The Good, The Bad, and the Mediocre; 2019 Horror in ReviewFebruary 4, 2020
(Author’s notes: If you don’t see your favourite horror flick of 2019 on this list, drop it in the comments and perhaps it’ll wind up on future horror reviews here! Also, the delay in these reviews were to allow time for late-2019 releases such as Doctor Sleep.)
- Ready or Not
This is quite literally one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. It became an instant favourite and go-to re-watch flick. Not only is the horror and gore beyond excellent, every member of the cast brings something unique and interesting to their characters, the plot is very original, and there’s actually quite a bit of comedy interlaced with the horror.
Samara Weaving stars as Grace, who, on the night of her wedding to Alex Le Domas, is forced to participate in his family tradition of playing a game when a new person marries in. Unbeknownst to Grace, the tradition is based on a pact the family made with the devil- Mr. Le Bail- to ensure their fortune in the gaming business. When she pulls the one bad card, Hide and Seek, it’s game-on as she hides from the family who believe they need to kill her before sunrise as a sacrifice or else die a grisly death.
The best thing about this movie is that the family are not experienced killers. Unlike traditional horror movies, the killers are actually really bad at it. This opens up the door for a lot of comedy as mishaps of murder occur throughout the night. In addition, our final girl Grace isn’t traditional in the sense that she is not suddenly able to muster survival skills not relevant to the character. The tension comes from the fact that neither the family nor Grace have any real idea of what they’re doing, which makes each scene completely unpredictable, and each injury or murder is typically through nothing more than luck. 11/10 would recommend. You should seriously just finish reading this and then go watch it. Not just the best horror of the year, but one of the best horrors period.
- Doctor Sleep
After years of repressing his Shine Dan Torrence (Ewan McGregor) meets a young girl with the Shine who is in danger, and must return to the Overlook to save her life. Chasing the young girl, Abra (Kyliegh Curran), is a band of evil creatures who seek out those with the Shining in order to eat their energy, which is released through pain and fear. Leading the band is Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), alluring and extremely dangerous, who wants Abra because her Shine is the most powerful ever seen and will in turn help keep Rose and her troop young.
I loved literally every moment of this movie. Start to finish, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. There are some really, really excellent death scenes, ghost scenes, unexpected twists, and great scares that don’t rely on the jump-scare tactic. Not only does Ewan MacGregor give an expectedly fantastic performance as Dan Torrence, but the women of the film are what truly stand out for me. Curran’s Abra has a strong, intelligent, and calculating presence mixed with the curiosity of a teenager with magical powers. Ferguson’s Rose is one of the most enigmatic villains ever put to screen, using her seemingly kind, charming nature to lure those who Shine to their death. The two ladies play against the typical personality types of the hero and the villain, adopting the traits contrary to their role- this makes it truly exciting to watch their interactions as it feels incredibly fresh. I’m not going to get into too much detail about what happens when Dan, Abra, and Rose arrive at the Overlook, but trust me when I say it is so beyond perfect. That scene gave me everything I wanted and more at the hotel, and even pointing out a particular aspect of what made it so epic would spoil the joy of seeing it happen.
I’ve been watching horror movies for oh… a good 15+ years now. I can watch them any time of day or night, even in my extremely dimly lit, unfinished basement where I reside. I spend my time in near pitch-black basements watching any and every appealing horror I can find. Needless to stay, not much sticks with me. They don’t give me nightmares, and even the creepiest scenes are dismissed from my mind. This was absolutely NOT the case when I first watched Midsommar, and it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve watched it since- that opening scene has stuck with me as the most impactfully difficult and horrific to watch death scene of- I’m going say it- all time. Florence Pugh Dani, a woman whose sister is bipolar and suicidal. I would definitely recommend a content warning for the first scenes of this movie. After her negligent boyfriend convinces her not to “indulge” her sisters cries for help, Dani discovers that this time her sister was serious. This is quite probably the most difficult scene I have ever witnessed; I can’t even describe it here because it is so gruesome. I also don’t want to describe it here, that’s how strongly I think it needs a CW, but if you can handle it, it is styled and acted in a manner that the horror is severely effective.
After Dani has some time to grieve over the loss and resume a some-what normal life, her boyfriend invites her to the Midsommar festival in their foreign student Pelle’s Scandinavian village. Due to the incredible press that this flick rightly deserved, we’re all well aware that director Ari Aster has mastered making a brightly lit, daytime film absolutely terrifying- so that’s not what I want to talk about. What I want to highlight is that Pelle’s community are a Nordic religious cult, and the research that went into developing the set, the use of runes, and subtle cues of colour are what truly stand out to me. The dining tables are laid out in a Runic shape that represents exactly what is happening at the points in the movie when they dine. Each and every Rune used in this film has a deep meaning for either the situation or particular character it is ascribed to. The subtle cues of colour come in when Dani’s boyfriend has become a target of lust for one of the women in the commune as a reference to the pictographic story of a love spell the group read when they arrived. The foreshadowing is so subtle, but extremely well executed. Finally, as a sufferer of anxiety, I need to give major credit to Florence Pugh; Dani experiences panic attacks from flashbacks of the death of her family, and there has never been a more realistic portrayal of what that feels like than in this film. Not only is it an excellent visual presentation of panic, but it actually makes you feel what it’s like to experience such panic through Pugh’s incredible skills and the unnervingly realistic cinematography.
- What We Do in the Shadows (Television)
Do you like The Office, Parks and Recreation, and such style shows? Do you like classic vampires? Taika Waititi? If you answered yes to even one of these questions, this show is absolutely one you need to watch. Have you seen the movie of What We Do in the Shadows? Well, I know it’s a bold statement, but the show is better. Just go with me on this one.
The show follows a group of vampires living together in Staten Island: married couple Nadja (Natasia Dmetriou) and Lazlo (Matt Barry), Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak) with his preciously adorable human familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), and a newly introduced form of vampire, the energy-vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch).
When the vampires get a visit from a royal vampire, Barren Afanas (Doug Jones, if you needed any more reason to watch. This precious gem of a human is outstanding in this role- as per usual.) they need to convince him that their plan to take over the New World is going well, even though they have only succeeded in gaining control of their own street, and the neighbouring street. It’s gory, it’s hilarious, the characters are each unique and interesting, the wardrobe is outstanding, and I honestly don’t have a bad word to say about it. This show is perfect from start to finish, but if I have to pick one thing to complain about, it’s that there aren’t enough episodes in season one, and I don’t want to have to wait any longer for season two. I need more, like, yesterday. I’d really love to say more about what makes this show excellent, but it’s really one you need to see for yourself- any scene I could reference would ruin something hilarious that happens throughout the season. The final note I’ll leave you with on this show is that Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi have knocked it out of the park once again, cementing themselves as some of the best and most innovative creators to ever exist.
The thing I really liked about Ma was thinking back on what I was like as a teenager, and the very real horror I experienced realizing that I would have completely fallen into Ma’s trap too. As an adult, I can see everything wrong with the choices the teens make, but I also understand that at that age- I would have made the exact same choices as the characters did. My only saving grace is that the character I was most like was Maggie, who could sense when things didn’t seem quite right and wanted to leave (but stayed or went back anyways). In many ways, I almost actually did fall into their situation- partying at friends houses whose parents were just a little too willing to join in on getting drunk with teenagers. For me, the horror was way, way too real. This is the sort of horror story that could actually happen.
Looking for a place to get drunk where they won’t get busted by the police for underage drinking, a group of teenagers meet a seemingly kind and generous woman, Sue Ann. She buys them alcohol, and under the guise of caring for their safety, invites them and all their friends to take over her basement as their new party space. As the movie progresses, you can see Sue Ann, nicknamed Ma by the kids, start to unhinge. As a former assault and bullying victim when she was a teenager, Ma revels in being included in the popular kids’ parties. However, Ma never dealt with this trauma, and that’s where the movie gets absolutely bonkers. As it turns out, the teens Ma is partying with involve two of the kids from her former bullies, which she uses to exact revenge on them. Still desperate to be included by the people who once tortured her, Ma tortures the group of teenagers after feeling rejected by them as well. The movie is slightly lower on the out-right gore than other entries on the list have because the way the tortures are performed are deeply calculated to be “humane;” as a vet tech, Ma has access to extremely strong sedatives which she administers before torturing the teens. This makes the torture all the more alarming and terrifying- she’s not a monster hacking and slashing her way through the group of teenagers, but rather takes care to ensure they don’t feel pain while she mutilates them. She is the kind of monster that could be lurking at your local vet office, walking past the liquor store, the mom of a classmate; she could be anyone.
- IT Chapter 2
While part two certainly doesn’t live up to the perfection of IT: Chapter 1, there is so much to this flick that makes me feel it’s worthy of a best ranking. However, due to how excellent the movies are in the Best category, I sadly had to bump this one down to mediocre. I do really love this movie and I think it’s certainly the best of the middling category.
The story is pretty obvious, so the quick summary is that the Loser’s Club need to return to Derry to stop Pennywise after he resurfaces from his 27-year slumber. So, what do I think makes this movie so great?
First of all, the cast. Not only are they absolutely outstanding actors in their own right, they manage to be perfectly accurate depictions of the Losers grown-up. None of us can deny the fact that James Ransone literally IS adult Eddie, from looking eerily similar to Jack Dylan Grazer to having the same mannerisms and inflections. James McAvoy masters Bill’s stutter, it never feels unrealistic- it’s exactly the same way young Bill stuttered. Bill Hader, obviously, was the perfect choice for Richie and if you’re a fan of either Hader or IT, you know why. The man looks exactly like a grown-up Finn Wolfhard, and his dark comedy fits in perfectly with a character known for taking jokes too far (beep beep, Richie). As for Jessica Chastain, there are actual moments throughout the film where you question whether the actor on screen is Chastain, or young Bev actor Sophia Lillis. As always, of course, Bill Skarsgaard is sheer perfection as Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
Not only is the acting superb, the make up team clearly went to great lengths for accuracy. In the opening scene, Bev suffers bruises on her wrists from her abusive husband; throughout the movie, her bruises are visible and begin to fade as time passes. While the CGI may be a little much at points during the movie, the practical effects, the acting, and that same familial vibe between with Losers makes this one of my top picks. Well, that, and I’m a sucker for Pennywise (even the old, laughable mini series).
- Happy Death Day 2U
The sequel to Happy Death Day follows Tree as she finds out what caused her to keep reliving her birthday. It begins with Carter’s roommate, Ryan, experiencing a similar time loop the day after Tree’s birthday. Discovering that he had created a machine that caused the loops, they attempt to fix it- which throws Tree into a new loop in an alternate timeline.
While it certainly doesn’t hold up to Happy Death Day, 2U has a lot of entertainment of its own. Like the first, Tree has to die at the end of each day- but this time she knows what she’s doing and what to expect, so she takes matters into her own hands. The death scenes she stages for herself are absolutely hysterical. Where the movie falls short for me, though, is the alternate timeline scenario. In this scenario, Tree has to choose between a life where her mother is alive, or a life with her soulmate Carter. It gets a little too emotional, which deviates from the dark comedic nature of the two movies. In addition, the person looking to kill Tree is a lot less rational than Lori in the first film Despite that, Jessica Rothe is always a delight in the role of Tree, so it’s definitely worth watching for her incredible performance. Even the more emotional scenes are handled excellently by Rothe, easily cementing her and Tree as one of my favourite heroines on screen. She’s so charming while also being sarcastic, bold, and having a super dark sense of humour which is excellently highlighted in probably my favourite scene- jumping naked out of a skydiving plane with a smile and a wave to the instructor.
Main character Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o)’s family visit their vacation home at a beach where she had a traumatic experience as a child. Upon her return, her family are confronted by seemingly evil, shadow versions of themselves. Everything that the family does with their life, their shadow selves are forced to watch- and endure the same experiences without consent. As a result of being tied to their earthly selves, when Adelaide marries, her shadow is forced to pair with the shadow of her husband. When she gives birth, her shadow self also gives birth without the luxuries the earthly world has to offer. In order to escape their shadow prison, Adelaide’s shadow has led her people into the earthly realm to take over the lives of their pairs.
For me, it’s a middling movie because I was deeply confused as to what was happening as I was watching. That said, I certainly ain’t mad about it- I just tend to prefer movies with clear-cut lines of right and wrong in horror, and this movie refuses to answer that question. The confusion felt intentional, as Jordan Peele is a master of creating films that mean different things to different people. I absolutely loved was that it is impossible to know who the villains are, even if it isn’t my typical type of horror; the shadow selves are essentially tortured by the family we are supposed to sympathize with. Lupita Nyong’o gives a performance as Adelaide and her shadow that is beyond spectacular. The standout performance in the flick though was Shahadi Wright Jones as Astra. She’s one of the most capable final girls I have ever seen put to screen, even though it is definitely not a final girl movie. She just has all the qualities of the best in the pantheon of final girls, and her abilities are written into the narrative as something that she has practiced and gained skill in prior to the horror beginning. Her performance in this movie marks her as one of the actors to be on the watch for- her skills are so refined that she absolutely has a long career ahead of her. Just like everything else Jordan Peele makes, or Lupita Nyong’o stars in, this is absolutely worth watching not just as a horror film, but for the outstanding performances of every actor involved. Especially if you like being left feeling like you’re in limbo in terms of a proper resolution.
Brightburn is a story that asks the question, what if Superman were evil? The premise is fairly straightforward, and often lacks nuance, but like most superhero films nuance is less important than the development of the story. Using the same tropes as a superhero film, Brightburn twists it into a supervillain origin story.
While it wasn’t one of my favourite movies, it still has a lot of entertainment value. Elizabeth Banks gives a top-notch performance as a mother desperately trying to believe her child isn’t evil. Her portrayal of a loving mother is very realistic, defending her child until it becomes so obvious that he is the living embodiment of evil. Furthermore, Jackson A. Dunn plays Brandon as a truly unfeeling, unremorseful psychopath that is unnervingly calm. Finally, while much of the movie plays out as you would expect, there are some completely unexpected moments that had my jaw on the floor, and the gore is excellent without being overdone. Lastly, the costuming for BB is outstanding- the choices made by the costuming and writing departments aligned in the most intriguing way, creating a look that feels both iconic and proper for the character.
It wouldn’t be fair to say too much more about this movie as I don’t really remember much that wouldn’t spoil the really excellent scenes within it, and it’s not one I feel like re-watching any time soon to gather new information to write on. Perhaps one day I’ll revisit those flicks from here down, and re-review them with more to say.
- Pet Semetary
In a modernized re-telling of Pet Semetary, Louis and his family struggles to help their daughter cope with the pet graveyard they’ve found on their property, as she befriends their neighbour Judd. Having used the Pet Semetary himself before, he helps Louis bring their cat Church back to life, being unnaturally drawn to return there. Despite the chaos that ensues from reviving Church and multiple warnings from Judd after he realizes his mistake in showing Louis the Semetary, when Ellie dies, he buries her there to bring back his beloved daughter.
So, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first, because there are many things that make it worth watching and I don’t want to deter you from checking it out. The B-plot in the movie surrounding the mother feels entirely misplaced and unnecessary despite providing some really cool scares. In addition, the movie is a really slow burn. It seems to be packed with filler to draw out the runtime around an otherwise fantastic movie, and even once it starts to pick up it still seems to fall short of the emotional response one hopes for in a horror flick. It does however manage an eerie feel throughout, if it didn’t manage to be scary. As always, John Lithgow gives a phenomenal and deeply nuanced performance as Judd, and Jason Clarke manages to match the quality of Lithgow’s performance. For me in particular though, this movie was more disturbing than I think it would be for most people; Jete Laurence is fantastically sweet, and then menacing, as Ellie, but she looks practically identical to my niece. So, that definitely added an element of horror for me, specifically. So, in my opinion, if you go into this flick expecting it to be eerie rather than scary, you’ll likely enjoy it a lot more than you would if you expected a more traditional horror narrative.
- Childs Play
“Ade due damballa, give me the power [to forget this movie], I BEG OF YOU!”
I’m kidding. Mostly. There are some things worth seeing in it, which I’ll get to shortly. I’m not going to describe much of the plot here, because any horror fan is likely familiar with the Good Guy story. Where it differs from the original Child’s Play is that it’s modernized- the Good Guy is a robotic doll with analytic capabilities. Instead of being based on the supernatural premise of killer Charles Lee Ray possessing the doll as he died, a disgruntled factory worker disables all of the doll’s security settings.
I really did not enjoy this iteration of Child’s Play, but I’m also a hardcore Brad Dourif purist. I really wanted the next Chucky movie to come out to be a continuation from Cult, where Fiona Dourif, Brad’s daughter, takes over the mantle as Charles’ vessel. So, what I’m basically saying is that I’m probably pretty biased when it comes to reviewing this movie. The CGI doll felt off to me, as I’m obsessed with the practical effects from the original franchise, and while Mark Hamill is unquestionably one of the best voice actors there is, the voice didn’t work for me (again, probably due to my deep love of Dourif as the voice). Though the movie didn’t attempt to be a recreation of the first Child’s Play and created its own narrative, it just… fell flat to me.
However, there are a few things I did really love in the movie, specifically the crazy-gory toy store scene. If nothing else, you should watch the movie just to see that scene- it’s extreme and excellent. There are also some excellent performances in the movie by all the actors involved, but sadly for me it was diminished from my deep love of the originals. So if you’re the type- unlike me- who can separate it from the Dourif franchise, it’s probably a really good, fun watch.
- Velvet Buzzsaw
I’d try to summarize the movie here before getting into it, but in all honesty, I don’t even remember what it was actually about. I know there was something about a haunted painting, and Jake Gyllenhaal sits naked with nothing but a laptop to cover him, but that’s about it.
Maybe it’s because I’ve never been artistically inclined, but I was bored watching it. There’s a lot of focus on painting, art, galleries, and such things that just really don’t interest me. I actually ended up turning this one off halfway through, because aside from the opening (and minimal) death scene, there was nothing that indicated to me I was watching a horror flick. That’s not to say it was a terrible movie though- it was well-written and well-acted, but it’s definitely not what one would expect of a movie billed as a Horror/Thriller. This is definitely another on the list that I just didn’t want to re-watch to have more to say on, and will perhaps be reviewed further in the future- well, probably will, because I love Gyllenhaal.
- Annabelle Comes Home
Set in-between The Conjuring 1 and 2, the story focuses on Judy Warren, her babysitter, and the babysitter’s best friend Danielle. As a result of Danielle being dumb and ignoring all of the very serious warnings not to enter the Warren’s museum room or touch any of the objects, she proceeds to break in and touch each and every single object she sees- including opening Annabelle’s case, and the three girls are left to face off against an entire houseful of angry (and not angry? I don’t know, they don’t really explain it) spirits.
Not going to lie here, I fell asleep in the theatre watching this one. There was just too much going on to find a plotline to take interest in. By allowing time to witness what the ghosts of each of the objects Danielle handled do to highlight the power of Annabelle as a beacon for angry spirits, the story loses a lot of focus. However, it could have been a really good movie as it does more frequently feature two specific spirits- the Ferryman and the Bride. Had the movie solely focused on the stories and intricacies and actions of the Ferryman and the Bride, it would have been amazing. Their stories were very, very alluring, and I still find myself wishing I knew more about those specific haunted objects and what these spirits do. Also, the opening scene focusing on Ed and Lorraine bringing Annabelle home to their museum was super cool, creepy, and served to highlight Annabelle’s powers better than the releasing of the doll and all the other spirits did. I swear, somewhere in there, there is a good movie to be found. I just think it could have used a lot more editing to focus the story.
- Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Running away from a local bully (that they had intentionally antagonized), a group of teens find themselves hiding in the town’s haunted house. As the local legend states, a young girl named Sarah died there, and if you ask her to tell you a story, you will die. So naturally, they ask her to tell them a story (rookie move, kids). When the main character Stella takes Sarah’s book home with her, she discovers that Sarah is still telling stories through her book- ones that seek to kill her friends.
I’ll give the acting some slack on this one as the cast are predominantly children, but only some because as we saw in IT: Chapter 1, there are a lot of talented child horror actors around these days. The main issue I had with this movie is that it just felt kind of boring, and it wasn’t very memorable. However, one scene in particular did spark a lot of horror fan joy in me- when the older sister’s spider bite turns into one of Sarah’s stories. It’s a really, really, really great scene, but I don’t want to describe it nor do I recommend it to anyone who has arachnophobia (personally, I love our little spider buddies so it didn’t bother me- it was just really cool). I didn’t like that the movie ended on what is basically a happily ever after story, but I did realize that one death from Sarah’s book hadn’t been resolved, and that character was still as far as we know, dead. So, I guess it does at least give the movies end a little darker of an air to the happily ever after.
- The Dead Don’t Die
A small town. A hugely star-studded cast. A zombie invasion. What could go wrong, right?
A lot. A whole lot can go wrong. Don’t get my wrong- the actors are all really impressive in their roles. Some play up their typical performance type, like Adam Driver and Bill Murray, and others play against their type, like Chloe Sevigny and Caleb Landry-Jones, and it definitely works for them. In addition, Tilda Swinton is awesome as an extremely bizarre Scottish samurai. The problem I had with the movie though is that nothing really happens. It’s painfully obvious that the movie is carried solely by the strength of performances by the actors involved. Despite being self-aware as a zombie film that they’re acting in, there really isn’t much of a story. The zombies never actually feel like a real threat.
My biggest problem with the movie though is a personal one- they billed RZA and gave him one scene. ONE. SCENE. I feel like they’ve done me real dirty teasing me with the RZA being part of the cast, and then that’s all we get. Considering that his scene driving the WU-PS truck was my favourite part of the entire movie, I spent the whole time hoping for another scene, only to have my hopes trashed as he shows up at the end as a zombie. How dare they. The RZA deserved better.
-Tannis Dee, Horror Aficionado.