Despite the unfortunate circumstances of 2020, we were provided a good chunk of awesome horror this year that crossed a wide spectrum of styles and concepts. Even though we were denied top 10 shoe-ins like Antlers, we were given unexpectedly powerful replacements, from the somber to the hilarious, from the terrifying to the thought-provoking. It was good enough of a year that I struggled greatly with the final cuts, making for a pretty strong list of honorable mentions you should check out at the end of this list!
As is regularly the case for our top 10 films of the year, we include the disclaimer that this is a list of the films we were able to see...so some may have hit the festival circuit last year and a couple may not be fully released until next year.)
Sickle's Top 10 2020 Horror Films
10. The Mortuary Collection
Something that admittedly influences the final cuts of my lists revolves around leaning towards presenting a wide array of films, usually trying to include a horror-comedy or horror anthology if one is deemed worthy. In this case, it came down to The Mortuary Collection and Dark Stories for the sake of the horror anthology sub genre. It was a close race, as Dark Stories boasted two amazing stories in particular, one of which about a zombie brought back for revenge was the best of the bunch from any anthology...But The Mortuary Collection had a personality that was consistent across its interlocking event and the stories, offering plenty of laughs and gore through its humor-encrusted guts. The anthology keeps a smirk on your face from beginning to end.
Found footage is a dying filmmaking style of the horror industry, or at least it feels like fewer and fewer worthy entries have been made of late. Spree helped to revitalize the style by building its concept around a wannabe social influencer using violent tactics to make it big. The film centers around his increasingly disturbing antics in order to get more viewers, only to reveal that the unhinged young man is ready to kill for the numbers. The film's commentary on our social media-obsessed culture plays well within the confines of the lead performance and his Uber-like service vehicle riddled with cameras. It was equally unsettling and hilarious, and proved to be a unique and thought-provoking experience.
Every year there are a couple of horror films that use the genre as a vehicle for the human experience. The film that does the purest job at translating horror into a soul-searching experience this year is Relic. Using haunted house tropes as the foundation, Relic feeds the viewer with dark atmosphere to tell a somber story on dementia and the US culture's treatment of the elderly. It's a tale that ends on a more ambiguous, sad note than a purely horror one, but its haunted house treatment parallels the struggles of dementia so well and in such an impactful way.
I was hoping to see Russia's two highly-anticipated horror entries, Sputnik and The Superdeep, within 2020, but only Sputnik made it [legally, at least] to streaming services. As my review soapboxed, Sputnik was wrongfully touted as Russia's answer to Alien. While this wasn't at all the case, Sputnik was something worthy of standing on its own oily, spindly legs. By the end of the film, it felt more like a dark scifi piece than a horror/scifi entry, but it boasted a unique tale that went beyond its scifi/horror influences. It wasn't what I was hoping it to be, but it was something that surprised me by being an original work of its own.
6. His House
A late entry in the horror filmography of 2020, His House, like Relic, boasted a powerful message on the human experience through the horror medium. Two refugees are finally placed in a home that turns out to be haunted by a rather ghastly entity. The scares are some of the best of the year, but they are matched by the horrors our protagonists endured and committed to get where they were. It's a film that tackles not only the politics of refugees and racism, but also the trauma and guilt endured by those who survive mass atrocities. It's as scary as it is profoundly engaging, which is usually where the best of horror thrives.
Brandon Cronenberg is clearly following in his father's footsteps of using the body horror/psychological horror medium as a means of social commentary. This is no more apparent than in Possessor. The film delivers mind-bending imagery with utter brutality to deliver a one-of-a-kind film that doesn't feel wholly a part of any one genre. Brandon's career is certainly one to follow.
4. The Wolf of Snow Hollow
This is easily my most controversial entry on the list, as it is definitely a love-or-hate movie. The cult-film director's first attempt in the horror genre still carries much of the personality of his other features, focusing on somber drama mixed with dry humor, but with an extra dose of horror thrown in. The film's awkward style will be a turnoff for some, but others will find the approach entertaining in its own quirky way. The all-too-real exploration of alcoholism balanced with the humor of the investigating officers' incompetency are weighted against a string of grisly murders, and it ends up being an effective, unpredictable combination.
Anyone who frequents our site enough knows we are suckers for monsters and practical effects. Even though Underwater doesn't offer much in the way of practical effects with its monsters, it does offer plenty of monsters and great practical effects separate from each other. Aquatic creatures are some of my favorites, and this film delivers that in spades. But the film also constructed fantastic sets and created the best suit designs I've ever seen. You can feel the texture and weight of the suits through the screen. They are absolutely brilliant. For a film that doesn't offer a ton in terms of substance, the 3rd spot may be a bit high, but Underwater offers some of the most rewatchability of any movie from 2020, and that's worth something.
2. Anything for Jackson
I was dangerously close to giving this truly unique film the top spot, but I feared my own recency bias, so I decided against it. This film blew me away with its flawless balance of dry, dark humor and legit tension and scares. Everything felt unexpected to the point of well-crafted chaos. With even some of the best films, they have a predictability to them, but from scene to scene I didn't know what would happen next. It's been a while since I've smiled so much from beginning to end watching a movie.
1. The Invisible Man
This movie deserves the top spot. The Invisible Man was a master craft in filmmaking, delivering sweat-inducing intensity and thrills through perfectly executed set pieces. Everything from the score to the cinematography to the acting to the effects...it all came together seamlessly to deliver a very human story on the very real dangers and trauma of domestic violence. It was highly entertaining on the surface, but with a driven, applicable message. On top of that, it manages to satisfy horror enthusiasts while being accessible to a wide array of audiences. This movie is top-notch.
Honorable Mentions: Bloodthirsty (the original music from this film ties so well into the story itself), The Columnist (the moral layers of this film are unmatched, but it doesn't quite hit a horror note, even from a horror-comedy perspective), Reunion (it almost supplanted Relic on the list, but it inevitably lacks reliable intensity worthy of its incredible finale), Scare Me (the concept was more inspiring to me than the execution, but this was a film worthy of top-10 lists), Spiral (one of the better "there's something wrong with this neighborhood" films, and boasts some powerful social commentary), Dark Stories (a close second in the horror anthologies of 2020, but the quality of consistency in the shorts and the interlocking event wasn't quite as good).
#2020horrormovies #bloodthirsty #thecolumnist #relic #reunion #scareme #spiral #themortuarycollection #darkstories #theinvisibleman #anythingforjackson #underwater #thewolfofsnowhollow #possessor #hishouse #sputnik #spree