2019 was the year of horror film that centers social commentary
2019 saw a release of over 30 horror films ranging in all themes and popularity. Our favorite horror films of 2019 cover a lot of this ground. Octavia Spencer, Rebecca Ferguson, Park So Dam, and Florence Pugh are just a few names that dominated the horror genre last year. From indies like In Fabric to blockbusters like Us, our favorites span across an array of themes and storylines. Most of them include actresses who give powerful, nuanced performances along with social commentary on issues such as relationships, capitalism, racial injustice, mental illness, and grief. What 2019 had to offer was a reinvention of the horror genre that sure peaked the interest of fans everywhere to see what more the genre has to offer overall.
Doctor Sleep (2019), dir. Mike Flanagan
Danny Torrence (Ewan Mcgregor) has returned in Doctor Sleep (2019) – a sequel to the 1980 film, The Shining. Based on the eponymous novel by Stephen King, Doctor Sleep follows Danny, a now adult struggling with addiction, depression, PTSD, and on his way through recovery following the horrific events he endured at the Overlook Hotel. As his life is on the mend, Danny finds himself responsible for a young girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) and her safety from the villian Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). The strife between Abra and Rose is an adventurous spectacle of good vs. evil, and they both deliver strong performances of female forces colliding like supernovas leaving damage, emotion, and awe in their wake. At the core of the story is Danny’s recovery through his trauma, and that is where the emotional drive comes from the film, as you watch his soft nature is in a constant battle with his pain. Director Mike Flanagan translated the classic, supernatural story written by King and honored the source material as well as its film predecessor and created his own masterpiece for new generations of horror fans to enjoy.
Ma (2019), dir. Tate Taylor
Octavia Spencer and the creators behind MA brought camp back to horror in 2019. In a time where elevated horror is understandably the most attractive source of fear these days, MA says there’s nothing wrong with having a little fun in the horror scene. Played by Spencer, Ma (aka Sue Ann) is a vet tech who helps a group of teenagers buy alcohol. The following day, Ma invites the group to drink in her basement – a safe environment where they won’t get caught. However, over the course of their visits and parties at Ma’s place, they notice something is wrong with Ma and her intentions. The film’s plot follows unconventionality like many horror films before it; it’s preposterous nature leaves space for you to let go of your reservations and enjoy it for what it is. Tagged along by Spencer’s deranged performance and this film is one of the most enjoyable horror films recently released and so revered by Twitter addicts everywhere that the memes have come through in droves for this movie.
Midsommar (2019), dir. Ari Aster
Speaking of elevated horror, Midsommar (2019) is the magnificently disturbing concoction from the mind of Ari Aster, the man behind Hereditary and The Strange Thing About the Johnson’s, himself. In his sophomore film, Aster decided to tell a break-up story through Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor). After Dani experiences a traumatic event, her boyfriend Christian begrudgingly invites her on a Swedish trip with him and his friends. On that trip, they are introduced to the culture of a small Swedish cult in Halsingland, where the people celebrate midsummer with some horrifying and cryptic traditions. Aster has a talent for intertwining the darkest places of human experiences with supernatural horror, with the horrors of this film lie not only in the murderous, smiling Swedes, but also in the toxicity of Dani’s relationship. The bright setting tied into the film’s plot leaves nothing to hide- everything is in the foresight forcing your eyes upon it. These aspects tied with an Oscar-worthy performance by Pugh makes for a truly terrific horror movie. Pugh’s crying face is more phenomenal than Kim Kardashian’s herself, making way for memes and stickers everywhere.
Ready or Not (2019), dir. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Ready or Not (2019) was released in a time when “Eat the Rich” started to sweep the twitter accounts of people from all nations. The film follows Grace (Samara Weaving) on her wedding day to Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien) and his cold, aristocratic family. On the night after their marriage, the Le Domas family has a tradition where the new inductee of the family must play a random game (whether it be chess or old maid). However, there is one card in the bunch, Hide and Seek, where if you choose that card, the family must hunt you and sacrifice you before sunrise. This dark comedy takes on a journey from the moment the eerie record begins. The slapstick moments of horror tied in with the cut-throat dialogue make this a fun time throughout. Samara Weaving delivers every emotion on point, and she is truly a force to be reckoned with in the horror genre- making herself an already beloved Scream Queen. This film took a comedic approach to the morbid mystery of the 1%, but through its comedy lies a real fear of what lengths people are willing to go to for their money, even when it means devaluing the lives of others.
Us (2019), dir. Jordan Peele
One of the best films released in 2019, Jordan’s Peele Us accomplishes a number of feats in its haunting story. Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family take a trip to her childhood home, where she once experienced a trauma that changed her life. During their trip, masses of underground doppelgangers rise and begin to murder their upper-halves, leaving Adelaide and her family fighting to survive this apocalypse. With Us, Peele has created a slasher horror unlike any other through his use of scissors, rabbits, and creepy red jumpsuits, but where the true mastery lies is in the subtext of this film, where Peele makes a connection between the doppelgangers and privilege. Peele says that privilege is a two-headed coin, and his reflection of that places a mirror to dark, societal realities. Lastly, giving a truly Oscar-worthy performance, revered by critics everywhere, Lupita Nyong’o plays the dual main roles of Red and Adelaide and reminds the fans of what range is.
In Fabric (2019), dir. Peter Strickland
In Fabric is writer and director Peter Strickland’s eerily beautiful horror-comedy about a haunted red dress. The horror of the film, though literally tied to the dress, really comes from the real-life horrors of the fashion industry: unrealistic beauty standards, questionable sales tactics, and the industry’s close relationship to capitalism. The film alternates between the different women and the way the dress torments each in different ways throughout the film. The first owner of the dress is Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), who injures her hand while washing the dress. She returns it and it is passed on to another woman, then another, all while the dress becomes more and more violent, eventually causing death and destruction to many who come into contact with it. The comedic aspects make the film mesh wonderfully with the arthouse horror of the macabre dress store and the fearful encounters each woman has with the dress. In Fabric is a film perfect for lovers of horror-comedy, arthouse, and anyone who has ever worked in fashion retail.
Knife + Heart (2019), dir. Yann Gonzalez
Yann Gonzalez’ film Knife + Heart is a horror-thriller set in the gay porn industry in 1979 shortly after a murderer begins killing off gay men. In the film, the producer Anne (Vanessa Paradis) is distraught after her girlfriend leaves her. To win her back, Anne decides to make a new film with Archibald (Nicolas Maury), but the recent murders of her stars shakes Anne and ultimately pulls her into investigation, turning her life upside down. Knife + Heart uses the visuals of queer art, B-movies, and camp to make a film that feels similar to the cheap pornos made in the film. It’s extremely fun to watch as it’s filled with comedic moments, scary murders, and enticing imagery. The film hits on something rarely addressed in horror films that is a reality for many LGBTQ+ people: the fear of homophobic murderers. Knife + Heart manages to touch on this incredibly serious topic in a way that respects the fears of LGBTQ+ folks while still being an enjoyable watch.
The Lighthouse (2019), dir. Robert Eggers
Robert Egger’s sophomore film The Lighthouse is a gritty tale of two sailors stranded on a small, remote island outside New England during a violent storm with only each other, depleted supplies, and some seagulls as company. The sailors, both named Thomas, are played by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. The film is set in the late nineteenth century and was shot in black and white, making the film visually match the classic sailor’s story. The pair slowly go mad as they run out of food to eat, drink heavily, and spend such a large amount of time out of touch with the rest of society. Defoe and Pattinson really lean into their characters as things get out of hand. They get into a heated argument about beans, Pattinson has fantasies about a mermaid, and both have nightmares. The film comes to a head as the two take their frustrations out on each other through violence, giving the film a bleak yet satisfying conclusion.
Under the Silver Lake (2019), dir. David Robert Mitchell
Under the Silver Lake is director David Robert Mitchell’s first film released after It Follows. It Follows was gorgeous, original, and terrifying, and Under the Silver Lake did not disappoint. Under the Silver Lake is much weirder than It Follows, but it has the same distinctive visual style and inventive use of score and sound that set It Follows apart from other horror films. In Under the Silver Lake, Sam (Andrew Garfield) finds himself on a quest to find Sarah (Riley Keough), a woman who disappeared from his apartment complex shortly after the two met. Sam is not in a great place. He’s behind on rent and spends most of his time alone in his apartment, deep in spirals of research on conspiracy theories about hidden messaging in pop culture. Sarah’s disappearance sparks his interest, pushing him to venture outside his home and see the subject of his obsessions play out in front of his eyes. The movie is full of twists and oddities, making for a strangely beautiful film unlike any other.
Parasite (2019), dir. Bong Joon Ho
This list would be incomplete without mentioning Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, winner of over 200 awards worldwide. The South Korean film follows the story of the Kim family as they all become employed by the Park family, a filthy rich family that happens to need a tutor, therapist, maid, and driver. The film’s theme of wealth inequality is ever-present as the differences between the lives of the Kims and the Parks are brought to light. While the Kims live mostly underground and face flooding and cramped quarters, the Parks live in a massive home with a state-of-the-art security system and more food than the family can eat. The Kims charm their way into the lives of the Parks and the consequences eventually become deadly. Parasite is one of the most satisfying, funny, and brilliant horror comedies ever made, with stars Song Kang-Ho, Park So-Dam, Choi Woo-Sik being among the cast members that are delightful and engaging to watch. Parasite has been loved by many already and it’s definitely one you don’t want to miss.