We are only a couple of days into 2020 and the team here at Nightmarish Conjurings is still reeling from all of the different horror films released in 2019. There was just so much produced in terms of quality and quantity released last year that it was difficult to narrow down our selections for our top 10 picks list. Whether it was the cathartic release of grief or a brutally honest lens cast over the Mexican Drug War, the following 10 films range from indie favorites to major studio blockbuster releases.
While there are many that did not make the top 10 list (I’m sorry, CRAWL), we would be remiss if we didn’t mention how immensely hard it was for us to narrow this down. 2019 was a knockout year for horror. With all of this being said, take a gander at our list below and let us know if your favorites made the cut.
Director: Ari Aster
“Hereditary is a film that means the world to me in terms of working through grief but MIDSOMMAR is a reminder that I can free myself from the pain of past relationships. In all, Ari Aster has cemented himself as one of the best genre directors out there and he doesn’t disappoint with his sophomore film. It may have its flaws, as all films do, but there isn’t any other director out there taking risks such as this while exposing their own turmoil as a way to work through their heartache and I applaud him for that. MIDSOMMAR is truly a masterful work of art that only comes around every 90 years or so and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to witness it.” – Shannon McGrew
Director: Jordan Peele
Stars: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss
Synopsis: A family’s serene beach vacation turns to chaos when their doppelgängers appear and begin to terrorize them.
“Maybe an obvious choice for my horror movie of the year but Jordan Peele somehow followed up Get Out with an even better movie and for me at least, just edging out Midsommar as the horror highlight of 2019. It twists and turns throughout. [It] is, at times, brutally violent, has an unreal score, and a number of excellent performances. None of which are better than Lupita Nyong’o who puts in the best performance of, perhaps, the last ten years.” – Alain Elliott
TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID
Director: Issa López
Stars: Paola Lara, Juan Ramón López, Ianis Guerrero, Rodrigo Cortes, Hanssel Casillas, Nery Arredondo, and Tenoch Huerta.
Synopsis: A haunting horror fairytale set against the backdrop of Mexico’s devastating drug wars, TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID follows a group of orphaned children armed with three magical wishes, running from the ghosts that haunt them and the cartel that murdered their parents.
“Having grown up in a time where the true power of fairytales has been diluted down to corporate animated fantasies of another kind, there is a refreshingly terrifying feeling of awe in seeing the depths and darkness of fairytales explored onscreen by director and writer Issa López. The film’s story is reminiscent of a time when we had to teach children in less painfully real ways what the world can actually be like. And, more importantly, these lessons we taught always pondered on the grey areas within the realm of fairy tales, grey areas that aren’t generally explored nowadays.” – Sarah Musnicky
Director: Robert Eggers
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe
Synopsis: Two lighthouse keepers try to maintain their sanity while living on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.
“No one expected Robert Eggers to follow up his austere, runaway indie horror hit THE WITCH with something so terribly and delightfully whack. To have experienced THE LIGHTHOUSE on the big screen was to sip from a radically cinematic cup that tastes of the forbidden fruit in the modern movie era. A tremendous, tightly-framed gonzo black-and-white nautical terror-ride starring two of our most underrated and fascinating living actors, THE LIGHTHOUSE is a masterful execution of psychological viscera that must be seen to be believed. It’s off-putting, stifling, beautiful, beguiling, poetic, blunt, and hilarious all at once. Honestly, has there ever been a better movie that opens with a fart joke?” – Andy Andersen
READY OR NOT
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Stars: Samara Weaving, Mark O’Brien, Adam Brody
Synopsis: A bride’s wedding night takes a sinister turn when her eccentric new in-laws force her to take part in a terrifying game.
“Equal parts horror and black comedy, READY OR NOT is a thrilling cat-and-mouse film set in the dramatic backdrop of a dark and dreary manor. Like the best genre films, it’s loaded with subtle political and social commentary, expertly buried within a morbid survival-horror story. An emotionally-charged performance by Samara Weaving, and a hilarious supporting cast help to make this one of the most original and entertaining films of the year. It’s bloody, intense, and charmingly funny all at once, and I can’t recommend it enough.” – Connor Strader
Director: A.T. White
Stars: Virginia Gardner, Christina Masterson
Synopsis: A unique, intimate portrayal of a girl grieving for the loss of her best friend, which just so happens to take place on the day the world ends.
“STARFISH is visually stunning, Lovecraftian journey into grief, monsters, mixtapes, and one girl’s desperate attempt to save the world as she knows it.” – Michelle Swope
Director: Gaspar Noé
Stars: Sofia Boutella
Synopsis: French dancers gather in a remote, empty school building to rehearse on a wintry night. The all-night celebration morphs into a hallucinatory nightmare when they learn their sangria is laced with LSD.
“Combining a fiendishly simple premise, exceptional choreography, and his signature use of gravity-defying camerawork, CLIMAX is perhaps Gaspar Noé’s most accessible and cohesive film to date. Equal parts jaw-dropping and anxiety-inducing, it is an unforgettable and utterly cinematic bad trip.” – Tom Milligan
Director: Dan Gilroy
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, John Malkovich, Zawe Ashton
Synopsis: A satire set in the contemporary art world scene of Los Angeles, where big money artists and mega-collectors pay a high price when art collides with commerce.
“Released on Netflix back in January, VELVET BUZZSAW seemed to come and go with little fanfare. It’s one of the most criminally overlooked and certainly finest horror movies of the year. Writer/director Dan Gilroy fuses the hyper-stylized, supernatural proto-slasher revelry of Mario Bava with his own propulsively modern flare — filling his satirical LA-artworld setting with a pitch perfect cast of deliciously vapid characters to weave a timely yarn about art, commerce, and the self-sabotage of wealth, fame, and capitalism. Netflix-and-chill this shit if you haven’t already.” – Andy Andersen
KNIFE + HEART
Director: Yann Gonzalez
Stars: Vanessa Paradis, Nicolas Maury, Kate Moran
Synopsis: Paris, summer 1979. Anne is a producer of cheap gay porn. When Lois, her editor and companion, leaves her, she attempts to get her back by making a more ambitious film with the flamboyant Archibald.
“Horror has always been a queer art form. Feeling like ‘the other,’ misunderstood, or even monstrous has long been a part of the queer experience. And yet, even in 2019 LGBTQ+ characters are woefully underrepresented in horror. KNIFE + HEART is a gorgeous take on the classic giallo featuring a full cast of queer characters, but it doesn’t stop there. With a riveting story, a terrifying killer, and stellar acting, this film will grip you in its embrace from the very first frame.” – Adrienne Clark
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis
Synopsis: Adaptation of Stephen King’s 2013 sequel to The Shining: A man who suffered a paranormal trauma as a child helps a gifted girl fight a clan of supernatural child-killers.
“Locked box ghosts, energy-sucking demons and women who torture children — DOCTOR SLEEP is a fascinating conclusion to The Overlook Hotel and the evil that lurked there. It mixes the past with the present with striking visuals such as grown-up Danny holding an ax waiting for Rose The Hat, The Queen Bitch of Castle Hell. Rebecca Ferguson does an incredible job playing a monster masked as a Hot Yoga Mom. Flanagan, who wrote, directed and edited the sequel, deserves so much regard for his emotionally discerning adaptation of Stephen King’s novel.” – Tiffany Aleman