To say it’s been an odd year would be an understatement, and yet while nearly everything about 2020 has been a garbage fire, we have been blessed with some truly excellent horror this year! To cap off possibly the strangest year on record, a selection of Anatomy of a Scream contributors and staff put together their Top 10 faves.
Let’s dig in!
Andrew Roebuck (@winemovienerd)
9. The Lodge (2019, dirs: Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz): The performances and bleak atmosphere made this a very effective watch.
8. The New Mutants (2020, dir: Josh Boone): There are so many issues with this movie and yet I still ended up falling for the human cast and their relationships.
7. The Grudge (2020, dir: Nicolas Pesce): This was fun as a one-time watch. “Fun” may be a misnomer as it is excessively bleak, but as a fan of director Nicolas Pesce, I thoroughly enjoyed this outing.
6. Underwater (2020, dir: William Eubank): A roller coaster ride from start to finish, Underwater was one of the last truly cinematic experiences I had at the movies this year. TJ Miller is the one thing that drags the movie down, but everyone else does a stellar job.
5. Freaky (2020, dir: Chris Landon): This is easily the most fun you’ll have at the movies this year. Whip smart writing and amazing central performances. Of all films I saw this year, this will be the one I revisit time and time again.
4. Blood Quantum (2019, dir: Jeff Barnaby): Zombies are old hat to many but it’s well worth giving Blood Quantum a chance. Blood Quantum is the tale of Mi’qmaq people who are immune to a zombie apocalypse, which gives the film a unique perspective and makes it a must watch. On top of presenting an alternative perspective, the film is just a stellar zombie film with great gore and a likeable cast.
3. The Invisible Man (2020, dir: Leigh Whannell): The magic tech at the heart of The Invisible Man can be difficult to believe, however that’s the only downside of this tense and amazingly acted thriller. Elisabeth Moss is pure perfection and the final sequence being an all timer. Related: Squad Talk on The Invisible Man
2. Monstrum (2018 South Korea / 2020 North America, dir: Jong-ho Huh): It is very difficult to do something new and exciting with the monster genre, but Monstrum continues the trend of South Korean genre films that far surpass their North American counterparts. A wonderful monster and a heartfelt human cast.
1. After Midnight (2019, dirs: Jeremy Gardner & Christian Stella): Lisa Loeb is the best supporting actress of the year. No other film has given me more joy this year than After Midnight.
Laura Di Girolamo (@laura_digi)
Laura Di Girolamo is a film journalist and the co-director of The Bloody Mary Film Festival, which spotlights the works of female-identifying Canadian horror, sci-fi, and fantasy filmmakers. Laura wrote “Strega Nona: Tracking the Origin of Italy’s Most Famous Witch” for Grim No. 6 and is the co-host of “Let the Bodies Hit the Dance Floor” in the Grim Screening Room.
10. Vivarium (2020, dir: Lorcan Finnegan): An eerily well-timed look at the inescapable claustrophobia of suburbia, featuring an unusual antiseptic green colour palette, great performances, and a really, REALLY creepy kid.
9. The Beach House (2020, dir: Jeffrey A. Brown): Between The Beach House – a movie that feels like eating shrooms on vacation – and Colour Out of Space, the last 18 months have been great for psychedelic cosmic body horror. Related: He Said/She Said on The Beach House
8. Host (2020, dir: Rob Savage): One of the biggest surprises of 2020, Host uses the technology (and limitations) of video chat during lockdown to execute a perfectly-paced supernatural slasher in impressively creative, and very frightening, ways.
7. Amulet (2020, dir: Ramola Garai): Part grim war story, part feminist grimm fairy tale, Amulet is slow, quiet, and unsettling, and while the narrative is more ambiguous than some might prefer, the unique and atmospheric visual style makes up for it. That, and a truly bananas ending.
6. Relic (2020, dir: Natalie Erika James): A moving and realistic look at how three generations of women are affected by age, loss and memory, along with being a super creepy set piece for the scariest paranormal labyrinth since House of Leaves.
5. La Llorona (2019, dir: Jayro Bustamante): This movie, much like His House, was immensely upsetting in how accurately and unflinchingly it depicts the cruel things that people do to each other. It also excels at blending themes of generational trauma and colonialism with a beautifully low-key ghost story.
4. His House (2020, dir: Remi Weekes): While the scariest parts of His House are the things that human beings do to each other, it’s also great at being genuinely creepy, emotionally devastating, and even darkly funny thanks to two heartbreaking lead performances and a haunting script.
3. Possessor (2020, dir: Brandon Cronenberg): Just as visually arresting as it is viscerally gruesome (in a deeply cold and disturbing way), Brandon Cronenberg’s sharp, twisty thriller about the dissociative effect of modern technology proves that tackling body horror is a trait that runs in the family.
2. The Vast of Night (2019, dir: Andrew Patterson): The attention to period-specific technical and set design details alone would earn The Vast of Night a spot on this list, but what really makes Patterson’s film such an incredible debut is how confidently he tells an eerie, atmospheric, nostalgic, and charming sci-fi story.
1. The Invisible Man (2020, dir: Leigh Whannell): An incredible lead performance from the always-awesome Elisabeth Moss is one of the best things about The Invisible Man, but it’s also a great action thriller with a compelling narrative that’s a frighteningly accurate portrayal of abuse and trauma. Related: Squad Talk on The Invisible Man
Honourable Mentions: Lucky, The Dark and the Wicked, Gretel & Hansel, The Wretched, Run
Lindsay Traves (@smashtraves)
Writer; got here by refusing to stop talking about Scream, or trying to convince a strangers to watch The Guest, or drawing a detailed timeline of the Alien franchise. Lindsay wrote about “Afterlife with Archie” with Andrew Roebuck for Grim No. 7 and writes the beauty and horror column, “Spirit Gum.” Podcaster: The Pod & The Pendulum
10. His House (2020, dir: Remi Weekes): If there’s ever been a gut punch in the history of cinema, this is the punchiest in the guttiest. Anchored by unforgettable performances, this horrific tale uses less familiar lore (to North American audiences) to tell a bone chilling story as a living embodiment of very real pain.
9. Possessor (2020, dir: Brandon Cronenberg): The apple might not fall far from the tree, but that doesn’t mean the apple is a carbon copy. Brandon Cronenberg creates things that are spooky and weird, but in a bloodier style than his father. This is all on display on his mind-melting sci-fi horror that has the body-swap narrative on lock.
8. The Platform (2019, dir: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia): Fresh out of Spain, this is one of the simplest and nastiest terror tales of wealth inequality in a dystopian ‘not so distant from our own’ world. The Platform is a tale of unequal access to sustenance and the nasty habits disparity brings about in varying classes. The film is stunning and surreal, but remains grounded in a plausible reality. Wearing its metaphors on its sleeve makes the whole ordeal as beautiful as the 5 star meals ornately prepared by the kitchen.
7. Run (2020, dir: Aneesh Chaganty): With Searching and now Run, Chaganty has cemented himself as a master of suspense. His latest is this suspense filled ride that uses homage to Hitchcock and other horror greats for a scary story that holds up on its own. Lead by newcomer (and ‘one to watch’) Kiera Allen, Run is a refreshing take on disabled representation. Plus: Sarah Paulson is unbelievable and continues to prove why she’s such a horror go-to.
6. 12 Hour Shift (2019, dir: Brea Grant): 2020 has been the year of Brea Grant, and this flick proves it. The story of a mean nurse (the great Angela Bettis) working a double shift is told in the wackiest, most berserk and point blank, weird way. You’ll laugh, you’ll jump, you’ll cry, and you’ll literally stop to dance.
5. Bloody Hell (2020, dir: Alister Grierson): This movie is a mess in the best possible way. An adrenaline junky’s playground, this berserk flick is a blast through the mind of a former soldier and action hero who finds himself lost in an European scary story. It’s fun and, as its name claims, bloody, with a great performance by Ben O’Toole in dual roles.
4. The Vast of Night (2019, dir: Andrew Patterson): This science fiction throwback to the times of The Outer Limits is a spooky story reminiscent of those late night watches that kept you up at night and looking at the stars. It’s an incredible technical feat, playing like one long shot, but don’t let that make you suspicious that it’s more trick than treat. The Vast of Night is beautiful, haunting, and fun while also being an impressive work of technical art.
3. Lucky (2020, dir: Natasha Kermani): If you’ve ever needed an accurate depiction of “my shit,” Brea Grant and Natasha Kermani’s flick should help you out. This terror turns the masked predator into a slasher villain, and throws it through the looking glass for a mind-bending killer flick that shines a different light on the story of being a woman. I loved it. It is my shit.
2. Scare Me (2020, dir: Josh Ruben): I thought it would be impossible to knock Josh Ruben’s feature debut from my top spot. This tale of two acquaintances with varying levels of literary success holed up in a cabin is a blast. The two leads swap scary stories, which are brought to life by simple movie magic. It paints horror fans as a bunch of fun people laughing their way through scaring each other, which is a beautiful love letter to us all.
1. Promising Young Woman (2020, dir: Emerald Fennell): This one is difficult to distill, but suffice it to say it was and will be worth the wait. Emerald Fennell has created something magic in her yarn about a woman scorned that takes on the familiar villain in a brand new way. It kept me up all night shivering, without a demon to be found, and I can’t wait to watch it again.
Joe Lipsett (@bstolemyremote)
Writer, editor and promotions manager for Anatomy of a Scream & Grim Magazine; Podcaster: Horror Queers
10 – The Grudge (2020, dir: Nicolas Pesce): Never mind the F Cinemascore. Pesce’s North American-set entry in The Grudge franchise is a slice of cruel, mean-spirited despair that was never going to satisfy conventional audiences. There’s studio interference / reshoots mucking things up a bit, but as the first horror film of 2020, this set quite the tone for the year to come.
9 – Alone (2020, dir: John Hyams): A feminist nightmare if ever there was one. Hyams’ high-octane thriller finds Jessica (Jules Wilcox) hunted and abducted by a man who initially appears kind and friendly, setting off a cat and mouse chase throughout gorgeously lush woods. Terrifying and gripping, Alone slipped under most people’s radars. Don’t let it do the same for you.
8 – Sea Fever (2019, dir: Neasa Hardiman): Sadly 2020 didn’t have quite as many aquatic horror films as last year, but Sea Fever (along with Underwater and another entry below) scratched the itch. This slow-burn, cerebral entry finds dread in an unknown pathogen infecting a fishing boat and has one of the year’s best gory sequences!
7 – The Wretched (2019, dirs: Brett & Drew T. Pierce): In 2020, Canadian horror had a great showing (see also: honourable mention Z) and this mean, icky practical-effects take on a witch preying upon summer cottagers was an early highlight of the year. The creature design alone is <chef’s kiss>. Related: He Said/She Said on The Wretched
6 – The Beach House (2020, dir: Jeffrey A. Brown): Considering we were all trapped in our houses and fantasizing about escape, horror certainly didn’t ease up on vacation horror. James Franco’s The Rental may have had the all-star cast, but this eldritch take on a nefarious plague that comes from the ocean was a surprise hit back in the Spring, particularly one shocking moment involving a foot injury. So good! Related: He Said/She Said on The Beach House
5 – Extra Ordinary (2019, dirs: Mike Ahern & Enda Loughman): Hands down THE funniest horror comedy of the year is Extra Ordinary, an Irish film about a virginal driver’s ed teacher who can communicate with ghosts. Featuring crude humour, a fantastically talented cast and a break-out role for lead Maeve Higgins, Extra Ordinary is the movie I won’t shut up about because *everyone* needs to see it. Related: He Said/She Said on Extra Ordinary / Valeska’s review
4 – The Invisible Man (2020, dir: Leigh Whannell): What more needs to be said about the biggest genre box office success of the year? Whannell’s direction is perfection, Moss has never been more commanding, the visual effects are impeccably done and Oliver Jackson-Cohen’s titular character, despite barely appearing in the film, looms ominously over the proceedings. The year’s best crowd pleaser, this is a film that plays exceptionally well on a rewatch. Related: Squad Talk on The Invisible Man
3 – Possessor (2020, dir: Brandon Cronenberg): The most visually creative horror film of the year is also a mediation on identity, piracy and the slow disintegration of self. A low-fi heist film that’s light years more complicated than anything Christopher Nolan can concoct (plus a spiritual sequel to eXistenZ!), Possessor is a stunning achievement for Cronenberg and cements him as a major creative force in the genre.
2 – The Dark and the Wicked (2020, dir: Bryan Bertino): Leave it to Bertino to deliver one of the scariest films of the year in the most low key fashion. The Dark and the Wicked is tantamount to sadness porn, accentuated by heart-wrenching performances (Marin Ireland is outstanding) and a superb score that seeps into your skin. This is the feel bad film of the year and it is exceptional. Related: Gina’s review
1 – Relic (2020, dir: Natalie Erika James): Haunting. Gorgeous. Unsettling. Evocative. Sad.
It’s hard not to be superlative about Erika James’ outstanding debut feature, which builds and expands on her short Creswick by focusing on three generations of women exploring and supporting each other (metaphorically and literally) through trauma and illness. The nuanced performances by Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote and Robyn Nevin are surpassed only by the incredible set-design (the house is a character in its own right) in a film that builds to a quiet, cathartic and deeply upsetting conclusion that lingers long after the film has concluded.
With Relic, horror has gained an exciting new voice and I, for one, can’t wait to see what Erika James will deliver next.
Honourable Mentions: Host, Z, Underwater, The Platform, His House
These are our takes, but we want to hear from you? What films made your Top 10 list this year?