2020 Wrap Up: Ranking the highs and lows of horror

2020 has been an interesting year for cinema. With COVID-19 making going to the movies impossible for months, a lot of releases have been postponed or cancelled as production companies had to find new ways to create publicity. While the offerings may have been slimmer than expected, 2020 had some exceptional horror movies (along with some that were utterly terrible). Initially I planned to do a top ten best and worst list, however I felt that was slightly unfair since I couldn’t watch all of the horror movies offered up this year (I would need a second me for that!) and there may be some fantastic work out there I didn’t see. So instead, I’ve ranked the films that I did watch from the lows to the highs. Some were good, some were great and some were rage inducing in terms of terribleness.

Note: Some of these films may have been shown at festivals in 2019, but were only given a wide release in 2020 and are therefore fair game for the list

29. Brahms: The Boy II

2020 STX Films

Never has a film left me feeling quite so irritated as this one. Firstly, it’s a sequel to a film that was fairly average in its own right. Then it went and undid the bits of the first film that were actually interesting to create a by the numbers cursed item film. Maybe if you’re scared of dolls, the cursed angle is more terrifying to you but even Annabelle is scarier than Brahms. I really hope they don’t add another film to this because I almost destroyed my screen out of frustration while watching this one.

I can tolerate a bad movie, but what I find far worse is a disappointing movie. And this disappointed in all departments.

28. The Turning

2020 Dreamworks Pictures

This was a film I was really looking forward to. With good source material and recognisable talent, I thought it would be a great movie. No. No it was not. The Turning felt like it never really got going and the ending was just strange. Credit where credit is due, Finn Wolfhard makes a suitably creepy Miles and his interactions with Mackenzie Davis’ Kate do lead to some unsettling moments but they can’t make up for the rest. If you want an adaptation of Turn of the Screw, I’d suggest watching The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix instead.

27. Body Cam

2020 BET Films

Perhaps the worst subject for a film in 2020, Body Cam is about a police officer who begins investigating mysterious deaths of fellow officers. Turns out a vengeful spirit of a deaf boy is targeting the officers who killed him and covered it up… as well as anyone else in the way. Oh and it also removes video evidence of its presence despite not being visible. I think this film was attempting to make a point against vigilante justice and that things need to be dealt with the proper way, but I may be giving it too much credit. Any message it was trying to deliver was pretty badly managed, it feels half baked and generally it’s just not a very good movie.

26. Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight

2020 Akson Studio

A group of teens on a no-electronics retreat fall victim to a creature in the woods. It’s alright, but then so are a lot of things. Bread is okay but I wouldn’t want to watch a movie about it. This is kind of like the white bread of horror.

25. Dreamkatcher

2020 Taylor Lane Productions

This was a film that I feel had a lot of potential. Rather wasted potential honestly. Starting with a decent premise and some solid gore effects, I was very disappointed with how it petered out. Most of it was focused on the frayed step parent relationship as the stepson slowly fell under the evil influence of a malevolent dreamcatcher. I feel like it could have done a lot more than it did, either emphasising the gaslighting elements that it brought in near the end or going further with the outright malice of the child, as most of his actions were relatively benign throughout with little build up to his eventual snap.

24. Ghosts of War

2020 Miscellaneous Entertainment

This film was not terrible but not particularly good either. The main problem is it tries to be too clever and ultimately ends up failing. Essentially, a group of soldiers in World War 2 are tasked with guarding a French chateau. Or maybe not. Ghost stuff ensues, potentially involving a kind of Grudge-esque curse, black magic and vengeful zombies. That on its own would be an okay premise for a film but the haunting is fairly uninspired with a few predictable jump scares and then things just get weird. And not in a good way. The ending is especially odd. It’s like the filmmakers threw a bunch of ideas at a wall to see what would stick, making a muddled mess that’s not scary enough to be a decent horror and not thought out enough to provide any insight or theme. There are also some moments that look like a bad cut scene from a PlayStation game.

The only highlight of this film is the main group of actors, especially Kyle Gallner, who are clearly doing their best with what they have. There is also one moment of genuine horror in the last fifteen minutes but it’s not an enjoyable horror. It’s just… sad. And then it returns to the over complicated nonsense.

23. Fantasy Island

2020 Columbia Pictures

Oh Fantasy Island. Much like Ghosts of War, this is another film that tries too hard and ended up creating a story that manages to be both predictable and full of confused plot holes. They could have done anything with this premise and it reeks of missed opportunities. The characters are fairly lacklustre, some of the motivations make little sense and any explanation that is given just makes things more confusing rather than adding any clarity. If you don’t look too closely it’s a relatively benign popcorn flick but there are far better films you could be watching.

22. The Grudge

2020 Screen Gems

I’d not seen any of the Grudge films before this one but from what I’ve read the 2020 one represents events taking place in the US parallel to the events happening in the first two films of the American remakes. I didn’t really gel with the non-linear narrative although I understand it’s a feature of the series and it did mean that when one plotline was slowing down, another could step in. I wouldn’t consider it especially memorable but it was a decent film. It had some good gore which is one of the things that stuck in my head after, particularly a moment involving Lin Shaye’s character mutilating her fingers. I’m interested to see how it compares to the rest of the series as well as the Japanese originals.

21. His House

2020 Regency Enterprizes

This is an odd one on the list. It was not a bad film, in fact it was a pretty interesting one. However, it didn’t feel like it should be considered a horror. It’s labelled as a horror, it’s in the horror section on Netflix but it does not feel like a horror. Yes, there are horror elements like things in the dark and some kind of witch demon entity but they almost seem like they should be part of a different movie. The story it tells, of two Sudanese refugees settling into a home in the UK and being plagued by ghosts of the past, is well done and interesting but the tone just feels a lot sadder than horrifying.

If you’re looking for scares, I would give this a miss but I do encourage people to check it out when they’re in a less horror focused mood.

20. Black Water: Abyss

2020 Thrills and Spills

I’ve mentioned before that I am a big fan of creature features and crocodiles are one of the more frequently used animals. This film reminded me both of Crawl and 47 Metres Down: Uncaged, placing the characters in an underground environment with a ticking clock element to add to the peril. The animal attack aspect was actually limited in comparison to a lot of films from this subgenre, which meant that there was a great deal of it spent sitting in a dark cave waiting for something to happen. One area that these types of films often struggle with are characters and this was no exception. Of the five featured, most were fairly generic and the human drama just made me resentful of which ones survived. There are better creature features but then there are also much worse. It’s very middle of the road.

19. The Beach House

2019 Low Spark Films

After watching this film, I’m still not entirely sure what happened but between moments of confusion, I certainly enjoyed watching it. It had a few pacing problems going from nothing happening to everything happening all at once, and it wasn’t really made clear what was to blame for the horrors that ensued (fog? Some kind of water worm? Microbes?). Certain bits of the plot didn’t make much sense, like a character going into the sea and then just exiting the movie entirely. There were some strong visuals, both in terms of creating an eerie atmosphere through the use of colour and in terms of gross factor. It's vaguely similar to another 2020 film, Sea Fever, and of the two I feel that was the more solid work. For the patient viewer, it is worth watching but for those who need a bit more action I would choose something else.

18. Kadaver

2020 Motion Blur Films

This film has an intriguing set up, a starving war torn society leads to a family participating in a night of immersive theatre for the free food. Things spiral into confusion and bizarre visuals where the lines between fact and fiction blur. Much like immersive theatre, this film is a sprawling web of sights and sounds that place the viewer in a position where they are just as clueless as the protagonist, helplessly waiting for things to unfold. I think the emotional core of the film, the desperate love for a mother searching for her daughter in the nightmarish environment remains prevalent throughout and this really helps to keep the viewer grounded. Desperation is a key part of other elements of the film, the monsters are all strictly human operating the best way they can in order to survive. Despite the theatrics, it’s a very simple film at its core and definitely a captivating one.

17. The Hunt

2020 Blumhouse Productions

I enjoyed The Hunt. It had a good cast and some great fight choreography, as well as some enjoyable gory moments scattered throughout. I think the more political aspects of conservatives vs liberals was a bit strained, as it didn’t go far enough to make an actual point in either direction or to really be that funny. It was just a few jokes about PC culture and then some caricatures of conservatives. If you want a mildly amusing film with a well portrayed female lead and some enjoyable fight sequences, you could do a lot worse than The Hunt.

16. The Binding

2020 HT Film

This is an Italian film and it is very much a slow burn. It weaves a tale of witchcraft in an intricate manner that has the viewer second guessing who they should trust. It’s only when the actual threat is revealed that it begins to lose its impact a little. Despite this, there’s still a lot to enjoy. The motivations are kept simplistic, the depictions of magic rituals aren’t overly explained allowing them to retain some mysticism and the characters manage to create an uneasy chemistry between them. I particularly enjoyed the depiction of motherly love and while the mother character was not always the most rational, it felt believable. There were quite a few moments, even near the end, where I wasn’t entirely sure who was meant to be the good characters which made the desperate panicked moments as she tried to save her child feel quite real.

15. Don’t Listen

2020 Estudio V

Originally called Voces, this is a Spanish film that can be found on Netflix. It’s a captivating film with really good cinematography and a supernatural threat that manages to remain intimidating throughout. It’s also good at subverting expectations and while it doesn’t have many twists, the ones it