Hasitha Fernando on the best horror movies of 2020…
The COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm, affecting the lives of every man, woman and child from every walk of life. Arguably one of the industries which suffered the biggest crippling blow from it was the film industry. Theatre halls closed, tentpole releases were indefinitely delayed, films in the production phase were temporarily halted and certain studios even took to changing their business models, in the wake of the raging epidemic. But one thing can be said of 2020 – there has been absolutely no shortage in quality horror film output from the very outset. One would assume that living through this hellish year was scary enough, but rest assured the following films ought to make you believe in the power of horror cinema.
The Invisible Man
Directed by Leigh Whannell.
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge, and Storm Reid.
A crazed scientist fakes his own death and becomes invisible to terrorize his ex-girlfriend.
Veteran horror film writer/director Leigh Whannell who played an instrumental role in shaping the Insidious and Saw franchises returns to the director’s chair, putting a contemporary spin on H.G Wells’ classic tale and scaring the bejeezus out of us with his twisted vision. While the film itself is titled The Invisible Man its primary focus is on its female protagonist Cecelia (Elisabeth Moss) who is being tormented by her abusive ex-boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) using cutting edge tech that renders him invisible. Whannell’s brilliant script shines a light on toxic relationships and the inevitable toll they take on the victims, whilst delivering an excellent cat-and-mouse thriller that will keep you at the edge of your seat. An absolute must see.
Directed by Natalie Erika James.
Starring Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote, Robyn Nevin, and Chris Bunton.
A family is haunted by a dark presence and their very home starts being consumed by it.
A stunning debut by Aussie director Natalie Erika James, this horror film takes an intimate look at the corrosive effect a debilitating condition-such as dementia-has on people and their relationships. The harrowing tale follows an aging matriarch Edna (Robyn Nevin) as her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter (Bella Heathcote) try to save her from being consumed by an evil that has overwhelmed their ancestral home. A familial story that is both gut-wrenchingly real and chillingly claustrophobic, Relic will certainly devastate you with its emotional narrative and engrossing performances by the leads. If thoughtful slow-burn horror is your cup of tea, then this film is right up your dark alley.
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg.
Starring Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
A secret organization uses leading-edge technology to invade other people’s bodies and carry out assassinations for high-paying clients.
Although Possessor’s premise comes off as something Christopher Nolan would conjure up, the involvement of David Cronenberg’s bloodline means only one thing – body horror. And although there are scenes a plenty featuring some exquisitely twisted body horror, there is also a thought-provoking narrative simultaneously unfurling, exploring themes of gender roles and identity. Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is an elite assassin who utilizes brain-implant tech to control other people’s bodies and take-out potential targets. Things go awry when she attempts to ‘possess’ Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) as he fights for control. If you’ve got a strong stomach go right ahead, ‘cos this sci-fi horror flick is something that you won’t forget anytime soon.
Color Out of Space
Directed by Richard Stanley.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brenden Meyer, and Julian Hilliard.
A family residing in an isolated farm start experiencing strange occurrences when a meteorite strikes their vicinity.
H.P Lovecraft’s efforts make for thoroughly fascinating reads, but adapting them to the big screen is another matter entirely. His brand of cosmic horror has always been a challenge for filmmakers to adapt, resulting in often polarizing viewing experiences for audiences. With Color Out of Space however, Lovecraft fans the world over have good reason to rejoice because this adaptation by auteur Richard Stanley succeeds where others failed. After a meteorite lands in the front yard of their farm, Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) and his family find themselves battling a mutant extra-terrestrial organism as it infects their minds and bodies. Comparisons to Stephen King’s The Shining are inevitable, as this too features a close-knit family gradually torn apart by a supernatural threat, but where it differs from the former is through its otherworldly visuals, Cronenbergian body horror and an unhinged Nicolas Cage.
The Dark and the Wicked
Directed by Bryan Bertino.
Starring Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr., Xander Berkeley, Julie Oliver-Touchstone, and Lynn Andrews.
Two siblings discover that their home has been taken over by a dark presence, as they mourn their father’s painful passing.
To say that this unbearably unnerving horror film is one of the 2020’s bleakest offerings would be fairly accurate. The Dark and the Wicked is bleak as hell and it is one horror film that truly lives up to the title for once. Its unrelenting sense of dread will have you in its vice-like grip from the get go and by the time credits roll you will be washed over with relief in an awesome way. The story follows two siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) as they journey back to their family farm, to mourn their father’s passing. They soon find that their residence is home to a malevolent entity hell-bent on their destruction. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. You have been warned.
Directed by Rose Glass.
Starring Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight, and Lily Frazer.
A pious nurse develops a dangerous obsession of saving the soul of a dying patient.
Saint Maud is the debut feature of writer/director Rose Glass, and boy, does it pack a punch. Emotionally ambiguous and thematically complex, the film examines a multitude of themes including religious fanaticism, emotional upheavals, loneliness and alienation in a very visceral fashion. It is a daring piece of cinema that will straddles the line of psychological thriller and conventional horror drama. Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a reclusive young nurse charged with the hospice care of Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) who develops a strange idée fixe to save the latter’s soul from eternal damnation-at whatever the cost. Disturbing, horrifying, challenging, unpredictable and occasionally very funny, Saint Maud is a film that forges a path entirely its own, and is as impressive and daring a directorial debut as you’re ever likely to find.
Directed by Christopher Landon.
Starring Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Celeste O’ Connor, and Misha Osherovich.
A young high-schooler accidentally swaps bodies with a twisted serial killer, leading to some gruesome and hilarious outcomes.
Decent horror-comedies are a bit of a rarity, but on occasion you get films like Freaky which restore your faith on that particular horror sub-genre. Think Friday the 13th meets Freaky Friday, and you have an idea as what to expect from this deliciously deranged flick. Millie (Kathryn Newton) is a high school nobody who has the misfortune of crossing paths with the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) and accidentally swapping bodies with him leading to disastrous consequences. Vaughn is an absolute laugh riot here, tapping into his feminine side when he isn’t a psychopathic murderer. The kills are brutal and over-the-top while the humor is very much on point. Another madcap genre-mashup winner courtesy of Happy Death Day helmer Christopher Landon. Looking forward to see what this talented director has in store for us next.
Directed by Remi Weekes.
Starring Sope Dirisu, Wunmi Mosaku, Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba, Matt Smith, and Javier Botet.
A refugee couple fleeing from South Sudan struggle to adjust to their new life in England where an evil is lurking beneath the surface.
This terrifying Netflix original centers on Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), South Sudanese refugees looking to catch a break in a new country, whilst they try to bury their traumatic past. However, it quickly becomes apparent that an evil entity has followed them to their new abode, refusing to let go of the pair. Chock full of hellish nightmare sequences, arresting visuals and emotionally raw performances this contemporary horror piece explores timely themes ranging from alienation, refugeeism to the horrors of nationalism. A haunting drama that will suck you in and stay with you, long after the credits roll.
Directed by Jayro Bustamante.
Starring Maria Mercedes Coroy, Sabrina De La Hoz, Margarita Kenefic, Julio Diaz, and Maria Telon.
An aging Guatemalan dictator hated by his countrymen, hides away from public while being haunted by the ghosts of his past.
First off don’t confuse this with the less-than-mediocre The Curse of La Llorona which debuted last year – the less said of it the better. Instead, this slow-burn political drama from Guatemala amalgamates the real-life horrors of that country along with the same folklore abysmally used in the aforementioned movie to illicit cheap scares. The film explores the troubled aftermath of a nation crippled by the actions of a detrimental political regime and the painful scars they leave on its populace. A gripping film from start to finish, La Llorona is an expertly crafted horror film with a strong socio-political commentary, that is certainly worth your time.
Directed by Rob Savage.
Starring Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, and Radina Drandova.
Six friends conduct a séance through Zoom with the assistance of a Medium during lockdown.
Some horror films mirror our real-world fears, tapping into people’s paranoia and getting under your skin. By that logic, that makes Host the most relevant horror flick of this tumultuous year. The movie takes place during the pandemic lockdown, as six friends conduct a séance via Zoom. Things however, take a turn for the worst as this hapless bunch get more than they bargained for. When a short film he crafted just-for-kicks went viral, director Rob Savage approached Shudder to bankroll a feature length version. And the result is a genuinely visceral and unforgettable thrill ride that is sure to give you chills.
Honorable Mentions: Rent-a-Pal, The Wolf of Snow Hollow, Come to Daddy, Swallow, Sputnik
What are your favourite horror movies of 2020? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.