Top Horror Films of 2019

Another year has passed, but if the quality of output for horror is any indicator, there’s still plenty of reason to celebrate 2019. Anatomy of a Scream invited its roster of contributors and staff to put together their Top 10 faves. It’s quite the list, so let’s dig in!

Doctor Sleep

Andrew Roebuck (@WineMovienerd)
Writer, podcaster, and Riverdale enthusiast. Enthralled with horror from a young age, this Canadian boy is on a mission to see it all. Andrew wrote a review of The Last Sunrise (2019) for Anatomy of a Scream.

10. Black Christmas
9. Glass
8. One Cut of the Dead
7. Crawl
6. The Perfection
5. Ready or Not
4. Us
3. Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror
2. Midsommar
1. Doctor Sleep

Tigers Are Not Afraid 6

Carolyn Mauricette (@vfdpixie)
Programmer for The Blood in the Snow Film Festival, film writer and critic. Carolyn’s work on BITS was profiled in Grim No. 3, she wrote “Pretty Monsters: Crush The Good, Embrace The Bad & Banish The Ugly” for Grim No. 4,  and she interviewed Horror Noire producers Ashlee Blackwell and Tananarive Due for Grim No. 5.

10) Sweetheart
9) Dr. Sleep
8) She Never Died
7) Midsommar
6) In Fabric
5) The Dead Center
4) The Perfection
3) Us
2) Atlantics
1) Tigers Are Not Afraid

Honourable Mentions: Border, Brightburn, Climax, Majic, Nightmare Cinema, Puppet Killer, Ready or Not

Doctor Sleep

Jess Peacock (@suchadarkthing)
Professor, contributor to Rue Morgue magazine, and author of Such a Dark Thing: Theology of the Vampire Narrative in Popular Culture, as well as the forthcoming Hallowed Horrors: A Dialogue Between Religion and Fright Films. Jess wrote “Lilith’s Legacy: A Feminist Reading of the Traditional Vampire Narrative” for Grim No. 4.

10. Girl on the Third Floor
9. Nightmare Cinema
8. Ready or Not
7. The Golem
6. The Lighthouse
5. Satanic Panic
4. Crawl
3. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
2. Us
1. Doctor Sleep

Parasite

Laura Di Girolamo (@laura_digi)
Film journalist, marketer for not-for-profits, and co-director of The Bloody Mary Film Festival, which spotlights the works of female-identifying Canadian horror, sci-fi, and fantasy filmmakers. Laura wrote “Sleepovers & The Supernatural: The Importance of Occult Games & Rituals in Female Bonding” for Grim No. 3.

10. Doctor Sleep
9. Crawl
8. In Fabric
7. Ready Or Not
6. Us
5. Midsommar
4. The Perfection
3. One Cut of the Dead
2. The Lighthouse
1. Parasite

Velvet Buzzsaw

Lindsay Traves (@smashtraves)
Writer; got here by refusing to stop talking about Scream, or trying to convince a strangers to watch The Guest, or drawing a detailed timeline of the Alien franchise. Lindsay wrote “The Evolution of Horror” for Grim No. 3

10. Midsommar
9. Daniel Isn’t Real
8. Crawl
7. Parasite
6. Us
5. Annabelle Comes Home
4. The Perfection
3. Happy Death Day 2 U
2. The Vigil
1. Velvet Buzzsaw

Us

Sophie Day (@philliesfemme)
Podcaster: Behold and Electric Terror and 28 Days Lady-er; Contributor to Bloody Good Horror and Grim Magazine. One of the wimpiest horror fans you’ve ever met, but she wears that title like a badge of honor, known to get in Twitter beef with sad, scared men.

10) Sweetheart
9) The Wind
8) Doctor Sleep
7) Hagazussa
6) Black Christmas
5) Midsommar
4) Tigers Are Not Afraid
3) Climax
2) One Cut of the Dead
1) Us


Midsommar

CC (@Callsinthedark)
Podcaster: Bloody Good Horror & Something Red
Grim cover artist and contributor to Issue No 1 and 6.

10) Happy Death Day 2 U (2019, dir. Chris Landon): Still riding on the fun from the first installment, but delivers a paranormal twist that keeps the “Groundhog Day” trope fresh.

9) Climax (2018, dir. Gaspar Noé): If you were ever considering doing mind altering drugs and secluding yourself in an abandon building for a dance off – this will definitely change your mind.

8) It: Chapter Two (2019, dir. Andy Muschietti): A bit of a blundering follow up to the impressive first chapter, but still manages to deliver the visuals and mirror all the feels.

7) The Wind (2018, dir. Emma Tammi): Give me a Western, period piece and layer it with unexplained feminine haunting – and I’m all in.

6) Ready or Not (2019, dirs. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett): This shows us movies can be super fun and wild, yet still completely horrific. It also reminds us that you’re not just marrying your spouse, but their ENTIRE family as well.

The Nightingale

5) The Nightingale (2018, dir. Jennifer Kent): Writer/director Kent has some demons to exorcise – and I am here for it. This movie is raw, intense, and unflinching.

4) The Lighthouse (2019, dir. Robert Eggers): Robert Pattinson and Willem Defoe chew up scenery and each other’s patience in this claustrophobic and mind-altering story of light house keepers and what it means to be alone.

3) Doctor Sleep (2019, dir. Mike Flanagan): Visually stunning, this is one of the best and most touching adaptations of King’s work. Plays to the Kubrick fans with Shining references and really hones in on the gravity of grief and generational baggage that King’s book explores.

2) Us (2019, dir. Jordan Peele): Peele continues to impress; this time with a weird take on our hidden selves. Also, the fact that this film gave us the best rendition of “I’ve got 5 on It” will always keep it near and dear to my heart. Related: Squad Talk on Us

1) Midsommar (2019, dir. Ari Aster): A beautiful, haunting and strangely humorous look at grief and moving forward. An amazing sophomore showing from Ari Aster. ALL HAIL THE MAY QUEEN. Related: Squad Talk on Midsommar

Parasite

Gina Freitag (@SmallDarkThings)
Cinephile, writer, horror enthusiast, and curator with The Black Museum in Toronto. She has a background in film studies, and loves tea, popcorn, Gillian Anderson, solo walks at night, and collecting small dark things.

10) Midsommar (2019, dir. Ari Aster): Another unflinching cult narrative from Aster, again favouring the portrayal of grief, and using a weighty, chilling opening sequence to anchor the rest of the film. Related: Squad Talk on Midsommar

9) Bit (2019, dir. Brad Michael Elmore): A refreshing take on the urban vampire narrative showcasing fantastic cinematography and threading in themes of sisterhood, identity, feminism, and power.

8) The Lighthouse (2019, dir. Robert Eggers): I’m a sucker for slow-burners and symbolism, so much so that I caught this cabin-feverish, dialogue-intensive study of these two men’s descent into madness twice in theatres.

7) Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019, dir. Xavier Burgin): I’ll echo many other voices in recommending this sorely needed documentary on black representation in the horror genre – lots of thought-provoking insights that should not to be missed.

6) Ready or Not (2019, dirs. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett): A stand-out horror-comedy romp with a great cast and an interesting gameplay analogy that looks at the dynamics, strategy, and challenging of family legacy.

Sweetheart

5) Sweetheart (2019, dir. J.D. Dillard): An excellent entry into the survival film subgenre, one that also handles the creature feature elements really well and provides its protagonist the space to develop characterization without over telling or over showing.

4) Us (2019, dir. Jordan Peele): Peele returns with another dark social commentary, intertwined with the doppelganger concept and featuring especially strong performances from Lupita Nyong’o and Elizabeth Moss. Loved the nightmarish imagery and settings, too. Related: Squad Talk on Us

3) The Perfection (2019, dir. Richard Shepard): A disturbing rumination on the impact of devotion to flawless excellence, with solid performances and some intriguing elements of misdirection.

2) Tigers Are Not Afraid ((2019, dir. Issa López): Loved this really rich, haunting, fantastical orphan’s tale set amidst Mexico’s drug war, and can’t wait to see what Issa López does next.

1) Parasite (2019, dir. Bong Joon Ho): A brilliant and unsettling allegory about class, appearances, manipulation, and the burden of dreams of prosperity.

Honourable Mention: Doctor Sleep

Knife + Heart

Joe Lipsett (@bstolemyremote)
Writer, editor and promotions manager for Anatomy of a Scream & Grim Magazine; Podcaster: Horror Queers

10) The Nightingale (2019, dir. Jennifer Kent): Aussie director Kent’s sophomore effort is one of the hardest watches of the year (three rapes in 20 minutes – ugh), but the film is gorgeous and the lead performance by Aisling Franciosi is faultless. Too few checked this out and that needs to be rectified ASAP.

9) Daniel Isn’t Real (2019, dir. Adam Egypt Mortimer): Imaginary friends are experiencing a comeback right now. Egypt Mortimer’s film is equal parts captivating body horror flick and homage to the horror films that have influenced him (including my beloved Hellraiser 2!). The result is mind-bending with just a hint of sublime queerness.

8) Us (2019, dir. Jordan Peele): Peele’s second film doesn’t pack the same punch as Get Out, mostly because he’s doing something completely different. Us is a riskier, more polarizing film because Peele refuses to play it safe and it’s one of two films that I regularly think back on because it is captivating. Come for dual Lupitas, stay for unhinged Elisabeth Moss. Related: Squad Talk on Us

7) The Lighthouse (2019, dir. Robert Eggers): Robert Eggers’ moody, surreal treatise on two men slowly going mad while trapped manning the lighthouse on a tiny island is weird, gripping and exquisite. Pattinson and Dafoe give award-worthy performances, but the inky blackness of the cinematography is what makes this film stand out.

6) Gwen (2018, dir.  William McGregor): The lowest profile entry on my list is the one that deserves the most attention. A British, horror adjacent film about misogyny and poverty, this gem about a young girl forced to assume responsibility of her family’s farm while warding off her psychotic mother and the capitalist townspeople is gorgeous, powerful and frequently terrifying. If you liked The Witch, seek out Gwen immediately.

Little Monsters Still

5) Little Monsters (2019, dir. Abe Forsythe): Horror comedies are notoriously hard to pull off, but this Lupita charmer is a sheer delight. I’ve come to dislike zombie movies after the glut of bad entries the last few years, and while Little Monsters isn’t doing much new, it is fun, funny and it has Lupita going off on zombies, which I appreciate.

4) Midsommar (2019, dir. Ari Aster): The year’s biggest “happy/sad” film is the second film that I routinely think of. Aster has woven in so many layers and the production design is flawless, but really, this is all about Florence Pugh’s amazing performance. Related: Squad Talk on Midsommar

3) Tie: 47 Meters Down Uncaged (2019, dir. Johannes Roberts) / Crawl (2019, dir. Alexander Aja) / The Pool (2018, dir. Ping Lumpraploeng): A cheat? Absolutely, but I refuse to let three great Aquatic Horror titles go unacknowledged. Great scares and dumb fun, these three were my best theatrical experiences of 2019.

2) The Perfection (2019, dir. Richard Shepard): The most insane horror film of 2019 is basically eight films in one, and yet somehow it totally works. Browning and Williams make for a compelling pair and the film has some of the most gonzo imagery of any film of the year.

1) Knife+Heart (2019, dir. Yann Gonzalez): An entirely queer-centric giallo-esque film? It could only be made by French auteur Yann Gonzalez. This moody, odd, gorgeous film completely captured my heart and blazed a daring new path for queer horror.

Honourable Mentions: Ready or Not, Head Count, In Fabric, Tigers Are Not Afraid, Pledge

Midsommar 3

Valeska Griffiths (@bitchcraftTO)
Founder and editor of Anatomy of a Scream; Founder and executive editor of Grim Magazine

10. Sweetheart (2019, dir. J.D. Dillard): A stripped-down monster movie with a potent message about misogyny and emotional abuse, this gorgeously-shot beachside romp foregoes unnecessary exposition, serving as a highly compelling near-silent film throughout its first act.

9. The Perfection (2019, dir. Richard Shepard): As polarizing as it is ambitious, this film sparked strong opinions on both ends of the spectrum this year. While I understand the arguments against the exploitative elements of the film, I was still deeply invested in the lesbian love story at the heart and enjoyed its unusual narrative devices. I’ll forgive a lot in exchange for decent queer representation, especially if it involves actors like Logan Browning and Allison Williams.

8. Tigers Are Not Afraid (2019, dir. Issa López): Admittedly, I am fudging this one a bit, as technically its initial release (in Mexico) occurred in 2017. But its wide North American release happened this year, and as I didn’t write a top ten for 2018 (after its North American festival run), I wanted to include it here. It is a stunningly beautiful piece of gritty fantasy, very much in the vein of del Toro, and I highly recommend seeking it out.

7. Extra Ordinary (2019, dirs. Mike Ahern & Enda Loughman): A sweet supernatural romantic-comedy out of Ireland, Extra Ordinary is both effervescent and utterly charming, tugging at the heartstrings as deftly as it elicits irrepressible chuckles. I defy any viewer not to fall in love with or root for Maeve Higgins’s Rose, a driving instructor with unappreciated paranormal gifts.

6. Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019, dir. Xavier Burgin): I wouldn’t normally include a documentary on a top ten list, but Horror Noire is an important and necessary achievement. With its engaging and entertaining format, deep exploration into the subject matter, and beloved talking heads, the film offers both an education and a stronger appreciation for the struggle for representation.

The Lodge

5. The Lodge (2019, dirs. Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz): Bleak, cruel, cold, and utterly hopeless. Yet, I love it. What does that say about me? Leave your theories in the comments.

4. The Lighthouse (2019, dir. Robert Eggers): Horror? Black comedy? Failed romance? PSA for sea bird rights? The Lighthouse is a consummately singular experience, no matter how you want to classify it. Featuring some of the most striking and memorable cinematography of the year and extraordinary performances, the film may not be for everyone. But those who appreciate it are unlikely to forget it quickly.

3. Doctor Sleep (2019, dir. Mike Flanagan): Flanagan has long been one of my favourite directors. From Absentia to Doctor Sleep, his filmography reflects his deep talent in extracting exquisitely human stories out of horrific (and most often supernatural) circumstances. No one could have made this film but Flanagan. It is the perfect bridge between King and Kubrick, while remaining unmistakably the work of the auteur.

2. Us (2019, dir. Jordan Peele): The film that launched a thousand think pieces. Even more richly embedded with symbolism and references than 2018’s Get Out, Us is a confident, cerebral, and visually arresting piece of modern folklore that achieves a perfect balance of levity and horror. Jordan Peele can do no wrong—give him the keys to Hollywood. Related: Squad Talk on Us

1. Midsommar (2019, dir. Ari Aster): What can I possibly say that I haven’t already yelled in the face of literally everyone I know, horror fan or not? This is a masterpiece. Florence Pugh is a queen. All hail Aster. Related: Squad Talk on Midsommar

Honourable Mentions:

  • Black Christmas (2019, dir. Sophia Takal) The Ghostbusters (2016) of 2019, this remake of the 1974 proto-slasher triggered the red-pilled masses and sparked a number of conversations (many toxic, some not). While not a perfect film, its non-horror sequences provide strong depictions of the effects of rape culture on survivors.
  • Z (2019, dir. Brandon Christensen): An indie film about a child’s imaginary friend that takes a hard left turn and becomes something a little unexpected. While it does rely on a few well-worn genre tropes, it employs them competently and there are some shocking visual sequences that elicited gasps from me.

Want to know what to watch out for next year?

  • Gina: Saint Maud, The Lodge
  • Joe: Saint Maud, The Platform, Sea Fever, 1Br
  • Valeska: The Lodge, Invisible Man, Antlers

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