Best Horror Movies of 2019
Updated: Feb 13, 2020
The decade is finally nearing its end as 2019 comes to a close. The 2010s have been an incredible period for horror. 2019, in particular, has brought forth many great additions to horror. Maybe I am getting better at seeking out good movies or maybe more quality horror movies are being released every year, but the majority of movies I saw this year were enjoyable. In total, I watched 52 horror movies from the year 2019. Here are the movies I enjoyed the most and consider the best.
1) Film genres are fluid. Movies can fall into multiple genres. Individuals can have different interpretations. That is okay!
2) Official film release dates are difficult to pinpoint due to rising popularity in movie festivals. A film’s release date will be considered its first wide release in any country.
After a great three consecutive years of horror, 2019 has delivered another fantastic year of genre releases. I am including eight movies that were exceptional in their own right but ultimately did not make the cut this year. A former brothel turned suburban McMansion filled with mystery fluids seeping from the walls, daydreams of private BDSM shows, and apparitions haunt a man attempting to remodel his new home in the entertaining haunted house flick Girl on the Third Floor. St Agatha quietly arrived without much fanfare this year telling the story of a young woman taken advantage of by a sinister convent gaslighting her into submission featuring several particularly unnerving sequences involving narrow, wooden coffins. A modern retelling of Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein, Depraved is a downbeat, neon-drenched indie movie that works because of its deeply sympathetic lead and grimy visuals. No one expected a movie about crocodiles terrorizing a family during a hurricane to be good, yet Crawl is an incredible example of brainless popcorn entertainment done right. Level 16 captivates with dystopian thrills and mystery in a claustrophobic boarding school for girls where they learn the “virtues” of femininity, but director Danishka Esterhazy subverts expectations with clever twists to tell her story about beauty, authority, and feminism. Haunt is a rare slasher film that offers likable characters, a truly inspired set design, and quite possibly the best take on a killer "Halloween Haunt" attraction this decade. Director Mike Flanagan takes his audience on a journey of magic and murder in Doctor Sleep, seamlessly continuing the tale of Stanley Kubrick’s beloved version of The Shining while paying homage to Stephen King’s true vision in the source material. Finally, Bliss follows the struggles of an artist (gunning for the most unlikeable protagonist of the year) struggling to finish her masterpiece culminating in a hypnotic and visceral nightmare dripping with blood, drugs, sex, and paint.
And now here are my Top 10 Horror Movies of 2019!
10. Head Count (Director: Elle Callahan; United States)
I would be lying if I said that Elle Callahan’s Head Count was ever on my radar, but it is one of my favorite surprises of 2019. The plot centers around Evan, a college student returning home from college for holiday break to his brother in Joshua Tree. Not wanting to spend the entirety of his break with his quirky brother, Evan quickly makes friends with a group of college students they run into and follows them back to their cabin rental for the weekend. It is there amidst tequila shots and love triangles that Evan unwittingly unleashes the curse of the hisji, a snakelike creature that takes on the form of a doppelgänger of its chosen victim. Head Count succeeds in slow-burn mystery fueled by dizzying camera shots and blink-and-you'll-miss-it clues. Despite some admittedly clunky dialogue and many characters lacking depth or dimension, Head Count soars above its detractors due to exceptional direction and pacing. The scares in Head Count linger across the frame adding to the unsettling atmosphere of the lonely, desert night. Callahan embraces the paranoia and isolation of the situation her characters are faced with and lets her audience marinate in the discomfort of it all. In particular, a sequence of the game “Never Have I Ever” will leave you disoriented and hungry for more. Head Count is not nor did it ever claim to be an intellectual endeavor but delivers quality creature thrills and chills.
9. Velvet Buzzsaw (Director: Dan Gilroy; United States)
The most pretentious people you know are being stalked by murderous graffiti walls and killer sculptures. This is set into motion after one career-driven gallery worker steals a dead man’s collection of art, his entire life’s work, that just so happens to be haunted. In Velvet Buzzsaw the art comes to life to vanquish its targets –leaders in the art industry. Sharing too much about Velvet Buzzsaw would be a disservice because the outrageousness needs to be witnessed firsthand. Velvet Buzzsaw’s strength lies in an eclectic and eccentric ensemble of characters played by Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, and several others. These characters fight, sabotage, and get revenge on each other for the pettiest of slights sometimes resulting in career-ending blows. The cast of Velvet Buzzsaw needs to be commended for playing some of the most simultaneously endearing and unbearable characters in horror cinema. The bold visual choices in color and style prop up the film’s delightfully absurd premise making the aftermath of the grislier scenes even more poetic. A notable example of which concerns a woman lying in a pool of blood being ignored by onlookers assuming she is a part of the gallery. Outlandish, gaudy, and over-the-top, Velvet Buzzsaw is every bit as ridiculous and otherworldly as the cross-section of American society that Director Dan Gilroy is lampooning.
8. The Perfection (Director: Richard Shepard; United States)
Richard Shepard takes viewers on a journey into the world of elite cellists who dedicate everything to their craft. Charlotte, played by Allison Williams, returns to this world after her mother passes away and immediately connects with her old teachers and the latest talent, Lizzie, played by Logan Browning. Spanning continents and months, The Perfection slowly cooks, biding its time to deceptively engage the audience so they will not be sure how the action in the story will unfold. The Perfection coyly nudges you along through the drama, daring you to guess what happens next. And nearly every time, the answer will surprise and shock you. This is what makes The Perfection such a fun viewing experience, while also showcasing the clever writing and direction of the team behind its inception. Williams and Browning exhibit incredible chemistry throughout the film, and it is a joy to watch them command the stage and its players. Viewers may find themselves rolling their eyes at two specific points in the film where Shepard decides to explain how the events on-screen came to be in unnecessarily procedural flashback sequences. Even so, The Perfection’s narrative choice to ensure clarity is vastly outweighed by excellent performances, strikingly violent imagery, and timely themes.
7. The Lighthouse (Director: Robert Eggers; Canada/United States)
Easily the most hypnotically kinky movie released in 2019 is Robert Eggers’ sophomore effort The Lighthouse, starring industry juggernauts Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. The Lighthouse follows two lighthouse keepers working alone together on an island far out at sea slowly descending into madness as distrust and the elements threaten to wipe away their existence at a moment’s notice. Shot entirely in black-and-white and set in the 19th century, The Lighthouse challenges viewers to weather the brutal loneliness of the sea. With only each other, it is not long for jealousy and rage to grip the leads as they go about their duties during the day and drink at night. Eggers crafts a uniquely baffling viewing experience relying on stark images (a flashing light, atypical sexual behavior, the death of a seagull) and relentless sound (the never-ending storm, cries from seagulls, a pulsating score). Another area of satisfaction comes from the dedication to make The Lighthouse as historically accurate as possible. From oceanic lore to sea shanties, it is obvious that painstaking labor went into making The Lighthouse present authentic. Both Dafoe and Pattinson deliver truly inspired performances that sell their demented spiraling. Truly unlike any other film released this year, The Lighthouse is a trippy and trancelike dream that will haunt you long after you leave the theater.
6. Sweetheart (Director: J.D. Dillard; United States)
The maritime monster flick Sweetheart was unceremoniously dumped to streaming services this October, in a poor move by Blumhouse Productions. Sweetheart is such a refreshing entry in the survival horror sub-genre. Clocking in at a tight 82 minutes, Sweetheart gets straight to the point, leaving only the essential elements needed to terrify its audience. Jenn, played by Kiersey Clemmons, washes ashore on an isolated beach following a shipwreck that killed at least two of her friends. Alone, stranded, and without many supplies, Jenn has to plan her escape from the island all the while being stalked by a creature that only comes out at night. Without much dialogue, Clemmons sells the fact that while Jenn may not be a survivalist, she is absolutely a survivor. Jenn uses every ounce of strength, mental clarity, and willpower to outsmart and overpower the forces set against her. Clemmons gives an exceptional performance rivaled only by the special effects team that created a truly gruesome and unique monster to fear. Director J.D. Dillard also makes great use of his location, capturing gorgeous shots of the island and the waters that surround it, using this as a juxtaposition against the terror that lurks beneath the waters at night. Sweetheart is a taut survival thriller that manages to subvert several expectations and brew true terror in the tropics.
5. Little Monsters (Director: Abe Forsythe; Australia/United Kingdom/United States)
It is a very strange thing to say, but Little Monsters is by far the cutest horror movie of the year. Lupita Nyong’o stars as Miss Caroline, a Kindergarten teacher taking her class on a field trip to the petting zoo with slacker chaperone Dave, played by Abraham England. If this played out like most romantic comedies, Dave would coast through his “loser turned good guy with a heart of gold” character development after learning to ride a horse for the first time, promise to be a better person, and propose to Miss Caroline. Thankfully, it is much more entertaining because while the class is enjoying their time at the farm, zombies from the nearby military base are invading the property. Without giving too much away Little Monsters is simply a riot. Josh Gad in particular ups the comedy by playing a truly amoral kid’s tv show star, but Nyong’o shines as the wonderfully charismatic and energetic teacher who is equal parts calming and badass in a crisis. The child actors also bring their A-game, which is impressive given their ages. Little Monsters hits all the necessary points a Rom-Zom-Com needs to hit: a couple to root for, zombies that are actually a threat, and a variety of well-timed and placed jokes to lighten the mood. Delightfully optimistic, Little Monsters will bring a smile to your face while also satisfying your penchant undead hijinks and carnage.
4. Ready or Not (Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillet; United States)
If I had one wish, it would be that Samara Weaving stars in every horror-comedy released in theaters for the next twenty years. Alas, that is not realistic. Weaving plays Grace, the main character in 2019’s Ready Or Not, who just married the man of her dreams. To officially gain entrance into his family she must play and win a game of hide and seek. Ready or Not is a sharp-witted, fast-paced thrill ride. The core of Ready or Not is its ensemble cast of colorful characters comprising the aforementioned Grace and the Le Domas family. Contrasting against Grace’s thoughtfulness and intelligence, the antics of the Le Domas clan inspires laughter and mirth at how abhorrently bad they are at executing a murder. Ready or Not is hilarious, but it never skimps on the horror. Weaving's character finds herself in plenty of terrifying situations that never fails to shock right before setting up the next punchline. Ready or Not also has much to say about social class and the resentment that it breeds. The Le Domas family, both new and old, serve as caricatures of the wealthy, particularly emphasizing the effects intergenerational wealth can have on its recipients, for better or for worse. Bold, bombastic, and iconic, Ready or Not will be remembered for its commitment to unapologetic wit and terror.
3. Midsommar (Director: Ari Aster; Hungary/Sweden/United States)
Watching Midsommar is the equivalent of running a marathon: incredibly worth it, but only with the right attitude. Dani, played by the incredible Florence Pugh has been dating Christian, played by Jack Reynor, for four years. Dani has complicated family issues that have resulted in high anxiety. Christian resents that he has to deal with her, but he is either too apathetic and cowardly to end the relationship. Together, he, Dani, and the rest of Christian’s classmates go to Sweden to visit an intimate community festival to get inspiration for his dissertation. At its core, Midsommar is a movie about a failing relationship. Pugh and Reynor easily convince the audience of the toxic relationship they have with each other. Every sigh, longing glance, and word choice seems pre-meditated to ensure maximum damage to the other. Hats off to Pugh and Reynor for capturing what is so hard to both articulate and replicate. Director Ari Aster allows Midsommar room to breathe and fully bask in the tension and drama. Using the beauty of Sweden to its full advantage, Aster creates a dreamlike experience by using dazzling colors and cheerful religious songs to mask the true terror that is brewing in the Hårga, lulling viewers into a false state of security before the chaotic climax. Midsommar is an unyielding, slow-burn mystery, but with patience, it is worth the trip.
2. Belzebuth (Director: Emilio Portes; Mexico)
Belzebuth is a brutal and unrelenting horror experience, daring to go where most exorcism movies shy away. Investigating a string of mass child killings in Mexico, a police officer works with a team of paranormal investigators to figure out why these senseless massacres keep happening. It becomes very clear that they are the work of a demon and it is up to our heroes to stop the carnage. Possession horror is often generic and stale, with many movies imitating the few great films that have already confidently treaded through the subject material. Belzebuth is the punch to the stomach the subgenre sorely needed. Ultimately, the writing is what makes Belzebuth so engaging. The formula is tweaked so the path to the final exorcism is not the linear journey we are used to taking. The twists and turns that take us to the penultimate battle against the antagonist shock and further invest the audience into caring for the safety of the protagonists. Speaking of shock, Belzebuth’s exorcism scene is hands down the scariest scene of the year. Equal parts stressful and suspenseful, Belzebuth had me shivering both in anticipation and panic from the action onscreen. If you see one foreign language horror film from the year, please be sure to check out Mexico’s audacious new entry in the exorcism cannon.
1. Us (Director: Jordan Peele; United States)
No good ‘Best Horror Movies of 2019’ list is complete without Jordan Peele’s Us. The incredibly talented and versatile Lupita Nyong'o (mentioned earlier in this article) stars as Adelaide, the matriarch of the Wilson family retreating to a tranquil beach town for vacation. Their serenity is interrupted one night when a group of strangers who look suspiciously like themselves break into their house to terrorize them. Smart and slick, it is clear that Peele knows how to craft a horror film. Each frame drips with unsaturated tension as the attackers escalate their campaign of violence against the Wilsons. Sympathetic and resourceful, the Wilsons are an easy family to root for, made even easier by Nyong’o and her castmates: Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Wright. The scope and scale of 'Us' is bold but effective. The Wilsons are put through Hell and tested every step of the way through lake houses, ambulance rides, and underground tunnels. Us’s iconic imagery helps paint the picture of a family unit and society that is crumbling and under attack. Rabbits, a dance, and hands holding hands are made to be horrifying while also contributing to the depth of the project. Much has already been said about the deeper meaning and symbolism behind Us that I do not feel the need to rehash it spoiler-free. Just know that Us is just as intellectual and thought-provoking as it is horrific and entertaining.
Other Titles to Check Out: Child’s Play, Trespassers, Body at Brighton Rock, Annabelle Comes Home, Eli, Villains, Escape Room, In Fabric, The Hole in the Ground