Saturday, December 28

Favorite Horror Films 2019

Monte’s Favorite Horror Films 2019

2019 was a fantastic example of all the good happening in horror right now. Filmmakers took the genre in new, exciting, and innovative directions with artistic, challenging, daring, grotesque visions of the frightful and fantastic. 

Filmmakers continued to develop their unique voices with artistic films about grief, culture, politics, mental health, and society crafted films both bold and beautiful. 

A film sequel nearly 40 years later paid tribute to two defining icons of film and literature with an adaptation that managed to blend the best of two worlds. The love for the literary horror King continued with a menacing clown tormenting a group of adults who formed The Loser's Club, with a family-focused horror remake were "sometimes dead is better", and the tale of a maze of tall grass with evil lurking inside it. 

A modern-day retelling of the Frankenstein story, an important documentary about the influential work of African Americans in the development of horror, and the strange evil of a haunted dress all proved exceptional examples of horror in 2019.  

If 2019 proved anything, it's that the outlook of horror for a new decade looks extremely promising. 

These are my favorite horror films of 2019.

Honorable Mentions
  • Crawl
  • Depraved
  • Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse
  • Hole in the Ground
  • In the Tall Grass
  • Piercing
  • Little Monsters
  • Tumbbad
  • Strawberry Flavored Plastic
  • Wounds

15. Starfish

In writer/director A.T. White’s sci-fi/horror hybrid “Starfish”, a mysterious signal triggers the end of the world leaving Aubrey, a completely poised performance from actress Virginia Gardner, stuck and grieving in the apartment of her dead best friend. “Starfish” is smart and emotional in its execution of a personal apocalypse story.  

14. Ready or Not 

 “Ready or Not” is a complete crowd-pleaser. Its charming lead Samara Weaving is delightful throughout, the comedy moments are a blend of dark humor and biting physical slapstick, and the thrilling cat-and-mouse narrative structure keeps everything moving swiftly. It’s fun from start to finish. 

13. Daniel Isn’t Real

“Daniel Isn’t Real” starts as a rather interesting psychological thriller about past trauma and an imaginary friend, then it goes to unexpected creepy, creaturely places. Director Adam Egypt Mortimer deftly guides this film into unexpected and creative places. It also features two standout performances from Miles Robbins and Patrick Schwarzenegger.

12. Knife + Heart

This Giallo-inspired, meticulously designed in the vein of 1970s Italian thrillers, has a complicated and sexually charged story, campy portrayals, and brutal gore. It’s bold, bloody, and often beautiful in its design. Director Yann Gonzalez confidently guides this film. Add a fantastic M83 electronic, club-inspired score to the mix for added fun. 

11. Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror

Watching how horror has changed and morphed throughout history displays a genre that is so much more than simple scares and buckets of blood…it’s history, culture, race, gender, and society. “Horror Noire” should be mandatory film education for budding cinephiles of any genre fascination. 

10. Bliss

“Intensity” would be a good word to describe the cinematic quality of director Joe Begos’ film style. “Inspired” is a better word. Begos continues to grow as a filmmaker, taking his punch-in-face style for violence and gore but continuously creating better characters to interact in the mayhem that often ensues. Actress Dora Madison plays struggling artist Dezzy with ferocity in this film, leading the charge for the mayhem that will ultimately take over the final act in this film. Joe Begos is one filmmaker to watch out for. 

9. Luz

Crafting tone and establishing an atmosphere are critical elements for any film. “Luz”, from writer/director Tillman Singer, is a low budget horror gem filled with eerie 1980s-esque atmosphere, partly accomplished due to being filmed on glorious 16mm film, and a shifting tone that puts a fun spin on the demon possession trope. At a mere 65-minutes, it’s impressive how much great cinematic elements, from music to photography to performances, are being accomplished in this film.  

8. In Fabric 

A bizarre garment shop hosting a strange ritual after closing hours plus a haunted red dress plus director Peter Strickland equals…one of the best, weirdest, unique horror anthologies of 2019. Strickland somehow manages to make his unorthodox pacing an attribute that creates a sense of unease as the film shifts and shakes from story to story. Add to this a tone that allows for a complementary blend of humor and horror and “In Fabric” is one of those strange films that somehow defies easy categorization. 

7. Doctor Sleep

There are moments within “Doctor Sleep” where Flanagan recreates scenes, characters, and designs from “The Shining”, they are amazing and utilized so nicely within the context of the film. Flanagan clearly understands and respects the intention and vision of Stephen King for this story, but also the artistry and structure from Stanley Kubrick who turned “The Shining” into one of the best-regarded genre films in history. “Doctor Sleep” is a film that feels so accomplished in many respects to literary and cinematic visions of the past, a seemingly impossible task when the titans you are paying tribute towards is King and Kubrick. Mike Flanagan has demonstrated with his recent films, and specifically with “Doctor Sleep”, that he is truly the current master of horror. 

6. The Lighthouse

Director Robert Eggers, in his sophomore film, makes a bold decision to craft a mashup genre film lead by two amazing performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson and shot it square full framing with the antiquated seafaring language of the late 1800s. The result is a strange yet entrancing film that is a claustrophobic, confined tale of madness. Robert Eggers is the most interesting filmmaking vision maker working currently.   

5. Tigers are not Afraid 

Three magic wishes are given to a group of orphaned children trying to escape awful circumstances chasing them in Mexico. Filmmaker Issa López crafts a magical horror tale grounded in the realism of trauma. Utilizing horror and fantasy elements to tell a stunning tale of social commentary, loss of innocence, and the beautiful power of youth. It is a film unlike any you will see this year. 

4. Us

Filmmaker Jordan Peele continues to tell deeper stories about history, culture, and race concerns; with his sophomore effort, the director tells a story filled with numerous pathways, each with big and bold ideas that could each have their own story to explore. “Us” feels like a contemporary “Twilight Zone” episode come to life. Peele deftly controls the narrative and filmmaking elements throughout, timing out scares with precision and building a nice family dynamic story structure. It’s clear that Jordan Peele understands the power of genre storytelling.

3. Atlantics

There was no stronger debut film in 2019 than Mati Diop’s suspenseful, sensual, supernatural fairytale. The French-Senegalese director masterfully crafts an emotional tale grounded in the reality of everyday Dakar culture and society, taking time to establish the environment and characters. Then the film makes a shift into something completely different, an unnerving ghost story of vengeance mixed with masterful strokes of social commentary. It’s magical realism at its best.

2. Midsommar 

“Midsommar” is only the second film from director Ari Aster, who last helmed the terrifying “Hereditary”, and it only continues to strengthen the captivating style and unique voice of the filmmaker. Mr. Aster, amongst many qualities as a filmmaker, understands how one can utilize genre characteristics to tell emotionally complicated stories. “Midsommar” demonstrates that sometimes the scariest monster isn’t a monster at all, sometimes it’s the emotion connected with the fear of loss and the outlook towards the unknown or misunderstood elements of the world we live in. 

1. One Cut of the Dead

The zombie subgenre of horror is completely oversaturated, but it hasn’t stopped inventive filmmakers from utilizing the living dead to tell creative stories about humanity, society, and culture. “One Cut of the Dead” does something truly inventive here, a narrative design that is best left to discovery than a cheap spoiler, composing a film that is lighthearted, funny, and sweet. It’s more than a B-movie horror film, it’s an ode to the process of creativity and creation, to the joy of chasing a dream and dedicating oneself to achieving the goal no matter what stands in your way.  

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