In general, the horror genre is one that garners an audience while also being viewed as flawed from the critic’s perspective. 2019 has seen quite a few horror films prosper from the critical stance, however. They have both come in the form of arthouse, independent films and those that appeal to a wider audience. In essence, 2019 has been a successful year for the genre and this list will highlight exactly how.
The second full-length offering of Ari Aster provides a stark contrast to his initial entry. He has designed an unnerving folk horror picture that will be etched into the collective mind of each audience that views it. Midsommar is a revamped Wicker Man akin to Hereditary’s rethinking of Rosemary’s Baby.
The film is centered around Dani (Florence Pugh), an American psychology grad student, and Christian (Jack Reynor), her aloof boyfriend who reluctantly invites her on a trip to Sweden with his group of friends. The unsettling panorama of an illuminated Swedish landscape elevates the sinister underpinnings of Hagra. This meticulously paced, ornately floral film slowly builds anxiety until it froths into brutally blatant self-realization for the principal characters and the audience alike. The largest element that allows such underlying anxiety to meld with this lush setting is the mesmerizing score and the stirring camerawork.
As with most films that strive to be more than the standard horror film, Midsommar was massively divisive. Critically it was not as adored as Hereditary was, however, it was highly thought of as is seen in its Rotten Tomatoes score of 83%. As ever, this A24 picture is not for everyone and the standard viewer might be thoroughly perplexed by it.
Yet, one who is invested in the folk horror sub-genre and does not mind a filmmaker taking liberties will certainly find some value in this film. Midsommar is not as entertaining or as complete of a film as Hereditary, it has clear pacing issues, and as a whole seems a bit derivative. Despite all of this, it is simply one of the most daring, compelling, and well-reviewed horror films of the year.
This film delivers an updated take on Mary Shelley’s classic tale of Frankenstein’s monster. It is uniquely modernized for a present-day viewing audience, retaining the tale’s evergreen moral themes as well as introducing fresh themes ripely accessible for the modern viewer. Depraved truly personified its name by observing unnatural and unthinkable acts as a means to explore the moral code of the modern person.
Director, Larry Fessenden rethought this classic cinematic monster by incorporating him into a world that is implicitly familiar to its audience. In short, a disenchanted army field surgeon- who encounters a fair amount of death and gore daily- creates a human being from an assortment of body parts. Through his experience the man has suffered quite a great deal, watching his close friends suffer and die all the while being powerless to save them. Thus PTSD resultantly develops and it provides a great deal of the motivation that drives his actions throughout the film.
Critics have raved about this film’s ability to revitalize the classic tale, while also implementing the exact essence that made the original film so chilling. It is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with an 87%, yet has been divisive from an audience perspective due to the introspective nature of it as a whole. IFC films are not always adored by standard audiences, therefore anyone who attempts to watch Depraved must not enter the film expecting great scares. Rather he or she should expect a thoughtful take on a classic story with enough chills to establish its atmosphere.
German filmmaker, Tilman Singer wrote and directed Luz, a distinct film that centers around a young woman who is haunted by a demonic apparition. It has earned a deal of critical acclaim due to its avoidance of the common horror tropes that this type of film is usually riddled with.
It is surely an atmospheric picture above all else and will haunt its audience with simplistic scares- avoiding overuse of jump scares or an abundance of CGI. This approach is much more rewarding to its audience because it does not rely on cheap scares, but rather builds a terrifying atmosphere born from the environment that is slowly and methodically established.
This German film is mostly criticized for its oversaturation and lacking substance in parts, however, its ending has been proclaimed to pack a punch. Luz too is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes at 85% and is a good source of a few scares. It is unlikely to be in anyone’s most riveting horror films of the year, yet its creativity and lack of complacency rank it among the most well-reviewed in this genre for 2019.
4. The Wind
A feature of many of the films on this list is an initial release in 2018 before its actual appearance on screens in 2019, such is the case for The Wind. This film tells the tale of Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard), who has settled upon the remote western frontier in 19th century America. She and her husband are therefore forced to encounter a supernatural presence, seemingly originating from their very own land. Their isolation as well as the constant, almost ceaseless, whipping of the wind, forces the young woman to dread a sinister presence, while her husband is not so willing to accept this explanation. The main force that propels the film forward is the arrival of a young couple on the adjacent homestead, allowing a winding sequence of events to unfold.
A movie such as this evokes fear in the audience since isolation can truly manipulate one’s mind. Separation from people can be a godsend for some or pure and utter torture for others. It allows tricks to be played on one’s mind and therefore he or she might very well be willing to believe just about anything. Therefore the supernatural always seems plausible in films such as this. There are always able to sustain their grounded veneer without going too far for scares because the human mind is a powerful thing. The Wind is another simple, yet well-thought-out ghost story that is sure to satisfy audiences as it has critics.
Jordan Peele’s horror hit, Get Out, saw a soaring rise upon its release, which carried the film to four Oscar nominations, including a victory in original screenplay for Peele. Get Out was widely deemed as culturally relevant due to its scathing social commentary. Similarly, his second feature film, Us, features a number of the precedents set by Get Out, including critical favor.
While Get Out focuses on race, Us has clear commentary on American social issues while also incorporating racial themes, as in the U.S. social and racial issues are thoroughly intertwined. Without spoiling anything, Peele’s most recent film is strictly organized in a way that the characters interact with the larger themes of the film. Peele is attempting to grapple with sizeable ideas in a sometimes abstract way, therefore the characters are inherently caught up in the whirlwind of these ideas as well.
A striking score, as seen in the trailer, permeates the entire film and whether or not each viewer looks upon it favorably, it will assuredly ellicit some form of a response. Whether it received positive or negative reviews, nearly every critic seems to agree that Lupita Nyong’o proves to be a formidable lead. The comedy might not live up to Get Out’s standard, as the main source of comedy- Tim Heidecker- occupies a very minimal role that spans about two scenes. Yet, one must realize that this is a strictly different film, therefore no one should enter this film expecting another Get Out.
While the plot may become bogged down and convoluted at parts, Us is an audacious attempt of a filmmaker to convey a personal message through his art. Peele could have easily been complacent and not taken up a new challenge, yet he was not and that is admirable.