Heading into this year, horror fans were looking forward to celebrating a tremendous slate of new releases in some of the genre's most iconic properties. Whether it be Spiral: From the Book of Saw or Candyman or Halloween Kills or A Quiet Place Part II or The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, no matter what your interests might be, 2020 was set to bring back a number of beloved franchises. The world had other plans for audiences this year, with a majority of the year's most anticipated titles delayed to sometime next year, all while audiences felt like they were living in their own personal horror movie.
Despite the number of disappointing delays, the horror genre still delivered audiences a number of compelling experiences, with fans turning towards more independent fare and discovering unconventional experiences that were immensely unsettling. The wait for those horror blockbusters might have gotten longer, but these films more than made up for the delays.
Scroll down to see our picks for 10 of the best horror films of the year!
Color Out of Space
After a mysterious object crashes near a family's farm, a mysterious and dense fog containing nearly indescribable and unnatural colors spreads around their home, with the fog itself containing bizarre beings and igniting mutations in organisms it comes into contact with.
Part of what draws fans to the works of H.P. Lovecraft is the ways in which he can conjure solely with his language an atmosphere that can't be captured in any other medium, with Color Out of Space arguably being the most effective adaptation of Lovecraft's ideas. Director Richard Stanley manages to not only convey a cosmic and otherworldly threat, but does so without his ambitions ever overreaching his capabilities. The result is an experience that can be both appreciated as an isolated instance of paranoia and also as one that honors the massive scale of Lovecraft's cosmic creations.prevnext
Married refugees from South Sudan move into a decrepit house provided to them by the British government, as their hopes of starting a new life are somewhat dashed, due to the crumbling nature of their shelter. Poor living conditions aren't the only things the couple has to deal with, as they begin to be terrorized by spirits, forcing them to confront real-world trauma.
Finding the right balance between real-life horrors and those of a more otherworldly nature can be a difficult task, but it's one writer/director Remi Weekes expertly navigates. Despite the ways in which it deals with some truly tragic, grounded concepts of grief and racism, Weekes never shies away from delivering massive, traditional scares, thanks to the compelling staging of such sequences. Using spirits to represent inner emotional turmoil can be obvious and heavy-handed, though His House manages to be startlingly effective in how it handles a manner of horrors.prevnext
In hopes of staving off boredom during their quarantine, a group of friends participates in a virtual séance on Zoom, which brings with it some unintended and very real consequences.
Shortly after the pandemic started, the go-to method of communication for many was videoconferencing, to the point that it became cliché and obvious to make jokes about Zoom on social media. In this regard, Host was primed to be nothing more than a gimmick, only for the filmmakers to deliver a truly frightening experience, made all the more effective given the constraints in which it had to be filmed.
Rather than being a film that only accomplished its successes under the caveats of its limitations, director Rob Savage used these unique situations to orchestrate some of the year's best scares, made all the more unsettling when viewers attempted to comprehend how they were pulled off, in addition to being given a narrative that would have likely been just as compelling without social-distancing precautions.prevnext
A skilled assassin uses the technology at her disposal to inject her consciousness into someone else's body in hopes of pulling off a hit she was hired to do, only for the host body to begin to reject her control and present a number of complications to both identities.
Filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg delivered some of the year's most graphic and effective sequences of violence, wholly earning the "Uncut" moniker for Possessor. Far more than being just an excuse to deliver special effects, the noirish thriller also offered a gritty and grimy vision of the not-too-distant future, in addition to offering layered and complex performances, leading towards an unexpectedly depressing finale.prevnext
Promising Young Woman
A former medical student abandons her education and any meaningful human connections to instead commit her nightlife to feigning intoxication, allowing "nice" guys to assist her out of bars, only to confront them verbally and physically when it's clear they have no care for consent. When a figure from her past presents an opportunity to explore a meaningful romantic connection, she grapples with abandoning her ideals to potentially deviate from her plots of revenge.
Vengeance has motivated a number of characters in a number of films to carry out all manner of murder, with Promising Young Woman managing to not only feature an immensely fulfilling and unexpected narrative, but also one that speaks more towards an entire culture of abuse and entitlement, wrapped up in a package that is as nuanced and joyful as it is grim and twisted. The partnership between writer/director Emerald Fennell and star Carey Mulligan has us hoping for many more collaborations in the future.prevnext
While it isn't always a supernatural experience, growing older is something that is baked into what it means to be alive. When a daughter goes to check on her elderly mother, who lives in the country and has had bouts of dementia, she begins to wonder if the bizarre experiences her mother claims to be having are really birthed from her decaying mind or if there's some truth to her claims.
Horror films often help audiences confront their own mortality, though Relic manages to force a confrontation with much deeper feelings. Not only does director Natalie Erika James offer more traditional threats in the form of things going bump in the night, it also makes us confront the ways in which our entire perception of reality changes as we begin to approach our own end, as well as the ways in which we physically attempt to hide reminders of death, despite it always catching up with us.prevnext
The Beach House
After a young couple arrives at their family's beach house, they learn that they aren't the only visitors at the locale, with a pair of family friends also hoping to relax by the ocean. As the quartet trade stories about their lives, a strange fog wafts in from the ocean, bringing with it even more unexpected experiences.
The feature-film debut of writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown, The Beach House will delight fans of aquatic horrors, a specific subgenre that has largely been ignored in recent years and saw an unexpected surge in 2020, with films like Sea Fever and Underwater also turning towards the aquatic depths for unsettling adventures. While this might have been the year for aquatic horror, The Beach House stands out from the pack thanks to its contained nature, drug-induced paranoia, and subtle yet effective special effects, which will surely make audiences rethink their next oceanic vacation.prevnext
The Dark and the Wicked
With their father being terminally ill on their family farm, two distanced siblings reunite to help their mother during a difficult time. The father isn't the only one knocking on death's door, as their mother also exhibits bizarre behavior, hinting that something even more sinister has come to their farm.
Films like The Strangers and The Monster proved that writer/director Bryan Bertino manages to tap into a specific sense of tension and unease before launching into more extreme situations, with The Dark and the Wicked being no exception. The filmmaker once again crafts a uniquely anxiety-riddled atmosphere that doesn't rely on supernatural events to fully get under our skin, with those events only heightening the latent tension to elevate the effectiveness of the macabre mystery to new levels.prevnext
The Invisible Man
A reinvention of the classic Universal Monsters story, rather than exploring what happens to a man's psyche after he renders himself invisible, we see the ways in which a man uses technology to fake his own death merely to terrorize his ex-girlfriend who he had been emotionally abusing and gaslighting.
One of the few horror films to land in theaters before the pandemic, the film is, by default, one of the most financially successful, but it's also one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. Writer/director Leigh Whannell found a clever way to offer a more timely take on the premise than any of its predecessors, all while using sound design and negative space to masterfully orchestrate startling sequences, made all the more effective thanks to Elisabeth Moss's performance.prevnext
In hopes of his kids warming up to his new girlfriend, a father brings them all to a snowy cabin for the holidays, only for him to get called away on business. During his absence, a series of unexpected complications arise, from losing power to items vanishing, leading the woman to wonder if she is being taunted by the children or if something even more bizarre is unfolding.
As evidenced by their breakout hit Goodnight Mommy, writing/directing duo Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala refuse to ever let their audiences feel safe, making viewers feel as tortured as the on-screen characters. Throughout the entire experience, viewers won't know what to believe from one moment to the next, leaving us guessing up until the very end. In more ways than one, The Lodge is one of the most chilling experiences of the year.
What were your favorite horror films of the year? Let us know in the comments below or contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter to talk all things horror and Star Wars!prev