January 2020 Review: The Best and Worst Movies I Saw Last Month
Updated: May 8, 2021
Last year I made it my mission to see as many critically acclaimed horror movies of the last decade to make the strongest “Best-of” Lists I could for each year. Now that I have exhausted that pool of movies, my new goal is to watch all of the other movies I have ignored since. I have a watchlist that originally topped out at 380 movies, so I have a lot o ground to cover. This month I watched 27 horror movies. Unfortunately, there were very few high moments in January, and I spent the majority of my time watching disappointing or lukewarm movies. Nevertheless, I would like to share the three best and three worst movies I saw last month. Enjoy!
WORST #3) The Final Wish (2019); Director: Timothy Woodward Jr; United States
After the passing of his father, a young lawyer named Aaron, played by Michael Welch, returns home to his mother, played by Lin Shaye. Once there, Aaron reconnects with several old friends and acquaintances while processing his father’s death and coming across an object that could be responsible for his death. The Final Wish is a soulless and boring mess of a film. With all the panache of a low-rated attempt at Goosebumps fanfiction, The Final Wish stumbles through every cliché and mistake possible before its seemingly interminable runtime comes to an end. Every actor in The Final Wish looked as if the last place they wished to be was on the film set choking out hackneyed dialogue before succumbing to a lame and uninspired death scene. The writers gave the actors very little to work with their scriptwriting; crafting a small town’s worth of unlikable and self-righteous characters that marinate in their own venom and misery. Why would you root for them, if it looks like they would not even root for themselves? The Final Wish is a bland and forgettable entry in the sub-genre of wishes gone wrong horror movies and if you have any sense of self-preservation, you’ll wish you are never subjected to its banality.
Overall Score? 3/10
BEST #3) The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018); Director: Johannes Roberts; United States
The Strangers: Prey at Night follows the same group of masked murderers we met in the 2008 original film starring Liv Tyler, wreaking havoc on an empty cabin retreat during the offseason. A family of four plans to meet up with family there while they move the youngest to boarding school across the country. The Strangers franchise is easily the most consistent slasher series out there with both entries showcasing some imagination while falling short of true innovation and pushing boundaries. This sequel offers compelling characters whose motivations and actions feel genuine, which enhances the tragic results. The story is brisk, yet never feels hurried. We get to know our characters and care when they fail to stop the invaders. One scene involving a vacant pool is equal parts terrifying, beautiful, and heartbreaking. Drenched in neon, blood, and the iconic vocals of Bonnie Tyler, this scene is an easy contender for one of the scariest scenes in the last decade, in what is an otherwise above average movie. As for criticism, I do feel that our heroes end up being unrealistically overpowered and some sequences could have been altered for brevity. The Strangers: Prey at Night may not be the slasher movie to aspire to, but it is certainly one of the better theatrical releases in the subgenre to breakthrough in the past few years.
Overall Score? 6.5/10
WORST #2) The Oregonian (2012); Director: Calvin Reeder; United States
The Oregonian follows a woman, played by Lindsay Pulsipher, waking up after a car accident. Not knowing where she is, what happened, or even her own identity she soon learns that she has been transported into a strange world. 81 minutes later and the audience is left with few answers and more irritation. The entire film consists of Pulsipher’s character either walking or driving aimlessly in rural Oregon, and later a desert, occasionally interacting with odd characters. The woman, much like the audience, finds frustration at her lack of understanding of the new environment and gradually succumbs to the madness the world offers her. The Oregonian is a complete mess of a film, lacking any coherence or narrative, which I am assuming is the point? I can understand that Director Calvin Reeder wanted to make a trippy horror film that really played up the disorienting and jumbled nature of dreams and nightmares, and make something truly frightening, but this, to put it simply, isn’t it. Honestly, I cannot delve much further in criticism because after thinking about The Oregonian for more than a few minutes I feel pangs of both anger and regret (from spending $3.99 on Amazon Prime). Overall, The Oregonian is a weird indie film that will likely never come on your radar, and it should stay that way.
Overall Score? 3/10
BEST #2) Underwater (2020); Director: William Eubank; United States
Inspired by films like Alien and The Abyss, Underwater did not bubble enough excitement upon its theatrical release this January but that did not stop it from being a non-stop thrill ride of a creature feature. Set miles underwater at the bottom of the ocean floor, Underwater tells the story of Norah, played by Kristen Stewart, an engineer who survives a system malfunction on her oil rig and must help lead a small group of survivors to safety. Unbeknownst to the crew of Kepler 822, a sinister presence has been unleashed in the trench and will stop at nothing to thwart their efforts to survive. Underwater is a tightly paced, entertaining, undersea effort. Ignoring the physics behind some of the ordeals the crew finds themselves in, Underwater sports solid performances, especially Stewart in the lead, impressively scary monsters, and nonstop suspense. Underwater may not be like the movies it attempts to emulate, but it is still a fun little film. One issue I had with Underwater, was the convenience that some of the plot devices provided for highly improbable circumstances. Characters getting lost and flung miles underwater in pitch black should not have an easy time finding each other, but miraculously the crew of Kepler 822 had a knack for it. Truly the biggest letdown surrounding Underwater is the studio’s lack of faith in it. With better marketing and a more intentional release date, Underwater could have started a new franchise. At the end of the day, if you are looking for some brainless entertainment, Underwater is a great film to satiate that need.
Overall Score? 7/10
WORST #1) The Last Showing (2014); Director: Phil Hawkins; United Kingdom
Dinner and a movie comprise the quintessential date night in Western culture, and The Last Showing is a film about how a trip to the movies can be deadly. A couple decides to catch a midnight movie at their local cinema and run into Stuart, played by none other than the legendary Robert Englund, a defeated and angry employee at the theater. Stuart decides to spend the night torturing the two lovebirds while filming the entire affair. What happens next is a dull and exposition-ridden hour and a half that leaves viewers with little payoff. What could have been an interesting premise, or at least a relatively entertaining setup, is shattered by the lack of mystery or suspense. Englund, whose work I love very dearly, does his best to elevate the lifeless script but is relegated to campy soliloquies explaining exactly how he is going to get away with murder. The threat does not feel real or compelling, which seeps into the film overall. There are a few bright spots here and there, the artistic choice of showing a dead body covered in candy and popcorn made for an engaging visual and the integration of hand-held footage was an interesting addition to the film. Ultimately, nothing could salvage a movie that was destined to fail before the first cut of filming began.
Overall Score? 3/10
BEST #1) Harpoon (2019); Director: Rob Grant; Canada
The horror-comedy Harpoon was easily my favorite film out of everything I watched during the month of January. In Harpoon, we are introduced to three terrible people who decide to spend the day boating after having a fight. It does not take long to notice that each person in this friend group absolutely sucks. They bicker over who slept with who, who pays for what, and start ripping each other to shreds over their insecurities. One thing leads to another and they find themselves stranded in the middle of the ocean, unable to get their boat to start. Now they are trapped with each other in an unbearable and awkward emergency. And that’s the fun of Harpoon. While unsympathetic characters are normally a red flag in most horror films, they actually elevate the humor and intensity of the situation here. Each character serves as both protagonist and antagonist in their own way, and no one comes out unscathed. Harpoon doesn’t dawdle. Running for only 83 minutes, Harpoon manages to dive deep into the minds and motivations of its core characters, giving the actors plenty of opportunities to flex their comedic and straight acting chops. Even its unknown voiceover narrator, which would normally elicit groaning from me, adds charm to an already quirky film. While it never reaches greatness, Harpoon deserves credit for taking a shot at something offbeat and unique and delivering great laughs while doing it.
Overall Score? 7/10