This list is not ranked, it’s simply a list of my favourite 31 horror films from 2020.
Some of these titles also appear on my general 2020 favourites list, which isn’t sorted by genre. Again, like the other year-end list for film, this includes several titles from the festival circuit. Purists can whine all they want, there’s no set-in-stone definition for what should/shouldn’t be included on a year-end list; and who really cares, anyway? My hope is that these festival films that don’t already have distribution deals inked will have distribution within the next year, and then people will have films to put on their watchlists for 2021 should they feel so inclined to care what I think.

Go forth, be macabre, and dig in to lots of horrific cinema that this horrific year has brought us!


Hosts

Hosts POSTER

Hosts blasted me unexpectedly. The filmmakers reached out and sent a screener. Not knowing anything I tossed it on without expectations, and good lord, what a nasty treat. Its basic premise conceals a whole lot more behind it. A couple is invited to their neighbours’ house for Christmas dinner. They’re intercepted beforehand by sinister entities which set them on a path of brutal violence. They turn dinner upside down with madness. There’s a whole lot more to it underneath, at least in my opinion. A home invasion flick like you’ve never seen before. Great for your next holiday season movie marathon.

Read a full review here.

The Block Island Sound

The Block Island Sound POSTER

It’s tough to say a lot about The Block Island Sound without spoiling anything, so I’ll lay out the bare bones. Harry Lynch (Chris Sheffield) is a young man stuck at home going nowhere. Now he’s watching his father (Neville Archambault) go senile. Or, maybe something stranger’s going on. When his sister Audrey (Michaela McManus) comes home with her daughter, their father disappears one night out in his boat. While Audrey and the rest of the town figure it was an inevitable conclusion for an alcoholic who often went boating while drunk, Harry’s not so sure. He starts to investigate strange phenomena happening on the island, convinced it’s related to his father’s disappearance. What he uncovers is more horrifying than most conspiracy theories.

The Block Island Sound is intriguing, creepy, and existential in the best sort of ways. Take a trip into the unknown, you will love it, or you’ll at the very least find it fresh and inventive genre film making.

Read a full review here.

The Queen of Black Magic

The Queen of Black Magic POSTER

I had no idea The Queen of Black Magic is a lose remake of a 1981 film, so I can’t compare the two of them. What I know is that this Kimo Stamboel-directed, Joko Anwar-penned horror has Gothic madness in store for its viewers. It’s mean and brutal, but in a way that actually turns a critical lens back on the patriarchal past of an orphanage where terrifying things once occurred. Anwar’s screenplay focuses on a group of men and their significant others, including Hanif (Ario Bayu) and his wife Nadya (Hanna Al Rashid), who’ve returned to the orphanage where the men grew up. They’ve come to say goodbye to the dying Mr. Pak Bandi (Yayu A.W. Unru), the man who raised them. A couple of the orphans who grew up never left— Maman (Ade Firman Hakim) and Siti (Sheila Dara Aisha) are now married, still living there to help look after the children. Initially the visit’s awkward but fine. Eventually it takes a turn when Hanif and his friends start to realise there are horrifying things happening at the orphanage. This forces the men to take a hard look at their shared past, revealing disturbing buried secrets that threaten them and their families.

Stamboel is a great director, solo or with Timo Tjahjanto. He makes The Queen of Black Magic ooze with dread. A few scenes will genuinely never leave me. Some disgusting and scary imagery all around. Those of us who consider ourselves hardened horror fans after all these years don’t often find movies that genuinely give us that ‘oh my god’ feeling. I felt that a couple times here.

Read a full review here.

The Boy Behind the Door

The Boy Behind the Door

Everyone has their own brand of terror. For me, it’s human. I’m less scared of the supernatural than I am of actual people who are monstrous. That’s why David Charbonier and Justin Powell’s The Boy Behind the Door stunned me when I got to screen it as part of this past year’s Fantastic Fest lineup.

The story picks up with two young boys, Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey), whose normal lives are shattered when a random creep (Micah Hauptman) abducts them. Bobby comes to in the trunk of a car. When he’s on the verge of freedom he hears Kevin scream and remembers his best friend is still stuck in that house. Bobby makes the impossible decision to go back, unwilling to turn away while something horrible could happen to Kevin. This begins a tense cat-and-mouse chase.

The Boy Behind the Door is such a simple, thread-bare plot which shows off the skill of Charbonier and Powell because they turn it into one of the most tense, suspenseful, and disturbing films I’ve seen in quite some time. I don’t want to spoil any of its treats. Let’s just say there’s a bit of subtle political subject matter in the story I found to be worth the time to think about deeper. Aside from that, this is a film you won’t soon forget, and young Lonnie Chavis should have a good career ahead of him judging by his engaging performance.

Read a full review here.

The Stylist

Father Son Holy Gore - The Stylist - Scalps

There aren’t enough movies by women about women in general, even less where women’s desire is concerned, and doubly so when it comes to queer women’s desire. The Stylist touches on a lot of things about women, from queerness and desire to friendship in general. Jill Gevargizian elaborates on her previous short film to offer an interesting look at what social isolation and repressed desire can do to a confused woman.

The eponymous stylist is Claire (Najarra Townsend). She’s lonely and desperate for connection. Her life and mind go completely off the rails once she meets bride-to-be Olivia (Brea Grant), and she develops an obsession with her new friend that culminates in horror. Part psychological horror, part outright slasher, Gevargizian’s film is a must-see with lots of heart, a few laughs, and lots of blood. A smart story that, to me, breaks down ideas concerning tradition surrounding marriage. It does all that with a perfectly nasty streak.

Read a full review here.

Ten Minutes to Midnight

Ten Minutes to Midnight POSTER

Erik and Carson Bloomquist’s screenplay follows Amy Marlowe (Caroline Williams) on what turns out to be her last night working at the radio station where she’s been a DJ for the past three decades. She only finds that out after getting there, made worse by the fact a bat bit her on the way to work. She tries to talk with her gross boss Bob (William Youmans), except his attention is fixed on a young woman named Sienna (Nicole Kang), who’s replacing Amy. But the jig’s up. Amy’s first got to survive the night after she starts having strange visions and, just maybe, craving blood.

I loved Erik Bloomquist’s Long Lost, so I was primed to see what he’d do next. Ten Minutes to Midnight did not disappoint, in any way, shape, or form. Great horror flick; even greater when you dig further into its themes. Caroline Williams gives a great performance that shows she’s more than the diminutive label Scream Queen, giving us a radio host character to rival her radio DJ Stretch from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. The story has much to chew on apart from horror, looking at how awful it can truly be to be a working woman in this male-dominated world.

Read a full review here.

Relic

Relic POSTER

If you want to be scared and horribly depressed at once, Relic is your best bet for 2020. Not saying anything bad about the film, it’s actually a compliment; this one goes hard. Natalie Erika James co-writer Christian White’s screenplay depicts a family dealing with death and psychological decay. Edna (Robyn Nevin) is beginning to deteriorate mentally since the death of her husband. She goes missing, but after her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) rush to the old family home, she returns. They can’t get any answers out of Edna about where she’s been, nor what she was doing. When Edna starts acting stranger, a sinister presence fills the house.

The film never lets up with the dread, slowly crawling over you until it’s seeping into your skin like a cold wind. Relic is a compelling exploration of how we treat mental illness and the elderly, as well as both simultaneously. A haunting masterpiece. One of my favourite horrors of the 21st century.

Read a full review here.

His House

His House POSTER

Bol and Rial Majur (Sope Dirisu & Wunmi Mosaku) have managed to flee war-torn South Sudan. They seek asylum in the U.K. and after a stint in a detention centre they’re given a rundown house in an English town where they can live a simple life. Fitting in isn’t as easy as they’d pictured, neither is it easy dealing with the strange sounds at night around their house or the witch Rial believes followed them from Sudan. Bol refuses to accept his wife’s supernatural worries. The longer he refuses the truth, the more dangerous it becomes for them in their new haunted home.

What affected me most about His House is that while Bol and Rial’s past, specifically his guilt associated with it, is the story’s main focus, a relatively large theme Weekes addresses is the horror of assimilation. We see Bol and Rial become divided over their own culture, and how their division causes them more suffering. Past guilt is a Gothic spectre haunting Bol and Rial’s lives, symbolised by the film’s ghost(s). What’s unique is how Weekes uses the Gothic to explore contemporary immigration issues, which makes for a memorable story, and shows how rich the horror genre can be when we make sure stories from all cultures make it to the screen.

Read a full review here.

The Rental

The Rental POSTER

Dave Franco’s film follows two couples on a weekend getaway at a picturesque Airbnb for a celebratory mini-vacation. Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Michelle (Alison Brie), along with Charlie’s business partner Mina (Sheila Vand) and her man, Charlie’s younger brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White), head to a big house by the ocean. The perfect bougie getaway. But the trip’s not quite what they expected, from a potentially racist renter, Taylor (Toby Huss), to creepy surveillance devices Mina notices planted in the house.
And that’s not near the worst of this weekend.

The story works as a solid, straight-up horror-thriller. Also embedded in it are compelling modern themes about class, morality, and relationships. Several betrayals amongst the group sparks mistrust that inadvertently leads to a murder and its cover-up. Through the horror that follows we see all the pitfalls of a sharing economy, in which a house is no longer a home but a liminal space almost anybody can enter, as well as how this 21st-century capitalist world we live in divides us by not only class, it divides us across horrifying moral lines, too. The characters feel painfully real, so by the time this goes from paranoid thriller to an inevitably horrific conclusion we’re caught tight in the story’s web, and it doesn’t matter who’s an asshole and who’s not anymore.

Read a full review here.

Murder Death Koreatown

Murder Death Koreatown POSTER

Found footage is a mixed bag of tricks, even for those of us who love the sub-genre. Murder Death Koreatown is a bit of throwback in the sense its used some clever online marketing tricks a la Blair Witch Project to make this found footage crime-horror seem as if it were a genuine piece of footage discovered. It’s this blend of fiction and true crime that makes the story worth checking out. This one also doesn’t end entirely typically of found footage, either. That’s another piece of what makes this such a unique, odd film.

The story follows a man whose neighbour is murdered by his wife. The crime scene extends from a nearby house down into the alley next to the man’s apartment. This leads him to start an investigation of his own after he gets no answers from police or media. He begins looking into the murdered neighbour and the wife. He soon believes there’s a sprawling conspiracy involving Korean landlords and a bunch of street preachers.
But is his investigation sound? Or, is it a sign of a decaying mind?

Murder Death Koreatown is tense, weird, and occasionally darkly comic. The story is creepy enough. There’s also an interesting argument within the film’s events and themes that point to a focus on true crime culture and, specifically, the role white people play in that culture when the victims are people of colour. The protagonist starts as an unemployed man seeking answers about a murder that hits literally close to home, then gradually devolves into a paranoid conspiracy theorist whose ultimate fate is as mysterious and troubling as the case he’s been trying to investigate.

Read a full review here.

The Dark and the Wicked

The Dark and the Wicked POSTER

From the moment I saw The Strangers I was sold on Bryan Bertino. He took what could’ve been a mediocre premise and spun it into gold with a heavy atmosphere of suspense and constant despair. His followup Mockingbird is a found footage with slasher-like elements that I found to be a surprising chiller. I also enjoyed The Monster, which moved away from home invasion-slasher territory into a space where horror can act as a metaphor while also just being plain ole scary at the same time.
Now, Bertino’s back with The Dark and the Wicked— a goddamn nightmare.

A dying man’s wife is seeing terrifying visions on their farm. Their daughter Louise (Marin Ireland) turns up to help, along with her brother Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.), but soon the mother kills herself inexplicably. This leaves her grown children to look after their ill father. The family’s never been religious, yet Louise and Michael begin to see that their mother was suddenly singing Christian hymns and, worse, seeing some kind of devil. And it’s only a matter of time before that devil reveals itself to them, too.

The Dark and the Wicked is bleak and grim from start to finish, leaning hard into an oppressive atmosphere that offers no hope, not a glimmer of light at the end of its dark tunnel. In fiction that deals with demons, regardless of whether it involves possession, so often Christianity battles and even outright defeats evil. Bertino doesn’t have time for such a depiction of good versus evil, neither is he interested in telling a tale of evil that’s easily defeated. What his story does is present a vision of evil that’s incapable of being defeated, indifferent to belief and non-belief alike— an evil that’s as inescapable as mortal death.

Read a full review here.

Blood Quantum

Blood Quantum POSTER

The world needs more artists like Jeff Barnaby. Horror is a great vessel for social commentary, which Blood Quantum has in spades. What happens when a zombie virus only affects white people and an Indigenous reservation in Canada becomes the last stronghold against the undead? Well, the white people suddenly want onto the reservation. Brilliant premise. Particularly when Canada gets by decade after decade on the fabricated reputation of being the nicest country ever, and in reality our country has a long, long history of colonialism and racism. Indigenous artists like Barnaby are putting their resistance into the stories they tell, regardless of whether white people can handle the rightful criticism, and is it any wonder? Miꞌkmaq lobster fisherman have been attacked on the East Coast by white fisherman just this year while being left to fend for themselves by the government and the RCMP alike, and it hasn’t actually stopped. A Canadian politician told people a few weeks ago there were good things about the residential schools, where Indigenous kids were taken after being stolen from their homes then systematically, forcibly assimilated into white Christian culture; one of those schools is infamous for having used a makeshift electric chair on the children. Films like Blood Quantum won’t magically make white people understand the plight of Indigenous peoples, the majority of white people probably won’t even get this one’s message(s). Nevertheless, films like these are necessary, and stories like these should only ever be told by Indigenous voices.

Read a full review here.

Amulet

Amulet POSTER

A shocker. The ending blew my mind, and I’m still trying to put the pieces together in a way that make the most sense to me. Amulet follows Tomaz (Alec Secareanu), a former soldier with serious issues, who finds work from a nun (Imelda Staunton) and winds up working at a secluded house where a woman named Magda (Carla Juri) lives caring for her dying mother. What begins as an awkward but good job for Tomaz starts to turn into something much more strange and nightmarish.

To say anything else is to say way too much! Try not to watch or read anything more than this about Amulet. Go in knowing little else than this small description. A surreal piece of Gothic horror worth your time, at least to see such a spectacle.

M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters

MOM Mothers of Monsters POSTER

Tucia Lyman has directed/produced a bunch of television, and it’s always interesting to see someone who primarily works in TV make the shift to film. Not all filmmakers gravitate well from one to the other, though many— usually, the best of them— can shift between the two: Jane Campion, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Lexi Alexander, and other great directors have done good television. Lyman has certainly done a fine, unsettling job with her feature film debut, M.O.M Mothers of Monsters.

The film, using a found footage style, tells a story of mother and son perpetually locking horns. Abbey Bell (Melinda Page Hamilton) is a 42-year-old single mom trying to deal with an out of control son, 16-year-old Jacob (Bailey Edwards). She films everything because her boy’s prone to ‘monstering out.’ She shows us not only her inner life, but the inner life of Jacob. What she discovers is terrifying.

Lyman’s film is a stunner. She doesn’t rely on being graphic. She ratchets up the tension until it’s beyond uncomfortable. And the film doesn’t quite forget that life’s full of moral ambiguity, leaving a lot of space for the viewer to make their own judgements about what’s happening (for a while), as well as whether the choices Abbey makes are the best ones. The biggest focus for Lyman is on the ethical/social dilemmas in which mothers find themselves, specifically when raising boys growing up into dangerous young men.
Many memorable mothers exist in horror: Norma Bates, Chris MacNeil, Pamela Voorhees, Joe Spinell’s mom in Maniac, to name but a few, some the mothers of psychos; some psychos themselves, others relentless fighters against various horror movie forces. The reason M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters stands out and has such a powerful impact is, above all else, because of its focus on Abbey’s harrowing struggle.

Read a full review here.

Anything for Jackson

Anything for Jackson POSTER

If you thought old people were scary already, you’re in for it now because Anything for Jackson will do nothing to assuage those fears. It’s really fitting Justin G. Dyck directed this film. He’s done a lot of TV movie work that’s decidedly family/kid friendly. Usually horror that involves kids or old people, or both, ticks a box for me that other horror can’t match; not saying all such films are good, because they’re not, there’s just a greater chance they’ll truly unsettle me if they involve children or the elderly. Dyck’s film, written by Keith Cooper, focuses on both in an unexpected way.

Dr. Henry (Julian Richings) Walsh and his wife Audrey (Sheila McCarthy) are heartbroken over their shattered family. They’re so devastated they concoct a dark plan to kidnap a pregnant woman and transfer their dead grandson’s spirit into the lady’s unborn baby with occult magic. They nab one of Henry’s patients, Shannon (Konstantina Mantelos); the old couple only call the pregnant woman by her last name, Becker, as if it somehow keeps distance between them and their crimes. The newly Satanist senior citizens discover they’re in over their heads very quickly.

What the film does best is offer a unique perspective on Satanist horror, from there everything else flows naturally. Richings and McCarthy are so perfect for these roles, they chew every bit of scenery they’re dropped in the middle of, and Mantelos pulls her weight as an appropriately terrified pregnant woman in the midst of absolute horror. Keith Cooper’s screenplay brings out the darkest of comedy from its premise, and helps illustrate why ageism in film only deprives of us more rich, unique stories. Best of all, Anything for Jackson uses its main characters to explore the Gothic side of ageing, and flips the idea of family on its head with Satan.

Read a full review here.

Hunted

Hunted POSTER

Vincent Paronnaud is an endlessly interesting artist. He’s first and foremost a comics guy, having done a number of one-shots. This made him a natural to team up with the fabulous Marjane Satrapi for a film adaptation of her autobiographical comics Persepolis. They later did Chicken with Plums together. So it’s interesting to see Paronnaud’s latest effort, directing solo, is a horror-thriller that on paper reads like a story we’ve seen a hundred times before. Hunted is structured like a rape-revenge film, and has many of the same beats as one. Thankfully: no rape. Better still, the conventional trappings of this dreaded horror sub-genre— one only lately being challenged properly via films made by women, like Coralie Fargeat’s fabulous Revenge— are subverted in fresh, fun ways.

Paronnaud’s story, co-written with Léa Pernollet, follows Eve (Lucie Debay). She’s a normal woman whose night out on the town goes from bad to worse after a guy saves her from a douchebag, only to discover later they were working together. Although Eve gets away from the men initially she quickly comes to the terrifying realisation they’re not letting her go.
And she’s being hunted.

The premise isn’t anything original, but artists don’t have to reinvent the wheel to be clever or interesting. Paronnaud and Pernollet’s screenplay avoids the typical need for this sort of film to depict female pain in order for their later violent triumphs to somehow be earned. It doesn’t predicate Eve’s strength on being a survivor: women don’t need to be assaulted to become warriors, they can just BE warriors. While Eve’s a strong character the narrative focuses less on a transformation in her in order to survive, given she’s already a bad ass with smart instincts. The film looks more at the misogyny and desperate sadness in the heart of men— animals— who’d try to sexually assault a woman in the first place. The film isn’t simply about the potential for women’s revenge against hideous men, it’s about dismantling the toxic masculinity that creates such men in the first place, and taking a step back towards Mother Nature instead.

Read a full review here.

Vivarium

Vivarium POSTER

Capitalist horror is a thing, and Vivarium is at the peak of the sub-genre. Lorcan Finnegan hit my radar with his 2011 short film Foxes, a fascinating little story. His 2016 feature Without Name truly hooked me to his style. Once Vivarium rolled around this year it was another clear indication that Finnegan is a filmmaker with a singular style. The film depicts a young couple—Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg)—searching for their dream home, only to get themselves lost in a mysterious, terrifying neighbourhood where every house and every family is exactly the same. Finnegan and screenwriter Garret Shanley take their audience on an unsettling ride through a materialist Utopia that proves to be much more a consumer’s hell than heaven.

Read a full review here.

Sanzaru

Sanzaru POSTER

There’s no better way I can say it: Sanzaru rocked my world. I was lucky enough to see this during Fantasia 2020, and I also got to have a chat with director-writer Xia Magnus, whose insight was incredible (read the interview here). The screenplay mashes together Filipino culture and the American South in a way that never feels forced; Magnus combines them as if they were meant to go together as a pair. The story’s themes are deep and dark, though there’s also a ray of light shining through everything, emanating from the film’s leads, Evelyn (Aina Dumlao) and Clem (Justin Arnold), whose stories are tragic, and in a certain way similar. One powerful piece of dramatic horror with tons of Southern Gothic style. Spooky with a beating, beautiful heart.

Read a full review here.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

I'm Thinking of Ending Things POSTER

Charlie Kaufman is, indeed, one of a kind; no cliche. His mind doesn’t operate like other storytellers’ minds, and that’s a gift unto us all. Like him or not, Kaufman’s style is singular, he’s a definite auteur. I’m Thinking of Ending Things feels like total Kaufman, though it likewise feels as if the director-writer was consuming a steady diet of nothing but David Lynch films while working on this one. Jessie Buckley’s protagonist, whose name shifts throughout, is a character who gradually becomes lost in the story of another, her significant other Jake (Jesse Plemons). They go on a road trip together to visit his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis), and it’s there time, space, and sanity seem to unravel. There are multiple ways to read the film, which is why I’ve always loved absurdism and surrealism so much. Kaufman creates a uniquely psychological horror vibe that unnerved me for days after I watched.

Violation

Violation POSTER

Not generally a fan of rape-revenge, aside from a few choice films. Mostly it’s traumatising for me, as a victim of childhood abuse. Usually it’s only women writers/filmmakers who seem to make them palatable, even if they’re still brutal regardless. A film making duo—Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer—co-direct/wrote Violation, a story that manages not to be overly graphic in regards to rape, while still being capable of tackling the subject. And, well, there’s definitely other graphic stuff.

Miriam (Sims-Fewer) and Caleb (Obi Abili) are having relationship troubles. They head out to the picturesque house belonging to Miriam’s sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and her husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe). It’s evident the sisters are quite different from one another, as are the men they’re with, but they all try to have a nice time together. This turns to devastation when Dylan betrays Miriam in the most heinous way. Suddenly, Miriam’s world and trust are torn apart violently.

Can’t say much more without spoiling the plot. Go in knowing nothing but the basics.
Be prepared. Be warned.

Read a full review here.

The Antenna

The Antenna POSTER

Orcun Behram’s feature film debut The Antenna is the kind of horror film I’d imagine George Orwell would’ve found interesting: at once dystopian and painfully current. Behram depicts a dystopian Turkey where an authoritarian state has enacted strict measures of info communication. Not so different from modern day Turkey over the past decade or more, is it?

Mehmet (Ihsan Önal) is a building landlord for the state. He receives word new technology, a special antenna for 24-hour broadcasts, will be installed. When the installer arrives things get strange, as the man falls off the roof and dies. Soon, Mehmet gets complaints from residents about a black sludge oozing from the drains. It’s actually much, much worse. The sludge is all but seeping from the walls. And it’s beginning to infect the tenants.

The Antenna is an eerie dystopian horror that reflects Turkey’s descent over the past decade(+) into a state of mass surveillance, specifically in regards to the digital landscape. During 2014, Turkey “surpassed the 46 other states in the council of Europe” in regards to “cases involving the violations of the right to freedom of expression” (Surveillance, Secrecy and Self-Censorship 9). Studies have shown part of this authoritarian regime of surveillance leads to self-censorship, an air of paranoia that then ensures people will do the state’s job for them, a kind of preventative censorship. This idea plays out in the film when the black sludge infiltrating Mehmet’s building begins to have a sinister influence on the tenants and turns the place into a Grand Guignol theatre.

Read a full review here.

Climate of the Hunter

Climate of the Hunter POSTEr

The screenplay, from director Mickey Reece and co-writer John Selvidge, involves two sisters— the hippy-ish, mentally unstable Alma (Ginger Gilmartin), and the more bourgeois, buttoned-up Elizabeth (Mary Buss)— having a get-together with an old friend-slash-flame, Wesley (Ben Hall). They’ve known Wesley since they were young girls. But seeing him again, he’s changed. While Elizabeth is caught up in Wesley’s charm Alma starts to believe there may be something sinister behind the changes. Alma’s worries are exacerbated by the arrival, and quick departure, of Wesley’s son Percy (Sheridan McMichael), as well as her own daughter Rose (Danielle Evon Ploeger). Could Alma be right? Could Wesley be… a vampire?

Climate of the Hunter is a gorgeous film to experience, harking back to the general era of ’70s and the look of cinema at the time. So many bold, vibrant colours. The set design alone will have you feeling like you’re back at your hippy aunt’s lakeside retreat in 1977. The best aspect of Reece’s film is how his use of the vampire feels unique. Like many great vampire works, this one posits the vampire as symbolic. Through Wesley, the undead creature takes on the form of a toxic male invading— and destroying— the lives of women. Reece lets us stew in an air of ambiguity for much of the film, guided by Alma’s fragile mental state. Once the plot fully takes shape in the lead up to the finale, the metaphoric power of the film’s vampire is obvious.

Read a full review here.

Landgraves (short)

Landgraves POSTER

Landgraves are a heavy metal duo—Patrick (Pierre-Luc Brillant) and Éric (Souldia)—who’ve recently started to record music again after serving 10 years for a murder conviction. Jérémie (François Ruel-Côté), a young journalist, manages to get access to Landgraves and travels to the band’s studio in a remote forest. As the journalist gets into the interview he starts to feel welcome, but this turns to paranoia when he wonders if maybe the two musicians have a sinister intent for bringing him out there.

Out of all the great shorts I saw during Nightstream, I’d have to say Landgraves is my #1. Many will enjoy it if they’re horror fans. Many more will enjoy it if they have even passing knowledge of the black metal scene in Norway, particularly the story of Euronymous and Varg Vikernes which seems to loom large over Jean-François Leblanc’s short, penned by Alexandre Auger. Best of all, the film gets into ideas about whether dark, macabre art reflects the actual personalities of the artists, and what danger can occur when that darkness isn’t bound by art, crossing over into reality.

Read a capsule review here.

Unearth

Unearth POSTER

Unearth is not subtle, whatsoever, and this doesn’t hurt the film one bit. A shocking horror that starts off as a UK-style working class drama set in rural America. Kathryn Dolan (Adrienne Barbeau) is the hard-headed matriarch of a farming family she feels is coming apart at the seams, and George Lomack (Marc Blucas) is a single dad whose wife left him with two daughters, the youngest of whom has just become a single parent herself. The families aren’t best friends, though they get along. Until George decides his economic hardships are too much to bear, selling his land to a natural gas company. Kathryn and George really start butting heads after the deal’s done, but it has nothing on the tragic, horrific effects the fracking causes.

The performances are great, particularly Adrienne Barbeau and Marc Blucas, whose central roles anchor everything else that’s going on in the plot. If you’re looking for wild horror with sickening effects? You found it. One scene literally dropped my jaw, and I hesitate to say a word about what’s involved; so, I won’t! Recommend checking this one out for the socially relevant drama and staying for the gnarly horror that emerges halfway through the film.

Read a full review here.

Gretel and Hansel

Foggy evening in the old forest

Oz Perkins consistently chooses great stuff to work on, which hasn’t changed with Gretel and Hansel. The story works as a subverted fairy tale, using dark fantasy + horror to get at something more truthful. This version of the fairy tale features a slightly older Gretel (Sophia Lillis), whose place as a girl in the world rightfully taints her perspective on life as she begins to see the gendered difference in how boys and girls navigate their existence. When she and her brother Hansel (Sam Leakey) end up on the doorstep of a witch (Alice Krige), Gretel has to figure out a few things for herself in order for them to survive the old woman.

Lots of atmosphere and style in Gretel and Hansel. Perkins has a way of building up dread that sets him apart from other horror directors today. His storytelling is paced so well, from page to screen. Never hurts to have acting talent like Alice Krige and Sophia Lillis as the leads, either. These two compliment one another so well that you’d think they were acting together a bunch prior to this film. At the end of the day, I loved the themes, and the performances and the creeping terror are what sold me. Hope it all grabs you, too.

Time of Moulting

Time of Moulting POSTER

Have you ever seen a film that’s not graphic yet manages to disturb you to the core? Time of Moulting, the debut feature film from Sabrina Mertens, did such things to me without ever needing any graphic displays of horror. Everything in this story is psychological, burrowing so deep it feels like Mertens is right inside your psyche, poking and prodding in places few dare to tread. Mertens tells the story of Stephanie (Zelda Espenschied / Miriam Schiweck), a young girl in Germany growing up during the 1970s. She lives with her unstable mother (Freya Kreutzkam) and father Reinhardt (Bernd Wolf) in a semi-dilapidated home brimming with books, old papers, clothes, and other clutter. The father hits his daughter and taunts her emotionally. The mother may be committing worse sins. In the house’s repressive silence, Stephanie’s intellectual and sexual development goes terribly wrong.

Trust me when I say this is an unforgettable cinematic experience. Like a grim painting brought to life. Fitting that Mertens shot this in 57 tableaux-esque shots, as if painting on a canvas rather than shooting on film.

Read a full review here.

Hunter Hunter

Hunter Hunter POSTEr

Joseph (Devon Sawa), Anne (Camille Sullivan), and their daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell) live life a lot simpler than most. Their house is a cabin in the woods. They go hunting and foraging for food, getting everything else from a store in town. They generally keep to themselves, as Joseph appears to be leery of people from town. When Joseph and Renee notice grisly animal remains in the forest one day they believe a nasty, hungry wolf has returned to the area. The concerned father and husband decides to go looking for it himself, in hopes of stopping it before the animal becomes a further problem. What Joseph discovers in the woods changes everything. He then becomes painfully aware that his family’s suddenly in far more danger than he ever could’ve imagined.

At first I thought Hunter Hunter was going to go a more supernatural route, preparing myself for an interesting twist on the ages old werewolf tale. Then the plot went wholly towards exploring the depravity of man. The wolf becomes a symbol juxtaposing man and animal, begging the question whether certain men are really anything more evolved than a hungry wolf. Joseph’s troubles are twofold. First, his insistence on isolated living being safer and less problematic than living in town clouds his family’s perspective of who/what is really dangerous. Most of all, his protectiveness over his wife and child, while admirable, ultimately puts Anne and Renee in a horrific, life-threatening situation. The patriarchal need of a father to be a protector here renders Joseph blind to the gendered troubles of the world in which they live, and, just as in the real world, it’s the women who are left to confront the true horrors all alone.

Note: Camille Sullivan should be getting EVERY OUNCE OF PRAISE POSSIBLE for her performance.

Read a full review here.

Fried Barry

Fried Barry POSTER

Ryan Kruger previously directed a short film called Fried Barry, then expanded it greatly into this full-length feature that’s a bonkers mix of horror, sci-fi, and social realism. The short was a much more basic concept, whereas the feature is an expanded adventure taking a junkie named Barry (Gary Green) on a mad trip around Cape Town. Barry’s a bit of a deadbeat dad and all-around greaser, except his body’s been hijacked by an extraterrestrial being that’s looking to get an inside perspective on human life, and their time together might just prove beneficial for them both. A stunner of a film.

Kruger’s sci-fi and horror blend is kicked up ten notches by his kinetic style of film making. The story’s strong core of realism is conveyed through Green’s quietly enigmatic performance as THE fried Barry himself.

Read a full review here.

Host

Host POSTER

The story’s simple, yet effective. Haley (Haley Bishop) has arranged a virtual seance on Zoom for herself and her friends. Not all of them take it seriously, even after the seance starts. Despite the woman leading them warning to be respectful of the spirits, Jemma (Jemma Moore) fakes everybody out, pretending to feel a presence. And, you guessed it, another spirit doesn’t take kindly to it. What begins as a cutesy digital hangout turns into a nightmare.

During the filming of The Blair Witch Project, co-directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick would do things in the woods while shooting without telling their actors to elicit genuine fright. In similar style, certain things in Host were pre-recorded to accomplish the same effect. This gives the film a purity in its found footage aesthetic. The story also touches on human connection in the age of lockdown, and ideas of the urban Gothic with spirits among the digital world. Most importantly it plays heavily on the 21st-century disrespect for spirituality in the form of one pissed off spirit using technology to haunt the subjects of its terror.

Read a full review here.

Possessor

Possessor POSTER

In 2008, Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a political assassin, using advanced technology in order to take control of other peoples’ bodies to make them commit murder. Her boss is a retired assassin named Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), helping Tasya through the assignments, and also helping with recovery afterwards. Because Tasya spends all this time in another person’s consciousness she feels detached from herself. Things really go sideways for Vos and Girder when one of the next people inhabited, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbot), throws a wrench into things with his own rogue consciousness.
Then everything unravels.

Safe to say Brandon Cronenberg has inherited his love of body horror from his father. Possessor digs into a lot of different things, from existential questions of body/mind, to the potential for VR technology (among other technologies in the 21st century) to dangerously alter the political landscape. The Cronenbergs are a disturbing bunch in the greatest sense. Their stories keep making me think, decade after decade. This is the kind of film making we need in a day and age when some people try to insist art has no real power. It does, and films like Possessor show that by expanding the mind with their speculative fiction.

Bloody Hell

Bloody Hell

Rex (Ben O’Toole) is a former U.S. soldier who finds himself in the middle of a bank robbery when he decides to play hero. He gets a woman killed and a judge sends him to prison. When he’s released, he’s infamous, and it forces him to get out of America. He flies to Helsinki where life only gets worse. Rex comes face to face with unimaginable horrors. He also meets a young woman named Alia (Meg Fraser), whose family are a bunch of disturbed killers. Playing hero becomes only half of Rex’s battle.

Bloody Hell takes off like a rocket. O’Toole’s performance keeps things clipping along, and despite his Rex being a prick-ish dude he makes the character shockingly likeable. One of my favourite features during Nightstream. This feels partly inspired by Tarantino, partly by ’80s horror, the sort of horror comedy that works because it has just as much thematic weight as it does laughs. And it’s certainly got the horror, too.

Read a full review here.

Comments

Join the Conversation

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s