It’s been repeated ad nauseum, but for most everyone on earth, 2020 was a tremendously difficult year. Millions of lives were lost, economies collapsed, and individuals around the world grieved both the loss of their loved ones and their livelihoods. Some were more fortunate, but they too had to endure isolation on a scale entirely unprecedented in this lifetime. As we move into the new year, there’s considerable hope that the vaccine will help to recalibrate the state of our lives and restore a long-lost sense of equilibrium and hope. Wonderful as that is, I’d like to also focus on something considerably more inconspicuous in its palliative capacity– horror movies.
2020 saw several high-profile genre releases delayed to 2021 and beyond. Halloween Kills, Candyman, and The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It all saw their release dates shift. John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place Part II was the first domino to collapse in early March 2020, and those aforementioned genre behemoths soon followed suit. For a time, particularly during the early days of lockdown, it seemed that 2020 would see only a paucity of worthwhile genre films if it would see any at all.
That, of course, was luckily not the case. In lieu of blockbuster horror tentpoles, smaller indie titles were successful in unseating those movies that might otherwise have defined this year in horror, commanding a more sizeable audience than they otherwise might have. Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night dominated Amazon Prime when it premiered in May, and the world wept collective tears with the release of Natalie Erika James’s Relic in July. The VOD launch of Bryan Bertino’s The Dark and the Wicked rendered November chills all the more terrifying. Recently, Shawn Linden’s sullen and stellar Hunter Hunter set Twitter ablaze. It turns out, horror didn’t die in 2020. If nothing else, horror was given new life.
Similarly, while genuinely frightening, subversive, and ardently heartfelt horror fare resuscitated the genre, horror also resuscitated our spirits. Horror has always been curative (I should get that tattooed on myself at this point). In a year so replete with pain and heartache, horror was the antidote. It might seem paradoxical to seek respite in horror, but the genre has historically excelled at first illuminating and interrogating common fears and anxieties. Then, it offers the simplest and most profound feeling of all– hope.
Relic, for instance, was a somber trek through one family’s haunted history. In its final moments of sublime grief and heartbreak, a wistful note of hope emerged. As bad as it seems right now, as inevitably hopeless as things might feel, they will get better. It might not be permanent, but there’s always the present– the here and now. Every day is a new opportunity to love and be loved. Sometimes that’s the most profound gift of all.
The Vast of Night, too, tapped into our collective imagination. It transported audiences back decades and beget a sense of fascination and wonder the genre hasn’t seen in years. The world is vast and wonderful, full of surprises and awe. All we have to do is look. If we open our eyes and look into the vast of night, we’ll see the full, unvarnished majesty of the world.
Of course, it’s worth noting that this sentiment likely won’t hold true for everyone. As often as I saw my peers and colleagues seeking solace in genre fare, there were just as many that worried about how horror might compound their preexisting angst and stress. That’s fair. In fact, it’s fair and applicable to me, too. I watched more newly-released genre fare in 2020 than any year before– 111 as of this writing, 78 in 2019 for reference. There were certainly days, however, where it was all too much. I felt so beaten down by the news and state of the world that the added unease of the genre felt like too much. Quite simply, I didn’t think I could manage it.
Nonetheless, on those days where I needed an escape, horror was there. Burgeoning artists and creatives were there in a simply stellar year for the genre. Dave Franco delivered stripped-down home invasion thrills with The Rental. Alone knocked my socks off with an unbearably tense cat-and-mouse thrill ride. Horror was there to entertain, terrify, and assuage anxieties. Exposure to fictional indie horrors made the horrors of the real world all the more bearable.
2020 is a year of heroes, and while film is certainly not on par with frontline and essential workers, with those whose permanent sacrifices render 2021 all the more hopeful than anyone thought possible just a few months ago, it still served a critical role. With little to do beyond escape into movies, we’re lucky the movies were so damn wonderful. Moviemaking is an evergreen institution for a reason, and we’re living in a contemporary golden age. Only, it’s not the Golden Age of Hollywood. Instead, it’s the Golden Age of Independent Horror. It’s an age of wonder, terror, and hope.
As the year winds down, I would also like to thank my Dread Central family, both my peers and its loyal readers, for making this year so wonderfully spooky.