The year 2019 continued this decade’s trend of providing top-notch fare for fear-fare and genre cinema fans. From supernatural shockers to arthouse horror to truly hilarious horror comedies and beyond, 2019 offered a wealth of riches, and narrowing my favorites down to 10 was no easy feat, but here we go!
(10) Tie: The Lighthouse and The Unthinkable
Robert Egger’s follow-up to The Witch (2015) is a gorgeously shot black-and-white slice of cinema that features tremendous performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two 1890s New England lighthouse keepers who try to survive when a storm prevents any hope of relief or necessary supplies. This is magnificent arthouse horror that boasts a veritable acting clinic in its tale of encroaching insanity that also flirts with aquatic and otherworldly horrors, as well.
Swedish film The Unthinkable is a stunning achievement filled with chaos, mystery, beautiful cinematography, and impressive special effects pulled off on a small budget. The film builds up slow-burn style into a full-on disaster movie, all the while tantalizingly keeping viewers as much in the dark about what is happening as its characters. When the action kicks in, it does so in a highly thrilling manner.
One of the most fun times I had at a cinema in 2019 was watching this intense alligator attack movie. It’s a blast of a nailbiter that combines both solid jump scares and Hitchcokian building of suspense. (For a crocodile attack film that would make a nice double feature with Crawl, check out Thai survival horror The Pool).
(8) Ready or Not
This turbulent tale of a young bride forced to play a deadly game on her wedding night is an outstanding horror comedy that delivers both loads of laughs and gallons of gore. Samara Weaving is truly incredible in a physically and emotionally demanding role.
(7) Here Comes Hell
This black-and-white independent U.K. feature “starts off as a British comedy of manners mashed up with classic old dark house elements before suddenly rocketing into full-on horror territory,” I wrote in my Gruesome Magazine review. In this tale of a group of friends and acquaintances gathered together for a seance, “First-time director Jack McHenry and his cast and crew serve up a fun, frenetic helping of supernatural chaos . . . Fans of the Sam Raimi and Lucio Fulci schools of fright fare are going to find plenty to like in Here Comes Hell . . . Expect plenty of blood-spilling and carnage, sometimes played for laughs and other times much less so.”
(6) The Vast of Night
This retro science fiction outing takes Rod Serling’s classic The Twilight Zone television series as a jumping-off point for director Andrew Patterson’s highly original vision of mysterious occurrences in an amazingly authentic 1950s New Mexico setting. A radio disc jockey (think Art Bell or Coast to Coast AM) and a high school student who works part-time as a phone operator try to figure out what is happening in and to their small town while virtually all of the other citizens are at a school sporting event. The storytelling, mise en scène, and performances are all remarkable.
(5) The Lodge
“Co-directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz [Goodnight Mommy; 2014] deliver one of horror’s hardest gut punches of the year with The Lodge, a chilling tale of a suicide cult survivor and her attempt to bond with the children of her boyfriend,” I wrote in my Gruesome Magazine review of the film. “The Lodge is the type of horror film that frays your nerves and wears you down slowly, rather than counting on gory shocks or jump scares. There’s plenty on hand here to unnerve, and the movie delivers what I consider to be the most harrowing ending in a fright film since Ben Wheatley’s Kill List. Like that film, The Lodge will weigh heavy on your mind long after viewing it.”
The independent science fiction/horror shocker Assassinaut is an absolute blast, reaching far beyond its budget to deliver kills and thrills aplenty, with a huge heart beating throughout the project. Sarah (Shannon Hutchinson) is one of four teenagers chosen to go from Earth to a space station, but deadly trouble ensues en route. Assassinaut mashes together several types of genre movie styles including slasher film and space opera elements, and above all, it is great fun.
(3) Extra Ordinary
Not just the funniest horror comedy I saw this year, but the funniest comedy overall, this Irish/Belgian coproduction has a huge heart. A spinster driving instructor (Maeve Higgins absolutely kills it in her role) is reluctantly forced to fall back on her ghost-hunting roots when a man’s daughter is kidnapped as part of an occult ritual. Loaded with laughs and plenty of grue, this film is an absolute “can’t miss” title.
(2) In Fabric
The latest from director Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio; 2012) this is a unique, surrealistic, giallo-tinged mind-blower. This U.K. offering features a haunted dress and a department store staffed by some of the creepiest cinematic characters in recent memory. Go in as blind as possible to this equally disquieting and beautiful effort.
(1) Black Circle (Svart Cirkel)
I only just watched this Mexican/Swedish coproduction from director Adrián García Bogliano a couple of weeks ago, but it ticked all of my scare-fare film boxes so well that it blew me away and shot to the top of my list. This wonderfully stylized tale of mesmerism, doppelgangers, and a sort of “reverse exorcism,” as one character puts it, boasts an artfully designed 1970s Eurohorror vibe. Absolutely unlike anything else you will watch from this year, the hypnotic Black Circle gets my highest recommendation.
Honorable mentions include, in no certain order, Stay Out Stay Alive, The Wind, Dreamland, Us, The Lake Vampire, Our Evil, Come to Daddy, Midsommar, Homewrecker, The Black String, Bloodsucker’s Planet, Echoes of Fear, Doctor Sleep, Daniel Isn’t Real, Brightburn, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. There are more 2019 films I still want to see, including what might have been probable contenders for my list. Indeed, the year offered a bounty of horror movies, and 2020 looks to be equally exciting. I can already tell you from first-hand viewing experience that you will want to watch out for 1BR, Girl on the Third Floor, and Sea Fever when they receive their wide releases — all three are riveting and chilling — and I’m looking forward to kicking off the new year with the January releases of Color Out of Space and The Wave. Happy new year, and keep watching the screens!