For those of you who don’t know, I am a huge fan of horror movies. I go out of my way to see as many scary movies as I can, from big blockbusters to instant VOD flicks. This year has seen its fair share of well-crafted horrors, and with Halloween on the horizon, I thought I’d share a list of my favorites that I’ve seen so far. Without further ado, these are the best horror movies of 2019, as of October:
Number 8: The Head Hunter
Note: The Head Hunter had its premiere in Spain last year, but didn’t receive a wide release until May 2019, so I’m including it here.
The Head Hunter is a slow-burn fantasy horror that uses the less-is-more approach with its creatures, and builds a twisted, macabre world, one similar to medieval-set video games with dark mythology behind them like the Soulsborne and God of War series. It’s a messed up place, but it’s one that I’d certainly love to see more of in a sequel or spin-off. And considering that this film was made with a budget of just $30,000 (which admittedly shows at times) its unquestionably a triumph for director Jordan Downey. I can’t wait to see what he’ll do when/if he’s given a bigger budget for his next feature.
Number 7: Child’s Play
The Child’s Play remake is one of Chucky’s best films to date, giving the character a new appearance, voice – courtesy of the incredibly talented Mark Hamill – and deadly toys to play with while maintaining the same balance of terror and self-awareness that made the 1988 original such a classic. The cast and crew of the 2019 iteration are keenly aware of the qualities that have kept the Child’s Play franchise alive for so long, and infused them into this new version that changes up the formula just enough to make it feel both fresh and familiar for fans of the killer doll.
You can read my full review of Child’s Play here.
Number 6: It Chapter Two
Even though the second act doesn’t reach quite the same heights as its previous half, It Chapter Two is still one of the scariest movies this year, and surprisingly also one of the funniest. The adult members of the Loser Club aren’t as well-rounded as their child counterparts, but Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Bill Hader do enough heavy lifting to keep the movie entertaining at all times, and Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise is as terrifying as ever. Even with a runtime of almost three hours, It Chapter Two never feels bloated or slow, and had me on the edge of my seat or laughing through most of it. Now that it’s complete, I can say in full confidence that Andy Muschietti’s adaption of It is the best Stephen King novel-turned-film I’ve seen so far.
You can listen to our It Chapter Two episode of Middle of the Row: The Podcast here.
Number 5: The Lighthouse
Robert Eggers’ second effort – following The Witch, my favorite horror film of all time – weaves a suspenseful yarn full of paranoia and discomfort that’s amplified immensely by stellar camera work, a haunting score, and a pair of powerhouse performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Like The Witch, The Lighthouse never lets you relax completely, keeping you invested, intrigued, and anxious in equal measure at all times. To say anything more would run the risk of spoiling it, so I’ll leave you with this: for fans of arthouse horror, The Lighthouse is not to be missed.
Number 4: Ready or Not
This summer had its share of fun movies, and one of its best was this endlessly enjoyable horror comedy. Samara Weaving has built up a reputation as a scream queen in the past few years, beginning with a small role in Ash vs Evil Dead, and she gives her best performance to date in Ready or Not. Weaving’s portrayal of Grace echoes classic horror heroines like Halloween’s Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Scream’s Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) while adding her own blend of charm and wry wit into the mix. The rest of the cast, most of whom play characters that spend the majority of the movie trying kill Grace, bring a similar level of fun to the movie as well, making sure that each moment in Ready or Not is either intense or funny, and always entertaining.
Number 3: Midsommar
Midsommar – which will no doubt be the most divisive entry on this writeup – may not be a straight-up horror movie, but it’s a completely unsettling experience that stayed in the back of my mind long after I left the theater, and the more time I spent going over it in my head, the more I liked it. The film spends most of its duration in a warm, sunny, seemingly innocuous setting, but that only makes the sheer what-the-fuckery that befalls Florence Pugh’s Dani, her boyfriend Christian, and his friends even more unnerving. The cinematography and costumes are as brilliant as the cast, helping pull you into the sunshiney nightmare that writer-director Ari Aster has created. With Midsommar, Aster proves that he’s one of the most uniquely talented filmmakers working in the horror genre today, and creates a wonderful companion piece for his feature directorial debut, Hereditary, another film that gets better and better the more you go back to it.
You can listen to our Midsommar episode of Middle of the Row: The Podcast here.
Number 2: Tigers Are Not Afraid
Note: Tigers Are Not Afraid had a 2017 premiere at Fantastic Fest, but it didn’t receive a wide release until 2019, so I’m including it here.
Tigers Are Not Afraid seamlessly blends real world horrors with gothic fantasy in a way that I can only describe as “Sicario meets Pan’s Labyrinth.” Issa López’ script and direction give the talented child actors a lot to work with, both in making their characters lovable and exploring the world they struggle in daily just to survive. The highs brought a smile to my face, and the lowest of the lows brought me to tears. Tigers Are Not Afraid didn’t just freak me out with its supernatural trappings, but it impacted me on a deeper level than most horror films by tapping into the genuine humanity of its protagonists and the awfulness of the people and all-to-real environment they inhabit while delivering just a sliver of hope too.
Number 1: Us
I had extremely high expectations for Us, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to his critical and commercial darling Get Out, and it blew straight past them, leaving me to pick my jaw up off of the floor once the credits rolled. Unlike its psychological horror predecessor, Us is more of a straightforward monster movie or slasher flick mixed with an episode of The Twilight Zone, but it also uses its terror to send a message to viewers like Peele’s directorial debut did, and Us is even more effective at dropping huge laughs in between moments of palpable terror. The cast is phenomenal too, bringing the absolute best out of Peele’s razor sharp script, both as the terrified protagonists and their villainous mirror selves, elevating Us to a place among the most impressive horror films of all time.