2020: A Good Year for Horror
Although theaters were limited during 2020, audiences were treated to some great horror films to watch on the silver and small screen.
In a typical year, we’re fortunate to have a even handful of great releases under a single genre. After perusing much of what 2020 offered us, I want to share with you some of the top horror films I found released during 2020.
The Wretched (Unrated)
Those with a fascination with the mythology of witchcraft and a preference for horror will find a great experience in The Wretched. As audiences are treated to a nice blend of Drama-Horror. With the film’s storytelling being similar to The Poltergeist (1982) method of bringing out the horror through the interactions of the characters.
Debuting in 2019 via the Film Festival circuit, the film eventually saw it’s public release in May 2020. Although it’s digital release has left it without release rating, the film does contain minimal graphic content. Focusing more on the storytelling, which really works in the film. As it centers around a teenage boy who’s new to town, and has to handle everything from embarrassing failed courtships, to parental disappointment, to suspecting his neighbor is behind a string of missing children.
Those familiar with the lore behind witches know they must take life from youth to maintain their own existence. This aspect is played up well in the film with a slight twist. But some of the best parts of it are subtle; such as the ideas of selflessness, bravery, family, friends, and our ability to live with our mistakes. These elements are not over the top, and play well into the sequence of events. Which gives the film a good sense of realism, that really helps tell the story in a visceral way.
If you like witchcraft and horror, The Wretched is a great addition to a 2020 collection!
The Horror Comedy genre is a limited but highly entertaining subgenre, and 2020 did not disappoint. With Blumhouse bringing their satire based take on Freaky Friday to the theaters. The subversion of the Disney film provides entertaining and hilarious ideas to see play out onscreen. Seeing a teenage girl exchange bodies with a psychotic killer provides high comedy. Especially with Vince Vaughn going from the killer to the victim (a teenager girl!), the ideas feels fresh and fun in a way few films ever achieve.
Kathryn Newton also deserves accolades at tackling her transition in the film. As she transforms from a self-conscious teenager into a confident and assertive killer. Right upon her transition into the killer, viewers are treated to a character that is perplexed at first. Only to realize that there is an opportunity that can be leveraged, by being seen as a teenage girl. Since the manhunt is ongoing for the known killer.
From this point on, the comedy just gets better and better. As our teenager now in the killer’s body has to convince people that she is a victim of an extraordinary circumstance. As the killer walks around unimpeded by anyone that may get in the way. What is especially enjoyable is how the ending comes to a good all around ending, playing with ideas from the horror genre at large.
If you’re looking for a great movie to watch with friends, you can’t go wrong with Freaky.
Come Play (PG-13)
When a young boy with communications issues becomes dependent on technology to develop his voice, an unknown entity uses his tablet to tell him a story about a misunderstood monster named Larry. And what starts as a friendly surprise only becomes more sinister, as the continues deeper into the story.
Come Play is a mixed bag, as it does have its flaws. But as Poltergeist has taught us, Horror & Drama are a great recipe for storytelling. Which is the greatest strength behind Come Play’s narrative. As we have a protective mother dealing with a lackadaisical husband, and her son whom has extensive social issues. Which you’ll later come to realize are made worse by some of her decisions.
Once Larry is introduces himself, you can’t get rid of him unless you finish the story and subsequently decide to become his friend. What it means to become his friend is something only the ending of this film tells you. As Oliver’s parents do everything they can to protect him, Oliver must deal with the other kids in the school that have a past with him. As they initially bully him, then befriend him. Illustrating how much Oliver’s struggles with socializing truly are. As he can’t speak, he can’t socialize easily, and when issues arise he can’t even begin to properly resolve the situation.
Those who’ve seen The Babadook will see familiar themes, but overall the decisions made with the story feel far better here. I don’t want to spoil much about this film, as a lot of it rides on the suspense. But you appreciate horror told through elements of family and friends, Come Play is a fun film to watch on a dark and quiet night. It’s touching ending is also a nice way to transition away from everything that young Oliver has been put through.
Mandao Returns (Unrated)
Speaking of Horror Comedy, Mandao Returns has been a pleasant surprise for me. What this talented team has managed to accomplish with such a small budget is more than amazing. As audiences have been delivered what is easily one of the best independent horror-comedies to be released. With its high quality production value, and characters charming, the film does a great job at keeping things believable despite some of the characters going into extraordinary areas. Such as astral projection, communicating/interacting with others while projecting, and using both in combination to change the past.
Mandao Returns is the follow up to Mandao of the Dead. But watching the first film isn’t a requirement. In this film Jay Mandao can astral project, and after receiving a warning from his father, his Cousin Andy asks him to use his astral powers so they can make some money. What starts out as a simple premise only gets more messy, as they are paid to change the past on request. When they fail to deliver on their end of the bargain.
The story opens with us getting to know Mandao and his living situation. When Andy introduces a scheme to make money off of a Hollywood manager. This manager is looking to speak with a deceased client that recently passed away. And he’s clearly willing to do anything to speak to her. Following this scam, things become more complicated as the pair soon make a deal with the deceased actress to save her life. Unfortunately, Andy isn’t the sharpest and complicates things further. Leading to a fresh murder in the wake of his actions.
What’s especially entertaining throughout the story is the multiple angles at play. You have astral projection, failing to live up to any agreements, the plot of murder, the life of a failing actress, her manager’s desperation, and a secretive organization that offer fame in exchange for a human sacrifice. Meanwhile, Mandao is doing his best to keep things together, despite the warning to stop astral projecting. But as as the only one that can remember the various outcomes, he alone must deal with the consequences from each persons actions.
Although,the horror is light, there’s a lot of fun to be had in this hidden gem. Lucky for us, Mandao Returns is currently available for free on TubiTV. So, you can start watching it now.
During the pandemic filmmakers had to get creative to come up with a decent film that could be made during a lockdown. Rob Savage and company then devised a brilliant idea that manages to deliver a creative new entry into the found footage genre.
A group of friends decide that they’re going to get together on a Zoom call (video chat software) to conduct a séance. One of the girls is familiar with someone that can guide them through the process, and what begins as a playful exercise quickly becomes dangerous. You see, sometimes you have to take things seriously. And it’s clear that the group are struggling to do this. After all, would you take a paranormal experiment in conducting a séance over video chat seriously?
Without spoiling anything, the film does a great job at advancing the minimalistic story via well executed characters. The friends have believable banter, there’s plenty of practical aspects of the filmmaking that makes things easily believable, and it does a decent job at building tension in the process. Not to mention, at 57 minutes in length the ideas behind the film never wear out their welcome.
Aside from all this, the film has a decent wrap up and can be appreciated by those who don’t know Zoom, or what it does. While still satisfying the notions behind those that are familiar with the computer app. If you’re a fan of the found footage or horror genres, this film is definitely up your alley. And well worth giving a shot on dark night.
Anything for Jackson (R)
Following the loss of their grandson, elderly couple Audrey and Henry use a Satanic ritual to bring him back to life. But what they believed would be a simple attempt at resurrecting Jackson becomes more than they expected. As complications arise and troubles grow. Leaving the grieving grandparents questioning whether they made the right decision to begin with.
What makes Anything for Jackson so enjoyable is its blend of demonic spirits, Satanic ritualism, the desperation created from the loss of a loved one, and the creepy portrayal of their circumstances. The combination of these elements put together piques your curiosity, as you begin to wonder how things will end for everyone.
For the best ending experience, we recommend stopping the movie at 1 hour and 33 minutes. As the following 60 seconds create an abrupt ending to the story. But it’s still a fun watch!
The Invisible Man (R)
When Leigh Whanell gets inspired, he does not disappoint. Offering his unique take on The Invisible Man franchise, for the first time we’re given insight into the motives behind the invisible specter himself. As previous films focused mainly on the victim, this film does a great job at presenting presents both sides of the story to you. With a greater focus on Cecilia, and portraying her experiences as a mix of victim and potentially out of touch with reality.
The beginning of the film starts with Cecilia making her escape from her husband. But soon after her escape, she’s notified of her husband’s death and a $5 million sum that is due to her way. But this money comes with stipulatons, and not long after accepting it, events start to shift her life in a different direction. As she begins to suspect that she is being watched.
At various points during the film, the audience will question the reality of what’s going on for Cecilia. Why doesn’t she feel safe despite her abusive husband being dead? Is she suffering from PTSD? Is she imagining things, slowly driving herself more crazy? All of these questions are answered beautifully (and brutally) throughout the film.
Now I don’t want to spoil this film for those that haven’t seen it, but the brilliant blend of horror, suspense, drama, and science fiction make this film a rare gem. These genres played against the foreboding atmosphere of an inescapable force do a great job at building dread and suspense in a great way. As at various points in time you wonder if she’ll be able to overcome her circumstances. After all, how do you stop an invisible man?
When you add in the amazing production behind the film, you have an instant classic in The Invisible Man. And perhaps, the best good horror film of 2020.