The very scary year that was 2020 is now over, but we’re not quite done with it just yet. While the movie release landscape was severely changed due to the coronavirus pandemic, several great horror movies managed to find their way to audiences. Below, we’ve rounded up the best of the best to countdown the 15 Best Horror Movies of 2020.
(Note: I would’ve loved to have included Saint Maud, a movie I saw in 2019, on this list. But while Saint Maud was released in the UK in 2020, its US release date remains in limbo. Because of that, I’m not including it here – even though it’s fantastic.)
Best Horror Movies of 2020
15. Hunter Hunter
A bleak, grungy, bloody movie, Hunter Hunter arrived at the very end of 2020 but still managed to make the list. Gruff outdoorsman Joe Mersault (a nearly unrecognizable Devon Sawa) lives in the woods in a secluded cabin with his wife Anne (Camille Sullivan) and teen daughter Renée (Summer H. Howell). They’re completely off the grid, and that’s how Joe likes it. But Anne worries this rugged lifestyle is unfair to their daughter, and to make matters worse, a bloodthirsty wolf is lurking about. Joe vows to kill the wolf – but there are darker, deadlier things out in those woods, and soon they come calling. The less you know about Hunter Hunter, the more effective it is. And it’s plenty damn effective – a slow-burn building towards a ghastly end.
The latest from Satan’s Slaves filmmaker Joko Anwar, Impetigore is more proof that Anwar is a horror filmmaker to keep a close eye on. Thick with dread, this film follows Maya (Tara Basro) who heads to the small village of Harjosari with hopes of selling off a house that may or may not be in her family (she’s vague on the details herself). But once there, Maya and her friend Dini (Marissa Anita) are given cold stares by the villagers – and the explanation might have something to do with a dark incident from Maya’s past. Impetigore plays its cards close to its chest, and just when the vagueness starts to seem unbearable, Anwar pulls the rugt out from under you, unleashing scenes that are full of both haunting beauty and bloody horrors. Watch it now before the inevitable, and sure to be inferior, American remake.
13. Scare Me
Inventive and darkly funny, Scare Me has a set-up that shouldn’t work – it’s essentially two people in one location telling each other stories. And no, the stories don’t get full enactments like a standard horror anthology film. No, instead, stars Aya Cash and Josh Ruben act everything out for one another. And gosh darn it, it’s incredible! Cash and Ruben are equally wonderful at bringing their respective stories to life (although to be fair they are aided by some sound effects here and there). Ruben (who also wrote and directed) is Fred, who claims to be a writer, but who also can’t seem to get anything down on the page. In an attempt to churn something out he secludes himself away in a cabin. And as fate would have it, he’s not alone. Fanny (Cash) is staying at a cabin nearby, and she’s a writer, too – but unlike Fred, she’s a well-known, highly-successful writer. When a power outage blankets the area, Fred and Fanny hang out in Fred’s cabin and start telling each other stories – stories that bring out Fred’s raging jealously, and more. There are a million ways this entire endeavor could’ve backfired, but Scare Me keeps surprising you at every turn.
12. Gretel & Hansel
Gretel & Hansel was a January horror release, and more often than not, when studios drop any movie in January it’s a sign they don’t have much faith in it. And it’s easy to see why here – this is not a mainstream horror flick. It’s a slow-burning, occult-laced take on the classic storybook tale, with a feminist twist. The basic framework – brothers Gretel (Sophia Lillis) and Hansel (Sam Leakey) end up in the house of a witch (Alice Krige). But the witch isn’t exactly the witch you remember from the story, and she sure as hell doesn’t live in some house made of candy and chocolate. Instead, the house, like the entire movie, has a more elemental, earthy quality. Hansel fades into the background as the complicated relationship between Gretel, who is on the verge of adulthood, and the witch, who has plenty of secrets, grows darker and stranger. “The reality [Gretl] grows up in is that young women are disposable and should expect the least everything,” Perkins said. “But when she arrives at the witch’s house, she learns that’s upside-down: [the witch] is the most powerful creature by far, and she doesn’t have time for the patriarchy.”
Melancholy and often genuinely scary, Relic strands three generations of women in a house and slowly lets the walls start crumbling. When her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) vanishes, her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and Kay’s daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) travel to the family homestead hoping to find her. Sure enough, Edna does return – but she’s not acting like herself. And if that wasn’t weird enough, the house keeps making strange groaning sounds and there’s a curious black mold growing on the walls. Moody as hell and featuring three great performances from Nevin, Mortimer, and Heathcote, Relic manages to both frighten you and tug on your heartstrings, and that’s no easy feat.
Underwater is a shameless knock-off of Aliens and The Abyss, and you know what? It rocks. Sometimes you want something fresh and original, and other times, you want the comfort of familiarity. And Underwater delivers, and manages to make all the familiarity seem vibrant. It’s an old fashioned monster movie done right. Kristen Stewart is part of a team of workers on a deep-sea drilling facility who have to fend for their lives after an earthquake puts them in danger. The facility is compromised and in danger of collapse, and if that wasn’t enough of a problem there are also Lovecraftian sea creatures lurking around every corner. Like 2019’s slick killer gator flick Crawl, Underwater proves that you can do something fun with something overly familiar.
9. Come to Daddy
It always feels like a cop-out when I have to say “the less you know about this movie, the better it is!” But that’s never been more true than with the case of Come to Daddy. I went into Ant Timpson‘s oddity knowing the bare minimum – Elijah Wood plays a guy who reunites with his estranged father. And sure enough, that is what happens – at first. Wood, playing hipster Norval, shows up at a secluded home where he encounters his long-lost dad (Stephen McHattie). Norval hopes the two can form some sort of bond, but any hope of that goes right down the toilet when dad starts acting weird and aggressive. And…well, like I said – the less you know, the better. Just know that Come to Daddy goes down some wild, dark roads and brings you along for the ride, resulting in a twisted little gem that deserves to find a wider audience.
8. La Llorona
No, this isn’t the movie that was part of The Conjuring Universe. This La Llorona is a Guatemalan horror-drama that takes the legend of the water-logged ghost of The Weeping Woman and reworks it against the backdrop of real-world horrors. Guatemalan dictator Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz) is tried and convicted of genocidal war crimes from the 1980s – but his conviction is swiftly overturned, and Monteverde is able to return to his palatial home. As protestors gather outside, Monteverde and his family try to go about their lives. But when a mysterious new maid (María Mercedes Coroy) arrives at the house, things get out of hand rather quickly, with Monteverde growing more and more erratic and the specter of the supernatural lingering in the air. Tragic and chilling, La Llorona burns itself into your subconscious.
A horror film literally tailor-made for 2020, Host is set in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and finds a group of friends gathering for a remote seance. What could go wrong? I mean, after all, these people are safe and socially distanced at home. Well, as you might’ve guessed, a lot goes wrong as the friends accidentally summon something sinister. Shot on the fly and put together in twelve weeks, Rob Savage‘s quick, clever film is inventive, engrossing, and, best of all, pretty damn scary. Will the movie still play as well in years to come, when we’re all (hopefully) free of frequent Zoom meet-ups? I think so, and that’s part of what makes Host so special.
6. The Dark and the Wicked
Another ominous slow-burn from The Strangers director Bryan Bertino, The Dark and the Wicked finds siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) returning to the family homestead when their father takes ill. But to their surprise, brother and sister discover that their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) isn’t happy for their company and doesn’t want their help. In fact, she seems downright hostile. Bertino takes possession tropes and flips them on their head, proving that horror filmmakers don’t have to just keep ripping off The Exorcist when they want to tell a story like this. Almost unbearably tense at times, The Dark and the Wicked will shred your nerves.
5. The Lodge
Ultra-bleak and unapologetically nasty, The Lodge punches you in the gut in its opening few minutes and never relents. Despite my love for all-things-horror, I’ll confess that movies that are this cruel tend to turn me off. And yet, The Lodge worked for me – and worked exceedingly well. I first caught it at Sundance over two years ago and never stopped thinking about it. Riley Keough is Grace, a seemingly lovely young woman who is about to marry Richard (Richard Armitage). Richard has two kids from a previous marriage – Aiden (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), and while Grace tries really hard to endear herself to her future step-kids, they’re not having it. Complicating matters further, Grace and the kids get snowed-in at the family cabin while Richard gets called away on business, leading the kids to hatch a plot to torment poor, hapless Grace. Little do they know that there’s a destructive darkness building within their potential stepmother, and it’s about to be unleashed.
The perfect blend of bloody horror, laugh-out-loud comedy, and charming sweetness, Freaky is one of 2020’s best surprises. Christopher Landon‘s horror-comedy combines the slasher genre with the body-swap comedy, resulting in the best and most inventive slasher movie since Scream. When shy teen Millie (Kathryn Newton) ends up in the body of hulking serial killer the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), she has to convince her friends of the truth while trying to get back in her own body. The set-up allows Vaughn to go nuts as a teen girl trapped in a very tall man’s frame, while Newton in turn gets to have fun as a serial killer posing as a high school girl. With inventive kills, a clever script (courtesy of Landon and Michael Kennedy), and emotional beats that ring true, Freaky is a total blast.
3. The Invisible Man
Leigh Whannell takes the ruined remains of Universal’s failed Dark Universe and creates something incredible. A horror film for the #MeToo era, The Invisible Man has Elisabeth Moss as an abused woman who is convinced her dead boyfriend isn’t dead at all – he’s just invisible, and he’s gaslighting her straight to hell. As her life falls apart around her, Moss’s friends are skeptical and think she must be losing her mind – but of course, she’s right. But how can she prove it? Whannell’s direction is phenomenal, with a camera that always seems to be tracking something (or someone) who isn’t really there. But the film’s real secret weapon is Moss, who once again gets to go completely off the deep end and wow us in the process.
2. His House
Remi Weekes‘s His House takes the refuge experience and deep emotional traumas and applies them to a haunted house story, with stunning results. Refugees Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) have escaped South Suda and ended up in the UK. Once there, they are granted probational asylum and set-up in a house. The house may seem rundown to you or me, but Bol and Rial are amazed at how big the place is. The amazement doesn’t last long, though, because there’s something (or somethings) lurking behind the walls. Also lurking is a dark secret that threatens to tear the couple apart. Like Get Out before it, His House proves that blending social issues with horror can result in something truly special.
Drenched in blood and gore, Possessor is a feverish film. I saw it at Sundance last year and I could feel the audience growing unmoored with each passing moment of unchecked brutality. By the time the credits rolled I stagged out into the snow feeling as if my entire head were on fire. It’s that kind of movie. Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg (son of David), Possessor follows Tasya Vos (human chameleon Andrea Riseborough), an assassin with the ability to upload her consciousness into another person’s body. Vos then uses the host body to carry out her hit, framing the poor host and creating an untraceable crime in the process. But the work is taking its toll, and Vos’ hits are becoming increasingly gruesome. And to make matters worse, her latest job goes seriously wrong when Colin (Christopher Abbott), the body she’s currently inhabiting, wakes up and tries to fight back. A shrieking, maddening, carnage-laced saga about losing your humanity, Possessor is bound to become a modern cult classic – the type of raw, visceral work that’s rediscovered and obsessed over for years to come.