It was a great year for Horror Films, and without an individual film that was head and shoulders above the rest, making this a bit of a challenge to pick a top 10. There was a nice mix of film festival independent darlings, as well as some surprisingly good major studio offerings this year. If you haven’t done so already, go listen to our favorite movies of the decade. I believe we are still in the middle of the golden age of quality horror stories.
I saw 49 (Or 50 see footnote asterisks below) horror movies that were released this year, and there were a number of movies that I really liked that on another day perhaps would have made the list. But, for today, for THIS review, here are Eric Li’s favorite horror films of 2019.
10. Pledge Directed by Daniel Robbins Starring: Zachary Byrd, Phillip Andre Botello, Zachary Weiner, and Aaron Dalla Villa
When hazing goes too far, or when hazing really is a murderous ritual, you get Pledge. This is Animal House on methamphetamines. Three outcast college dudes get seduced by the promises of being kings of the campus when visiting an off-campus fraternity house, only to become victims of a sadistic cult intent on torturing them for their own grisly ritual purposes. This early 2019 film came in under the radar and packs a visceral punch. The third act is fantastic and provides satisfying savagery as the nerds fight for their lives.
9. Midsommar Directed by Ari Aster Starring Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Porter, and Will Poulter
Ari Aster’s sophomore effort is a gorgeous study of a relationship in full meltdown mode. Florence Pugh is heartbreaking as a young woman who has suffered an unspeakable tragedy. Jack Reynor is her boyfriend, who reluctantly allows her to join him and his bro buddies on a Swedish adventure to participate and research a pagan festival. Aster slowly pulls you through this dreamy tale of trust failure and ritual sacrifice. Comparisons to the Wicker Man are not unfounded. This is a slow burn and contemplative piece, and requires patience, but rewards those willing to receive a complete story.
8. Satanic Panic Directed by Chelsea StardustStarring: Haley Griffith, Rebecca Romjin, Arden Miren, and Ruby Modine
Hey, more ritual sacrifice! This one, unlike my previous two selections, is a fun and silly blood-soaked romp. Stardust looks to be a star director in the making and newcomer Haley Griffith is wonderful as the plucky pizza girl who just happens to make a delivery during the middle of a Satanic summoning. Whoops! A great balance of humor, blood, and guts. FANGORIA has found its niche in the market, blending their trademark practical gore, great production value, with a blend of recognizable stars and promising new talent. I can’t wait to see what’s next from them.
7. Depraved Directed by Larry Fessenden Starring: Alex Breaux, David Call, and Joshua Leonard
Fessenden lovingly adapts the classic Frankenstein tale for the 21st century. The monster, Adam (Breaux), is hugely sympathetic and is this time the result of an Afghan War battlefield medic (Call) who is looking for a way to make up for the loss of his comrades, in a bit of a PTSD overcompensating move, believing by bringing Adam back might save soldiers in the future. Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project) is terrific as the greedy Polidori who is looking to make a fortune with the medical miracle that Adam represents. Smart and heartfelt. This is a worthy re-imagining of one of our greatest horror tales.
6. The Lodge Directed by: Severin Fiala and Veronica Franz Starring: Riley Keough, Richard Armitage, Jaeden Martell, and Lia McHugh
This icy offering has yet to get a wide release in the US, but when it becomes available, look out! This is a taut and unnerving psychological thriller in which Riley Keough plays a survivor of a suicide cult who has fallen in love with her psychologist and is trying to make nice with his skeptical children. Your emotional connection shifts multiple times in this movie, and it is a brutal and unforgettable bit of real dread. Warning, this film, as great as it is, may make you feel miserable.
5. Finale Directed by Soren Juul Pederson Starring: Anne Bergfeld, Karin Michaelson, Damon Younger, and Kristoffer Fabricious
This one, I did not see coming. Pederson, channeling his best Christopher Nolan by way of Alfred Hitchcock serves up a story with two timelines that are bound to intercept. One track follows Agnes (Bergfeld) who is trapped in a storage container, held captive for some unknown reason. The second track also follows Agnes, working the night shift at a lonely gas station with her colleague Belinda (Michaelson) as they are stalked by some unknown creeper. As the stories continue towards each other, the inevitable collision of storylines is brilliantly spun, and the third act ultra-violence is that much better for both stories unfolding the way that they due. Master storytelling, and brilliant acting lifts up this from your standard torture fare.
4. Us Directed by Jordan Peele Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker
We are lucky to be living in a world where Jordan Peele is making horror movies. Us, his sophomore effort is mad genius imagination at work. The entire cast has to pull double duty, and they seem to be having an absolute blast doing so, particularly where they are forced to go one-on-one with their evil twins. The tethered doppelgangers are still a bit of a mystery, and I love that Peele takes such bold and brave concepts to a wild conclusion. It may not make a ton of sense, but it is jaw-dropping in the audacity of the ideas at play. Nyong’o is worthy of an Oscar nomination as Adelaide/Red.
3. Extra Ordinary Directed by Mike Ahern and Edna Loughman Starring: Maeve Higgins, Barry Ward, and Will Forte
This is the unanimous pick amongst all the Scariest Things Crew. It is one of the best comedies, let alone comedy horror movies of the past decade. It’s a sweet underdog tale of Rose (Higgins), a dowdy former psychic who has taken up being a driver’s education teacher to distance herself from her previous failed career that cost her father banishment to another dimension. She becomes smitten with a client, Martin Martin (Ward) whose ex-wife is haunting his house. Will Forte chews up all the scenery as a failing pop star who had sold his soul to the devil and will have to do it again to recover his stardom. Pure brilliance and tremendous Irish bravura wit pour from all the pores in this film. Highest recommendation!
2. Crawl Directed by Alexandre Aja Starring: Kate Scoladario and Barry Pepper
I love a good creature feature. I also love a good survival tale. I love great parent-child bonding storylines to help anchor the plot. I love Crawl. Plausible, if HIGHLY improbable circumstances force Haley (Scoladario) to try and rescue her stubborn father/swim coach Dave (Pepper) from his house in Florida, where a hurricane has struck. That hurricane has broken a levee that contained a commercial alligator farm. Who knew that farm-raised alligators could be so big and aggressive? This is a master class in tension, and the combination of director Aja and producer Sam Raimi provides them a platform to show off how to set up a scene, a jump scare, and a moment. Hold the camera on the actor in a tight shot for just long enough. Provide a splash in the dark. Yes, the Kellers have superior tough constitutions (as does the bathroom door)but you let that go by in exchange for a serious adrenaline rush. Also, you WILL root for the dog. Woof!
1.Ready or Not Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet Starring: Samara Weaving, Mark O’Brien, Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, Andie McDowell, Nicki Guadagni, Kritian Bruun, and Melani Scrofano
What a blast! This movie gave me more than I could have hoped for. Samara Weaving is a ready-made movie star, who in addition to real beauty, can deliver the full arsenal of emotional content. Scorn, lust, agony, fear, amusement… Weaving puts this movie on her back and just slays it. The concept is one right out of the current “Rich People Suck” movement, including Knives Out and Parasite as two other popular features that show that the one percent just can’t be trusted. The Le Domas family of board game empire heirs are also wonderfully rendered, with quirky gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight vibes. But, Grace (Weaving) is seriously out-numbered, and it is her determination and wits that get her to what has to be the best third act finale of any movie I’ve seen this year. This movie is proof that a big studio can still produce good medium budget original horror fare, beating the indies at what they do best: Tell good stories.
AN ASTERISK: If One Cut of the Dead is considered a 2019 movie, this would have finished in my top ten, probably at the #4 slot. It is now available from Shudder for streaming. The second and third acts of this movie show what makes making movies so awesome. If you could give a movie a hug, you would do it for this film. However, I consider One Cut to be a 2017 movie, so it’s not on this list.
Check out all the other reviews from the rest of the Scariest Things Staff, as we will be (have been) posting our top ten reviews on the site. Our podcast summarizing this and giving fun feedback to each other’s selections will be up next week!
My Full List:
Ready or Not
Daniel Isn’t Real
The Vast of Night
It Chapter 2
Come to Daddy
The Head Hunter
Godzilla, King of the Monsters
To Your Last Death
Happy Death Day 2
Stay Out Stay Alive
Annabelle Comes Home
The Dead Don’t Die
The Curse of La Llorona
The Banana Splits
3 From Hell
Notable features I have not yet seen for evaluation: Pet Sematary (reboot), The Girl on the Third Floor, In Fabric, Black Christmas (reboot), Rabid (reboot), and Doctor Sleep