In my ongoing search for the best horror movies of 2019, I came across many titles I had yet to watch. Since I don’t want to publish my best of the year list when it won’t be relevant anymore, I decided to speed up the process by writing a single article for four of the horror films that were recommended as some of the very best of 2019. To check what horror movies I’ve already seen (and rated) in 2019, please check my Full List of 2019 Horror Movies: that way, you can send me more recommendations for good horror movies to cover and, possibly, include in my best horror movies of 2019 list.
In vein of the short reviews I wrote during Toronto International Film Festival, here you’ll find my take on four 2019 horror films that many viewers and critics hold in very high regard. Keep in mind that I had online screeners for these movies, so you might only be able to watch them in a few months. One of them, however, is available on digital now, either on Amazon Prime, Vudu and Fandango TV. In these article, the following horror films will be covered: In the Quarry (Uruguay, Bernardo & Rafael Antonaccio), The Yellow Night (Brazil, Ramon Porto Mota), Freaks (USA, Zach Lipovsky & Adam B. Stein – now available on DVD/VOD) and Monument (Poland, Jagoda Szelc).
Continue reading and check short reviews & final grades below…
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In the Quarry – short review
The film follows a group of friends – one girl among a pack of testosterone-filled men – isolated at a remote campground. In this apparently harmless situation, danger slowly sets in and what’s supposed to be an emotional time of coming together turns into a powder keg of anxiety where old relationships may be torn apart and forever destroyed.
The main departments where In the Quarry really succeeds are its overall intensity and the dynamics between characters. This is an 82-minute-long horror-thriller where you don’t get a second to relax, as every scene is filled with tension and the worst seems constantly about to be happening. The movie, also, communicates very well the dangers of toxic masculinity, people’s own egos and insecurities: this message isn’t delivered in a pandering way, but it’s also clear enough for everyone watching. There are, however, aspects that don’t work as well: the acting is very over-the-top and too dramatic, the visuals are rather flat and uninspired, the story itself isn’t particularly original, albeit being properly told and developed.
The Yellow Night – short review
A group of friends travels to a beach house on an island on the brazilian seaside to celebrate the end of high school. However, their parties are cut short by the feeling that the place shelters an unfathomable horror. Even though this sounds like the premise to any run-of-the-mill horror flick, The Yellow Night couldn’t be further from that: this is a visually striking film that feels nightmarish as the movies by David Lynch and Gaspar Noe’ do.
Just like in a Lynch film, the main characters are stuck in a town that doesn’t seem to operate under the normal laws of physics; just like in a Noe’ film, hallucinations and disturbing visions start haunting them in a very uncomfortable way. For a person like me, The Yellow Night is a truly mesmerising experience: its uncomfortable atmosphere, achieved solely by technical aspects of filmmaking, combined with the completely bonkers way in which time and space work make The Yellow Night a one-of-a-kind viewing experience. Nonetheless, the main characters are extremely unlikeable and obnoxious, and the overall meaning of the movie seems impossible to grasp unless you are in the director’s head: in this regard, The Yellow Night should’ve aimed to be a purely visual trip, instead of forcing unintelligible meanings down the audience’s throat. That said, I still love this movie and, if you value presentation above all else, you’ll probably love it too!
Freaks – short review
I’m honestly surprised I’ve heard very few people speaking about this film, as it stars well-known actors like Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern and Amanda Crew. However, those who have seen it are in agreement on the fact that Freaks is, indeed, a sci-fi horror gem. Describing the plot of this movie would be a disservice to those of you who haven’t seen it, since the story itself is quite unpredictable and deserves to be discovered step by step. In short, Freaks is set in a near future (or, maybe, an alternative present) where there are “special” people who have “gifts” that make everyone else fear them: who’s a good guy and who’s evil, though? Amidst of this larger than life scenario, there’s a 7-year-old girl whose father (Hirsch) keeps secluded from the rest of the world, only giving her vague information about what’s outside. The main strength of Freaks is, without a doubt, its storytelling: throughout the entire build-up, the audience is forced to put themselves in the shoes of little Chloe (first-time actor Lexy Kolker): she doesn’t know what’s going on outside the walls of her house, and neither do we; she can’t figure out who’s a good and who’s a bad guy, and neither can we; she hasn’t got a clear understanding of herself, and neither do we; and so on and so forth.
Yet, the acting from the “big names” (Hirsch, Dern and Crew) is very strong, as their conflicted performances help maintaining the sense of dread and scary confusion. At the same time, Freaks doesn’t swing past character development, as all the protagonists grow and evolve with the movie. Overall, Freaks is an extremely effective sci-fi-mystery-horror hybrid, with plenty of intense moments and great concepts executed in a rather interesting way from a visual standpoint. This is a film with only a couple of flaws which, unfortunately, are quite severe though: the main problem with Freaks is that the kid actor who plays Chloe doesn’t do a good job. They could’ve cast a teenage actress who already proved herself and this issue wouldn’t even exist. In fact, every child actor in this movie is unconvincing to the point of being laughable at times (like in the sleepover scene). Yet, the third act of this film has some great character moments, but also some cheesy aspects (slow-motion and CG explosions), bad special effects (unbearable CG blood) and terrible greenscreen. Despite these issues, I still liked the movie very much and I would recommend it to fans of sci-fi horror films.
Monument – short review
As the title suggests, this is a truly monumental achievement (I apologise for this terrible joke). Monument revolves around a group of students as they start their internships in a remote hotel where, unexpectedly, they are stripped of their identities and forced into dull work. It’s a deeply unsettling experience that boils this film down to some complex ideas on the loss of identity. It’s quite effective to watch these individuals slowly break and become more erratic. Monument has one of the most compelling storylines and structures of the year as, like the students themselves, the audience never has chance to get solid footing before being abruptly thrown into the “internship”. This makes for a truly uncomfortable, frightening watch filled with interesting social commentary and that turns into a dramatic mystery-horror. The cinematography feels very purposeful with its methodical and symmetric style; the camera-work is very neat and precise, with virtually no instance of shaky-cam and sloppy shots; the sound-design is, also, very clean and leaves no room for external sounds.
In other words, Monument truly transports the viewer in a world that feels fabricated, where order and discipline clearly cover up the psychological horror of the characters’ condition. For 90 minutes, Monument is without exaggeration one of the 3-4 best horror movies in 2019, and the young woman behind the camera (Jagoda Szelc, who also wrote the script!) demonstrates an immense talent that even great directors started to show later in their career. However, there’s one big issue that keeps this film from being perfect: the ending. Without spoiling anything, the last 15-20 minutes of Monument are very anticlimactic and formulaic, giving the impression they were there just because the movie needed to end at some point. That said, Monument is a great psychological horror-drama, a challenging but exhilarating watch at the same time.
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