Wow! What the hell was that all about?! Is it safe to come out now?
2020, amirite? Between the global, live-action production of Stephen King’s The Stand that everyone was forced to be in and all the political nutjobbery around the world I, for one, was extremely happy to have such a bumper crop of great genre fare to while away the hours in my hermetically sealed sanity shelter.
Having to pick only 10 of them was not an easy thing to do, but how could I say “no” to your adorable, horror-loving faces? Just look at y’all! You’re so cute!
So here are my picks for the 10 bright spots of last year. If you give any of them a looksee, I’d love to know what you think!
10. Kadaver (Norway)
Writer/Director: Jarand Herdal
While not particularly original, this post-apocalyptic tale of desperation is beautiful to look at. Jallo Faber’s cinematography — he’s previously worked on Spectre (2015) and Tenet (2020) — brings a lush vibrancy to both the opulence of the hotel and the shattered ruins of the surrounding city. And remember: when something seems too good to be true it probably is.
Currently available on Netflix.
9. Sputnik (Russia)
Director: Egor Abramenko
Writers: Oleg Malovichko & Andrey Zolotarev
Weird critter from outer space? Sign me up! In Abramenko’s debut feature, some cosmonauts returning to Earth discover they’ve got an unexpected hitchhiker and things only get stranger from there. With fantastic creature design and one of the most enjoyable creature intros I’ve seen, Sputnik was an easy pick for my top 10.
You can catch all the fun on Hulu.
8. Death of Me (USA)
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Writers: Ari Margolis, James Morley III, and David Tish
Shot entirely in Thailand, Death of Me follows Maggie Q and Luke Hemsworth as a vacationing couple trying to figure out why they’ve got video footage that shows one of them killing the other. With hints of The Wicker Man (1973) and The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) — thanks for the assist, Liz! — Death of Me is a mind-bending tropical delight.
Join Maggie and Luke on their vacation over at Amazon.
7. Run (Canada)
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Writers: Aneesh Chaganty & Sev Ohanian
For whatever reason, this one struck a chord with me. Yes, it’s not exactly unpredictable. Yes, the window breaking scene was absurdly complicated. And yet, I stayed hooked to the screen. Sarah Paulson gave her usual masterclass in crazy while newcomer Kiera Allen kept up her end of the deal in her first ever feature film.
Run is currently streaming on Hulu.
6. Love and Monsters (USA)
Director: Michael Matthews
Writers: Brian Duffield & Matthew Robinson
Talk about “gateway horror”! If you looked up that phrase in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of Michael Matthews holding up the poster for this movie. This is a fun, fun film! Tons of monsters, but nothing too spooky since it’s PG-13; a simple yet engaging storyline; and some great performances. Especially from the Michael Rooker + Ariana Greenblatt duo. If you’re a horror fan with uninitiated kids, look no further. This is the perfect intro film.
You can join the adventure on Amazon Prime.
5. Lovecraft Country (USA)
Creator: Misha Green
What? Of course it’s a movie! It’s a 10 hour movie that’s been chopped into 10 easily digestible chunks… Yah, okay. It’s not a movie, but I couldn’t help it! You’ve got monsters. You’ve got crazy, gory magics. And you’ve got it all wrapped up in a nice Lovecraftian bow! Misha Green delivers all of this against an eye-opening backdrop of the 1950’s Jim Crow America. With outstanding performances from leads Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett, Green has created a powerful and very welcome force for people of color in genre works. It’s a fun ride and I can’t wait for season 2!
Catch season one on HBO Max.
4. His House (United Kingdom)
Director: Remi Weekes
Writers: Remi Weekes, Felicity Evans & Toby Venables
Bol & Rial Majur (Sope Dirisu & Wunmi Mosaku) are Sudanese refugees who’ve managed to make it through the system and have been resettled in a small English town. Unfortunately for them, something more than the traumatic memory of their escape has followed them to their new home. One of my favorite things about our beloved genre is seeing the world from different viewpoints. What kinds of monsters creep around in other countries? What scares people from other cultures? And, when you couple those questions with an excellent script, you also get a taste of what life is like for someone else.
You can visit His House on Netflix.
3. Host (United Kingdom)
Director: Rob Savage
Writers: Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage, and Jed Shepherd
This, my friends, is the official horror movie of 2020. Maybe not the “best” of 2020, but without a doubt Host is the movie that distills the train wreck of a year down to its essence: fear, uncertainty, and video chat. Brilliantly filmed entirely over Zoom during the pandemic, Host joins a group of women who are getting together via Zoom for an entertaining socially distant seance. Obviously, it being 2020, things go horribly wrong. The actors gave great performances throughout in spite of having to do all their own practical effects (because quarantine). And Savage’s idea to hold the length of the movie to the length of a free Zoom session was absolutely perfect.
You can join the video conference on Amazon.
2. The Hunt (USA)
Director: Craig Zobel
Writers: Nick Cuse & Damon Lindelof
Arguably the most controversial movie of last year due to it being hyper-violent as well as politically triggering, The Hunt gives us another taste of that ol’ family favorite: hunting humans for sport. From The Most Dangerous Game (1932) to the 2019 Cannes Jury Prize winner from Brazil, Bacurau (2019), hunting each other has always been a popular trope. Add in some fantastic, darkly comedic dialog and cast Betty Gilpin & Hilary Swank to play opposite each other and you’ve got yourself something special. Not to mention the fight between those two stars — choreographed by powerhouse stuntwoman Heidi Moneymaker — has got to be the greatest brawl between two women since Kill Bill.
You can join The Hunt on Cinemax or with a Cinemax addition to Hulu or Amazon Prime.
1. The Queen of Black Magic [a.k.a., Ratu Ilmu Hitam] (Indonesia)
Director: Kimo Stamboel
Writer: Joko Anwar
Out of all the bright spots in 2020 — as few and far between as they were — the one that shined the brightest was Indonesia. More specifically, the Scribe of Medan, the patron saint of film-critics-who-want-to-make-horror-movies, the incomparable Joko Anwar. Deftly balancing humor with some real gut-punching horror, you never know what’s coming next in an Anwar film. This year we were gifted not one, but two films written by Mr. Anwar: The Queen of Black Magic and Impetigore (a.k.a., Perempuan Tanah Jahanam) which he also directed. While both were exceptional, I found The Queen of Black Magic to have that special spark of super creepy that drove it to the top of my list.
The Queen of Black Magic premieres on Shudder January 28th.
That’s it! Thanks for sticking with us through the soul-crushing days of 2020, Scariest Friends. Here’s to a far superior and wonderfully spooky 2021 for us all.
Article by Robert Zilbauer.