2019 was an interesting year for the horror genre. We saw big horror blockbusters and great indie films, the return of a few classic Stephen King characters, successful director debuts, and follow-up features from some new masters of horror.
Based on what I watched in 2019, I’ve hand-picked some of my favorite horror films of the year — as we are wont to do here at iHorror — so curl up, read on, and get watching!
10. Door Lock
If you — like me — are such a sucker for a South Korean serial killer thriller, then I implore you to check out Door Lock. A loose remake of Jaume Balagueró’s apartment tenant terror, Sleep Tight, Door Lock follows a young bank teller, Jo Kyung-min (Kong Hyo-Jin), who gradually fears that she is the target of a stalker. When the authorities shrug off her concerns, she realizes that she may be the only one who can find the identity of her own personal antagonist. Naturally, danger ensues.
Door Lock delivers a skin-crawling cautionary tale that drops healthy doses of violence and tension throughout. You can easily empathize with Kyung-min as she navigates the threats and dangers that are inherent with being a young, single woman in a world filled with overbearing men. It’s — at times — frustrating to witness, but it brilliantly adds to her fear and isolation and builds to an intense climax.
Though technically a 2018 film, it ran the festival circuit in 2019. Distribution is… complicated. So by the power vested in me by the internet, I’m gonna say it counts.
9. One Cut of the Dead
Thanks to Shudder, Shin’ichirô Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead finally received distribution in 2019. The film opens with a pretty typical zombie movie that has been impressively filmed in one 37-minute unbroken take (which took 2 days and 6 takes to achieve). But then it brilliantly peels back a layer and turns into a scripted hyper-meta comedy about the chaotic behind-the-scenes making of the movie. It’s a genius move that snaps your attention back into place, just when the novelty of the zombie film starts to wear off.
It’s charming as all hell and it demands to be seen. Even if you’re burnt out on zombie films, One Cut of the Dead is so much more. It’s hilarious, heartwarming, and it really puts a fresh spin on both the mockumentary and undead subgenres.
8. The Hole in the Ground
There’s nothing quite like a good, brooding, atmospheric Irish horror. If you’re looking for something that has Irish gothic charm but with more modern sensibilities, The Hole in the Ground delivers in a big way, and even throws in a bonus creepy child for good measure. Lee Cronin makes his feature film debut with a twisting little tale of a young mother who starts to suspect that her son isn’t the boy he once was, and has perhaps been replaced by something far more sinister.
The tension is high and the mood is dark, crafting perfectly chilling story. And it’s right up there with The Babadook in terms of being an excellent method of birth control.
Written and directed by Under the Shadow’s Babek Anvari, and based on a novella called “The Invisible Filth” by Nathan Ballingrud, Wounds is… a bit of a bender. We follow an endearing but overall unlikable bartender named Will (Armie Hammer, The Social Network) who comes into possession of a cell phone that was abandoned at his place of employment. Following some mysterious texts, he starts to snoop into the phone’s contents and finds some genuinely unnerving and generally unexplainable videos and photos.
If you’re someone who needs zero ambiguity in your horror, perhaps skip this one. But if you can roll with the strange and unusual, Wounds is a delicious little slow burn that packs one hell of a punch.
6. Doctor Sleep
Let it be known that Mike Flanagan is a gem of horror cinema. The writer/director has an impressive resume of films, and with each new project he knocks it out of the park.
All this is to say that it’s a damn tragedy that Doctor Sleep underperformed at the box office (I suppose a grown-up Danny Torrance isn’t as easily recognizable as Pennywise). It’s beautifully crafted, gorgeously shot, and brilliantly executed. Flanagan’s exquisite attention to detail really pays off with the flashback scenes in which we are transported back to the Overlook Hotel. He doesn’t attempt to override or outshine The Shining, he makes Doctor Sleep its own distinct entity that perfectly compliments the first film with visual and musical homages. Each performance is excellent, with a notably captivating (and fashionable) portrayal of Rose the Hat by Rebecca Ferguson and a heart wrenching reflection on addiction and trauma from Ewan MacGregor.
5. Ready or Not
Directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (V/H/S, Southbound) balance humor, horror, and heart while taking the audience on a wild ride through a waking nightmare. On her wedding night, the young bride, Grace (Samara Weaving, The Babysitter), learns that her new husband’s family has a certain tradition that must be upheld. Unfortunately, they play with some pretty high stakes.
Ready or Not is a viciously fun film. Between this and Guns Akimbo, Samara Weaving has completely won me over. She’s so utterly delightful in this movie that you’re rooting for her every converse-wearing step of the way. The battered-and-bloody wedding dress with bandolier is a look that I greatly appreciate — it’s near iconic — and I fully anticipate Ready or Not cosplay in the near future.
4. Daniel Isn’t Real
Daniel Isn’t Real starts with Luke, a young boy who finds an imaginary friend in Daniel. Daniel is the perfect companion for Luke, until his suggestions take a sinister turn and Luke sends him away. Now a young adult struggling with daily stresses, Luke (Miles Robbins, Halloween) revisits his old friend Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) and the effects on his life are… dramatic.
It’s a cool, clever concept for a film that pulls you in from the very first shot. There are a few unexpected visual terror treats that read very well, and the performances are impressively fluid.
If there was ever a decision made to remake American Psycho — and let me be clear, there should absolutely not be — let me tell you, Patrick Schwarzenegger would be a perfect Patrick Bateman.
3. The Lighthouse
Robert Eggers came through with the follow-up to his New-England Folktale, The Witch. His most recent venture, The Lighthouse, follows two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s. As their time on the island progresses, their patience wears thin and an obsession develops around the brilliant beacon of the lighthouse.
The Lighthouse is completely bonkers. I mean that in the best possible way. It’s a gradual descent into madness that features stunning mythical tableaux and the occasional fart joke. It’s an intense two-hander with only Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, and each come well prepared to verbally, emotionally, and physically duke it out on screen.
Of course, Eggers’ dedication to making a film as aesthetically and practically period as possible really shines in The Lighthouse. The film is shot entirely in black-and-white and with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio. It feels like a film that’s washed up on shore after decades of being buried at sea.
There’s a lot that can be said about this film (read my review here), and it’s something that you can’t fully grasp until you’ve seen it for yourself. That said, it’s certainly not for everyone. If you were turned off by the slow burn aspects of The Witch, maybe skip it. But if you’re ready to throw down, The Lighthouse will gladly knock you about for a few rounds.
Jordan Peele’s sophomore film shows a clever and thrilling take on the home invasion subgenre with just a shade of the uncanny valley. Anchored by an award-worthy performance from Lupita Nyong’o, Us is a sly commentary on social class that blends mystery science with the great unknown to craft a unique and chilling tale. It’s a compelling film with perfectly timed comedic beats and expert-level moments of horror.
Peele gave Nyong’o a list of films — including A Tale of Two Sisters, Dead Again, Martyrs, The Shining and It Follows — to help them develop a “shared language” for the film. This mutual understanding really adds to the depth of Nyong’o’s performance(s) and informs the film’s emotional tone. Peele has successfully shown himself as a new master of horror and — in the process — pulled Nyong’o into the public consciousness as a killer new scream queen (and forever changed the way we hear “I Got 5 On It” by Luniz).
Ah, Midsommar. The ultimate break-up film.
If there’s one thing we learned from Ari Aster’s follow up to the smash hit that is Hereditary, it’s that the man loves rituals. Aster pulled Midsommar out of the shadows and into the bright, gorgeous, cheerful world of a remote Swedish village, which is somehow just as unnerving. There’s no escape, nowhere to hide, and there’s something eerily sinister about a village full of uplifting, supportive strangers.
Aster’s attention to detail is so precise that Midsommar demands multiple viewings. It’s a brilliant, beautiful, and at times batshit crazy exploration of grief and growth. We can’t wait to see what he does next.
Bong Joon Ho is an absolutely masterful storyteller. You may not recognize the name, but between The Host, Snowpiercer, and Ojka, it’s likely you’ve seen some of his work. I have a hard time calling Parasite a horror film (though, as a thriller, I will definitely argue that it is horrific), but it’s undeniably one of — if not the — best films of the year.
Tigers Are Not Afraid
Though it was first released in 2017 (and included on my Best of 2018 list), Tigers Are Not Afraid gained distribution in 2019. So I’m going to call attention to it once again, because it is an unbelievably beautiful film that must be seen. Click here to read my full review.
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror
You may not have expected to see a documentary on this list, but deal with it. Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror is essential viewing. Developed from the book Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films by Robin R. Means Coleman (read my review here), the documentary uses interviews with actors, writers, and filmmakers who are prominent in the genre to unravel the complex history of representation in horror cinema. It’s insightful, enlightening, and it’s a damn good film.