It has been a great year for horror. In fact it’s been a great decade for horror as the genre has evolved from one once considered to be among the lowest forms of cinematic entertainment into one filled with complex themes, intriguing and deep stories, and a fun blend of different kinds of fear that offers a little something for everyone. That last statement defines 2019 the most for horror as this past year has given us a fine blend of thriller horrors, artistic slow burns, commentary films and escapist fright fests that have all combined to make the genre one of the best and most consistently entertaining over the last twelve months. As 2019 comes to a close it’s time once again for me to look at the best movies of the year that have graced the big screen and what better place to start than with a genre that has dominated the year in almost every way. So let’s not waste time. These are my picks for the Top 10 Horror Films of 2019.
For this list of my favorite horror films of 2019 I had to have seen and reviewed the movie here on “Cinema Spotlight” for it to be considered and it had to have received its widest release in 2019. While this is not a rule for these lists per say, every movie on this particular countdown received at least four out of five stars when I reviewed them and the top six all received perfect scores.
Keep in mind these are just my personal favorite movies in the horror genre from 2019 and there may be plenty of undiscovered gems I was not able to see over the last twelve months that are not included. With that said I want to know your thoughts on horror in 2019. Which frightening feature was your favorite from the past year? Let me know in the comments below. Let’s get to it!
Superhero movies are truly a dime a dozen these days and 2019 offered us more than our fair share of features from the genre, but a surprisingly fun one came in the form of an original origin story with a horror twist. “Brightburn” takes the Superman-esque hero origin, in fact it pretty much copies it note for note, and ponders what would happen if the alien who arrived on Earth used his powers for more destructive purposes rather than becoming the hero. It’s a fun premise that, while not completely realized, does bring some gruesome deaths and does delve into how an otherworldy being with powers would probably most likely truly react to being seen as an outcast. In my review I stated “Brightburn” “does just enough to provide a fun and subversive take on the expectations we’ve come to embrace from superhero films” and it does so with a bloody and horrific twist on those tropes that makes it just as fun to experience even over half a year later.
It’s been quite some time since we’ve had a legitimate creature feature that pits man against nature like “Crawl” did in 2019. I used to love these movies when I was a kid with films like “Jurassic Park”, “Anaconda” and “Deep Blue Sea” being some of my personal favorites. “Crawl” harks back to these films by pitting a college swimmer and her father against alligators during a hurricane in Florida. While littered with clichés and performance flaws that other critics decided to overlook, I still saw “Crawl” as a genuinely fun waste of time that embraced all the gruesome aspects of man versus animal films I used to appreciate so much. In my review I noted that the movie “provides a lot to embrace including some fun real-life predatory monsters, a believable setup, and plenty of scary moments and bloodshed to satisfy any casual moviegoer” and while I stand by my statements concerning its basic flaws I’ve grown to enjoy it more and more through subsequent rewatches making my four-star review one I fully stand behind.
8. “It: Chapter 2”
The first “It” movie was included on my Best Horror Films of 2017 list and for many was one of the best movies of that year. The sequel is not as good but once again finds Pennywise and the Losers Club on my end-of-the-year roundup. Focusing on the Losers Club as adults who take on Pennywise for a second time, this time looking to end his terror for good, “It: Chapter 2” does just enough to satisfy even if it’s not on the same level as its predecessor. While it is lengthy and has a clear pacing problem I still considered the film “an acceptably fun, mildly ambitious and perfectly serviceable sequel and another great addition to the 2010s renaissance of legitimately good Stephen King adaptations” in my review. There are many things about it that I still look back on fondly as standout moments from horror over the last year and I’m at least happy to admit the sequel met my most basic expectations which these days is more than enough to make it a horror must see.
7. “Doctor Sleep”
Speaking of Stephen King related horror sequels in 2019, “Doctor Sleep” followed in the footsteps of the legendary Stanley Kubrick masterpiece “The Shining”. “Doctor Sleep” focuses on an adult Danny Torrance who must come to peace with the demons left over from his time at the Overlook Hotel when he discovers that a cult has been hunting down people, specifically children, who are blessed with the same Shining ability he possesses. While it did essentially flop at the box office those who passed up this sequel missed out on a fun blend of art and entertainment that somehow does justice to Kubrick’s classic while feeling a bit more mainstream. In my review I called “Doctor Sleep” “a fun, engaging, and at times even thought-provoking ride from start to finish” even if I admitted it was imperfect and unfairly graded by the standards of Kubrick’s masterpiece. In the end it was and is a good example of how the right touch can make even the most unexpected sequels work in more ways than one.
6. “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”
Every year there are at least a couple films that I grade pretty high or low and then upon reexamining them feel a little different. “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is one of those films although that doesn’t make it a bad movie. When I graded this family friendly cinematic interpretation of the controversial book series that shares its name in my review I gave it a perfect score and hailed it as “an expertly crafted horror experience that knows exactly what it wants to be and owns it in every way”. While I do stand by that statement, I’ll admit a four-star review was probably more appropriate. Nonetheless “Scary Stories…” is a fun mix of different tales that are brought to life in uncomfortable, unsettling, and at times surprisingly brutal ways providing fun moments for adults to appreciate while also serving as often unforgiving introductions for younger viewers to what horror is all about. I still enjoy it very much upon rewatching it and highly recommend it, if for no other reason than the Pale Lady scene which may be one of 2019’s most disturbing cinematic moments.
5. “Ready or Not”
“Ready or Not” is a fun horror comedy that I’m pretty disappointed more people didn’t see. Using a bride on her wedding night, played spectacularly by Samara Weaving, who finds herself caught up in a deadly game of hide and seek with her new in-laws, “Ready or Not” provides some excellent commentary on social class while blending humor and horror perfectly thanks to sharp writing and fun direction. The finale is probably one of the most outrageous scenes in all of cinema in 2019 while the combination of levity and tension creates a fun mix of tones that surprisingly compliment rather than contradict each other. In my review I said, “Ready or Not” “is a delightful and suspenseful genre experience that will have you laughing one minute, cringing the next, and assessing the social construct of society all the way through”. “Ready or Not” may not be the most notable horror feature of the last year, but it was certainly one of the most entertaining and thought provoking.
4. “The Dead Don’t Die”
A lot of you probably didn’t get to see this film while it was in theaters, but I would highly recommend you check it out…but walk in with an open mind. “The Dead Don’t Die” could have just as easily been on my list of best comedies of 2019 but I chose to include it as a horror film because it serves as a bloody, hilarious send up to one of horror’s most enduring subgenres, the zombie movie. Independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch gave us a zombie flick that’s both cliché but surprisingly fresh by making fun of the zombie genre and all its tropes while also creating one of the best zombie films of all time with fun characters and great self-aware humor. The final product divided critics but in by review I called it “a hilarious, self-aware, and worthy addition to the zombie subgenre mixing odd and dry humor with some fun gore and even adding some new elements to the modern zombie as we know it”. This is quite possibly one of the strangest movies of the year and one that might take some genuine thought to truly understand, but for my money it’s an experience worth enjoying over and over again.
An interesting fact about my top three horror films of 2019 is all three of them are the second major productions by their respective directors who are quickly becoming genre staples. Ari Aster’s sophomore mainstream effort “MidSommar” is a cinematic masterpiece that has stayed with me from the day I saw it. After making waves with “Hereditary” last year, Aster outdid himself, in my opinion at least, with “MidSommar” which focused on a group of friends who experience a commune’s summer festival where they become unwilling participants in a deadly tradition. I absolutely loved this movie from its performances, especially Florence Pugh’s excellent portrayal of depression and anxiety, to the tension and the uncharacteristic use of daytime instead of night to set the horror atmosphere. A lot of people are calling “Hereditary” Aster’s modern classic, but this film for me was the more memorable viewing experience that I called “one of the year’s most engrossing horror pictures and one of the greatest cultist films of all time” in my review.
Now on to Jordan Peele’s sophomore horror offering, “Us”. If there’s one horror movie that will define 2019 for most moviegoers, it’s this one. While I’m going against the grain by not naming it my favorite horror picture of 2019, it very much is one of the year’s best films as it follows a family that comes face to face with their doppelgangers essentially forcing them into a horrific life-or-death scenario against themselves. As the successor to Peele’s Oscar winning “Get Out”, “Us” reaffirms the director’s talent for mixing mainstream horror elements with artistic merit to create a movie that both entertains and opens your eyes through the use of social commentary and symbolism. In my review I stated “Peele proves once again that he is a true talent by going above and beyond the expectations left from his first film by taking more risks, providing more scares and creating a piece of horror art that makes you think and keeps you sufficiently entertained”. With the help of great, committed performances Peele was able to pull off one of the year’s most deservingly popular truly original movies.
1. “The Lighthouse”
And finally, we come to the second mainstream film by Robert Eggers. I was a big fan of Egger’s “The Witch” and was hotly anticipating his second horror feature which very much ups the ante in every way. Featuring powerhouse performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two of only three actors in the picture, “The Lighthouse” is a terrifying mindbender that feels so carefully crafted that every small detail feels built to play with the viewer’s perspective. Using a limited aspect ratio that creates a great sense of claustrophobia, “The Lighthouse” provides unsettling atmosphere and a spectacularly written narrative that will keep you wondering what is real and what’s not and forces you to ponder long after the credits what it all means. In my review I concluded “it’s a perfect balance of intense psychological horror and symbolic storytelling that continues the trend of more sophisticated and thought-provoking horror masterpieces that has made the 2010s such a great decade for the genre.” Of all the films on this list “The Lighthouse” is the one that stuck with me the most and while I have yet to see it a second time I still find myself breaking down its many intricate elements in my head time and time again.