2019 has seen a string of horror films that include sequels from big name brands and puerile efforts from some of the genre’s rising stars. The year has had films that turned the most mundane of ideas into something that gives you heebie-jeebies. Though seemingly ludicrous, getting cold feet while watching these films is something that makes them stand out. Music has all that jazz to make the films engaging. The following can be considered as this year’s best of the bloody bunch.
10. Happy Death Day 2U
This superior sequel is more a wild sci-fi fantasy with imaginative twists involving parallel universes and characters with multiple identities. Director Christopher Landon, who also scripted this movie, introduces multiverse theory and alternates realities that throw original star Jessica Rothe back into the spotlight. Tree Gelbman’s ( Roethe) mission is to not just foil killers and decide which universe she wants to wind up in, but to become something of a lay expert in quantum mechanics. This sequel delves deeper into the mythology of the time loop, rendering it less a horror movie and more of an outright sci-fi caper, but the transition is surprisingly seamless.
Christopher Landon embraces more genres and successfully mixes them in to the original film’s concept to expand on the reality Tree is confined to.Jessica Rothe is impressive in her performance and makes us laugh with ace physical comedy at one moment, and then has us reaching for tissues when tormented by the death of her only role model, the next. Rothe earns our empathy. She’s phenomenal.
Director Alexandre Aja has made a number of horror flicks over the years and though Crawl won’t reach that level of cult following, it still captures some of the deeply dark, humorous violence seen in them. Crawl is a combination of a natural disaster, scary predators, confined spaces that create a sense of never ending suspense and thrills from beginning to end. Every time you think one hurdle has crossed, another challenge presents itself to continually raise the stakes. There are some major consequences for many of the decisions of the characters, and that in itself continues to pile on just how real this movie feels.
A father (Barry Pepper) and daughter (Kaya Scodelario) are trapped in a flooding house during a hurricane that’s walloping Florida while the giant reptiles loom nearby, licking their chops as the water rises. Maxime Alexandre’s slow-panning cameras shots make the viewers gasp in anticipation. Crawl is thrilling, suspenseful, and high-stakes whilst retaining its sense of fun. There’s not much more you could want from this type of movie, and Crawl revels in that knowledge as it gets more and more outlandish.
08. Little Monsters
The film follows a musician named Dave (Alexander England) who crashes on his sister’s couch following a nasty break-up. His sister (Kat Stewart) is a single mom of a kindergartner named Felix (Diesel La Torraca) whose class happens to be in need of a chaperone for a field trip. Dave signs on to get in the good graces of Felix’s beautiful teacher, Miss Caroline (Nyong’o). Unfortunately for everyone, their destination, Pleasant Valley Farm happens to be right next door to a U.S. Army testing facility that has a major zombie outbreak. It is up to Dave and Miss Caroline to save the kindergartner class from zombies while dealing with a self-absorbed, sociopathic children’s TV show host, Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), before the Army brings in the big guns.
One common theme throughout Little Monsters is the contrast of bright to dark. The contrast adds so much to the film’s humor and story, and is very well-utilized, even with smaller details. When you look past the zombies and gore, the film is about the transition of letting our young ones go into the world and having to trust other adults with their care. So, while it is a zombie film, make no mistake that there is a whole lot of heart mixed in.
This film supplies subversive genre thrills with relevant subtext about paranoia and inclusion. Chloe (Lexy Kolker), an 8-year-old, wants to explore the outside world but her father (Emile Hirsch) keeps her sequestered, citing a mysterious danger. Clues are revealed when the girl meets an ice-cream truck driver (Bruce Dern) with secrets about her heritage as a superpowered “abnormal”.
The film is committed to its convoluted mythology while obscuring the lines between heroes and villains, and what’s real and imagined. Lexy Kolker is a true star. Subtle and poignant, unnerving and irresistibly charming, she powers the film grounding the increasingly wild sequences with her authentic, universal portrayal of a motherless child. She has real chemistry with Emile Hirsch, who pulls off a tricky balancing act of “demented” and “convincing”, potentially dangerous but also a source of comfort and security. Freaks is an anxiety-fueled sci-fi thriller that ratchets up the tension. It portrays itself as a horror-thriller, and while it does contain those elements, the end experience is decidedly different, and it works incredibly well.
06. It: Chapter Two
Director Andrés Muschietti, who helmed the first chapter of this horror classic in 2017, reunites the kids for a second installment, set 27 years later. The evil clown from their youth returns to feast on their fears; and as troubled adults who have since drifted apart, they are vulnerable again. The friends reconvene in their hometown to fight the monster. Bringing back the blood, the scares, and the innate weirdness, Chapter Two takes all the things that worked in the original and ramps them up to ridiculous levels as Pennywise goes all out in securing him a human snack.
It’s a long movie, with plenty of lore to unpack by an exceptional cast that nearly matches the chemistry of the young actors from the first film, and the scenes where they’re playing off each other are highlights. With its coming of age saga, straight up horror, and touching exploration of the strength of friendship, Chapter Two is the perfect cap on a perfect story.
Jordan Peele’s second subversive entry into the horror genre is just as impressive as the first, offering up a world where doppelgängers mysteriously appear to terrorize a family in their vacation home. The film opens on the Santa Cruz boardwalk circa 1986, where a father wins a prize for his young daughter. Ignored by her quarreling parents, the child ambles into a hall of mirrors, where she meets another girl, who appears to be her exact double. Cut to 30 years later, and the girl is now a mother of two and is back in sunny Santa Cruz for a beach holiday with her own family. History repeats itself, with her young son wandering near the same carnival attraction, and baiting a clan of exact doubles of his entire family back to their beach house.
Us is a comic iteration of a terrifying reality: the rising up of the underclass to reclaim their rightful place. As a horror movie, it’s beautiful to watch enchanting visuals with a story line that twists and turns as much as you’d expect from a Peele special. The cast are perfectly placed in their dual roles, the symbolism is on point, and creepy Lupita Nyong’o is all raspy and evil. She has had a remarkable year for bringing personal charm to brilliant spooky roles.
04. The Lighthouse
It is easy to lose your patience with those around, and it is even easier to lose your grip on reality. Who else but Robert Eggers knows it better? His last film The Witch drew widely divided critical responses and ‘The Lighthouse’ probably takes another step on that journey for the director. Again set in a time long past, two lighthouse keepers try to not lose their minds. Filmed in black and white, Eggers has pasted his special sense of direction into a world that is as Gothic as its colour scheme. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson bust out a ludicrously engrossing two-man show that unfolds in a turret.
The pair is tasked with looking after the Lighthouse in various ways. The pair is resentful and querulous and their four week period of work slowly devolves into madness. Emotions run high as the claustrophobia ramps up. The harsh sea life is so clearly envisioned on screen that you can practically taste the salt. The Lighthouse has got an overwhelming sense of dread and tension that is expertly played out somewhere between psychological horror and entrancing drama.
03. Ready or Not
Ready or Not is an astonishingly chilling, riveting and crazy horror film. The film celebrates a delicious subversion on the home invasion trope by having a bride attempt to survive her in laws in their sprawling family mansion. Grace decides to marry Alex Le Domas, who is loaded through his family’s game company, but the said company is built on a devilish deal that means joining the Le Domas’s requires one to run the risk of playing Hide and Seek.
Upon Grace unfortunately getting roped into the damn thing, the Le Domas’s arm themselves for a manhunt to kill Grace before sunrise – the blood price they pay for their continued wealth and fortune. It is Hide and Seek leveled up to its most extreme degree. Ready or Not is sharp and witty, throws in a lashing of gore, and is propelled by an incredible Samara Weaving until its blood, bitter end. She has a poignantly funny and yet-so-serious presence. Directed with style and panache, Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin add elegance to the ridiculousness of some of the setups.
02. Doctor Sleep
Doctor Sleep is a sequel to one of the most lasting, poignant, seminal horror movies that has ever graced cinema screens- ‘The Shining’. Director Mike Flanagan takes all the trappings of the original movie and does them all over again with due diligence and respect, making the return to the Overlook Hotel an actual spine-chilling pillar of excitement.
Based on King’s novel of the same name, Flanagan breathes life into a world that sees a group of vampire-like people feeding on ‘shine’ – the magical mental ability Danny Torrence used to save him and his mother from the evil Overlook. They target the exceptionally gifted Abra. The two come together to attempt to overcome the traumas of both past and present, and it is done with painstaking attention to detail at every corner.
Though not a terrifying horror movie, it is one that touches all the right spots with warm sentimentality and bold new turns in narrative to create an exceptional experience.
Like much of the Hereditary director’s output, the scenes in Midsommar are disturbing, heavy and terrifying, but they are also tinged with the blackest of humour. Ari Aster is an unstoppable force of nature when it comes to delivering subversive, art-house horror that chills as much as it intrigues. Midsommar is another feather to his elaborate horror cap, taking the brightest sunlight and the most beautiful nature setting and turning them into an unrelenting source of dread.
A hallucinatory trip into a rural community’s Midsummer celebrations in Sweden, the film sees Dani, her boyfriend, and two of his friends visit the Hårga commune for research. They find the heady mix of drugs and strangers to revolve around pagan cult offerings rather than simple summer fun. The movie plays with the fine line of comedy and horror more often than it leans one specific way, but it does so with such precision and brave weirdness that it’s hard not to get intoxicated by it. Beautiful in aesthetic as well as in its mysterious threats, incredibly acted, and with an ending that isn’t soon forgotten, Midsommar is both a work of art and a cinematic experience.
Horror has taught us to be scared of the dark, but if Midsommar is anything to go by, true terror doesn’t care what time it is.