2019 has been a brilliant year, particularly for horror films and as I’ve been lucky to attend numerous festivals this year I feel like I’ve seen more than ever. This list of 25 films is reflective of both the number of films I saw that were of high quality. There is a combination of films that aren’t fully released until 2020 and some that won hearts on the festival circuit in 2019. If I’ve already reviewed a title or otherwise written about it, I’ve included a link. Without any further ado, here are my top 25 films from 2019.
Actually, before the list, I do have to give an honourable mention to The Drone. A keen sense of absurdity made the Frightfest screening a ridiculous amount of fun. Highly quotable and I still find myself chuckling about it.
Some might find this one a bit inaccessible, but the intriguing central concept and sense of style within the film won me over. A superb two-hander from Mia Wasikowska and Christopher Abbott too. Progressively nightmarish unease.
24. The Dark Red
I have already reviewed this one here. Featuring at least one scare that made my jaw drop, this was one of my favourites of the Frightfest Presents slate. The chemistry of the cast works incredibly well and includes surprises. I still have my promotional pill bottle for the film on my desk.
23. Kindred Spirits
Deliciously sinister and very soapy – this Lucky McKee thriller boasts a knockout (quite literally) performance from Caitlin Stasey. Honestly, there isn’t a weak link, but I strongly believe that Stasey gives one of the most wonderfully unhinged performances of the year and deserves more plaudits for it.
Full review here. The sharp dialogue and swift cutaways made this a joy to watch. Films that spend so much time in one location need to be able to carry it off and thankfully, this more than manages. It is no surprise that Arrow Video picked this one up very quickly for distribution.
21. Blood and Flesh: The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson
My full review is here. Part film history, part true-crime documentary, this lovingly crafted film introduced me to the world of a film-maker I knew nothing about previously, including his unfortunate demise.
Full review here. Taking on a sequel to The Woman was never going to be an easy task and so Pollyanna McIntosh made the best possible decision to make her film a departure from Lucky McKee’s. Shifting the focus to Darlin’ as a teenager makes this an interesting entry into The Woman-related canon with heartfelt supporting performances and biting critique of imperfect institutions.
19. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
Possibly the most horrific film on this list, Fyre (the Netflix documentary, rather than the Hulu one), chronicles the many failings of Fyre Festival. The festival promised its wealthy patrons, including Instagram influencers a music festival set in paradise. What followed was very different. A damning exposure of entitlement, lying and an unforgettable memetic moment with the most dedicated employee in history.
18. The Favourite
Yorgos Lanthimos has fast become a must-see film-maker with his frequently stilted dialogue and unusual characters hitting high notes for me. The thing that struck me most about this film is how much fun the cast appear to have had during production. Olivia Colman deservedly took the Oscar for her tremendous work as Queen Anne in frequently unflattering, but deeply powerful scenes.
Throughout my review (here) I spoke a lot about the incredible DIY efforts employed for this film. While you might not know from the finished product the amount of effort that went into it, the passion behind the project is undeniable. A truly singular vision heavy on atmosphere.
16. Knives and Skin
This proved somewhat divisive at Frightfest this year and while it is genre-adjacent, rather than full horror, this dreamy, off-kilter drama about a missing teenager had me totally in the palm of its hand. Powerfully haunting musical numbers showcase the pain of teenagers trying to navigate the world set alongside adults still struggling with relationships and wider life.
Rabid (reviewed here) was a welcome return for the Soska Sisters to the realm of body-horror. Remaking a David Cronenberg film is no small feat but this take set in the cutthroat world of fashion brought a ton of wince-worthy effects and incredible style. Laura Vandervoort is excellent, expressive even when the grisly makeup obscures much of her face. As an aside, the eye-catching, bright yellow poster is excellent.
14. One Cut of The Dead
I was incredibly late to watch One Cut of the Dead and during the first 30 minutes, I truly wondered what all the fuss was about. Past that point, I had the most gigantic smile on my face that was impossible to wipe off. Clever, funny and an absolute triumph of low-budget film-making, I don’t think I’ve felt happier in a cinema for some time.
13. Hail Satan?
I was incredibly glad to see this land on Netflix in early December. The film continues the feel of its early trailer – slightly whimsical, more than willing to poke fun at the sillier aspects, but with a very valid point to make. Despite the weighty subject matter, this was a thoroughly enjoyable documentary.
12. Black Christmas
This film inspired me to look back at the other 2 versions and you can read that here, although do be warned that the article contains spoilers for all three films. Departing from both predecessors, but throwing in more than a few nods to the original material, this fresh, teen-aimed version greatly impressed me. If I had a film like this when I was 14, it would have been played on repeat until the disc wore out.
11. I Trapped The Devil
This creepy and tense Christmas horror is incredibly impressive with Scott Poythress’ oft-erratic performance creating an almost unbearable sense of tension. I reviewed it here.
10. Lords of Chaos
After watching a lot of horror over many years it takes a lot to shake me, so Lords of Chaos holds the dubious honour of being the first film in some time to genuinely make me uncomfortable. The mix of violence along with the irreverent biopic elements of the formation (and fall-out) of the metal band Mayhem uses Jonas Akerlund’s music video flair to create a punchy and disturbing portrait of men trying to out-shock one another, resulting in their undoing. While the film takes liberties with the ‘real’ story, I still have the most questions about how Rory Culkin looks like that on a diet that seems to consist exclusively of Coca-Cola and kebabs.
9. The Perfection
This pleasingly barmy tale of two competing classical musicians who end up in a romance is perhaps too obvious to surprise with its twists. However, the chemistry between Alison Williams and Logan Browning, along with its strangeness and ability to do something different sustains it. The style and ambition of the film can’t be denied. Includes an impressive cover of ‘Petals’ over the end credits too.
I have to admit that of Ari Aster’s feature output, Hereditary is still my personal favourite, but that’s not to say that Midsommar isn’t an absolute triumph. I reviewed it here. Later in the year, I watched the Director’s Cut, which highlights more of Christian’s behaviour and Dani’s unravelling but I think the themes are more than strong enough in the theatrical cut. Florence Pugh is mesmerising. The opening scene is almost unbearably painful and the use of blinding sunlight in the duration of the film makes the film feel very different to many others.
7. Come To Daddy
I’ve been lucky enough to see this multiple times and have found something new to appreciate each time. Michael Smiley is possibly my favourite performance of the year as villain Jethro, but Elijah Wood’s Norval Greenwood is also a forerunner for great characters in this year’s films. Fiercely funny with plenty of turns in the story, Come To Daddy has fast become one of my favourite films to watch with an audience. My full review is here.
6. After Midnight
This film stays in the tradition of navel-gazing, metaphor heavy entries into the horror genre until it dramatically departs. I wasn’t expecting to love this one as much as I did and I can’t reveal exactly what it is that makes me love it so much, but hopefully upon its wider release in February people will love this as much as I do. An absolute must-see with a big audience, this is a hugely satisfying film.
Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out proved to be stunning, further displaying a combination of a sense of humour and seriously impressive visuals. Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker, among others, take on dual roles to great effect. Featuring some stunning sequences and very clearly proud to be a horror film, Us suggests more great things to come from Peele.
4. The Girl on the Third Floor
I reviewed this here, after my first viewing. I’ve since seen it a second time and found the central themes to be even bolder. Featuring a debut feature performance from Phil Brooks (CM Punk), this feminist haunted house tale uses some incredible special effects to make the haunting feel incredibly vibrant and frequently queasy. You’ll never look at marbles the same way again.
3. Death of a Vlogger
I love it when a film comes along in a subgenre as saturated and often-weak as found-footage and surpasses all expectations. My full review of Death of a Vlogger can be found here. This is one where the simple, but effective scares have stayed with me and the overall concept has become even more impressive the more I’ve thought about it. This is independent horror film-making at its most inventive, vibrant and perhaps most importantly, bloody creepy.
It says a lot about the strength of this film that even though it nearly ruined my entire day I still love it. Playing one of the early slots at Frightfest, the film’s focus on prejudice makes it a tough, but necessary watch. I absolutely cannot wait for more people to see this. Featuring supernatural elements and an unexpectedly graphic moment that took me entirely by surprise, it is still the central message that makes this film so deeply appealing. Jeffrey Bowyer-Champman’s powerful performance provoked more than a few tears.
It was love at first sight for me with the latest film by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Its place at number 1 on this list will be no surprise to anyone who has listened to me recommend this film since October. Benson and Moorhead have created a powerful anti-nostalgia film with incredibly effective sci-fi elements that complement rather than complicate the narrative. Beautifully human and a powerful endorsement for living life no other film could have taken the top spot. Review here.
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