This year has some big shoes to fill, following the huge horror presence in 2018. Jordan Peele won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out, A Quiet Place defined a new style of sensory-deprivation-horror, and there was no shortage of quality remakes and sequels.
Already 2019 has seen the ripple effect of last year’s success, with Peele’s Us securing his reputation as a horror auteur and more don’t-talk-now movies looking for a hit. But there are still plenty of new, high quality flicks to keep you up at night.
The Wilson family’s peaceful vacation spins out of control when a family of violent doppelgangers appear in their driveway and insist on becoming “untethered.” The leader of the group is familiar to Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) — she and Red had a fateful meeting as children, and now Red’s back to free herself and her fellow tethered.
Us presents a core spooky concept and spins it into something larger and more terrifying. The slow-and-steady build never lets the tension drop — it only lets you catch your breath for a moment before plunging back in. Stylish throwbacks to ‘70s horror root this story in the genre’s long history, even as the visual symbolism — white rabbits, shiny golden scissors — stands out as wholly unique. The entire cast performs their dual roles impeccably, but Lupita Nyong’o is especially mesmerizing as the lead protagonist and antagonist. This tense follow up to Get Out proves that Jordan Peele is not a flash in the pan, but a director of immense skill, capable of pushing an idea without losing sight of the overall story.
A group of strangers are drawn into the eponymous escape room and find the puzzles deadlier than expected. More than that, the clues and solutions to the puzzles are familiar — so familiar that it can’t be an accident. Will they escape alive, or will the group tear themselves apart before they reach the end?
Escape Room is selling a straight-forward bill of goods, but the quality of its delivery makes it exceptional. The crew must strategize their way through different themed rooms, each a unique set-piece for daring stunts and emotional reveals. The tight configuration of the puzzles and solutions keeps the pace moving, but the real stand-out is the players themselves. Each character is quickly established and interesting in their own right, especially competent veteran Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll) and amiable Mike (Tyler Labine). The dynamic of the group is so strong that you can’t help but root for them, which makes their progress tense and engaging.
Happy Death Day 2U
Having successfully survived the birthday time-loop of Happy Death Day, Tree (Jessica Rothe) quickly finds herself right back where she started: fighting off a masked killer, only to wake up back at the beginning of the day. Only now, she knows what’s really happening; it’s a science-experiment gone wrong, and it’s up to her to solve it.
In the first movie, Tree was left with the feeling that she was given a second chance to save herself, repair her relationships, and make the most of her life. The sequel undercuts that in a great way — what if she isn’t special, but just the lucky victim of a time-loop accident? The plot meanders a little at first, clearly trying to find a way to refocus on Tree. Ultimately this is forgivable because Rothe delivers impeccable comedy in every scene. Although the first movie shifted tonally from scene to scene, Happy Death Day 2U finally fully commits to its humor potential, and it’s a better movie for it.
Recommended viewing for any horror fan, Horror Noire is a documentary surveying years of horror movies made for black audiences. From The Birth of a Nation to Get Out, the survey covers a hundred years of cinema, tackled decade-by-decade, to give a thorough run-down of horror made by black artists, for black audiences. Icons like Tony Todd (Candyman), William Crain (Blacula), and Rachel True (The Craft) talk not only about their own contributions, but about the work of artists that inspired them. Anyone with an interest in horror, or in the positive effects of media representation, will find Horror Noire illuminating — and likely end up with a nice list of classic horror to watch.
Stream on Shudder
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Five years after a deadly poisoning, the remaining members of the Blackwood Family live an isolated life. Constance (Alexandra Daddario) cooks and cleans for sister Merricat (Taissa Farmiga) and their sick uncle Julian (Crispin Glover), and although the villagers ardently hate them, they have achieved a sort of peace in their mansion on the hill. At least, until their shrewd cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan) arrives for a visit, disrupting the family’s careful balance.
A stylish gothic mystery, We Have Always Lived in the Castle captures an intensity that extends far past its genre trappings. The steady build of tension is so palpable even the characters themselves seem to feel the weight of it, bowing under the pressure until they can do nothing but break. This movie is all about the intense interplay of personalities too strong to resolve peacefully. Intense performances from the cast and an eye-catching sense of style elevate this family drama into a chilling tale of abuse and isolation. There are no jumpscares or gore, just a series of harrowingly realistic stepping stones leading you powerlessly to disaster.