2020’s Horror Movie Guidebook

For many people 2020 will be remembered for being one of the scariest years of their life. Yet when it comes to entertainment, despite witnessing 2020’s roller coaster of real life shocks and tragedies, the horror genre still managed to retain its popularity. Audiences turned to scary movies as though it were an outlet for their fears, watching death unfold as a way to understand and come to terms with the fragility of life. When the initial threat of the pandemic loomed near, a number of people responded by consuming as many disease-related horror films as possible, resulting in a sudden spike of interest in older movies such as Contagion and Outbreak. Even directors weren’t immune to the obsession ­— if they weren’t producing a documentary in lockdown, then it seems they were making a horror, where three of such isolation-inspired creations have made it onto this list.

Say what you will about the genre, but it does appear to serve purpose. It can help brace people for the effects of a pandemic, explore the spiritual battles between good and evil forces, warn society of wrongdoings, and sometimes it’s just the perfect way to illustrate some of the darker, more uncomfortable truths of life. Yet like all things, it can also be corrupted or be genuinely evil. Sometimes horror movies are unnecessarily cruel, exploitative with its violence, or it’s simply creepy how a screenwriter sat and conjured up one callous death after another. Thankfully most films are balanced with a purpose or a thematic message it aimed to explore.

As Christians it can be a difficult field to navigate. Some will object to gratuitous gore, others will struggle with depictions of demonic oppression. Many will loathe the jolt of a jump scare whilst there are viewers that won’t consider a film to be a horror without them. It’s possibly the genre where people are the pickiest with their preferences, and that’s perfectly fine. It just can be daunting to know where to look, hence the creation of this list. It’s even more important in recent times given that the film industry hasn’t been as prominent in the public eye — with cinemas closed, a lot of movies have seemed “hidden” from view. But thanks to having heaps of free time in 2020 (and a slightly unhinged mindset to binge this genre), boy have I got a list for you!

Like 2019, below I have ranked the recently released horror movies I’ve watched from worst to best. Therefore if a film’s not on the list, it means I didn’t get the chance to see it (with Saint Maud possibly being the most critically acclaimed film I wasn’t able to catch). Obviously this is a subjective undertaking; what I might find terrifying or interesting might be considered a bore to another. Hopefully it will at least separate the bombs from the pieces of art. These will be short, relatively spoiler-free reviews, and while I’ll aim to warn readers of their predominant problematic content, expect each film to at least contain some violence, blood, and a bit of language.

To qualify for this list, the film must:

  • Either be a 2020 release or it received its major USA release during the year. The exception to this is Come to Daddy, which I managed to review in 2019’s guidebook; it was more widely released in the USA in 2020, though it won’t be repeated here (but it’s worth a look!).
  • Be classified as a “Horror” on IMDB. This has resulted in a few interesting exclusions (Unhinged, Swallow) and some included below will feel more suited to the drama or thriller genre, but I had to draw the line somewhere.

So without further delay, let’s have a look back at what horrors 2020 had to offer… on film.

So who marked this critter off their 2020 bingo card?

#58. Deadcon

What’s it about? The horrors and isolation of being a social media influencer run rampant when a collection of YouTube and Instagram stars soon discover there are things scarier than thousands of teenagers armed with phones asking for selfies. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Paranormal, Crime, Allegory

Where can you find it? Netflix.

Deadcon opens with an intriguing premise, introducing a character and lore that feels oddly reminiscent of a Five Nights At Freddy’s subplot. So it’s incredibly disappointing when those ideas never come to fruition. Instead, the second and third act feels completely disjointed and largely unrelated to the first. For most of the movie we’re stuck following vapid, narcissistic young adults at a social media convention. There’s a hint of a scathing commentary about the influencer career path, but just like the other ideas that were introduced in the opening few minutes of Deadcon, that too fades away. There’s nothing cohesive regarding the plot. The characters are awful. We feel nothing when they inevitably die. The scares are non-existent and the special effects are terrible. No, this isn’t a “so bad it’s good” flick (that honor goes to Netflix’s Aaviri). It takes a stab at dark comedy but quickly settles into boredom territory and ultimately isn’t worthy of your time.

Who is it for? If you have a dog that gets lonely, then I suppose you can put it on for some background noise.

Watch out for: Boredom. Social media influencers. A character films sexual intercourse without the consent of the other party. Killer balloons (yep). There’s probably a demon or paedophile subplot, but even the director forgot about that.

#57. Mark of the Devil

What’s it about? Karl, a man who suffers a demonic possession, together with Tomás, a priest with addiction problems, embark on a hunt for demons, finding the case of Camila, a girl who attacks her family while controlled by a demon. Karl and Tomás try to save her by starting a battle; Karl has faced many beings from beyond but never one like this. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Demons/Exorcisms. 

Where can you find it? Netflix

If you take a screenwriting class, commonly you’re advised to first create a well-rounded character and then place them in a situation that would present a challenge. Mark of the Devil features an interesting duo; a priest and a demon-possessed exorcist that obviously is an expert in the field given their lived experience. It’s a cool idea. Too bad they forgot to add a plot. The main action is wrapped up in a completely separate family, and it takes forever for the lead characters to interact with the film’s source of conflict. It’s a frustrating watch as the audience sits idly by as these unique characters bide their time until they’re needed for the final showdown (which ends up looking no more spectacular than a high schooler’s final media project).

Who is it for? Unless you’re super geeky for some reason about exorcism films or someone in the cast, this one isn’t worth watching. 

Watch out for: Demons. Corrupt priests. Drug usage.

#56. The Turning

What’s it about? A young governess is hired to look after an orphaned girl, but the return of the girl’s problematic brother uncovers secrets from their past. A modern take on Henry James’ novella “The Turn of the Screw.” (IMDB)

Subgenre? Haunted House, Gothic

Where can you find it? DVD, VOD

This type of story should feel a little familiar: a young woman is tasked to look after some children in a large, creepy mansion that holds a dark past. The Turning takes it time in setting up the protagonist’s situation, setting up the personalities of the children, setting up the frequent bumps that are heard throughout the night, setting up the history of the manor’s past residents, setting up the… oh wait, no! We’ve run out of time! It’s a film that’s all set up and no payoff. It just ends. The story desperately tries to connect some of its earlier points to form a twist in the last ten minutes but it’s ultimately too little too late. It’s a grossly unrewarding movie that isn’t lower on this list purely because of its technical elements — the cinematography, lighting, special effects, and production design are competent, which I cannot say for the previous two films. For a more engaging adaptation of this horror novella, watch Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor instead.

Who is it for? I suppose if you’re finding The Haunting of Bly Manor too scary, then you can watch this extremely watered down and lack-lustre interpretation of the same story.

Watch out for: Depictions of sexual assault and domestic violence. Disappointment.

The Turning

#55. Brahms: The Boy II

What’s it about? After a family moves into the Heelshire Mansion, their young son soon makes friends with a life-like doll called Brahms. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Spirit/Possession.

Where can you find it? DVD, VOD

In case you couldn’t tell from the SEO-littered title, this film is the sequel to 2016’s The Boy in which the titular character is named Brahms. Without going into too much detail, the original movie was a decent haunted house-type horror flick that was most notable for its final twist and not much else. It was a bit of a one trick pony; just how no one would expect a follow up to The Sixth Sense, it was the same with The Boy. So it was a surprise to hear a sequel was in the works. Without the twist, which couldn’t be repeated, what else was there?

Well, the filmmakers resolved the problem with the original’s pesky ending by effectively retconning the entire premise of the first movie. It completely undermines what made The Boy stand out — it was a horror film that upended audience’s expectations. Instead, Brahms: The Boy II seems to indulge in seemingly every trope it could fit within its plot, producing an extremely predictable and lacklustre narrative. Now all we’re left with is a soulless and unoriginal work that seems to exist solely to kick-start a bland evil doll horror franchise, as though Chucky doesn’t exist already.

Who is it for? Well, I guess if you hated the twist in the original, then the sequel plays out the other direction. It’s a light horror with fairly traditional storytelling, so if you’re looking for an introductory horror film for a younger teen, then this might suffice.

Watch out for: Animal cruelty, jump scares (though most are misused), demonic entities.

#54. U-Turn

What’s it about? U turn tells the story of a budding investigator and a cop who will uncover the new conspiracies of a bike gang. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Ghost, Curse

Where can you find it? Netflix

As a Filipino remake of a 2016 Indian film of the same name, U-Turn takes more cues from J-Horror movies in terms of its presentation and scares. Horribly summarized by IMDB (the bike gang really aren’t a thing), U-Turn follows a similar logic to Ju-On whereby if a character performs a certain action then a vengeful spirit curses them to die. Yet unlike J-Horror movies where the spirit is normally a victim of an unfathomably evil act, in U-Turn, whilst it portrays a tragic set of circumstances surrounding a minor traffic violation, it ultimately doesn’t justify the ghost’s penchant for revenge. If I could use one word to describe this film, then it would be “lame”. The scares, the character motivations, the plot mechanics, the inner conflict, the tone, the deaths, the fact the English subtitles aren’t separate from the Closed Caption version [intense music starts], everything! Everything is just lame.

If you’re familiar with Japanese horror (or even Asian horror as a whole), then a lot of the scares will feel old and tired; you’ve seen it all before. Well… maybe not everything because this film gets downright goofy towards the end of its runtime: the protagonist is a morally bankrupt human being, the lack of police procedure is distractingly incompetent, whilst it’s possible to have entire conversations with the vengeful spirit. Towards the end, this movie becomes so bad that it actually turns comical.

Who is it for? If you’re looking for a so-bad-it’s-good film, then U-Turn could be a good choice. Although personally I’d recommend 2020 thrillers Aaviri and Kolaiyuthir Kaalam for that role over U-Turn since they are more melodramatic in style, as this horror tends to provoke more irritation than unintentional humor for most of it runtime.

Watch out for: Minor traffic violations. Gruesome ghostly figures. Discussions of suicide. [Intense music].

U-Turn

#53. The Craft: Legacy

What’s it about? A group of high school students form a coven of witches. A sequel to the 1996 film, “The Craft”. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Witches, Occult

Where can you find it? DVD, VOD

The Craft: Legacy operates as a both a loose sequel and a soft reboot. The first half of the film follows the same story beats as the 90s classic, The Craft, except it removes all the female teen cattiness and bullying that made the original film so relatable and engaging. Instead it nobly tries to present a positive depiction of feminine teen friendship, although it falls into the trap of therefore making masculinity/the patriarchy the villain. It teeters on the edge of being woke through its runtime until it gives up and painfully goes the whole hog in the last ten minutes. At its core was a decent little horror movie idea, but it’s ruined by its lack of subtlety and character development, choosing to both bore and insult the audience with the bluntness of its themes.

Read our full review here!

Who is it for? Pagans. Those that like to be pandered to by woke politics. Nah, but seriously, this is an extremely light horror film (it’s only really the ending that shifts it into the genre). If it weren’t for its sexual content and pro-Wiccan stance, it would actually be a decent horror flick for young teens, though you’re still better off with the original movie in all its 90s emo glory.

Watch out for: Pro-Wiccan content. Discussions about sexual orientation, identity, and exploration (implied masturbation). Suicide.

#52. The Grudge

What’s it about? A house is cursed by a vengeful ghost that dooms those who enter it with a violent death. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Ghost, Curses, J-Horror (well, it’s more of a legacy than a style in this case)

Where can you find it? DVD, VOD

If you’re wondering how a well-worn and lingering J-Horror franchise can be revived, then watch Netflix’s short series, Ju-on: Origins instead. This American reboot offers nothing new. The curse may have been transplanted to another country and initiated by another family, but it’s still the same old story where hapless individuals enter the house, suffer a bunch of jump scares, before finally succumbing to their death. The Grudge isn’t necessarily a bad film. It’s just bland.

Read our full review here!

Who is it for? If you’re a massive Ju-on/Grudge geek or completionist, then go ahead and give it a watch. Otherwise this film plays out like a regular haunted house flick—it’s not too involved with the lore of the previous films in the franchise and works okay as a standalone, but if you’re wanting to jump in somewhere, you’re better off watching its far-superior predecessors.

Watch out for: Jump scares, domestic violence, supernatural curses, self mutilation and gory depiction of rotting corpses.

#51. Antebellum

What’s it about? Successful author Veronica Henley finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality and must uncover the mind-bending mystery before it’s too late. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Black trauma porn, Survival

Where can you find it? DVD, VOD, Cable

Buried deep within Antebellum was a nugget of a decent horror movie idea. Unfortunately everyone on the production believed the concept was more profound than what it actually was, as though it was smart enough to be considered alongside the likes of Get Out, when instead the core plot was nothing more than a bottom-of-the-barrel-scraping B-grade horror, where characters enter a slaughterhouse situation and die one by one. If Antebellum had embraced its own goofiness then it may have survived the lashings of audiences and critics alike.

The film has many flaws, one of which is its narrative structure that impacts the overall tone. The price of its cheap (and rather predictable) early twist cost the audience the opportunity to travel alongside the characters as they experienced their harrowing journey from defiance, oppression, submission, and then the riveting return towards defiance once again. 1BR (further down on this list) features what should have been the same character journey, and its traditional structure demonstrates just how impactful Antebellum could’ve been. The screenwriter decided to take a risk, I can only assume, as a way to create greater juxtaposition. Yet it didn’t pay off. Instead its non-linear narrative is jarring; it distances the audience and forces a more critical eye as opposed to engaging with emotion.

The problem is that Antebellum’s message is ultimately a muddy one. Through practically exploiting the atrocities of the past, it also completely trivialises the racial issues in the modern era. There is no serious comparison — one time period is undoubtedly worse than the other. What’s worse is that there’s no sense of character development or growth seen within the protagonist, so nothing can be gleaned from their learning. What’s left are a series of scenes where Black slaves are oppressed and tortured, causing many in the Black American community to label this film as nothing more than Black Trauma Porn. There’s a lot more to say about this film, but its position on this list is more of a reflection on how bland and incompetent the previous films are as opposed to any greatness this film might have achieved. I mean, at least they tried to do something different?

Read our full review here!

Who is it for? I suppose it highlights the atrocities Black Americans endured in the past, but there are many, better films that portray slavery in the Civil War era. Antebellum feels gratuitous in its depiction compared to historical biopics.

Watch out for: White supremacists, woke subplots, rape sequences, racism, brutally dehumanising violence.

#50. The Binding (Il Legame)

What’s it about? While visiting her fiancé’s mother in southern Italy, a woman must fight the mysterious and malevolent curse intent on claiming her daughter. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Witches, Occult, Curses.

Where can you find it? Netflix

This Italian film follows a mother and daughter as they try to comprehend the eclectic traditions and spirituality practiced by their new in-laws, all the while sensing an evil force in the background. Sadly, the movie just doesn’t establish all the rules regarding its lore and theology, leaving this particular film critic still feeling like an outsider by the story’s end. While a general understanding of the plot is still perfectly achievable since the protagonist is left in the dark as much as the audience, the lack of clarity about the mechanics behind this particular system of beliefs does impact on the viewer’s level of engagement. It’s a slow burn as a horror that’s a bit too routine with its scares, though audiences that are more familiar with binding practices will no doubt glean more from the story.

Who is it for? Italians, or rather those with prior knowledge about binding will enjoy this film more than those that don’t. Horror aficionados will find this film to be on the light side. But for those that want a supernatural-themed thriller and can handle some depiction of blood and a disturbing scene here and there, then The Binding might be a good bridge between thriller and horror.

Watch out for: Strong portrayal of witchcraft. Spiders and some body horror from a spider bite. Animal cruelty. Scenes of self-harm, possession. One sex scene but no nudity. Pools of blood from stabbings. 

The Binding

#49. Blood Quantum

What’s it about? The dead are coming back to life outside the isolated Mi’kmaq reserve of Red Crow, except for its Indigenous inhabitants who are strangely immune to the zombie plague. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Zombies, Post-apocalyptic.

Where can you find it? VOD, Shudder

When it comes to zombie movies, the idea of a number of people being immune to the infection isn’t a new one, though it doesn’t come along all too often in the genre. This time it’s wrapped up with a slight socio-political commentary about Canada’s First Nation peoples. The set up is great, but the story quickly becomes uneven and eventually fails to sustain itself. Some characters are thinly developed and spout groan-worthy dialogue, pushing ludicrous ideologies that make no logical sense. Some scenes work a treat, but they’re spoiled by the frustrating set of circumstances that put them into motion. There’s some meaning and entertainment to be gained, though this genre is already rather tired.

Read our full review here!

Who is it for? Zombie fans. Those looking for a zombie movie with a bit more of an allegorical context. Gore hounds.

Watch out for: Animal cruelty. High level of gore, drug/alcohol abuse, and language (including racist remarks). 

#48. Sweet River

What’s it about? A Mother’s love can’t be buried. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Ghost, Crime.

Where can you find it? Netflix (Australia/New Zealand only so far)

Sweet River follows the tragic circumstances surrounding a mother whose child had been murdered years prior by a serial killer. Despite a police investigation, her son’s body was never recovered, so she returns to the small township in the hopes of finding closure, though the locals aren’t keen to see her snooping around. It takes a while for this film to find its footing, starting off as a light crime thriller before slowly moving into something else in its tone. There are some traditional albeit tired scares, whilst the plot beautifully touches upon a few heavy themes in an allegorical fashion. For the most part it sits rather comfortably in the drama and crime genre as opposed to being a straight horror. In the end there are just too many loose pieces that are left unexplained, whilst the narrative elements that do end up coming together are clicked into place so quickly they fail to resonate with the audience in the way it’s intended.

Who is it for? It’s a light horror, and would be suitable for those looking for a crime thriller with a supernatural twist.

Watch out for: Violence against children (discussed but only lightly depicted). Ghostly images of children. Violence against women. Drug usage. Alcoholism.

#47. The Rental

What’s it about? Two couples rent a vacation home for what should be a celebratory weekend get-away. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Home Invasion, Slasher

Where can you find it? VOD (Vudu, Amazon Prime, AppleTV)

As Dave Franco’s feature directorial debut, The Rental starts strong. It takes its time in developing its four main characters as they take a weekend away at a remote cabin. Like any good drama, tension arises when a sin is committed and things begin to spiral out of control when the problem can’t be rectified. Then the film undergoes a massive tonal shift, which ultimately undermines all the character development the director worked so hard to establish. It feels pointless. Senseless. Whilst some audiences might appreciate its cruelty, others might feel cheated in the plot’s sudden change in direction. What could’ve been a tight drama ends up feeling like nothing more than a long advert for a new horror franchise. It’s effectively chilling, but viewers may ultimately just feel ripped off.

Who is it for? Slasher fans that also have the patience for dramas.

Watch out for: Infidelity (sex scene but no explicit nudity), drug usage, voyeurism, frequent profanity, callous/psychopathic killings.

#46. Gretel & Hansel

What’s it about? A long time ago in a distant fairy tale countryside, a young girl leads her little brother into a dark wood in desperate search of food and work, only to stumble upon a nexus of terrifying evil. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Fairy Tale, Witches, Cannibalism

Where can you find it? VOD (Fandango, Amazon Prime, AppleTV)

In case you couldn’t tell from the title, this is a retelling of Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel. Whilst this adaptation seemingly retains its original setting and time period, this rendition decides to focus more on Gretel and her struggles with looking after her little brother as they brave homelessness and face starvation. This film is certainly an example of style over substance. It’s beautifully shot and viewers will lavish its production values. There’s an eerie tone that settles across every darkened frame that penetrates the soul of the narrative. Yet whilst the movie’s runtime is under ninety minutes, it still tends to drag. Audiences are already familiar with the story and it’s likely they’ll find themselves merely watching the screen in anticipation for the juicier parts, losing interest whenever the story decides to stray. Ultimately it’s a nice looking film oozing with atmosphere, but it’s a very slow burn, where many may find no pay off for their patience.

Who is it for? Those that love fairy tale adaptations, or don’t mind films that are more about the atmosphere and journey as opposed constant action.

Watch out for: Disturbing imagery. Cannibalism. Violence against children.

Gretel & Hansel

#45. VFW

What’s it about? A group of old war veterans put their lives on the line to defend a young woman taking shelter in their local VFW post, who’s running from a deranged drug dealer and his relentless army of drug addled punks. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Zombie (although not technically zombies…), Splatter/Grindhouse

Where can you find it? VOD, Shudder

As soon as a character opts to wield a chainsaw as a weapon, you know exactly what type of horror movie you’re watching. VFW plays the role of your typical gore-filled, blood-soaked, gratuitously violent film on this list. The entire premise is simply an excuse to pit zombies against army veterans. Sounds fun, but it’s a little bit of a shame the plot ends up giving into blood lust, as there initially appears to be a substantial backstory in its opening act. For starters, the mindless canon fodder that exist purely as an excuse for gruesome kills aren’t exactly zombies — the film is set in a somewhat post-apocalyptic world where large portions of the population have become highly addicted to a mind-altering drug. It’s certainly a new approach to the genre, but apart from its set up there’s no further development regarding this subplot. The drug addicts are discarded one by one, with the film never really offering any sympathy for their predicament. On the other hand, the film does develop its band of ex-soldiers and displays a great deal of respect for veterans of foreign wars (VFW). Thanks to this, the movie is more well-rounded than your average grindhouse narrative, though there was certainly more room to flesh out the intricacies of its unique setting.

Who is it for? Gore hounds and lovers of ridiculous setups to ensure maximum carnage.

Watch out for: Gore… Lots of it. Drug usage. Frequent coarse language.

#44. Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula

What’s it about? A zombie virus has in the last 4 years spread to all South Korea. 4 Koreans in HK sail thru the blockade to Incheon for USD20,000,000 on a truck. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Zombie, Heist, Post-Apocalyptic, Action

Where can you find it? VOD (Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime), or maybe even in cinemas if you’re lucky.

Train to Busan was a revelatory horror film in the very tired zombie subgenre. Critically acclaimed, it was obvious that any sequel would have a hard time living up to the quality set by its predecessor. Suffice to say, Peninsula failed. It starts off with an interesting premise, but unlike the original, it struggles to develop any characters worthy of the audience’s emotional investment. The best part of the film is its depiction of this post-apocalyptic society that’s reminiscent of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Ultimately it’s rather bland, and the CGI lacks believability, but the movie does try and must be commended for its attempt in exploring a different route than what’s usually taken in zombie films.

Read our review here!

Who is it for? Zombie fans (although it’s actually pretty light on gore, so if that’s what stops you from this subgenre, then this might be suitable). Those wanting a bit of mindless action with their post-apocalyptic horror.

Watch out for: Zombies (fast version). The zombies look gross themselves, but there’s no intestine/body ripping gore that’s usually prevalent in this subgenre. Lots of gun violence and vehicular manslaughter. Alcoholism.

#43. The New Mutants

What’s it about? Five young mutants, just discovering their abilities while held in a secret facility against their will, fight to escape their past sins and save themselves. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Superhero, Asylum, Supernatural, Monster

Where can you find it? DVD, VOD (Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime)

The news surrounding The New Mutants’ distribution woes are practically a horror in itself. Nonetheless, 2020 finally delivered something, and while it was great to see this film released, it wasn’t really worth the wait. To be fair, it’s not a terrible a movie (hence why it’s not lower down on this list). Its biggest crime is the plot’s core mystery is rather predictable, which makes for a mediocre watch as the narrative merely plods along until the bland reveal. However there are some decent scenes even though the sum of its parts are ultimately underwhelming. Anya Taylor-Joy’s character and her bizarre powers in particular are worth a look in itself. While The New Mutants will represent the last dying breaths of the X-Men film franchise, at least some of those final gasps breathed a little bit of life into this listless feature.

Read our full review here!

Who is it for? X-Men fans. It’s one of the few big-budget Hollywood horror films released in 2020, so it has that “mainstream” feel.

Watch out for: Violence against children/themes surrounding past sexual abuse. Homosexual relationship. Large, scary monsters. Burned bodies. Depiction/discussion of an authoritarian and abusive Catholic/Christian upbringing.

The New Mutants

#42. The Other Lamb

What’s it about? A girl born into an all-female cult led by a man in their compound begins to question his teachings and her own reality. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Religious Cult, Drama

Where can you find it? Hulu, VOD (Vudu, Amazon Prime, AppleTV)

The Other Lamb feels a bit like an evil Jesus movie. In this film, a spiritual man calls himself “The Shepard” as he carefully tends to his numerous female followers. Christian-esque in its theology and terminology, atheist and Christian viewers will no doubt come to different conclusions; some may interpret the story as a demonstration of the dangers of religious indoctrination as a whole, whilst Christian viewers might see the film through a narrower lens and witness the horror that can unfold due to false or selfish teachings. The film’s best asset is its tone; whilst there’s always a niggling concern that something is very wrong, there is an oddly peaceful and alluring aspect to this cult lifestyle, making it disturbingly easy to see why some might be drawn and wilfully misled by its idealistic presentation. There is also a feminist allegory to also be made as the cracks start to appear in this patriarchal led society.

This is one of the slowest burns on this list, with The Other Lamb being more of a slice of life drama than a horror. The terrifying aspects of the film are more psychological in nature and reside in its unsettling vibe of imperfect peace. This movie will certainly be too slow for most audiences, but will be a treat for those that have the patience for more reflective pieces.

Who is it for? If you like The Handmaid’s Tale and can appreciate a slower-paced, subtle drama, this this film might be a good fit for you.

Watch out for: Animal cruelty. Violence against women. Rape (close up on faces during the act). Polygamous relationship. Follows a religious cult that twists Christian theology/imagery/culture. 

#41. Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street

What’s it about? A retrospective look at A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) and the life of its lead actor, Mark Patton. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Documentary, Film History, LGBT+

Where can you find it? DVD, VOD, Shudder

As a fan of creepy documentaries like Missing 411 and last year’s Wrinkles the Clown, I was excited to see IMDB had listed another documentary horror blend. Alas, Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street is more of a standard documentary than a factual spook fest. It no doubt gains its horror classification because it heavily references the films within the genre that were released around the time of Nightmare on Elm Street. Horror aficionados will find this documentary fascinating nonetheless. As pop culture geeks, we’ve most likely witnessed a situation where fans have interpreted a text differently than what the creator intended. Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street discusses one of the more extreme examples, where actor Mark Patton felt gaslighted for years over being considered a gay icon for his (at the time) controversial portrayal of protagonist Jesse Walsh in Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. While the film tries to reconcile the gap between actor and screenwriter, and audience perception and directorial intent, it does meander to pat out its ninety-nine minute runtime. It covers some interesting ground regarding the history of LGBT+ representation in cinema during the AIDS epidemic, though five to ten minutes could have easily been shaved to make this a tighter film.

Who is it for? This is a must-watch for fans of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Film geeks and those with an interest in LGBT+ history will also find this documentary worthy of your time.

Watch out for: Clips of the goriest deaths in multiple horror franchises are shown, though all of the scary atmosphere is removed as the actors speak about their involvement over the top of the action. There is heavy discussion about homosexuality, its representation, and the AIDS epidemic.

#40. Vivarium

What’s it about? A young couple looking for the perfect home find themselves trapped in a mysterious labyrinth-like neighborhood of identical houses. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Allegory, Altered Reality, Madness/Paranoia, Alien

Where can you find it? VOD

Vivarium is probably best explained through director Lorcan Finnegan’s intent: he wished to display the inherent horror within the inane pattern and trappings of life, where we strive hard to be slaves to mortgages, our offspring, and societal expectations. The film is an odd and overall unsettling piece, though the horror is more cerebral in its presentation as opposed to relying on more traditional scares (though there is an alien subplot to consider as well). A great deal features “Fridge Horror”, where the terror comes after the fact once the audience has a chance to digest and analyse the bizarre allegorical experience. It’s a film with a fantastic production design and general atmosphere that isn’t too easily forgotten with its off-putting kitsch style. Vivarium is a very different, very weird film, which offers a fresh concept. Yet despite its originality, the narrative relies on the horror of repetition (ironically, the original definition of homophobia — the fear of monotony), which unfortunately makes the film not only tedious for its characters, but also the audience. Still, Vivarium gets points for trying something new.

Who is it for? If you’re looking for a really left-of-field horror film, then this is it! This is a horror film that relies on disturbing imagery as opposed to violence, blood or gore, so it’s suitable for those that refrain from gruesome deaths.

Watch out for: Homophobia (as in, fear of monotony). Uncanny valley. Violence against children (kinda…). One sex scene with brief female nudity. Profanity. Disturbing inhuman imagery.

Vivarium

#39. The Lodge

What’s it about? A soon-to-be stepmom is snowed in with her fiancé’s two children at a remote holiday village. Just as relations begin to thaw between the trio, some strange and frightening events take place. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Cult, Isolation… and the rest I’ll leave out as it’s best to go in blind!

Where can you find it? Hulu, VOD

The Lodge is a quiet, slow paced atmospheric film that survives on the tension of its strained relationships. One character in particular has a dark past, which is communicated to the audience early on in the piece. That bit of exposition creates an unnerving journey, as we never truly know what direction this movie will head. The film’s middle is ponderous and chilling as it teases a few interesting theories, although the final revelation is nothing but infuriating. It’s been a while since I’ve watched a film where I’ve lost all respect for the characters, to the extent that I mentally checked out as I simply no longer cared what fate awaited them from that point forward. Not a single ounce of empathy remained. However, some people will adore The Lodge’s darkly twisted conclusion. For me, my anger overrode my enjoyment, which is a reaction I don’t believe the director intended (although I am torn since the director must also be congratulated for eliciting such an intense emotional reaction from a viewer). Since I can only really rank these films based on my personal film experience, The Lodge may appear lower on here compared to what others might consider.

Who is it for? This is for people who don’t mind an atmospheric slow burn along with some quick, unsettling scenes containing blood and suicide.

Watch out for: Animal cruelty. Gun violence (blood splatter and brains blown out). Depiction and discussion of suicide. Nudity – breasts. Disturbing worship scenes that derive from a religious suicide cult.

#38. The Bridge Curse

What’s it about? University students, planning a bravery initiation test for their fellow classmates, choose a campus bridge rumored to be haunted by a vengeful female ghost. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Ghost, Urban Legend

Where can you find it? Netflix

For those that enjoy horror films from Asia, this Taiwanese tale will feel familiar. It’s reminiscent of Ju-On, Ringu, and Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum although it sadly doesn’t deliver the same level of impact as any of them. There are still some creepy scenes to be enjoyed, and the twist is relatively creative and worthy of a second visit, although the movie lacks a standout, iconic moment. The major problem with this film is that it’s clear from the beginning it’s told as a recount of past events, where it’s already revealed these characters all suffer horrible fates. It takes away the stakes; the audience holds these characters at a distance, never daring to get too emotionally involved, as we know we’re watching a film that’s merely chronicling one death after another. If you do decide to give it a watch, be sure to stick around till the very end of the credits.

Who is it for? This film is high on jump scares and creepy situations, but low on blood and gore. If you don’t mind a subtitled film, or are looking for another Asian horror movie to add to your list, then give this a go – it’s not the best out there, but there are certainly worse (like U-Turn).

Watch out for: Jump scares. Discussion of rape. Drowning. Ghost is styled after traditional Eastern folklore. 

#37. The Empty Man

What’s it about? On the trail of a missing girl, an ex-cop comes across a secretive group attempting to summon a terrifying supernatural entity. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Slasher, Urban Legend, Cult, Supernatural, Crime, Mystery, Philosophical? It’s just weird, ok!

Where can you find it? VOD. 

The Empty Man wins the award for being the weirdest horror movie on this list. Based off a graphic novel with the same name, this movie begins with an overly long first act that oddly operates like a short film in itself. It presents the audience with a cheesy supernatural slasher premise not unlike the critically panned Slender Man before suddenly changing its tune in the second act. From then on it follows an ex-cop’s personal investigation into the deaths of some local teens, and it’s easy to assume the direction this movie will head, except it’s soon clear the film has a completely different idea. At its surface, it’s about a dumb urban legend, but when the layers are peeled back the film becomes deeply theological and abstract with its concept, toying with ideological concepts that are more likely to be discussed in a college-level philosophy class as opposed to within the context of a humble horror movie. In terms of audacity, it shares similarities with Tenet; it aims high and opts to stimulate the brain more on an intellectual level in-between some standard genre fare, presenting a highly complex plot that can’t really be grasped in a single watch. Although like Tenet, the first watch was so tedious that it turns off the audience from wanting to revisit the piece anyway. I trust this movie does make sense and that all it needs is a bit of homework on the audience’s part, though as a film critic I simply don’t have the time to revisit and thoroughly study the intricacies of a single film. No doubt one day someone on YouTube will take the time to break things down, shed new light, fill in the gaps, and the movie will be seen as a cult classic in retrospect.

Who is it for? People that enjoy both supernatural slashers and highly complex theoretical concepts.

Watch out for: Brief nudity—a woman’s breasts. Gory animal cruelty. Typical slasher level of violence—multiple stabbings and attacks that result in blood spurting from injuries. Spooky wraith-like creature and creepy cults. Frequent coarse language and smoking. Some consumption of alcohol and prescription medicine.

#36. The Wolf of Snow Hollow

What’s it about? Terror grips a small mountain town as bodies are discovered after each full moon. Losing sleep, raising a teenage daughter, and caring for his ailing father, officer Marshall struggles to remind himself there’s no such thing as werewolves. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Werewolf, Crime

Where can you find it? VOD

Jim Cummings wrote, directed and stars in this Fargo-esque werewolf caper and single-handedly both makes the film and ruins it. He plays a particularly stressed out police officer that frequently shouts his lines around his equally perplexed workmates. Sometimes his unconventional approach is comical, but other times his one-note performance is over the top and doesn’t fit the scene, causing audiences to wonder if it’s merely a bad acting choice or if he’s genuinely trying to portray a character that’s on the spectrum that fails to understand social nuances. The eventual reveal feels underdeveloped as a random character is thrown in last minute, not that there was much time dedicated outside of Cummings’ rantings and ravings. It’s still a fun watch, yet the film’s flaws are frustrating.

Who is it for? Fans of dark comedies or off-kilter murder mysteries with a bit more of a violent edge.

Watch out for: Gory, intense deaths and crime scene photos of victims being mauled to death. Animal cruelty. Frequent discussion about genitalia (crime scene related) and frequent coarse language including a homophobic slur. A character tries to recover from alcoholism.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow

#35. Ghost Stories

What’s it about? The winning team of LUST STORIES unite to tell some spine – chilling tales. Ghost Stories is a 2020 Indian anthology horror film, consisting of four short film segments directed by Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap. It serves a sequel to the 2013 and 2018 films – Bombay Talkies and Lust Stories respectively. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Anthology—haunted house, body horror, zombie/monster, ghost.

Where can you find it? Netflix

Not to be confused with the 2017 horror anthology starring Martin Freeman, this Netflix Indian anthology offers four unrelated short horror stories. What’s great is that there’s bound to be one tale that you’ll love, though like all anthologies, they’re only as strong as their weakest link. The second story contained a reasonable amount of cultural symbolism, so some of it was lost on me. Yet by far the best story is the third one, to the extent that it makes the entire experience worthwhile. It’s a highly original short about a village that has been overrun with dangerous beasts. It’s intense and brutal, with a lovely thematic tie in as well. The other two short films in the piece offer entertaining traditional ghost story fare; simple tales told well.

Who is it for? If you’re looking for some horror shorts, then this is a great place to look. There isn’t much to tie them altogether, so feel to pause or break this anthology apart if you’re time poor.

Watch out for: The first and last are decent haunted house stories with a jump scare or two. The second features metamorphosis and body horror, along with animal cruelty. The third film is the most gory and violent, where beasts are seen tearing apart human bodies and eating them.

#34. Bad Hair

What’s it about? In 1989 an ambitious young woman gets a weave in order to succeed in the image-obsessed world of music television. However, her flourishing career may come at a great cost when she realizes that her new hair may have a mind of its own. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Witch, Allegory, Black American folklore

Where can you find it? Hulu

This is certainly an interesting and unique horror film that delves into the beauty standards thrust upon Black women during the late 80s. The detailed level of hair care is presented as a culture within itself, as it determines the amount of influence one can have within their career, particular in media related roles. So when it turns out a certain beauty procedure comes with a significant cost, whilst hammy, the film takes on a witty satirical vibe as it critiques the loss of individualism in favor of mindless uniformity. It’s heavy-handed with its messaging and the cute premise wears thin by the final act with it all becoming a bit too goofy, though it is a tonally light-hearted romp that certainly wins points for exploring something new in the genre.

Who is it for? Since this film is so specific with its cultural representation, Black American women will relate to the content more so than others. It’s also just a good horror if you’re keen to see something that’s really wild and left-of-field.

Watch out for: Some body horror involving hair. Menstrual blood, and just blood in general. Close ups on needles puncturing skin. Sexual content (implied masturbation and a sex scene) but no nudity. Violence against women. Supernatural elements.

#33. Fantasy Island

What’s it about? When the owner and operator of a luxurious island invites a collection of guests to live out their most elaborate fantasies in relative seclusion, chaos quickly descends. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Mystery, Slasher, Supernatural, Drama

Where can you find it? VOD

Adapting an old television show about a mysterious island that had the power to grant people’s deepest desires and recontextualizing it as a horror wasn’t a terrible idea. Where it really slips up is that it’s structured like a sloppy anthology, and as Ghost Stories demonstrated, some narrative strains are be stronger than others. A good portion of the film is actually a drama where the movie manages to develop some emotional resonance, whereas the one storyline that plays out more like your standard torture porn slasher feels very tacked on and cliché. Eventually the horror genre wins over as the film progresses; follow closely and all the pieces do fit together although in a very tongue-in-cheek and flippant way, to the point that many viewers may feel cheated by the movie’s switch up in tone. Ultimately I admire the film for juggling so many different subplots, although it seems I’m a rare breed as many people hated this flick.

Read our full review here!

Who is it for? People that don’t mind a weird genre blend and are willing to sit through a more convoluted plot than normal.

Watch out for: Jump scares. Gun violence and grenade explosions. Electrocution as a torture sequence. Stabbings. Snakes. Party scenes with drinking, bong smoking and references to other illegal drug use. No nudity, but strong discussions about promiscuous sexual acts, with many extras wearing skimpy outfits.

#32. #Alive

What’s it about? The rapid spread of an unknown infection has left an entire city in ungovernable chaos, but one survivor remains alive in isolation. It is his story. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Zombie (fast)

Where can you find it? Netflix

Ignoring the groan-worthy title, this South Korean film tells a decent tale about a man that ends up trapped for days on end inside his apartment during the zombie apocalypse. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the movie, but in an over-explored genre it just doesn’t offer much in the way of originality. We’ve seen this sort of story played out several times before. However, in saying that, #Alive still manages to be an intense adventure. It may feel familiar but somehow it’s still scary. The film’s message is a little trite, yet it offers a wild ride nonetheless. There are certainly worse zombie movies you can choose to watch—this one is about average, maybe even a cut above.

Who is it for? Zombie fans. People wanting a solid, standard horror film.

Watch out for: Fast zombies! Zombie infestation related violence (they’re attacked with guns, bladed weapons, blunt objects, etc). Not excessive with gore.

#Alive

#31. Vampires vs. the Bronx

What’s it about? A group of young friends from the Bronx fight to save their neighborhood from gentrification…and vampires. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Vampire, Allegory

Where can you find it? Netflix

This is a fun one. In a set up similar to 1985’s Fright Night, a group of tweens begin to suspect that the pasty white people that are moving into their neighbourhood might be vampires. The film tackles the negative issues surrounding gentrification in a cheeky way, and while the movie presents the burgeoning “white man bad” trope, the tone is so light-hearted that its on-the-nose socioeconomic politics are forgivable. While most the story is done in a facetious manner, the vampire fight sequences do offer a bit of a thrill, although towards the end of movie the film’s low budget effects prove a disservice.

Who is it for? While it’s not a strict comedy, this film is very light-hearted with its tone. There’s little in the way of blood or gore, with the violence not being more than what you’d see on an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This means it might be good for younger teens along with adult supervision.

Watch out for: Set in the Bronx, there’s actually a few scenes involving gang violence (people threatening others with guns, gun violence). Vampires. Stabbing vampires in the heart with stakes. A handful of swear words including the f-bomb.

#30. The Wretched

What’s it about? A defiant teenage boy, struggling with his parents’ imminent divorce, faces off with a thousand year-old witch, who is living beneath the skin of and posing as the woman next door. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Witch

Where can you find it? Netflix

Similar to Vampires vs. the Bronx and once again like 1985’s Fright Night, we see a teen throw suspicion on their neighbours, though this time we’re swapping out a vampire for a witch. The film takes its premise as seriously as possible. For some reason witches seem to be the flavor of the year in 2020. The Wretched takes the same route as The Binding where the witch is more of an ancient evil creature from folklore as opposed to someone that’s studied witchcraft. For the majority of the runtime the movie doesn’t pull any punches. It’s thrilling and unnerving with its scares. Unfortunately it begins to stumble over its own lore towards the end. A great number of powers are attributed to the witch, one of them creating a catch-22 when it comes to exposition. In many ways the antagonist is too powerful, as though there is a never-ending list of attributes that are carelessly stacked on throughout the story one by one, with no boundaries or rules to contain the evil character. The ending is a familiar one, though it feels unearned; other films have shown more skill in pulling off similar conclusions due to crafting a more solid foundation, laying better clues along the way. Yet apart from some unravelling at the end, The Wretched is still a good watch.

Who is it for? If you’re into creature features or your more traditional monsters, or even horror films that have a commercialized glossy vibe, then The Wretched is a decent choice.

Watch out for: Animal cruelty. Witchcraft (shape shifting, hypnosis/halucinations, just creepy imagery). Violence against children. Body horror. Bumps in the night. Vomiting. Some jump scares. Bare bottoms. Drunken partying.

#29. No Escape (Follow Me)

What’s it about? A social media personality travels with his friends to Moscow to capture new content for his successful VLOG. Always pushing the limits and catering to a growing audience, they enter a cold world of mystery, excess, and danger. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Torture porn

Where can you find it? VOD

Escape Room was a guilty pleasure of mine in 2019, and maybe I’m just a sucker for the “escape or die” formula as No Escape (or Follow Me depending on where you’re from) is a fairly straightforward movie. Giving off McKamey Manor vibes, a social media influencer and thrill-seeking fanatic is given the opportunity to go to Russia and attend the most intense escape room experience in the world with his friends. Insert torture here. It’s fairly easy to see where this movie is heading though it does force a reassessment or two down the line. Like most films in the subgenre, it’s light on themes so it’s all a bit of a pointless exercise, though there are enough rabbit holes in the plot to make it a decent watch. It’s interesting—this whole torture porn subgenre was created to shock, yet it’s been so overdone that now even it has become passé. Yet if you’re still somehow into it, this should be worth a look.

Who is it for? People that can stomach torture porn (though it isn’t as extreme as the Saw franchise).

Watch out for: Gun violence. Spurting blood. Medieval-type torture traps. Dissections, close ups on innards. Brutal fights. Nude corpses.

#28. Spiral

What’s it about? A same-sex couple move to a small town to enjoy a better quality of life and raise their daughter with strong social values. But when neighbors throw a very strange party, nothing is as it seems in their picturesque neighborhood. (IMDB)

Subgenre? LGBT+, Cult, Witchcraft, Paranoia

Where can you find it? Shudder, VOD

Spiral is a clever and insightful film about modern day homophobia. Our protagonist is a middle-aged gay man that has experienced some horrifying persecution in the past, in a time before same-sex marriage and the wider acceptance of LGBT+ views in society. These flashback sequences are contrasted with the oddly safe rural village lifestyle he and his partner are enjoying now. But something doesn’t seem right… While other movies surrounding LGBT+ issues remain fixated on the past, with the narrative feeding into the greater, more obvious levels of oppression as its source of dramatic conflict, Spiral instead tries to create unease in a present setting. It openly acknowledges that things have vastly improved, to the point that it plays with concept that maybe the perception of victimhood might stem more from paranoia and the hauntings of the past as opposed to the reality of the situation. The downside to this film is that the red herrings it offers are a little too good, where the actual finale is not as intellectually intriguing. The answers it provides might not satisfy, though it is a thought-provoking movie nonetheless.

Who is it for? This one plays more like a thriller than a horror, so it’s great for those looking for more of a psychological scare, though there are some brief gory scenes. Due to its subject matter, it’s also a movie that will be more impactful for queer audiences.

Watch out for: Animal cruelty. Homophobic bashings. Gun violence. Cannibalism—gory corpse. Drug abuse (prescription medication). Homosexuality; no nudity, but couples kiss and shower together.

Spiral

#27. Freaky

What’s it about? After swapping bodies with a deranged serial killer, a young girl in high school discovers she has less than 24 hours before the change becomes permanent. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Slasher, Serial Killer, Body Switch, Comedy

Where can you find it? VOD

Freaky offers the comedic premise of the traditional stoic serial killer inadvertently swapping bodies with their weak-muscled teenage victim. Essentially you just watch it to see Vince Vaughn play a teenage girl, which is almost worth the rental price on its own. However the jokes do wear thin after a while and it’s a shame that Kathryn Newton is underutilized; she does her best as a snarling, untalkative killer, but there’s not a great deal of material for her to work with here. The film would be stronger if it developed both of its lead characters, but even though it’s lopsided there’s still enough to entertain.

Who is it for? If you enjoy your standard slashers in the vein of Scream or Happy Death Day, then you’ll feel right at home here.

Watch out for: Brutal, over-the-top deaths that are unrealistic enough to be comedic but still rather bloody and gory. Frequent coarse language. Violence against women and unwanted sexual advances. Sex scene but no nudity. Homosexuality… Homosexual kissing?

#26. Body Cam

What’s it about? When a routine traffic stop results in the unexplained, grisly death of her colleague, a cop (Mary J. Blige) realizes footage of the incident will play for her eyes only. As the attacks mount, she races to understand the supernatural force behind them. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Crime… the rest I’ll leave out because it’s better to go in blind!

Where can you find it? Hulu, VOD

The idea of presenting a horror movie through the lens of a police officer’s body cam is great in theory but probably bad in practice, and thankfully Body Cam only resorts to this “found footage” style a few times. Most of it operates as a supernatural-themed murder investigation where cops are being killed one by one by a mysterious entity. The first few kills are genuinely terrifying and suspenseful because even the audience can only hazard a guess as to what the characters are up against. Eventually the movie lets us in on the secret, and while it’s ultimately a little cliché, it still provides a timely thematic analogy about a very relevant and pressing modern day issue.  

Who is it for? It plays out like a crime thriller although we’re also present for the monstrous kills. Oddly it’s tonally reminiscent of a monster flick, such as Cloverfield with gore levels a little bit less than Brightburn. So if you’re up for a bit of a mix in terms of sub-genre and don’t mind intense sequences and a bit of gore, this one will suit you.

Watch out for: Jump scares. Racism. Suicide. Gun violence. Brutal murders—bodies tossed, twisted and torn. Bloody and gory corpses. Infrequent but strong coarse language.  

#25. Becky

What’s it about? A teenager’s weekend at a lake house with her father takes a turn for the worse when a group of convicts wreaks havoc on their lives. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Slasher/Grindhouse, Revenge, Action

Where can you find it? VOD

A group of people getting killed one by one sounds very boring. Except this film excitingly flips the script where the victims are the criminals and the killer is the titular young and disturbed teenage girl. A gruesome mix of Home Alone and John Wick, Becky isn’t scary in the traditional sense as we don’t sympathize or otherwise fear for the lives of the antagonists, but it does its best to engage with our desire for blood. The audience sits on the edge of their seats throughout the runtime as we’re treated to one matchup after another, with Becky always the underdog due to her smaller stature. The films taps into that vengeful sense of justice as we witness an innocent person wronged, and though it’s wildly entertaining to see a troubled teen go completely unhinged, the film rightly also questions the psychopathy of its lead character. A step further and it might even question our delight in watching Becky’s rampage as well.

Who is it for? If you enjoy “one man army” type films, then this one plays out like a Die Hard in the woods scenario starring a teenage girl. The deaths are as primal, bloody and gory as they can be, so if you’re looking for an action horror with outrageous kills, then you’ve come to the right place.

Watch out for: EYEBALLS!! Animal cruelty. Incredibly violent, gory deaths committed by a minor. Violence against children. Gun violence. Lots of swearing.

#24. Get In (Furie)

What’s it about? On their return from vacation, Paul and his family find their house occupied by disturbing squatters. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Home Invasion, Madman, Drama, Arthouse

Where can you find it? Netflix

If The Other Lamb explores the horror surrounding femininity, then Get In (or Furie) is the one for masculinity. In a humiliating situation, and one chillingly inspired by true events, a family man hopelessly watches on as squatters invade his own home. With his self-esteem rapidly depleting as he loses his wife’s affection, his son’s admiration, and even support from the law, the weak-willed man forges a friendship with a group of men that are keen to teach him the error of his beta male ways. However, what starts off as a necessary journey to reclaim the protagonist’s broken life ends up as a horror. Get In is a slow burn of a drama that spends most of its runtime taking a deep dive into the male psyche. This is greatly contrasted with the finale’s blood-soaked driven rampage, tonally splitting the film in half, as though the protagonist must survive both extremes in order to discover a healthy balance as a man. The audience must also embrace the tonality of both if they hope to appreciate this film; for many the first half will be too slow, whilst for others the extreme violence of the second portion will ruin a good drama. For those that can infuse both, Get In will offer a taut psychological thriller that analyzes the characteristics of man.

Who is it for? For those that don’t mind a slow-moving character study and violent acts that border on torture porn. Male viewers may distil more meaning from this film than female audiences.

Watch out for: Psychopathic behavior—extremely disturbing deaths involving suffocation. Blood. Gore. Female nudity. Sex scenes and sexual assault. Fire—burning bodies. Drug usage.

Get In

#23. Color Out of Space

What’s it about? A secluded farm is struck by a strange meteorite which has apocalyptic consequences for the family living there and possibly the world. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Lovecraftian, Occult, Body Horror, Sci-Fi.

Where can you find it? VOD, Shudder

Based on the short story by H.P. Lovecraft, Color Out of Space follows in the author’s tradition of trying to tackle cosmic forces that are neither good or evil, but are otherwise a threat to humanity’s current perception of the world. When a family in rural America are infected by a foreign pathogen through a contaminated water source, a slow descent into insanity and inhumanness begins. Lovecraftian horrors are always tough to rank. Due to their rarity, on the one hand it’s always refreshing to see terror in a different form than usual, with antagonists that are ambivalent to the protagonists’ struggles, yet on the other, the level of fatalism that is present within these narratives means that it’s all much ado about nothing. What Color Out of Space in particular must be commended for is its absolutely bonkers story development and for finally casting an equally crazed performance from Nicolas Cage in a fitting context. It’s also a strangely beautiful film where the terror is mixed with serenity, as it simply chronicles the introduction of one climate over another, reminiscent of the production qualities of Annihilation. It’s crazy, oddly gorgeous to look at, a little bit deflating from a thematic standpoint, but this is a horror film that can offer a wild experience for the right person.

Read our full review here!

Who is it for? Fans of H.P. Lovecraft. Fans of crazy Nicolas Cage. Also good for people looking for something a bit bizarre on the weirdness scale, or don’t mind body horror similar to that seen in The Thing.

Watch out for: Body horror—weird mutations of several organisms. Graphic depiction of self-mutilation. Gun violence—euthanasia. Animal cruelty. Insanity. Alcoholism and illicit drug usage.

#22. Sea Fever

What’s it about? The crew of a West of Ireland trawler, marooned at sea, struggle for their lives against a growing parasite in their water supply. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Creature, Sci-Fi, Infection

Where can you find it? Hulu, VOD

Sea Fever is another horror film where the premise became more relevant due to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Audiences know the importance of quarantine, and yet we can all sympathize with any character that psychologically struggled against its implementation. Here we have a film that echoes of Alien in its narrative structure; set on a boat, an unidentified organism begins to infect the crewmates, causing the onboard marine biologist to make sensible calls to action which are mostly ignored. What sets Sea Fever apart from others in the subgenre is that it’s incredibly methodical in its approach, adopting a refreshing sense of realism in how the plot unfolds, twisting more into a story about scientific exploration with splashes of horror as opposed to the focus being the other way around. That said, when those horror scenes do burst forth, it gets ugly! Since the film isn’t heavy on emotionally engaging the audience, rather settling more for an intellectual discourse, the movie might be too slow for some. Sea Fever might seem like a quiet achiever compared to some of the larger budgeted glossy Hollywood releases on this list, but it’s a satisfying and intellectually stimulating watch.

Who is it for? If you’re not into supernatural horror and prefer to see something reflecting an essence of realism (albeit with a new marine species), then this film will do the job. The horror scenes are horrifying, but there’s also a good chunk of science fiction in the mix as well.  

Watch out for: EYEBALLS!! Gory injuries. Lots of blood, not in a slasher kind of way, but in a pathogenic sweating sort of thing. Scary things in the ocean—probably not the best movie to watch if you’re already scared of going into the water.

#21. The Deeper You Dig

What’s it about? In the aftermath of a roadside accident, the line between the living and the dead collapses for a mother, a daughter and a stranger. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Crime, Ghost, Occult (Séance), Microbudget

Where can you find it? VOD, Shudder

When it comes to this independent horror film, the more you dig into the narrative and the behind the scenes story, the deeper your appreciation grows. The movie interlinks and fleshes out three characters each on their own arc. One is the teenage victim that upends audience expectations and delivers one of the sassiest hauntings captured on film. Another is her remorseful murderer that not only is literally haunted but also is psychologically tormented by his own overwhelming regret and condemnation. Lastly is the mother desperately trying to reconnect with her missing child; a desire that carries out on the metaphysical plane as she also happens to work as a spirit medium. The film is a mix between a supernatural crime thriller and a hallucinogenic trip into the underworld, where most of the movie’s disturbing imagery stems from the mother’s attempts to reach out to the undead through seances.

Yet what makes The Deeper You Dig truly special is that these three characters are a family in real life. This operated somewhat as a home project for them, made with a shoestring budget only possible by also taking on most of the crew roles as well. Usually films that feature the same person as the producer, screenwriter, director, and lead role turn out terrible as there’s no one to keep the ego in check, but The Deeper You Dig demonstrates that it’s possible to be successful with this model. This film is a real delight to watch and an inspiration for aspiring filmmakers.  

Who is it for? If you’re into crime thrillers or murder mysteries, then this film might appeal to you, although the perspective feels reversed since the crime is laid bare in the opening act (though it still maintains that genre vibe). This is also a good film to study if you’re analyzing what’s achievable on a microbudget.

Watch out for: Animal cruelty. Disturbing amount of attention given to body disposal. Trippy underworld sequences. Ghostly hauntings. Jump scares. Some f-bombs.

#20. The Babysitter: Killer Queen

What’s it about? Two years after Cole survived a satanic blood cult, he’s living another nightmare: high school. And the demons from his past? Still making his life hell. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Slasher, Occult, Comedy

Where can you find it? Netflix

This film is a sequel to Netflix’s surprise horror treat, The Babysitter, starring Samara Weaving, and may eventually be turned into a trilogy. The first movie was an entertaining tongue-in-cheek slasher that knew not to take itself too seriously as it outrageously killed off its cast one by one, with the comedy highlighted even further by punchy editing and confident direction. The Babysitter: Killer Queen manages to capture the same light-hearted tone, so if you enjoyed the original, then this is a relatively smooth continuation. Some elements of the story feel a bit too rehashed from the first, whereas one relationship in particular feels retconned, yet for the most part it delights in the same way as The Babysitter and crossover jokes between the two films begin to form. Be warned: Samara Weaving is hardly in this sequel, so don’t be disappointed by her fairly lengthy absence.

Who is it for? If you liked The Babysitter, then this is a good continuation. It’s preferable that you watch the first movie before seeing this sequel as a lot of the inside jokes will be lost otherwise.

Watch out for: Gory yet comedic deaths. Satanic worship. A metaphorical sex scene. Drug usage. Attempted rape. Reckless parenting. Car accident resulting in fatalities. Lots of sex jokes, innuendo, frequent coarse language including the big bad c-word.

The Babysitter: Killer Queen

#19. Not Alone in Here (short)

What’s it about? A woman suspects she’s not alone in her house. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Short, Home Invasion/Paranoia, Comedy

Where can you find it? YouTube – right here! 

It’s unfortunate that short films tend to get overlooked compared to feature length releases particularly when they are practically an art in itself. It takes a lot of talent to reduce an entire narrative arc down to just a few minutes, and it’s even more difficult to draw the audience in enough to scare them. Director David F. Sandberg certainly isn’t new to the format, as his previous short film Lights Out famously garnered enough praise to be converted into a feature length movie. Since then he has gone on to direct Annabelle: Creation, Shazam!, and I Flip You Off for Four Hours (which is exactly what it sounds).

In Not Alone in Here, Sandberg has returned to his Lights Out short film roots and once again, thanks to the lockdown, is filming his wife in torturous situations. In its six-minute runtime, Lotta Losten comically narrates a highly relatable internal monologue that will resonate with anyone that has ever questioned whether they’re truly alone. It toys with a number of horror tropes and brings a fresh sense of whimsy, although it doesn’t fail in giving a good scare towards the end. It’s a good romp that’s hard to pass up given its short runtime.

Who is it for? Anyone that can handle a good jump scare.

Watch out for: That jump scare!

#18. Underwater

What’s it about? A crew of oceanic researchers working for a deep sea drilling company try to get to safety after a mysterious earthquake devastates their deepwater research and drilling facility located at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Survival, Sci-Fi, Monster, Lovecraftian

Where can you find it? VOD, HBO Now/Max

Underwater was a victim of the Fox/Disney merger and was carelessly dumped into cinemas right at the start of the year. Looking back now it’s all rather laughable that some of the highest grossing films in 2020 were at the time considered the dregs from studios. I feel somewhat sorry for Underwater; given what ended up happening, if it was released later then it would’ve been a fantastic film to watch on the big screen after lockdown. Since it didn’t, it wins the award for the most overlooked film on this list.

Underwater is your standard big budget horror movie set in an isolated location where people die one by one. While it’s generic in its structure, there are still some surprises along the way. There’s also decent character development thanks to Kristen Stewart delivering yet another solid performance despite audiences still unfairly associating her with the Twilight franchise. The grand finale in particular is a real treat. It’s not a standout film when judged within the entirety horror genre, but it still hits all the right notes and delivers a satisfying undersea adventure.  

Who is it for? If you enjoy those B-grade monster movies that still contain a bit of that Hollywood gloss, like Pitch Black or Deep Blue Sea, then definitely check out Underwater. If you’re a H.P. Lovecraft fan, also be sure to catch this film.  

Watch out for: Killer undersea creatures. Explosions and deaths from debris. Claustrophobic underwater scenes. Repeated droppings of the f-bomb and s-word.

#17. Cadaver (Kadaver)

What’s it about? In the starving aftermath of a nuclear disaster, a family of three attends a charitable event at a hotel, which takes a dark turn when people start to disappear. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Post-apocalyptic, Cannibalism, Allegorical.

Where can you find it? Netflix

To be honest, Cadaver is a bit of an underwhelming film. Set in a war-torn, post-apocalyptic world, a starving family finds themselves graciously invited to a party hosted by the township’s elite. The major problem with this film is that the audience is already numerous steps ahead of the protagonists. It’s very easy to guess where this sort of narrative is headed, so it’s only frustrating when most of the runtime is spent watching our leads flounder about in their surroundings when we all know the tale’s foregone conclusion. The movie invokes some spirit when the protagonist finally cottons on and inverts the scenario to their advantage, though it’s all too little too late for viewers to really enjoy.

But then there’s that final shot…

Maybe the plot is overly simplified because it’s trying to provoke a deeper analysis through its symbolism? There’s certainly enough evidence to point towards this theory. What’s with the red dresses? The use of an expressionless, dehumanizing mask must mean more than what we’re directly told. Then there’s the system with three distinct tiers of classes. When anonymous people are invited to follow the actors with the narrative that interests them the most, even when it’s not fictional, surely that must contain a scathing critique on society’s fascination with online influencers or celebrities. The level of ignorance displayed by some people in this society might not be an annoying plot hole, but rather it’s an intended commentary. Then there’s that haunting final shot that bluntly forces the audience to question our own preferences. There’s a lot more to Cadaver than what first meets the eye; it takes a bit of work, but the more thought that’s invested, the more rewarding the film becomes.

Who is it for? It’s a really lacklustre film if you’re into jump scares or more traditional horror fare. Cadaver takes a bit of post-credit homework. It’s suited more for people who find enjoyment in giving films their proper time and reflection afterwards, especially those with formal training in film analysis that also aren’t afraid of dark and gruesome turns as well.

Watch out for: Impalement, stabbings, chopped up body parts, and the level of blood associated with those actions. However these violent scenes are few and far between; they’re very brief and the camera is relatively quick to cut away. Brief sex scene—no nudity.

Cadaver

#16. The Room

What’s it about? Matt and Kate buy an isolated house. While moving, they discover a strange room that grants them an unlimited number of material wishes. But, since Kate has had two miscarriages, what they miss the most is a child. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Mystery, Drama, Psychological

Where can you find it? VOD, Shudder

The Room (not to be confused with Wiseau’s disaster or Brie Larson’s Oscar winning film) is certainly a different brand of horror. The premise stems from the same scenario-driven, non-malevolent space as Fantasy Island, where the horror derives more from humanity’s corruption as opposed to an external force. What follows is an intriguing and heart-breaking drama that eventually leads to a horrifying conclusion. It’s odd that it has been listed as part of the horror genre given that a lot of the terror is presented within the narrative’s themes regarding the fear of miscarriage and the loss of a child, and not in terms of its tone or style. Still, even though it’s not what one would typically classify as a horror film, The Room delivers a great little “what if?” situation and offers an enthralling exploration of those possibilities.

Who is it for? If you’re into dramas with dark moral quandaries, and don’t mind if it ends with a spot of violence, then The Room would really suit your interests. It’s in a similar vein to the first half of The Box, though thankfully it’s more consistent and competent as a narrative story.

Watch out for: Rape scene. Also two consensual sex scenes. No nudity, although a nipple is seen briefly during breast feeding. Binge drinking.

#15. Ghosts of War

What’s it about? Five American soldiers assigned to hold a French Chateau near the end of World War II. This unexpected respite quickly descends into madness when they encounter a supernatural enemy more terrifying than anything seen on the battlefield. (IMDB)

Subgenre? War, Haunted House, and another at the end which I won’t spoil!

Where can you find it? Netflix, VOD

 The haunted house subgenre is a classic staple in horror, though for whatever reason I feel I’m more forgiving over its continual mediocrity than what it actually deserves. The truth is these types of movies are getting very well-worn and stale—it is incredibly rare to see a film deliver something fresh or offer a new angle. It seems if you’ve seen one then you’ve watched them all; there are bumps in the night, then when the protagonist cottons on to the supernatural entity and learns about its past, they either try to make peace or destroy the place. It’s a formula that’s hardly ever shaken up.

So when Ghosts of War blends it with the paranoia and stresses of war, suddenly there’s another layer to the formula that’s added. The stakes are also raised—while these troops have been commanded to defend a mansion that proves to contain ghostly hostile occupants, leaving is not an option since there are still threats on multiple fronts. There’s certainly a different tone compared to your usual haunted house fare.

While most will enjoy the film’s fresh direction, the absolutely bonkers ending will divide audiences. As though inspired by a bad M. Night Shyamalan twist, Ghosts of War violently uproots the audience and sets course on another direction. The decision ends up increasing the movie’s thematic weight and a clever double entendre emerges. Yet the sudden shift in tone reminiscent of classic, clichéd hackneyed endings unintentionally creates a reviled knee-jerk reaction from viewers. I had to stop and pause. Wasn’t this what I wanted? Didn’t I want something new? You’re going to either love or hate the final act, but personally I grew to appreciate the fact they at least tried to do something different with this subgenre, and I applaud their courageous endeavour and for having the guts to not just play it safe like everyone else.

Who is it for? This is great for people that enjoy the war genre but don’t mind supernatural elements or aren’t fussy about historical details (Ghosts of War takes place in a generic WWII setting and isn’t trying to replicate or allude to real events). This is also good for people that are looking for a haunted house flick that is attempting to do something new.

Watch out for: War-related deaths and injuries; gun violence, grenades (limbs blown off), savage killings with knives. Violence from hauntings—hanging bodies, drownings, people being burnt alive. Severe level of blood and gore, though it is consistent with the brutality of the violence; i.e. it’s not as gratuitous as the torture porn genre. Jump scares. Coarse language and derogatory slang for different races/nationalities and female genitalia. A character looks at a pornographic magazine.

Ghosts of War

#14. The Call

What’s it about? Two people live in different times. Seo-Yeon lives in the present and Young-Sook lives in the past. One phone call connects the two, and their lives are changed irrevocably. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Time Travel, Crime

Where can you find it? Netflix

There are a bunch of movies that share this title, including another 2020 horror film with the same name, so to clarify we’re talking about the South Korean flick here. It’s important to be specific because while The Call isn’t perfect, it’s unique enough to warrant checking out if you’re a horror fan. A twisted time travel murder mystery, The Call adopts the plot of Frequency (a person in both of the past and present seem to exist concurrently and can communicate with each other) and mixes it with the mechanics of the Back to the Future trilogy (past actions will impact the reality of the people in the future). So when the person in the past becomes enemies with the person in the future, it makes for a very intriguing game of cat and mouse. Both characters have an advantage over the other, and it’s very exciting to see these aspects explored. The narrative runs the risk of keeping its protagonist and antagonist too distant due to the literal gap in time, yet it still manages to find ways to keep the threat of danger feeling imminent. As for flaws, this film does take a while to get going, and an early end credit sequence completely undermines the film’s thematic conclusion all for the inclusion of a cheap jump scare (pro tip: don’t watch the credits). It gets tedious at times, but you’ll certainly look past this film’s misgivings out of appreciation of its fresh concept.

Who is it for? It’s for anyone that’s even remotely excited about a time travel/horror movie hybrid.

Watch out for: Multiple stabbings (mostly off screen) resulting in blood spurts and pooling blood shots (although not gratuitous). Chopped up body parts are seen. Violence against children. People are burnt alive and Thanos clicked.

#13. Bacurau (Nighthawk)

What’s it about? After the death of her grandmother, Teresa comes home to her matriarchal village in a near-future Brazil to find a succession of sinister events that mobilizes all of its residents. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Slice of Life, Western, Allegorical… and another I’ll keep secret!

Where can you find it? VOD

This Brazilian movie popped up on my radar when I saw it featured on a number of top 2020 film lists, and while I try not to enter a film with high expectations, I was ultimately disappointed. I do find Bacurau to be overhyped. Having not read about the cultural background of the story prior to watching it, I left with only a shallow understanding. Such a surface level analysis will leave most viewers baffled as to the film’s popularity because it plays out like a drawn-out version of a particular subgenre of horror (I won’t spoil it), which isn’t exactly original in modern cinema.

So to appreciate this film, a bit more digging is required. Bacurau is one of the best films to come out of the country in a decade because its plot resonates deeply with those that connect with its history. It follows a tiny, rural, backwater township that is so insignificant that it can be literally removed from the map and no one would notice, however the movie spends an incredible amount of screen time bringing this community to life. It dedicates fifty minutes to humanizing these people and welcoming the audience to their village atmosphere, so that when an enemy emerges with the intent to dehumanize them, the rage and injustice is much more visceral. It also touches upon larger issues such as government corruption, the tendency of the west’s feelings of superiority, and it evokes the dark history of the land, reminiscing times of insurrection and revolt. The more you unearth in Bacurau, the deeper its meaning and the greater the audience’s appreciation.

Who is it for? This film is more western than horror in terms of tone, where the latter is more represented through its dark content and unflinching kills, as opposed to your traditional spooks and jump scares. So it’s suitable for people looking for a harsh drama with a B-grade horror movie edge. This is a must-see for those familiar with Brazilian history.

Watch out for: Animal cruelty. Violence against children. Psychopathic gun violence. Stabbings, beheadings—gory, as the camera is unflinching with its depiction of violence. The community is very liberal with its attitudes towards sex, so there are numerous sex scenes featuring nudity, though it’s more of a “background setting” as opposed to trying to titillate the audience. There is also one sex scene that is used in a grotesque context.

#12. Host (short?)

What’s it about? Six friends hire a medium to hold a seance via Zoom during lockdown, but they get far more than they bargained for as things quickly go wrong. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Found Footage, Occult/Séance

Where can you find it? VOD, Shudder

Created during the COVID-19 lockdown, Host isn’t merely the by-product of boredom, but rather it extrapolated the inherent themes of that particular unique time period and recontextualized them into a horror narrative. The result wonderfully toys with the ideas concerning technology and isolation. It cheekily plays with society’s obsession with Zoom and people’s desire to stay connected, though it’s put to the challenge when a group of friends try to organize a séance; an activity that typifies “connection” in a number of ways. Yet as tragic events begin to unfold, it becomes painfully obvious that despite our ability to reach out via technology, the reality remains that we are still isolated in our separate rooms unable to physically help others.

The story isn’t new as it’s very similar to the Unfriended series, though it certainly feels more authentic given its context. The film’s odd runtime (57 minutes) also works in its favour; it jumps straight in, delivers its scares, then leaves before it can outstay its welcome. It’s a tight, effective little horror film that is on par with the others in its subgenre (Unfriended, Searching) despite its limitations with shooting, and there are some fun scares as well.

Who is it for? If you liked Unfriended, or enjoyed the Paranormal Activity films, you’ll like this. It’s also great if you’re short on time, or are just curious to see one of the better films to come out of the pandemic.

Watch out for: Ghosts/Demons. Jump scares. Supernatural forces and occult practices. Self mutilation, stabbings and broken bones. Alcoholic drinking games. Zoom meetings.

#11. His House

What’s it about? A refugee couple makes a harrowing escape from war-torn South Sudan, but then they struggle to adjust to their new life in an English town that has an evil lurking beneath the surface. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Haunted House, Ghosts, Witchcraft

Where can you find it? Netflix

I wrote about how the haunted house subgenre is rather stale during my Ghosts of War overview, so films adopting these tropes need to discover fresh ways to tell a familiar tale. During its opening act, His House worryingly seemed to tread the same path as hundreds of horror movies before it, though it began to craft its own identity when the ghosts started to make a full appearance. Forget about little bumps or moved objects, or just getting shoved across a room, in His House the ghosts are distinctly more violent and brazen in their approach. It’s a good thing the film uses the protagonists’ willingness to maintain their refugee status as motivation for them to remain in the house; if they leave, then they risk deportation, whereas in any other circumstance the threat of staying another night would override any impetus to remain in the residence.

Yet the real beauty of His House is its complete upending of the concept itself. It’s not the house that contains the troubling entity, rather the people are haunted by the cost of the journey to occupy such a privileged location. This film offers a traumatizing insight into the perils refugees have faced, and the terrifying onslaught of survivor’s guilt. The final shot hits home with its continual, bittersweet horror.

Who is it for? If you’re looking for a haunted house flick with a strong thematic undercurrent, powerful use of metaphor, and visceral scares, then His House will suit you.

Watch out for: Jump scares. Stabbings, self-mutilation, and bleeding wounds. Creepy looking ghosts/monsters and hallucinogenic sequences. Portrayal of disturbing events that force the protagonists to flee their country; massacres, gun violence, drowning, burning bodies, the traumatic separation of families.

His House

#10. Run

What’s it about? A homeschooled teenager begins to suspect her mother is keeping a dark secret from her. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Isolation, Thriller, Psychological

Where can you find it? Hulu

Borrowing vibes from Misery, Run is a taut and contained thriller that revolves around a wheelchair bound teen trying to flee from increasingly dangerous circumstances. Every setback for our protagonist is a physical puzzle that needs to be solved, with some sequences leaving audiences gobsmacked with their ingenuity. It’s tense, nicely paced, and is a good story told well. Some background information feels ham-fisted in although it’s forgivable due to most of the action taking place in the one location. The one downside to the film is its double-edged handling of the villain; the narrative maintains the audience’s interest by continuously raising the stakes, forcing the antagonist to take desperate measures in their increasingly unhinged mental state, although it doesn’t take long for a line to be crossed where it becomes obvious there’s no long-term chance of winning, ironically depleting the very stakes the film sought to heighten. Despite its flirting with the villain’s fanciful yet impractical solutions, Run is a riveting, mainstream thriller that punches above its weight.

Who is it for? Run is more of a thriller than horror with only a light amount of blood, guts and gore. So if you’re looking for a tense, nail-biting film, but are turned off by extreme violence or jump scares, then Run is definitely worth a look.

Watch out for: Violence against a child. Gun violence and a little blood. There’s abuse of prescription medication and threats involving syringes. 

#9. Relic

What’s it about? A daughter, mother and grandmother are haunted by a manifestation of dementia that consumes their family’s home. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Illness, Allegorical, Psychological, Drama

Where can you find it? VOD

Relic is a beautifully horrifying look at the unceasing mental decay of dementia. Similar to The Babadook, it utilizes the horror genre as a metaphorical means to express the devastating impact a condition can have on a family, although it also shares some of the same flaws as the aforementioned critically acclaimed film. Due to its maturely handled thematic content and its controlled use of horror, this film has gained much attention amongst critics, although if it’s viewed under false pretences (i.e. “It’s a fantastic scary movie”), some audiences will find this movie to be highly overrated as it doesn’t match their expectations. In short, if you aren’t one to read into themes, or don’t have a personal connection to the subject matter, then Relic is a boring ninety-minute exercise in watching people get lost in a house. However a different experience awaits those whose lives have been unfortunately touched by degenerative diseases. Relic will make you sob into a bucket then drink those tears so you can cry them again. This film will emotionally devastate you.

There comes a point in the story where it no longer operates as a reality-based, straightforward narrative, and it begins to lean completely on its metaphorical imagery, almost a reflection on the condition it wishes to portray. It’s jarring to make the switch, but once you let go of any logical interpretation and allow the experiences and the senses to continue the rest of the journey, Relic is a heart-aching presentation of what is a reality to many across the world. Bring tissues.

Who is it for? If you’re looking for jump scares or gory scenes, then look elsewhere—this isn’t that type of film. It’s a slow-burn horror film in that it portrays a very scary, very real medical condition, adopting tropes from the genre to cement the trauma.

Watch out for: The worst case of house mold you’ve ever seen. Nightmarish sequences involving getting lost, fear of being pursued, and the increasing sense of insanity. Self-mutilation. Stabbing. Body horror (skin peeling, unnatural skeletal structure and appearance). Get prepared to be emotionally wrecked.

#8. Bulbbul

What’s it about? A man returns home after years to find his brother’s child bride now grown up and abandoned, and his ancestral village plagued by mysterious deaths. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Folklore, Demon, Crime

Where can you find it? Netflix

Bulbbul is a sumptuous film that will be enjoyed more for its style over substance. Maybe I really am a sucker for fairy tales or just that communal campfire feeling where people gather up close to tell a chilling story under a starlit night. Bulbbul captures that atmosphere, unveiling an Indian urban legend draped under surrealistic lighting states within a dreamlike historical time period. The plot is relatively straight-forward and rather predictable, but the film’s presentation of this classic tale is so gorgeous that it’s easily forgivable. It’s enjoyable to simply soak in the film’s tone and mood as it crafts this world of a forgotten time riddled with mystery and whisperings of ghosts or demons haunting the nearby forest. It eventually weaves a tragic and disturbing tale of revenge which is not thematically suitable for younger viewers, but feels like a hallmark of the traditional urban legends of yesteryear all the same.  It’s not what one would normally classify as a scary film, but it belongs in the horror genre nonetheless much like a Brothers Grimm tale.

Who is it for? If you’re into great visuals and films with a folkloric spooky atmosphere, but not necessarily a fan of jump scares, then give Bulbbul a try. Although it still deals with heavy, mature content. Also give it a look if you’re studying the production design aspect of filmmaking; Bulbbul is very bold with its use of color, particularly with lighting and its design palette. It’s one of the most visually striking films I watched in 2020.

Watch out for: The film is an Indian period piece and contains old traditions such as child marriage. Violence against women; rape scenes (no nudity) and extreme domestic violence (mostly off screen but heavily implied). Corpses are seen during a murder investigation. Lots of fire.

Bulbbul

#7. Sputnik

What’s it about? The lone survivor of an enigmatic spaceship incident hasn’t returned back home alone-hiding inside his body is a dangerous creature. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Sci-Fi, Alien

Where can you find it? Hulu, VOD

This Russian production offers an intriguing conundrum as it details the problems an astronaut faces in quarantine after he unintentionally makes extra-terrestrial contact. In the same vein as Alien and Life, Sputnik offers a new creature to fear, though while it’s disappointingly generic in its appearance, it’s the science behind its biology that is the most fascinating aspect of this story. There are more than a handful of tense sequences although the action does plateau as it doesn’t offer much in the way of surprise, but the film’s science fiction aspect is genuinely interesting. The more we learn about this new creature, the deeper and more complex the problem becomes, and the greater the risk of human rights violations. Compared to other alien horror films, Sputnik tends to stand out more on its questions over politics, governing bodies, and the treatment of humans. The scares might feel a bit generic, but its thematic content is unique and strong.

Who is it for? Definitely check this out if you liked Life and Alien, and don’t mind reading subtitles.

Watch out for: The slimy, violent alien! Gory maulings (blood, brains exposed—gratuitous with its depiction). Gun violence. Sadistic massacres—the devaluing of human life. Soviet-era ideology. 

#6. The Invisible Man

What’s it about? When Cecilia’s abusive ex takes his own life and leaves her his fortune, she suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of coincidences turn lethal, Cecilia works to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Psychological, Paranoia, Home Invasion, Classic Monster

Where can you find it? VOD, HBO/Max

One of the few big budget Hollywood productions to be released during 2020, The Invisible Man is certainly the most popular horror film on this list and is frequently touted to be the best of the year. It brings new life to one of Warner Bros.’ classic monsters and cleverly reimagines the narrative as an insightful allegory about the psychological trauma of domestic abuse. Yet it still has its faults. It has the type of plot that invites the audience to question, “What would I do?” and unfortunately there are too many times where an illogical response is displayed on screen (although it’s usually in service of the metaphor as opposed to the direct narrative). It borders on gimmicky where upon a second watch some of the action doesn’t make sense. Still, it’s a fantastic film that brilliantly toys with vacant spaces and even steps into the haunted house subgenre with playful aplomb. 

Read our full review here!

Who is it for? If you’re into your competent, glossy Hollywood flicks as opposed to indie horror, which can be a mixed bag or a slow-burn, then The Invisible Man is the safest choice on this list. It’s creepy. It’s clever. It’s got some great tension, atmosphere and jump scares. If you’re a fan of H.G. Wells’ novel or have been keen to see a fresh adaptation, then you can’t miss this film if you haven’t seen it already.

Watch out for: Empty spaces? Violence against women—domestic abuse. Stabbings, slashings, physical assault, all by an unseen force. Jump scares. Gun violence. Some blood but it’s minimal. The intent to have an abortion is implied.

#5. 1BR

What’s it about? Sarah tries to start anew in LA, but her neighbours are not what they seem. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Cult, Psychological, Torture

Where can you find it? Netflix, VOD

There has been a sudden increase and fascination with cults given how many films on this list broach the topic. Yet many still depict them at an arm’s length as an “other,” whereas 1BR brutally details the brainwashing process. It’s a deeply unsettling film as the audience helplessly travels alongside the protagonist’s psychological torment, which is mercilessly effective as it demonstrates the absolute lack of viable options available. Every time the audience dares to fantasize how they would act in those given circumstances, they are quickly corrected for their insolence or troublingly coerced to second-guess their choices. It is a rare film that is freakishly in-step with the protagonists’ mindset. You will understand how brainwashing works by the end of this movie, and it’s terrifying. Unfortunately the ending is on the weak-side, though it does hold some satisfaction.

Who is it for? If you can handle some depiction of torture, then 1BR offers one of the best psychological horrors of the year. While it’s not based on a true story and is rather elaborate with its depiction, if you’re a crime fan or have an interest in cults, then this film could be worth your time.

Watch out for: Animal cruelty. Nails through flesh. Psychological torment. Gun violence. Stabbings. Little in way of gore though the deaths are blunt and unflinching with their depiction. Distressing methods of euthanasia.

#4. Shadowed (short)

What’s it about? A woman, startled by a power outage, begins noticing a strange phenomenon. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Monster/Ghost, Home Invasion

Where can you find it? YouTube – right here!

Director David F. Sandberg of Lights Out fame is at it again (poor Lotta)! During lockdown, Sandberg created this fine little piece of horror filmmaking that operates as a sort of adjunct to Lights Out, though it is unique enough to call it a new entity (you don’t need to have seen that film to appreciate this). The amount of tension he manages to craft in just three minutes is nothing short of masterful. It’s quirky, clever, and even manages a hint of comedy before delivering big on the scares. It’s hard to ask for more from a three-minute piece.

Who is it for? Anyone that wants a quick jump scare and a creepy short film.

Watch out for: Half an f-bomb! It toys with darkness, light, and shadows, hinting at creatures with violent tendencies.

Shadowed

#3. Possessor Uncut

What’s it about? Possessor follows an agent who works for a secretive organization that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies – ultimately driving them to commit assassinations for high-paying clients. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Spy, Psychological, Body Horror, Splatter, Sci-Fi

Where can you find it? VOD

Possessor contains one of the more original premises on this list. Part Inception, part Bourne Identity, the story follows a group of assassins that possess the technology to transfer their minds into the body of a person close to their intended target, creating the perfect crime as it frames the possessed party. Yet with two minds sharing the same body, insanity creeps in and personal identity is questioned, particularly when the host begins to resist their mental intruder. It’s an odd film that flits between the savagery of the assassinations, and the long hallucinogenic metaphorical sequences that symbolize the battle within the mind and the struggle to remain in control. Our protagonist desperately tries to simultaneously become a blank vessel for work purposes, yet also attempts to define her existence. Possessor’s presentation is cold and brutal, losing its warmth of humanity as it progresses, leaving the audience on a chilling final note and many questions as to what defines our own human experiences. 

Who is it for? The graphic content in this film is extreme. It is not for the feint of heart. Whilst torture porn movies such as the Saw franchise are more gratuitous with their gore and violence than Possessor, this film is very chilling and cold with its depiction. It is suited for older, more mature fans of the genre, who have in the past explored some of the classic indie flicks such as Dario Argento’s work, and ironically other films made within the Cronenberg family. This is a complex film that requires a higher level of thematic analysis than normal in order to take away anything other than violence. If you’re a horror fan but your tastes are more in-keeping with major Hollywood productions, like the Freaky’s and the Invisible Man’s of this world, then Possessor is not your brand of horror. I would recommend this film to adults; not teens, not young adults, but adults. If you’re unsure, then Bacurau (also on this list) would work as a nice stepping stone; Possessor has the cooler plot, but Bacurau also has complex themes, requires patience from the audience, and its depiction of sex and violence are of a similar vein though it’s of a lesser level.

Watch out for: Extreme sexual content (twice an erected penis is shown in a relative close up, and a woman exposes her genitals to the camera in a wide shot). There are a handful of short sex scenes, though they do not intend to titillate the audience, rather they deepen the story’s themes and are almost clinical in their presentation. Extreme violence. Gun violence, stabbings, physical assault, all with graphic close ups of teeth being broken, brain matter falling out, skin bleeding, mutilated or bruised, and eyeballs!!! Strobe effects.

Note: As I am Australian, the version I watched in cinemas was the original—there is a censored cut that was released in the USA (simply called Possessor); the difference is between a NC-17 and an R rating. Reports have stated that the censored version is still very violent and still contains the sex scenes, although one minute worth of the more graphic shots have been removed.

#2. The Hunt

What’s it about? Twelve strangers wake up in a clearing. They don’t know where they are, or how they got there. They don’t know they’ve been chosen – for a very specific purpose – The Hunt. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Political, Allegorical, Redneck, Splatter, Survivalist

Where can you find it? Cinemax, VOD

If you find yourself increasingly feeling alone in the middle of the widening political divide, then The Hunt may offer some solace. Like an old school episode of South Park, it takes a step back and highlights the hypocrisies of the extremists in both the right and leftist camps in a darkly hilarious fashion. In amongst its brutal wit and glorious over-the-top kills, it delivers some biting satire and social critique, using Animal Farm as a friendly thematic backdrop. Yet it’s also a film that can be appreciated on simpler terms. Its opening sequence is one of the most bonkers and unpredictable first acts in recent memory that actively works hard to upend several splatter tropes, instantly letting the audience know this is a film with a difference. It also features some of the best fight choreography seen in 2020 (which isn’t hard given the action genre suffered terribly in the pandemic, but it’s still really good and is top-tier work). So if you’re not too uptight about your politics and are relaxed enough to let out an objective laugh, then The Hunt has a few things to say.

Who is it for? The premise is similar to Battle Royale though this time the political undercurrent is more relevant to American society. Centrists and foreigners are probably the most likely to get a kick out of the film’s comedic elements, though really this film is appealing to anyone that’s looking for a good yet graphic survivalist horror film.

Watch out for: Critique on both right and left ideologies. Eyeballs (if you can’t tell by now, I just hate eyeball gauging)!! People are killed for sport in wild, outrageous ways, from explosions to poisoning, from little cuts to “just a scratch” level injuries featuring chopped in half bodies with entrails hanging out. Safe to say it’s gory! Animal cruelty. Frequent coarse language including uses of God’s name in vain.

The Hunt

#1. The Platform

What’s it about? A vertical prison with one cell per level. Two people per cell. Only one food platform and two minutes per day to feed. An endless nightmare trapped in The Hole. (IMDB)

Subgenre? Cannibalism, Allegorical, Psychological

Where can you find it? Netflix

I adore horror films that choose to be part of the genre not because they desire to shock or wish to glorify violence to make money off cheap thrills, but rather because it’s the best course of action for the story. In The Platform, the capitalistic structure of our society is reimagined as a vertical prison system, where the people located at the top literally consume whatever resources they physically can before it trickles down to the floors below. When it is reduced to such simplicity it is nothing short of horrifying. It is a brutally impactful film, with its message becoming even more prominent given its release had an uncanny timing with the food hoarding and great toilet paper scrambling of 2020. A lot of thought has been put into this production, and it’s easy to see considering the film is littered with symbolism. It’s well written and features many standout, thought-provoking lines that haunt the viewer long after its end credits roll. The more the audience ponders over the three-act odyssey of the protagonist’s journey, the more meaning can be gleaned, whether that’s through an analysis of what every character represents in this dystopian world or how it connects to Don Quixote. Viewers might feel cheated by The Platform’s abrupt ending, though by leaning into the film’s overt symbolism, a satisfactory answer can be found. It’s ultimately a powerful, gut-wrenching, gut-churning, brutal story that offers a blunt critique on the faults of our modern civilization that will stimulate the mind for hours after its completion.

Read our full review here!

Who is it for? The Platform is a deeply thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating film in amongst its harsh violence and upfront gore. Its repulsive physical content adds a visceral nature to the film’s message, so if you can handle the grossness and are looking for a feast for the mind, then The Platform is a great fit.

Watch out for: Animal cruelty. Cannibalism. Nudity (breasts and the bare male form, but not depicted in a sexual context). Implied rape. Severe violence—beatings, stabbings, choking, cruel situations which lead to murder out of desperation. Starvation. Defecation and urination. Frequent coarse language. This film depicts food and eating in a grotesque manner; I do not recommend this film to people with eating disorders that might be negatively triggered by such content.

Was there a film not on the list that you recommend? What horror movies impressed you in 2020?

 

Juliana Purnell

After obtaining a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, Juliana Purnell has enjoyed a successful acting career, working within theme parks, businesses, and on film sets. She has also taken on crew roles, both in film and theatrical productions. When Juliana isn't working, she enjoys watching movies of all genres at the cinema, writing, and playing with Samson, her pomeranian.

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