It’s that time again. Another year has come to an end and while 2019 was an odd one for horror as far as mainstream titles go, with many household baddies ending up leaving less of a mark than so many awesome indies (in my opinion), there was still a lot to like over the last twelve months.
Indeed, 2019 was a reminder of the tremendous diversity found in the many horror subgenres that brought us cornucopia of terror. Take your pick, choose your fate and dive right in with us. And in case you missed our first 10 choices for top horror movies of 2019, you can check them out here.
At sea, no one can hear you slurp the blood of seagulls as a means of sustenance. I think that’s how the saying goes? Rob Grant’s Harpoon is a claws-spiked survival nightmare on water, featuring three friends with deeper secrets than the ocean depths below their stranded vessel. Will they tear each others’ hearts out before dehydration sets in? Brett Gelman’s narration provides the pitch-perfect cynicism to tell this story of narcissistic venom and macho rivalries, because life is just a sonofabitch sometimes. In this case, wounds fester and tensions rise under the hottest beams of exotic sunlight. Crystal clear waters tainted by the sourest humor imaginable. My kind of fun in the sun.
9) In Fabric
Peter Strickland is one of the few filmmakers who could take a “killer dress” concept and stitch together one of the year’s most seductive, alluring genre films. It’s a story that zig and zags at the most unexpected times, possibly throwing some viewers, but cinematography strikes undeniably salacious poses as “the dress” flutters above its victims. I’m not joking. A haunted garb unlocks themes of department store terror, sexual provocation, and the prices we’re willing to pay for en vogue beauty. I’ll admit In Fabric is easily my most divisive but delicious favorite this year. An obscure, erotic, and absurdly oddball centerfold.
Every year there’s a movie described as “[X] Year’s The Witch,” which has never been used correctly until Hagazussa. Lukas Feigelfeld’s debut is an Austrian answer to Robert Eggers‘ pioneer satanism except with more snow, skull caverns, and unappetizing milk slurps. It’s a methodical slow burn that treats tall tales and folklore with a forked tongue, as a young woman battles impoverished isolation after the “disappearance” of her heretic mother. Cue paranoia and ritualistic farmland bleakness with a thick layer of atmospheric dread. Surely not every horror fan’s speed, but those who’ll appreciate old-world cinematography under a cursed haze shouldn’t skip out on quite a tasty first-time cauldron of pagan stew waiting to bubble over.
Ari Aster’s self-proclaimed “breakup movie” is far more comical than expected, but doesn’t short audiences of “sunny scary” tenacity. Florence Pugh owns Midsommar as a girlfriend pushed through stages of grief, gaslighting, and assumed retribution. Sweden’s pastel-kissed festivities turn from native rituals to sacrificial dangers as psychosis manipulates everything from character motivations to pulsating cinematography. Will Poulter plays a vaping American bro-bag who is the humorous backbone of Aster’s cast, but what a turn for Pugh, Aster’s May Queen. “Horrifying” might not be the terminology everyone uses, but “horror” this romantic comedy of springtime sinfulness truly is.
6) Little Monsters
Unpopular opinion time! While most hold Us as Lupita Nyong’o’s breakout genre performance of 2019, I’d lean towards Little Monsters. This Australian zombie comedy has Nyong’o protecting toddler students against an undead threat as “Miss Caroline,” the most sunshiney, good-mannered teacher any parent could ask for. Escape plans turn into games of “tag,” blood is “strawberry jam,” and she covers Taylor Swift songs on the ukelele throughout as a means of calming knee-high children. Throw in Josh Gad as “Teddy McGiggle,” a beloved singalong host who snaps under the apocalyptic pressure (possible one of the year’s funniest roles), and you’ve got a hilarious fight against ferocious hordes that you won’t need to shake off.
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Any year where a mainstream aquatic horror film lands on my “Top 10” is a banner year in theaters. Alexandre Aja’s Crawl is the “crocodile attack during a hurricane” I never knew I needed. Kaya Scodelario as a toughie daughter, Barry Pepper her wounded father. Together they must outwit and evade hungry reptiles who block their exit from a flooding house, all amidst category winds and sweep-away currents. It’s legitimately scary, and that’s Aja’s greatest achievement. Far more than the gore of feeding-frenzy carnage, to the point where crocodile lunges from shadows catch you off guard and sustain anxiety in the best ways.
4) Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror
A documentary? In my horror “Top 10?” That’s the importance of Xavier Burgin’s Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror. It’s not often that genre fans spotlight documentaries when discussing must-see titles, and that’s with good reason. Horror Noire bucks said “overlook” trend by cutting right to the representation issue at hand though while being both classroom-sharp and uniquely entertaining. Talking heads from Keith David to Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Rachel True to Tony Todd recount horror’s tokenization problem from early years until the recent resurgence of culturally aware storytellers in today’s Get Out era. Writers Ashlee Blackwell and Danielle Burrows do their homework when adapting Robin R. Means Coleman’s book to screen, in what will hopefully exist as an igniter to a larger boom of valuable genre documentaries.
3) Tigers Are Not Afraid
Shudder subscribers are treated to selections unmatched when it comes to horror curation, with movies like Tigers Are Not Afraid under their “Originals” distribution banner. Issa López’s courageous folktale doesn’t shy away from fear, as orphaned children fight against Mexico’s lawless underbelly denizens. It’s a rare cinematic experience that continuously makes you feel something, anything, as regional storytelling channels universal whimsy with wider appeal. You’ll be moved, touched, torn-apart, and impossibly stunned given the tremendous weight of López’s “land of the lost” lullaby. One that swaps princes for crime lords and fairy godmothers for anthropomorphic stuffed tiger dolls.
As with any Gaspar Noé production, I’ve had friends report back a gamut of responses after my recommendation of Climax. One couple, in fact, had the wife walk out midway through after noting stress and panic levels simply too high to endure, while the husband couldn’t have texted me a bigger rave. It’s a test of wills, sanity, and artistic boundaries, as a troupe of dancers unknowingly ingests hallucinogens while locked inside a gymnasium. Practice turns to fraternizing turns to a synth-scored, interpretive dance straight onto Satan’s dance floor. The beats never stop and nor do Noé’s gyrating performers, until true madness envelops what was still an off-tempo story of abstract communal drama. Dysfunction untamed, primality now on high.
1) Ready Or Not
In any other year, Climax or Tigers Are Not Afraid would have been my #1 horror flicks. In 2019 though, that honor goes to a shotgun-loaded Samara Weaving as she’s hunted by one-percenters in Ready Or Not. A game of “hide and seek,” an unending mansion accented by mahogany, and a family who believes a bit too much in tradition. Ms. Weaving brings a sympathetic rage to her role as newlywed Grace, redefining how we think of the modern “scream queen” with the most guttural and emotive “screams” in years. Her strength is only bolstered by a supporting cast from coked-up daddy’s girls to alcoholic siblings ruined by trauma, in the year’s strongest ensemble effort. You’ll laugh too hard, enjoy more bloodshed, and sip the finest bubbly in honor of Radio Silence’s undisputed top dog. A horror comedy that goes knives-out when it comes to polluted mindsets of the upper class.