It’s finally that time of the year… kind of, since this article comes out way later than most “best movies of the year” lists. I apologise for being late with my take on the BEST Horror Movies of 2019, but I wanted to make sure I included every single horror film I was interested in and had the potential to fit such a list, therefore I had to wait for some to be screened near where I live and for others to be sent to me. On top of that, I wanted to watch all the movies I loved at least twice, both to make sure they would belong on this list and to decide what spot they would take.
I watched 166 horror movies that either came out or had their wide release in 2019: I must admit, 2019 has been one of the very best years for horror, with plenty of memorable and great films. In fact, I included 27 titles on the list: those are the 2019 horror movies I truly believe to be great and, whether you agree with me or not, I’m sure each one of you will find at least a few movies to enjoy on this list. Before we delve into the list, let’s quickly talk about some of my guilty pleasures / honourable mentions from last year: these are horror movies I loved on a personal level, even though I wouldn’t call them great films.
GUILTY PLEASURES / HONOURABLE MENTIONS listed alphabetically: Antrum (CAN, David Amito, Michael Laicini: gimmicky and heavily reliant on marketing, it’s still a fun, creepy watch). Bloodline (USA, Henry Jacobson: violent, well-shot and well-acted, but both script and a few scenes feel repetitive). Dry Blood (USA, Kelton Jones: a super low-budget shocker with a great ending and plenty of weird moments, but with terrible acting and production values). Freaks (USA, Zach Lipovsky & Adam B. Stein: a sci-fi, horror, action hybrid that’s very exciting and tense for the first two acts, with many interesting and well-developed characters). Heilstatten (GER, Michael David Pate: dumb movie with a played-out concept, but it’s full of creative scares and unexpected moments). Here Comes Hell (UK, Jack McHenry: hilarious homage to 50s haunted-house movies and to The Evil Dead but pacing and production values are quite dreadful). Little Monsters (AUSTRALIA, Abe Forsythe: Lupita Nyong’o, zombies and raunchy comedy for an explosively fun experience, until the 3rd act). The Perfection (USA, Richard Shepard: great film with plenty of qualities, but one too many holes in the plot prevented it from being on the actual list). Quiet Comes the Dawn (RUS, Pavel Sidorov: surreal, spooky and intense movie, despite annoying characters and dumb storyline). Tone-Deaf (USA, Richard Bates Jr: insane comedy-horror filled with great moments, but also with jarring pacing and inconsistent tone). The Yellow Night (BRA, Ramon Porto Mota: one of the most gorgeous-looking films of the year, filled with scary and intense moments, but the characters are truly unbearable and the meaning of the movie a bit too obscure).
And now it’s time for the actual BEST Horror Movies of 2019 list:
Continue reading and find out the 27 BEST Horror Films of 2019…
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27. Daniel Isn’t Real (USA, Adam Egypt Mortimer): Miles Robbins and Patrick Schwarzenegger (yes, the sons of…) star in this exhilarating combination of psychological, supernatural and body horror. This film is a treat, mostly due to offbeat story and well-rounded character development. Yet, some seriously scary and gory moments make the viewing experience a whole lot better. Due to not-so-great visual effects and silly plot points, this movie can’t be any higher on this list. Nonetheless, it’s something you should definitely watch, since it’s enjoyable, intense and quite original.
26. Svaha: The Sixth Finger (KOR, Jae-hyun Jang): On Netflix since last June, Svaha isn’t on the same level of other, more notable South Korean horror films. It’s still quite a great watch, though. This mostly depends on its very ambitious and well-written script, which intertwines tons of compelling characters with a dense storyline filled with social and religious undertones. The presentation of this movie isn’t very special, and Svaha requires at least two viewings to fully understand who every character is and what’s their place in the story: despite that, Svaha: The Sixth Finger is a great horror-mystery that gets quite scary and intense throughout its long runtime.
25. Koko-di Koko-da (SWE, Johannes Nyholm): Directed by Nyholm, acclaimed Swedish filmmaker, Koko-di Koko-da is an incredibly eerie and purposely filmed viewing experience. Marketed as a horror-comedy, this Swedish picture is, in fact, very dark and bleak, to the point of becoming disturbing. Think of it as a sort of David Lynch / Groundhog Day crossover: it’s weird, creepy, depressing and even touching at times. However, the Groundhog Day-type logic makes it quite repetitive, which negatively affects multiple viewings. It’s still a great movie, though, and I would highly recommend it if what you read sounds good to you.
24. Starfish (USA, A.T. White): This is one impressive directorial debut. Starfish combines different genres and tones, without ever losing balance and coherence. Sometimes scary and sometimes dreamlike, sometimes quirky and sometimes dour, this film is a visual trip with very few flaws (mostly clichés likely dependent on lack of experience from the filmmaker). It’s kind of low on this list just because, in the long run, it feels somewhat forgettable. Yet, it’s a great movie that deserves at least a chance!
23. This Way to Egress (UK, David Slade) – segment in Nightmare Cinema: Filmed in dark monochrome and enriched by fantastic cinematography, This Way to Egress by David Slade is a short movie within the horror anthology Nightmare Cinema (which I would also recommend, despite one truly disappointing instalment). Within the short runtime, this film manages to be nightmarish, creepy and unique. Its meaning might not be clear or easy to understand, but the visual trip makes it all worth it. With this being a short movie, I can’t place it too high on this list, but I would still recommend it as a wonderful, weird and unsettling watch.
22. Extra Ordinary (UK/IRL, Mike Ahern & Enda Loughman): I had the chance to watch this exhilarating horror-comedy during Grimmfest, where it literally blew me away! Benefitting from a very cool style of filmmaking, Extra Ordinary is very charming and humorous, innovative in its presentation and properly thought out when it comes to character development. My only complaint with this picture is that, for a horror-comedy, it’s way more comedic than it is unsettling or scary. Still, it’s a super enjoyable watch with plenty of gore to keep fans of straight-up horror invested as well!
21. Knife + Heart (FRA, Yann Gonzalez): This French giallo-inspired horror film is a visual treat and a great whodunnit at the same time. This film is set around the gay/LGBTQ community: a setting that really works, enhancing every other aspect of the movie. Combining elements of William Friedkin’s Cruising, Dario Argento’s early work and Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, this French film is truly a great homage to 70s filmmaking, as well as a gory and thrilling ride through the streets or Paris. If you like 70s cinema and whodunnit-type movies, Knife + Heart will blow your mind in the best way possible.
20. Monument (POL, Jagoda Szelc): Recently I had the pleasure to watch this film, which premiered at the Polish Film Festival, about a group of students who start their internships in a remote hotel where, unexpectedly, they are stripped of their identities and forced into dull work. Monument has one of the most compelling storylines and structures of the year as, like the students themselves, the audience is never allowed 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. Unfortunately, the pay-off (i.e. the last 20 minutes of Monument) is quite disappointing and anticlimactic: a very big flaw for an otherwise outstanding horror movie that you absolutely need to watch.
19. Us (USA, Jordan Peele): Look, I know some people don’t like this movie and others believe it should never be on a “best of the year” list. It’s true, the plot of Us has a few serious holes. Yet, this film features a very ambitious script, great cinematography, memorable score, truly scary scenes and the phenomenal performance by Lupita Nyong’o. On top of that, Us is a film you understand more upon second or third viewing, which is a sign of how multi-layered and complex the movie really is. If, for some odd reason, you still haven’t seen Us, do yourself a favour and check it out.
18. Liverleaf (JAP, Eisuke Naito): Based on a rather extreme manga, Liverleaf is as fucked up as its source material. The story follows a group of high-schoolers as they become increasingly mean and violent against each other, up to a climactic twist that’s both shocking and well-implemented into the story. Aside from compelling narrative and shocking moments, Liverleaf is beautifully shot and scored, with only a few instances of cheesiness and bad CGI as its flaws. If you love coming-of-age movies and J-horror, don’t miss this one out.
17. The Platform (SPA, Galder Gatzelu-Urrutia): When I watched this sci-fi-horror movie at the Toronto International Film Festival I was riveted from beginning to end: the level of immersion into the story, backed up by a crisp and captivating pace, turns The Platform into one of the most anxiety-filled, enthralling horror movies of the year. Its social commentary is very powerful, albeit a tad on the nose, and the mystery that unravels throughout the runtime is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. The only real issue with The Platform is that consequent viewings aren’t as effective as the first watch. Yet, this is one of those movies I would recommend to literally every horror fan.
16. The Sinful Women of Hollfall (AUSTRIA, Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz) – segment in The Field Guide to Evil: The two directors behind one of my favourite horror films, Goodnight Mommy, have crafted a truly unsettling short horror movie. Through little dialogue and very minimal yet meticulous cinematography, The Sinful Women of Hollfall establishes a dreadful, nightmarish atmosphere that culminates in a few terrifying scenes. The underlying message about repressed sexuality and subtle anti-religious imagery provides an extra-layer of interest to a short that truly deserves your time. That said, the overall anthology The Field Guide to Evil is quite a treat: I would’ve included it on this list in its entirety had it not been for two very bad segments (out of seven).
15. The Forest of Love (JAP, Sion Sono): From my second favourite filmmaker working today, The Forest of Love is based on a (gruesome and disturbing) true story, displayed in typical Sion Sono style. Which means this movie is completely insane! Filled with disturbing and unflinching scenes and imagery, The Forest of Love is a genre-bending picture (with elements of horror, drama, thriller, musical and comedy) that explores themes of abuse within the family, the role of youth in society and the manipulation by media on fragile individuals. Despite the 151-minute-long runtime and a rather unfocused first act, this film by the Japanese auteur is truly exhilarating and compelling. However, The Forest of Love is a mix of the elements Sono put in his previous movies, which makes it a less original and refreshing viewing experience for people who’re already familiar with his work. Nonetheless, this is a great, intense and uncomfortable watch horror fans – and cinema lovers – should definitely give a chance to.
14. Swallow (USA, Carlo Mirabella-Davis): This impressive directorial debut, which screened at the Milano Film Festival and will be distributed by IFC Midnight from March 6th, 2020, tackles taboo subjects such as abuse and abortion, and it does that in a confronting but simultaneously tasteful way. Surprisingly humorous and entertaining, Swallow benefits from a solid lead performance, a few memorable scenes, a unique perspective and unexpectedly high production values: in fact, this is one of the most visually engaging horror movies of the year, with entire sequences carried solely by cinematography, framing and camera-work. Aside from small logical inconsistencies and a couple of clichés, Swallow is a fantastic psychological horror film you shouldn’t miss out when it gets released for a wider audience.
13. The Golden Glove (GER, Fatih Akin): Fatih Akin is a great German director, usually beloved by critics: because of The Golden Glove, though, he’s been harshly criticised for making a vile and gratuitous movie. I couldn’t disagree more: the strength of The Golden Glove lies in its matter-of-fact, unapologetic approach to the heinous crimes by Fritz Honka, a serial murderer active in Germany in the 70s. This film, aside from featuring the best makeup effects of the year and an outstanding performance by the main character, is truly gruesome and gory, but it’s also meticulously shot and crafted in every minute detail. The balancing exercise of having a main character who’s just a disgusting monster, though, led to some questionable decisions on a screenwriting level: that said, The Golden Glove is a blast to watch and every extreme horror fan should give it a go.
12. Piercing (UK/USA, Nicolas Pesce): Nicolas Pesce’s follow-up to the incredible The Eyes of My Mother (and before he fucked up the remake of The Grudge) is a film I adore, but many people didn’t like it, most likely due to its very frustrating ending. As I explained in my analysis of this giallo-inspired horror film, the theme of Piercing is frustration and self-loathing, which affects the characters as much as the viewer: I fail to see how such a bold, intentional choice can be criticised. On top of its wonderful uniqueness, Piercing benefits from giallo-type aesthetics that set it apart from any other modern horror movie, a killer soundtrack inspired by the Italian punk band Goblin, great performances and truly uncomfortable but purposeful moments. Unfortunately, the CGI used in some instances feels terribly rendered and cheap, which is pretty much my only real complaint with Piercing. Strongly recommended if you like to read between the lines of a horror film.
11. One Cut of the Dead (JAP, Shin’ichirô Ueda): Have you ever seen two different movies crumpled together in one, without them being part of an anthology film? That’s exactly what One Cut of the Dead feels like. The first 40 minutes of this wonderfully unique Japanese horror-comedy set one kind of scenario, whereas the remaining of the film is completely different in any way imaginable, from the presentation to the story. Speaking any longer of One Cut of the Dead would be a disservice to the film, so just go in blind and check it out if you haven’t already!
10. Is That You? (CUBA, Rudy Riveron Sanchez): To start off the top 10 horror movies of 2019, we have this truly fantastic horror-drama from Cuba: I received an online screener for Is That You? and I couldn’t believe how great this movie was. First-time director Rudy Riveron Sanchez leads us through the dramatic and eerie story of a poor family characterised by abuse, suspicion and ignorance. Extremely slow-paced and meditative, Is That You? is a nearly-flawless picture that manages to be uncomfortable, mysterious and very unsettling. Due to the slow-pacing, the only problem with this film is that subsequent watches can feel a tad tedious. If you love slow-burners steeped in social commentary and atmosphere, this is the movie for you, though.
9. The Nest (ITA, Roberto De Feo): Unlike the previous title, The Nest is a simple, almost classic/vintage, horror movie. Yet, it features a twist and an ending that are truly powerful, original and unforgettable. The Nest is a slow-burner that finds its strength in atmosphere, cinematography, setting and storytelling: it presents an incredibly fascinating mystery, all the while building up characters and terrifying the audience with eerie, spooky moments. It’s the best Italian horror film since the remake of Suspiria and one of the very best horror movies of 2019.
8. The Nightingale (AUSTRALIA, Jennifer Kant): For those of you who don’t know her, Jennifer Kant is the director of The Babadook, another horror movie that seems to divide horror fans between those who love it and those who hate it. If you belong to the latter group, don’t worry: The Nightingale is completely different from The Babadook. In fact, the new film by Kant is a very violent, disturbing and intense revenge story set in early 1800s Australia. With smart commentary about aboriginal people in the background to enrich the main storyline, The Nightingale benefits from a unique look (camera-work, cinematography and aspect ratio are extremely captivating), an Oscar-worthy performance by the lead actress, crisp and balanced pace and a lot of intense, touching and confronting sequences. Give this film a chance: you won’t regret it.
7. A Certain Kind of Silence (CZE, Michael Hogenauer): In the impeccable style of Michael Hanake and Jack Clayton, A Certain Kind of Silence centres around Mia, an au pair from Prague who moves to Germany to live with a wealthy couple and their son (Sebastian). From the get-go, the house rules feel very strict and odd, but they become eerie, terrifying and disturbing as the film progresses. Based on truly shocking real events, A Certain Kind of Silence is masterful in its presentation, solid in terms of character development and riveting in its storytelling. Although I don’t have any real issue with this horror-drama, I feel its style is a tad too inspired by others, which is the only reason why the movie isn’t in my top 3 of 2019.
6. The Lodge (AUSTRIA/USA, Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz): This is a proper slow-burner, written and directed by the same filmmakers who brought us the excellent Goodnight Mommy and the aforementioned short movie The Sinful Women of Hollfall. In their first English-language film, Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz explore the dynamics of a grieving family and how ignoring tragedy can only lead to even more dramatic events. Told through a very unique visual style, that’s uncanny and unbalanced on purpose, The Lodge might become a very polarising film in the vein of It Comes at Night and Hereditary, as what’s substantive about the film doesn’t happen on screen. What’s relevant in this amazing picture is either hidden in the visuals or very well concealed, which obviously requires an effort from the viewer. Aside from some minor complaints with the script, The Lodge is a visually beautiful horror film with great performances, in-depth character development and uniquely unsettling atmosphere.
5. Saint Maud (UK, Rose Glass): This is a film that shows how good intentions can lead to terrifying and horrific consequences when unhealthy doubt and paranoia come into play. Saint Maud, which A24 will release in the US on March 27th, is a fantastic combination between supernatural and psychological horror that gets better with each viewing, as the writing requires you to do some reading and to watch the movie multiple times to fully understand the various levels. I loved it when I watched it at TIFF last September, but after having revisited it two more times I love it even more: I predict fans of A24 horror movies will put Saint Maud at the top of their “best horror movies of 2020” list!
4. Luz (GER/SPA, Tilman Singer): Unlike the previous title, Luz is a purely visual and nightmarish watching experience, where the story matters very little. Luz is a spectacle on a technical level, where the fear and emotion you get from it are delivered entirely through camera-work, sound-design, soundtrack, colour palette, cinematography, editing, framing and so on. This is, for me, probably the most rewatchable horror film of the year: due to both visual stimulation and short runtime (70 minutes, credits included), this is a trip I happily embark on every single time I get the chance! If you love weird films where presentation matters more than content, do yourself a favour and watch this insane and bonkers ride.
3. Midsommar (USA, Ari Aster): I was honestly shocked when I heard a few people complaining about the runtime and pacing of Midsommar: to me, the second feature film by Ari Aster is as exciting, fast-paced and exhilarating as any horror movie can get. In fact, in its theatrical cut Midsommar is a visually stunning watching experience filled with head-spinning trips (and quite a few gory sequences), uncomfortable scenes and introspective moments delivered through multi-layered and relatable characters. Despite a few truly hilarious comedic bits, Midsommar is a deeply dour and impactful film that you can either enjoy as a straight-up folklore-horror movie or you can look into it and find out all sorts of hidden meanings and messages. I loved this movie even more than I loved Hereditary, and I think you should all check it out immediately!
To pick my favourite horror film of 2019 I truly struggled: in fact, I had more doubts on my top pick this year than any previous years since 2014. Now, I don’t just love the following two movies more than any other horror film that came out in 2019, but I also consider them both to be in my Top 3 horror movies of the decade! One of them comes from my absolute favourite filmmaker working today, so I really wanted to give it the top spot on this list. The other blew my mind the first time I saw it, and it gets better with each viewing, letting me discover more about it the more times I put it on. Again, it was really hard to pick which one was my number one horror film of 2019, but in the end, I made my choice:
2. Climax (FRA, Gaspar Noe’): Climax isn’t like anything you have seen before. Although this masterpiece has seeds of the director’s style and previous efforts, it doesn’t compare to any other movie in existence, as far as I’m aware. It’s truly a physically exhausting, gruelling experience that will most likely leave you shocked and devoid of energy in your body. Through the perfect recreation of a bad acid trip, achieved purely through visuals, music and camera-work, Climax forces the viewer into a drug-induced nightmare and doesn’t let them go for a single second. More than a film, Climax is an endurance test, a hallucinatory experience that will challenge your limits from the first dance sequence to the very end of the film. If horror is about the uncomfortable feeling you get during and after watching a film, Climax delivers on that perfectly.
1. The Lighthouse (USA, Robert Eggers): If Climax is comparable to a descent into madness, the same could be said for The Lighthouse. Quite literally this time. The Lighthouse is a genre-bending film where a perfectly-written script comes together with one of the best visual presentations every displayed on the big screen. All of that is topped by two of the greatest performances of the year (by Robert Pattinson and, especially, Willem Defoe) and by the insane level of layers in terms of meanings and metaphors. In fact, the main reason why The Lighthouse is my favourite film of 2019 (and the reason why it topped Climax) is that you discover more about it with each viewing: I watched The Lighthouse four times now and I still can’t figure out 30% of the movie, at least! This is so great and refreshing, as it makes multiple viewings feel exciting and emotional every single time. There’s not a single aspect that even remotely bothered me about The Lighthouse, which is why this is my number one horror film of 2019.
What about you guys? What’s your favourite horror movie of 2019? What movies have you missed on my list? Please, let me know in the comments below!
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