My Top 10 horror movies of 2020 are a bit eclectic, maybe a little bit like the year itself. Had you asked me what I would have likely had here when the year started, I might have said something like Candyman or Halloween Kills.
Naturally, as we all know, that is no longer the case. In a strange, roundabout kind of way, though, the delay of a few genre behemoths opened the door for some smaller titles, ones that– had the year gone as planned– would likely have been eclipsed by Michael Myers and Nia DaCosta. I encourage you to seek all of the following out if you haven’t had the chance to catch them yet, and in a broader sense, seek any genre titles out.
This year in particular has demonstrated the vagaries, complexities, and Gordian knots life is so often replete with, and no genre is better posed to unpackage and interrogate the most difficult of topics than horror. Ranked from 10 to 1, here’s my list of the Top 10 Horror Movies of 2020 and where they’re currently available.
The Invisible Man
Director – Leigh Whannell
The Invisible Man isn’t the movie the marketing might have you believe. If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that Universal’s desire to resurrect their legacy Monsters franchise often results in movies that, like Frankenstein’s monster, feel like patchwork copies of the real thing.
Elisabeth Moss stars in a loose (very, very loose) adaptation of H.G. Well’s The Invisible Man. After she escapes from her abusive boyfriend (played with menacing gusto by Oliver Jackson-Cohen), she suspects he’s faked his death and has subsequently been using a recently developed invisibility suit to terrorize her. Moss anchors the proceedings, and Whannell opts for a grounded approach that keeps the proceedings both visceral and raw. The Invisible Man is not only a stunning exploration of trauma and domestic abuse, but also a stunning horror movie writ large. The Invisible Man is available to buy on Amazon or stream on HBO Max.
Directors – Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala
The Lodge is slow-going. Like a dusting of snow that slowly builds into something more substantial, the sinister and nightmarish machinations of Franz and Fiala’s English-language debut aren’t entirely clear until the movie spirals savagely into its third act.
Riley Keough stars as a young woman left with her fiancés’ two children over the Christmas holiday in an isolated cabin. A cult survivor, Keough soon begins to suspect that the group she escaped has come back to reclaim her. To say anything more would ruin the many, many surprises in store, but know that The Lodge adroitly shifts between several different subgenres– is it a supernatural horror movie or a woman-in-peril thriller in the vein of Repulsion? It is all those things and more.
The final shot alone ranks among the most chilling genre dénouements of the year. The Lodge slipped under some radars on account of its release in the weeks just prior to the COVID-19 shutdowns, but if you get a chance, there are few better ways to end your year. The Lodge is available to stream on Hulu or rent on Amazon.
Director – Lee Chung-hyun
There are actually 8 better ways to end your year. I have already raved about The Call at length (see my review here), so there’s little more I can say beyond: you need to stream this now. Park Shin-hye stars as Kim Seo-yeon, a young woman who finds herself on the other end of the line from serial killer Oh Young-sook (Jeon Jong-seo).
As the body count rises, Kim Seo-yeon must endeavor to stop a killer living in a different timeline– a timeline whose consequences reverberate in her own. The Call is tense, terrifying, heartfelt, and the most innovative time travel horror movie in years. Stream it in this timeline or whatever timeline you’re currently in– just stream it. The Call is now available on Netflix.
The Dark and the Wicked
Director – Bryan Bertino
Bryan Bertino’s The Dark and the Wicked, in terms of sheer visceral thrills, is undoubtedly the scariest movie of the year.
The world viewers will inhabit for two hours is vividly established in the opening few frames– this is a dark, dour world of bygone demons and ruthless possessions. Marin Ireland is stellar as a young woman who returns to her rural homestead to care for her ailing father and finds herself threatened by an unknown and unseen presence.
The Dark and the Wicked is what might happen if the austere and stripped-down terror of The Strangers was reworked into a haunted house movie. The fat is trimmed and Bertino’s exercise in sheer terror is a throttling train of frights from beginning to end. Incidentally, it’s also one of the most unsettling and dispiriting genre exercises of the year, so it certainly won’t register for everyone. Still, no movie this year impacted me quite as viciously as this one. The Dark and the Wicked is now available to rent on Amazon.
Love and Monsters
Director – Michael Matthews
Love and Monsters is only tangentially a horror movie, yes. In terms of basic plot outline, a young man enduring a hostile planet with roaming, mutated monsters– without the requisite context– sounds horrific.
Granted, Love and Monsters plays things with considerably more buoyancy than most, but horror-informed is still horror, so it qualifies for entry here. Like a friendlier Zombieland, Love and Monsters stars Dylan O’Brien as Joel, a young man who leaves the relative safety of his bunker to embark on a week-long trek to find his long-lost love (Jessica Henwick) in a bunker just a few dozen miles away.
After years of trudging through gut-wrenching post-apocalyptic slogs, it’s refreshing to find one abounding with this much levity and charm. Of particular highlight is O’Brien’s encounter with a sentient robot who, under the luminescent sky of their new world, plays Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” In a year that felt like a ceaseless apocalypse all its own, it’s nice to have a little bit of fun in one. Love and Monsters is now available to rent on Amazon.
Director – Il Cho
Love and Monsters does have some competition, though, from director Il Cho’s #Alive. Veritably more violent and tense, #Alive nonetheless emerges as another ruthlessly optimistic and life-affirming genre entry.
In a movie where guts are ripped from innocent denizens and traffic cops are feasted upon in the empty streets, it might sound strange that I finished the movie with a big, happy grin across my face– a grin of hope. It might sound strange, yes, but it’s true.
A serendipitously “of the moment” entry, #Alive stars Ah-In Yoo as Oh Joon-woo, a young streamer quarantined in his Seoul apartment after a zombie apocalypse suddenly breaks out. His only point of contact is Kim Yoo-bin (Park Shin-Hye, as dazzling here as she was in The Call), the young woman quarantined in the adjacent complex. Equal parts romance and horror, #Alive is a sumptuous genre buffet that will terrify you just as often as it leaves you misty-eyed. #Alive is now available to stream on Netflix.
The Haunting of Bly Manor
Directors – Ciarán Foy, Liam Gavin, Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke, Axelle Carolyn, Mike Flanagan, and E.L. Katz.
The Haunting of Bly Manor, on account of being a self-contained anthology, is arguably just one very long movie. As media converges, film becomes television, and television becomes film, and it can be arbitrarily constraining to still distinctly classify the two as discordant, incompatible forms of media. Stories are stories, and when self-contained, some are two hours, some are nine.
Bly Manor was controversial upon release, in large part because, no matter what Mike Flanagan and Co. delivered, it would pale in comparison to the sensational The Haunting of Hill House. From my perspective, Hill House is different, but not necessarily better.
With Bly Manor, Mike Flanagan has truly shown himself to be the doyen of the contemporary ghost story. No one understands the gothic nuances and humanity of the supernatural better than him at this very moment. Moreover, he still knows how to scare an audience. The Lady in the Lake– especially once her backstory is unraveled in Episode 9– is a terrifying central specter, and Victoria Pedretti shines as the lead after her supporting role in Hill House.
T’Nia Miller’s Mrs. Gross deserves a special shoutout, with Miller delivering a performance rivaling any in either Hill House or Bly Manor– it’s truly awe-inspiring stuff. In addition, like Hill House, grief and trauma are still the central themes, but there’s a more diversified perspective this time. The Cranes were bound by the same unifying trauma, so it’s refreshing to see different perspectives, even if they’re thematically the same. Once the initial disappointment wears off, I truly suspect Bly Manor will be reevaluated as the masterpiece it is. The Haunting of Bly Manor is now streaming on Netflix.
Director – Natalie Erika James
Relic is a savage gut-punch. More than that, Relic renders your heart paper, crumples it up, sets it on fire, and sets the ashes loose into a dismal, dark forest, an enduring forest of grief and regret that never, never ends.
Ostensibly the story of a haunted house, Relic soon metamorphizes into something more poignant and more heart-shatteringly frightening than anticipated. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one will be inconsolable in Relic’s final moments, with director Natalie Erika James striking the perfect harmony between resolution and cold, hollow truths. People die. Disease kills. It’s horrific, but in the small moments– hidden in the little crevices of your own little house of memories– there is beauty. There is beauty among the horror. Relic is currently available to rent on Amazon.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Director – Charlie Kaufman
Despite Charlie Kaufman wanting to contend post-hoc that I’m Thinking of Ending Things isn’t a horror movie, when every peripheral element is stripped away– when the filmic and narrative techniques are laid bare– it becomes increasingly clear that it is.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a horror movie, and for anyone who has ever struggled with self-harm, it might just be the scariest horror movie you ever see. When I first finished I’m Thinking of Ending Things, I immediately knew I had to write something about it. It was a profound, immutable desire to say something— anything— about the movie.
I finished the book the same night the movie premiered, and after watching, I grabbed my computer and churned out 1,000 words. I then let it sit for over a week. I didn’t revisit it. I didn’t edit it. Instead, I just let it sit there. When I finally opened the document again, I rewrote it dozens of times, and again, I just let it sit. I didn’t know if I wanted to do anything with it. I didn’t know if it belonged to just me or everyone else. I realized, though, that it wasn’t an ugly, sad piece. I realized that it was, at its core, a celebration of life. It was a piece about recovery— my own recovery— and all the wonderful people who never got the same second chance I did. One thing I’ve maintained since my earliest years in undergrad is that the stories we have and the stories we tell are perhaps the most important currency we have. It what defines us and connects us. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a profound, sad, frightening, confounding, wildly inconsistent yet someone sensible story. It’s near perfect, both in structure and in impact. You can read my original piece here for more. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is currently streaming on Netflix.
The Vast of Night
Director Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night is the scrappy little indie that could. In a year of delayed blockbusters and disappearing tentpoles, The Vast of Night premiered on Amazon Prime as an alternative for all those movie lovers desperate after months in isolation for nothing more than a good old-fashioned story.
Many burgeoning filmmakers put too much effort into the ephemeral, the casting and effects and subversive techniques that draw attention to themselves without leaving any sort of lasting legacy. Andrew Patterson, conversely– working with a modest budget and a relatively unknown cast– crafts a vivid, lived-in world that, while ostensibly a riff on Twilight Zone paranoia and Roswell Greys, is invariably more than that.
A perfectly calibrated and dazingly staged science-fiction thriller– seriously, the movie is choreographed like a Rudolf Nureyev number– The Vast of Night is indicative of the simplest truth of all; stories matter.
Set in 1950s New Mexico, Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz star as Fay and Everett respectively, two teens in Cayuga who embark on the kind of summer night adventure that seems to belong irrevocably to the past as they seek out the origins of a strange audio broadcast that may or may not be emanating from an unidentified flying object. Patterson’s film is terrifying and awe-inspiring, a debut magnum opus that remains not only 2020’s best genre feature, but arguably its best picture, period. The Vast of Night is currently streaming on Amazon.
Those are my picks for the Top 10 Horror Movies of 2020. I managed to watch 106 horror movies this year and it seriously bums me out that more of them couldn’t make the list. Nonetheless, let me know in the comments over on Facebook or on Twitter @ChadisCollins what your favorites of the year were! Plus, if there are any must-sees I’ve missed, I’d love to hear about them.