Horror fans really can’t complain at the moment. We’ve been pampered by a steady spate of outstanding mainstream (It, Get Out, Hereditary) and indie (Mandy, Terrified, Revenge) films over the last couple of years, and 2019 is following suit – not only with filmmakers pushing horror tropes in unexpected directions, but with even the odd remake managing to do justice to its source material whilst simultaneously reinventing the wheel.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg, with some of the most highly-anticipated movies yet to hit cinemas later on this year. So, as we prepare for the likes of It: Chapter Two, Crawl, Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark, Ready or Not, Doctor Sleep, and a myriad of other terror titles in the second-half of 2019, here are our picks for the top horror films we’ve seen thus far.
One Cut of the Dead (Shinichiro Ueda)
Release date: January 4
What it’s about: As a film crew shoots a zombie horror movie in an abandoned water plant with an allegedly sordid past, a real zombie apocalypse erupts… much to the director’s delight. But is it all as real as we’ve been lead to believe?
Why it’s great: Playing out a little like The Cabin in the Woods in reverse, the director dupes us into believing what we’re seeing in the shockingly-low-budget-yet-gleefully-bloody opening 30-minute single take until we’re slapped in the face with one of the cleverest, funniest and most amazingly well-prepared “red herrings” in cinematic history. Shyamalan and Nolan could definitely learn a thing or two from Ueda.
In short, it’s a bloody, laugh-out-loud hilarious, but most importantly, immaculately devised zombie comedy that cries out to be re-watched over and over again when the (second set of) credits roll.
For fans of: The Cabin in the Woods, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Dead Set
Us (Jordan Peele)
Release date: March 22
What it’s about: Tormented by an unexplainable trauma from her childhood and a string of eerie coincidences, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) gets a very bad feeling when she returns to her childhood holiday home with her husband and two kids in tow. She’s right, of course, and when night falls, the family finds itself pitted against a terrifying and singular opponent: their doppelgängers.
Why it’s great: An action thriller, sci-fi shocker, and even a family comedy all bundled into one, Us is far more conventional/accessible than Get Out, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have as much to say. Playing off the absolute eeriness with which the protagonists play their antagonist-selves, Peele injects the film with a commentary on race, class and the X Gen, leaving us with a very bitter taste in our mouths, begging the ultimate question: Who, in reality, is the ultimate monster?
For fans of: Coherence, The Happening, The Strangers
Lords of Chaos (Jonas Åkerlund)
Release date: March 29
What it’s about: Adapted from Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind’s 1998 book of the same name, Lords of Chaos is a biopic/docudrama which tells the story of the Norwegian black metal forefathers, Mayhem who sadly became victims of their own marketing, painting a terrifying picture of male teen angst devolving into sadistic murder.
Why it’s great: Going with the tagline, “Based on truth and lies”, Åkerlund never shies away from the reality of the horrific and violent acts but also takes great care not to glorify Mayhem’s insanity. At the same time, he wisely chose not to trace the band’s every step and not to overdo it with the black metal so as to create a far more accessible horror film. That said, as accessible as it might be for non-metallers, it’s a really grim watch, often excruciatingly so.
For fans of: The Devil’s Candy, Green Room, Starry Eyes
The Curse of La Llorona (Michael Chaves)
Release date: May 3
What it’s about: Expanding The Conjuring cinematic universe once more (sort of), The Curse of La Llorona tells how the ghost of a woman who killed her children to spite her cheating husband 300 years ago attaches herself to another family to get back what she lost out of her own doing.
How does it form a part of the Wan-iverse you ask? With the Church unable to provide official help, the family is forced to resort to the help of a familiar face: Father Perez, an unorthodox priest who abandoned the collar to become a faith healer.
Why it’s great: While it might not be the most inventive horror film in this list, it’s brilliantly directed by first-timer, Michael Chaves. Chaves’ eye for horror was very much apparent in his recent short film, The Maiden and, given the heavy James Wan influences in said short, it came as no surprise when it was announced that he’d be debuting under the wing of the Wan himself.
The film literally never lets up, with the titular ghoul lingering around every corner. Chaves makes use of some fantastic set scare pieces that work shockingly well and I, for one, won’t be using a brolly in a good while.
For fans of: Lights Out, It Follows, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Darkness Falls
The Nightshifter (Dennison Ramalho)
Release date: May 23
What it’s about: A late-night mortician is cursed/blessed with the supernatural gift of being able to communicate with the dead. Of course, it’s never a good idea to meddle around with forces you don’t fully understand and he ends up unwittingly uncovering secrets he wishes would have gone to the grave with the dead.
Why it’s great: Ramalho’s exquisitely disquieting debut astutely reinvents Sixth Sense/”Ghost Whisperer” tropes by seamlessly combining a family drama with genuine scares, body horror and a grim sense of humour, all wrapped up in a comic book aesthetic. Dipping his toes in so many different waters could have work against him, but Ramalho deftly blends them into a really tight and cohesive narrative which should ultimately appeal to horror fans, regardless of what your particular sub-genre penchant might be. And the practical corpse effects are to die for!
For fans of: Terrified, After.Life, Drag Me To Hell
The Perfection (Richard Shepard)
Release date: 24 May
What it’s about: Charlotte, a former musical prodigy who gave everything up to take care of her sick mother seeks out her mentor in the hopes of picking up where she left off. She crosses paths with another talented student with whom she forges a strong bond that leads her down a dark, spiteful spiral into madness and chaos.
Why it’s great: This film really couldn’t be any more poignant and relevant if it tried, focusing on our obsession with being perfect and giving in to internal and external pressures. Whereas The Nightshifter painstakingly balanced a myriad of genres to create a truly cohesive tale, helmer Richard Shepard goes all out with endless twists and turns that keep you guessing to the very end and not once do they feel like red herrings snuck in just for the sake of it. Also, not mentioning the powerhouse performances put in by the two female leads, Alison Williams and Logan Browning, would be a crime.
For fans of: Revenge, Carrie, Suspiria
Level 16 (Danishka Esterhazy)
Release date: May 27
What it’s about: Level 16 takes us to a facility where young girls are taught to be virtuous and obedient with the promise of becoming the type of child that families will want to adopt. Two inquisitive girls can’t help but embark on a dangerous search to uncover the horrifying truth behind this facility and, of course, the reality is far more sinister than they could have imagined.
Why it’s great: Writer/director Danishka Esterhazy presents a taught, chilling and politically timely sci-fi story which places emphasis on mass obedience and the disregard for female intelligence and independence, amplifying the latter to the max to help illustrate just how toxic this disregard really is. The fact that Esterhazy has also directed the upcoming The Banana Splits Movie has us doubly excited to see that when it releases in August.
For fans of: The Handmaid’s Tale, Get Out, Never Let Me Go
Child’s Play (Lars Klevberg)
Release date: June 21
What it’s about: In this new, reimagined version of the Child’s Play franchise, Chucky is simply a smart toy who would normally be a devoted companion to Andy (Gabriel Bateman). But the thing is, Chucky’s safety protocols and violence-inhibiting features have been tampered with, leaving him fiercely protective. If he can’t be Andy’s best buddy till the end, nobody can.
Why it’s great: Klevberg’s decision to replace the supernatural elements with state-of-the art technology makes Chucky not only more lethal, but also a lot more interesting as a character. It certainly served as a masterclass in heightening our fears of Alexa’s ever-growing invasion of privacy.
The film also shares a lot in common with Amblin benchmark films like E.T. and Gremlins and the emotional connection between Andy and the doll ensure that we connect with the movie that much more. Klevberg even went as far as comparing it to a Greek tragedy in a recent interview. Go figure…
For fans of: The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Ghost in the Machine, Electric Dreams, Demon Seed
Midsommar (Ari Aster)
Release date: July 4
What it’s about: The quaint, picturesque commune of Hälsingland is all ready to celebrate the summer solstice with a party that only takes place once every 90 years. Along for the ride is a young American couple who are given the keys to the camp under the caveat that they doesn’t disclose anything that’s going on there. The couple sees this seemingly pastoral paradise as the perfect opportunity to rekindle their toxic relationship after a recent tragedy until the locals terrifying agenda rears its ugly head.
Why it’s great: Aster’s second film is as bizarre as they come, but it’s told in such an engaging manner that it really doesn’t matter. I would even go as far as saying that he reinvents what we understand as “the horror movie experience.” Dani’s (Florence Pugh) intimate story of coming to terms with a tragedy whilst being flung into this strange commune goes out of its way to disturb us in every possible way, cleverly combining genuine distress with horror movie weirdness and gallows humour. Just as was the case with Hereditary last year, this is utterly unlike anything else you’ve seen, only this one hits you even harder.
For fans of: The Wicker Man, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Invitation, The Sacrifice
Annabelle Comes Home (Gary Dauberman)
Release date: July 10
What it’s about: This seventh film in the Conjuring universe, and second direct sequel to Annabelle, takes place between the opening scene and main plotline of the first Conjuring film. Here Ed and Lorraine return the demonic doll to a glass case in their reliquary in the hopes of containing her terror. Of course, it’s not long before Annabelle’s powers are inadvertently unleashed and she focuses her malevolent powers on the Warrens’ young daughter and babysitters in a pyjama party from Hell.
Why it’s great: Just like Michael Chaves, Gary Dauberman’s directorial debut demonstrates just how much of being around James Wan rubs off on him. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means, but it really did come as a pleasant surprise – and by far one of the more entertaining entries in Wan’s universe. How so? Primarily, thanks to Dauberman’s deft decision to channel the naive nature of our favourite kid’s adventure stories (Adventures in Babysitting must have surely served as inspiration) and the inclusion of a myriad of new spirits from the Warren’s reliquary which helped up the stakes compared to previous Annabelle iterations.
For fans of: Halloween (1978), Dead Silence