10 Best Horror Movies of 2019 - Rolling Stone
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10 Best Horror Movies of 2019

From deadly doppelgangers to haunted dresses and summer festivals gone horribly wrong — our Top 10 scary-movie picks for the year

Rolling Stone's 10 Best Horror Movies of 2019 (clockwise from top: 'The Lighthouse, 'In Fabric,' 'Us').

Clockwise from top left: A24, 2; Claudette Barius/Universal Studios

When you dredge up and/or tap into collective nightmares for the screen, how do you compete with the real-life terrors going on past the theater’s walls? For the horror movies of 2019, the answer was: You don’t. With one extremely notable exception, the best the genre had to offer this year didn’t try to conjure up specific issues or examples of The Fucked-Up World We Live In Today; instead, the class of ’19 channeled the kind of free-floating anxiety and center-can’t hold dread that characterizes what it’s like to log on or look outside your window.

And while there were some decent franchise sequels (Annabelle Comes Home) and the now-requisite Stephen King adaptations — from Pet Sematary and the superior, if still kinda lackluster It: Chapter Two to the Kubrick cosplay of Mike Flanagan’s admirable Doctor Sleep — 2019 will mostly be remembered as the year that the recently crowned “next wave” names of horror beat the sophomore slump. Jordan Peele, Ari Aster and Robert Eggers all delivered solid second movies and confirmed their staying power (as did The Babadook‘s Jennifer Kent, who stellar revenge movie The Nightingale is required viewing regardless of what genre you’d categorize it as). A host of next-gen writer-directors also stepped in to fill in the gap as well. There’s the sense that we’re about to see a whole lot of fresh blood start to spill some fresh blood at the movies.

Here are extremely subjective picks for the 10 best horror movies of the year. Shout-outs as well to Japan’s ingeniously meta One Cut of the Dead; I Trapped the Devil, the impressive debut of filmmaker Josh Lobo; Larry Fessenden’s riff on the Frankenstein legend, Depraved; and the goopy, giddy take on the popular YA-lit series Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Luz

Screen Media Films

10

‘Luz’

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A woman (Julia Riedler) walks into a bar. She chats up a handsome psychologist and coaxes him into the bathroom, where she seems to transfer some sort of glowing demonic soul into his mouth. If you’re wondering what that has to do with the film’s title character, a Chilean woman (Luana Velis) who’s screaming a foul-mouthed version of the Lord’s Prayer in a police station, don’t worry — you’ll get your answer soon enough, sort of. Originally designed as a film-school project, German writer-director Tilman Singer’s debut starts off as psychosexual religio-horror and then proceeds to blast itself into some truly mesmerizing, messed-up places. Bonus points for excellent use of shadows, fog and beaucoup dry ice.

The Perfection

Courtesy of Netflix

9

‘The Perfection’

Once upon a time, Charlotte (Get Out‘s Allison Williams) was a world-class cellist. Then she had to quit under semi-mysterious circumstances. Years later, she meets Lizzie (Logan Browning), the young musical prodigy who took her place and became a star. The two become friendly, and then, on a bus trip to a gig, one of them starts seeing bugs crawling under their skin and vomits up maggot-ridden goo. Cleavers, amputations, and insanity play into the mix, before things go from Black Swan to full-on batshit crazy. A revenge thriller spiced with slasher-horror elements and served bloody rare, it’s the type of modern exploitation movie that uses a high-gloss surface to hide some gloriously hideous, gutter-level notions about humanity. See it with someone you loathe.

Knife + Heart

Memento Films Distribution

8

‘Knife + Heart’

Who’s the man in the black leather bondage mask, methodically killing the actors in Vanessa Paradis’s Parisian gay-porn production company circa the late ’70s? And is her new magnum opus based on these same murders helping to further inspire his homicidal depravity? Director/cowriter Yann Gonzalez’s throwback is a dual tribute to old-school slashers and vintage sleaze, complete with Cruising nods and the creative use of a stiletto-dildo. It wears its sense of stylish luridness like a badge of pride, along with an affection for a bygone era of queer underground culture and queer art. Even when the proceedings starts to veer into the surreal, this wonderfully smutty horror flick is still lean, mean and cuts like a you-know-what.

THE LIGHTHOUSE

Eric Chakeen/A24 Pictures

7

‘The Lighthouse’

Robert Eggers’ follow-up to The Witch continues his streak of mining the past for meticulous, psychological dread, chronicling how two isolated lighthouse keepers — a veteran salty dog (Willem Dafoe, killing it) and his young apprentice (Robert Pattinson) — slowly succumb to personal meltdowns and a collective madness. Both actors know when to make their silence speak volumes and when to turn things up to a level of high camp; Dafoe’s drunken, spleen-venting request that Triton curse his companion may be the most delirious three minutes of moviemaking that 2019 had to offer. And for viewers that like their horror in a slightly more traditional vein, Eggers throws in some Lovecraftian tentacles, predatory mermaids and a nod to Hitchcock’s The Birds to appease them as well. Consider your timbers shivered.

Courtesy A24

6

‘Climax’

Forget entering the void — welcome to the abyss. Gaspar Noe’s dance party in hell starts off innocently enough, with Sofia Boutella and a host of real-life underground scenesters voguing and krumping up a storm. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that somebody has spiked their punch with some powerful hallucinogens…and that’s when the screaming (and paranoia, depravity, beatings, and extreme self-harm) starts. The entire second half devolves into a portrait of mass derangement, based on a real-life incident in which a dance troupe went off the rails after being dosed. Noe had set out to make a doc about that story, before pivoting to an attempt to recreate one very bad trip sans the drugs. He succeeds. It’s Busby Berkeley by way of Hieronymus Bosch.

'Crawl' Film - 2019
5

‘Crawl’

In the grand tradition of Jaws homages, Alexandre Aja’s survivalist horror flick pits a University of Florida swimmer (Kaya Scodelario, a great scream-queen-in-training) and her dad (Barry Pepper) against Mother Nature’s little chompers — in this case, massive alligators straight outta the sunshine state’s swamplands. This isn’t the first time the French director has made magic out of toothy underwater carnivores (he’s the same guy who turned the 2010 remake of Piranha into a Grand Guignol gorefest). But this time, he trades in a sense of Caro-syrup camp for straight-up carnage, especially once it settles into hunter-vs-hunted third act. Like the apex predators slithering at the center of it all, Crawl gets the job done once it lets its most brutal, primal instincts take over.

In Fabric

A24

4

‘In Fabric’

One haunted dress, two customers, a half dozen witches and an unlimited amount of fetishistic perversity — why yes, it is a Peter Strickland movie! The British filmmaker who gave the world The Duke of Burgundy continues to excavate the darker, danker corners of Eurosploitation cinema with this deus ex sewing machina tale of a possessed garment wreaking supernatural havoc. Few people could get away with making a gliding gown seem so spooky and surreal without feeling kitschy, or turn ridiculously verbose retail-store announcements into something both funny and unnerving. A top-notch Hammer/Amicus homage, a good reminder never to buy clothes from a boutique run by a coven and the haunte couture movie you did not know you needed.

MidSommar

A24

3

‘Midsommar’

How do you follow a dark, shadow-filled fever dream like Hereditary? If you’re Ari Aster, you drag your horror into the light — specifically, a Scandinavian summer festival where the sun hardly sets at all. A group of Americans, including a lone female (viva Florence Pugh!), have come to this far-away, once-in-a-lifetime event to study folkloric customs and mythology; quicker than you can say The Wicker Man, the sense that there’s something wicked happening right below the smiley, happy surface starts to take hold. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better answer film to contemporary toxic masculinity, a bleaker breaking-up-is-hard-to-do parable or a more unnerving look at the rites of spring. Most of all, however, Midsommar is the sort of movie that delights in turning its wheels so slowly that you’re not even sure it’s a horror story…until it confirms that yes, it is, and completely drops the floor out from under you.

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Courtesy Shudder

2

‘Tigers Are Not Afraid’

Cartel-related violence has turned a Mexican city into a virtual ghost town; overnight, a young girl named Estrella (Paola Lora) finds herself orphaned when her mother “disappears.” Out of desperation, she falls in with a roving band of similarly homeless kids, led by a boy named Shine (Juan Ramón López). A stolen cellphone has put all of them in the narco gang’s crosshairs. Luckily, Estrella has spirits of the dead on her side, all of whom would like a word with the men who killed them. An absolutely brilliant, heartbreaking example of how to use horror in the service of chills and social commentary without slighting either, writer-director Issa López’s supernaturally tinged survival tale has attracted its share of attention — Guillermo del Toro is one of its biggest fans and most vocal advocates. But for us, this was the hidden genre gem of 2019, a left-field take on torn-from-today’s-headlines topics that beautifully blends the fantastic and the fatalistic. We can’t wait to see what López does next.

'Us' Film - 2019

Claudette Barius/Universal Studios

1

‘Us’

How did that girl just appear in a funhouse mirror? Why is that guy with the bloody hands standing on the edge of the beach? What’s up with all the scissors? Who, exactly, are the four people in red jumpsuits standing at the end of the driveway — and what do they want with the vacationing Gabe and Adelaide Wilson and their kids? Jordan Peele’s second movie does more than beat the dreaded sophomore slump, or prove that Get Out was not a fluke; it’s a genuinely terrifying tale that doubles down on the old chestnut about how we’ve seen the enemy, and it’s … well, check out the title one more time. The fearsome acting foursome at the center of this tale nail both the average middle-class family under siege and the psychotic dopplegängers who are stalking them, but kudos to Lupita Nyong’o for giving her two best performances to date in one film (and, occasionally, in the same scene). It’s a profound take on our divided nation and the return of the repressed. You will never look at “Hands Across America” the same way again.

In This Article: 2019YearinReview, Horror

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