Caveat lector: The following list contains my favorite horror movies of 2019. I ended up with 30-or-so titles vying for my top 10, so I came up with the following criteria to cull my list. The horror films I placed in my top 10 are movies I can’t get out of my head; that have big WTF factors in the audio, visual, story structure, plot, or all of the above; that give me the most sustained frisson; and that I’m much more likely to watch repeatedly; because that’s what I seek when watching horror films. As I write this, it also appears I have a preference for films written and directed by the same person.
Before I get to my list, the Hulu series Castle Rock – Season 2 would be near the top of it if I were including TV series. If you haven’t watched it, do so now!
Love them or hate them, here’s a list of my 10, okay 11, favorite horror films of 2019.
10) Tie: Echoes of Fear and The VelociPastor
Co-directed by Brian Avenet-Bradley and Laurence Avenet-Bradley and written by Brian Avenet-Bradley (you should see the trend by now), Echoes of Fear is another film that combines the supernatural with the horrors of what people do to other people. I was wound tight during most of the runtime of this film. I mean, WTF?
I did not expect to like The VelociPastor, but I did, … a lot! Written and directed by Brendan Steere, The VelociPastor is a low budget, pitch-perfect satire that gets the all-time award for best use of pregnant pauses. Greg Cohan and Alyssa Kempinski play the two ridiculous, lead characters with an intense sincerity that helps make it all work. The VelociPastor makes it to my top 10 because I laughed out loud all three times I’ve watched it and because its levity is desperately needed in my list of dense, atmospheric films. And then there’s Frankie Mermaid (Fernando Pacheco De Castro). You must meet Franke Mermaid.
9) I See You
Extremely smart writing coupled with entrancing visual storytelling makes this one of my favorites of the year. I See You combines the disintegration of a family with the investigation of a serial killer of young boys. There is a third component to the story, which I will not divulge, that adds several major WTFs to this film. The excellent cast – Helen Hunt, Jon Tenney, Judah Lewis (Summer of 84, The Babysitter), Owen Teague (It, It Chapter Two, Mary, The Stand [2020 TV series]), Libe Barer – doesn’t miss a beat in telling this complex story. By the way, written by Devon Graye and directed by Adam Randall, I See You is the only film in my top 10 for which the director wasn’t at least a co-writer.
Written and directed by A.T. White, Starfish is a unique tale of grief told through a weird filter of science fiction and interdimensional possibilities. The success of the film rests squarely on the shoulders of Virginia Gardner and she is more than up to the task. Not a lot happens in this film in terms of action, but I found it fascinating.
In Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Miles says, “I’d hate to wake up some morning and find out that you weren’t you.” The quote in Jordan Peele’s hands becomes, “I’d hate to wake up some morning and find out that you were me.” Alright, WTF? Again and again WTF? Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out is a long string of WTFs. The cast, led by Lupita Nyong’o, effectively sell the WTFedness contained in Peele’s unique vision.
The success of remakes or reimaginings of previous films are usually a crapshoot, but Jen and Sylvia Soska roll a natural with their version of David Cronenberg’s 1977 original. The Twisted Twins waste little time outdoing the modest body horror of Cronenberg’s Rabid and Laura Vandervoort convincingly portrays a woman who is at first timid, then traumatized, and finally predatory. The Soskas, with co-writer John Serge, use just the right mix of new material built on the existing story structure to create their own horrifying vision.
With this film, writer/director Joe Begos is hitting on all cylinders and has upped his game to a new level. Dora Madison turns in a standout performance as Dezzy, an artist seeking to overcome a creative block any way she can. Bliss was one great big 90-minute WTF, in a great way, of tension and blood.
4) Tigers Are Not Afraid
Written and directed by Issa López, Tigers are not Afraid is a heartbreaking story that combines the supernatural with humans treating other humans as less than animals. The rundown and abandoned urban setting is starkly realized as a band of orphans try to survive a drug cartel’s brutal reign.
3) Doctor Sleep
Mike Flanagan does it again, directing and writing the screenplay for this adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. I don’t know if it’s a trend or not, but my top 3 films all clock in at 136-152 minutes and I never felt the lengths. Rebecca Ferguson turns in one of the standout performances of the year as one of my new favorite villains, Rose the Hat.
2) The Nightingale
Some of my fellow Grue-Crew members question whether or not this is a horror film, but this is my list, so go … just kidding. Written, directed, and co-produced by Jennifer Kent (Babadook, 2014), The Nightingale features stellar performances by Aisling Franciosi (this year’s recipient of my Florence Pugh-crush award), Baykali Ganambarr, and Sam Claflin, and the most horrifying scene I viewed in 2019.
I’ll let you in on a secret. I’ve had a crush on Florence Pugh since I first saw Lady MacBeth (2016). I guess what I’m saying is, they had me at Florence Pugh. As if that wasn’t enough, Ari Aster’s writing and direction, the gorgeous cinematography, the rest of the cast, and many memorable scenes make this my number one for 2019.
Films that fit my criteria and could easily have made my list on another day):
- Girl on the Third Floor
- The Head Hunter
- Incident in a Ghostland
- Culture Shock
- The Lighthouse
- The Nightshifter
- Our Evil
- The Perfection
- The Wind
I also loved the following films that will be on many best-of lists for 2019, but hey, I had to use some criteria to narrow down the 30-or-so films, and who wants to see the same films on everyone’s lists?
- Annabelle Comes Home
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters
- It Chapter 2
- One Cut of the Dead
- Ready or Not
- Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark