s feature directorial debut. It was the first horror movie to win the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, making Jusu only the second Black female filmmaker to win this award, after Chinonye Chukwu. The film follows Aisha (Anna Diop), a Senegalese migrant who had to leave her six-year-old son behind with her cousin, until she saves enough money to bring them to America to live with her. She’s hired by a wealthy white Upper East Side couple to be their daughter’s nanny. At her job, Aisha faces microaggressions, deals with sexual harassment, her workload increases, and her overtime hours go uncompensated. Meanwhile, she starts to experience visions and noises that blur into her reality. Nanny packs a heavy punch, illustrating race relations, the trials of the migrant experience, guilt, and motherhood.

Nocebo (2022)

A fashion designer with a mysterious illness receives help from her Filipino worker.

Nocebo is a gripping Filipino-Irish co-production and takes the form of a psychological horror with supernatural and folk elements. Much like Nanny, the story features an immigrant laborer employed into a bourgeois household. Here, help arrives in the form of Diana (Chai Fonacier), a Filipina hired to help Christine (Eva Green), a fashion designer suffering a mysterious illness that has confounded doctors. Christine’s family treats Diana suspiciously, and even poorly at times. Diana uses traditional folk magic and faith healing to help Christine, later revealing a terrifying truth. The movie engages with the reality of inhumane working conditions carried out by corporations, how the wealthy distance themselves from this truth, prevailing colonization, human exploitation, and the horrors of capitalism

American Carnage (2022)

Scream queen Jenna Ortega portrays one of many children of immigrants who are promised freedom in exchange for labor.

This comedy horror delivers racial and political commentary in a shocking, yet humorous manner. It touches on immigration rights, the strength of community, and cultural identity. The movie stars iconic scream queen Jenna Ortega alongside Jorge Lendeborg Jr. and Eric Dane. Its unique, interesting plot revolves around a governor’s executive order: the children of migrants without papers will be arrested and offered the opportunity to have their charges dropped in exchange for volunteering as caregivers to the elderly. When they make it into the facility, they uncover a sinister conspiracy. 

Raging Grace (2023)

A Filipino undocumented immigrant is hired to take care of a wealthy dying man in Raging Grace.

We prepare your meals, administer your medicine, we sing your kids to sleep, we walk your dogs, we take care of your parents, we pick up your shit, and when you’re dying, we comfort you until your last breath. We don’t need your help—you need ours.

Paris Zarilla’s feature debut examines racism, cultural identity, power, and the dehumanization of migrants. Joy (Max Eigenmann) is a Filipino undocumented migrant and a single mother to Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla). Her hopes are to secure a home for her and her daughter, to have stability, and to reclaim her neglected medical career. She must first save thousands and thousands of pounds to pay a fixer for papers to remain in the UK. In order to achieve that, she works as a housekeeper in wealthy households, while bouncing between the couches of those who employ her (without their knowledge). One day, she receives a dream job with room and board at the massive estate of the terminally ill Mr. Garrett (David Hayman). She makes a terrifying discovery and her American dream turns into a nightmare.

More scary movies with immigrant main characters or about immigration in general:

A poor immigrant with no car is trapped at her employer’s Long Island home after discovering he took someone’s life in The Maid’s Room (2013).

District 9 (2009) a sci-fi film that serves as an allegory for apartheid South Africa and provides a look at immigration and the treatment of those who arrive in a new land. The story is about aliens who arrive on Earth to find refuge from a dying planet and are segregated into a ghetto called District 9. 

Monsters (2010) this sci-fi horror has its fair share of immigration metaphors. Giant tentacle monsters appear after a NASA probe crashes in Mexico. A US journalist escorts his boss’s daughter through the infected to the border. 

The Maid’s Room (2013) a psychological thriller centered around Drina (Paula Garcés), a young woman who has just immigrated from Colombia and takes a job as a live-in housekeeper for a wealthy family spending the summer in the Hamptons. Her life is soon threatened when she suspects their son of a fatal crime. 

Desierto (2015) this thriller follows the harrowing journey of a group of Mexican emigrants as they try to cross the border into the US, where a sadistic and racist sniper hunts them down with his rifle. 

Motel Acacia (2019) Motel Acacia, a lonesome remote motel and home to a menacing tree demon, is tasked by the government with exterminating immigrants. JC (JC Santos), a young mixed Filipino is groomed by his white, tyrannical father to take over the business.

Holy Emy (2021) a Greek drama-horror with fantasy elements. The movie centers around two sisters, Emy and Teresa (Abigael Loma and Hasmine Killip) living alone in Athens within their Filipino Catholic community after their mother is forced to return home. Emy is drawn to mysterious forces when she develops a strange bleeding condition and begins to grow healing powers. 

Our Father, The Devil (2021) a French suspense film about a Guinean refugee whose quiet life is disrupted when a charming Catholic priest arrives in her town, who she recognizes as the warlord responsible for the slaughter of her family. 

The Forever Purge (2021) a dystopian horror movie about an undocumented couple in Texas who are targeted by murderous Purgers intent on exterminating “non-Americans”.

The Nameless Days (2022) a young immigrant and his pregnant sister are attacked by an ancient demonic spirit as they attempt to cross the border into the US. 

You’re Not Home (2022) a horror short that centers around two African brothers seeking asylum, who encounter a dark entity at their direct provision center when mold appears in their room. 

It Lives Inside (2023) is a coming-of-age horror built around the immigrant experience. The story revolves around an Indian-American teen grappling with her cultural identity and trying to fit in with her suburban classmates. When a demonic spirit latches onto her former best friend, she must come to terms with her heritage.

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Meet The Author

Natalia is a writer, poet, and collage artist living in Houston, Texas. Her favorite scary movies include Pearl, Midsommar, and Jennifer’s Body. In her spare time, she enjoys writing “good for her” horror fiction.