Depending on who you ask the horror genre has either been saved with recent high-profile hits (Hereditary, Us) or was never in need of saving in the first place. Anyone who claims the former should be ignored, obviously, as horror movies have been terrifying, thrilling, and entertaining us for a century. 2019 is already looking good for the genre, and while our official end of the year lists are still nine months away I wanted to highlight the best releases of 2019 so far.
For genre lists like this, I don’t limit myself only to films that have been officially released in the US. My single requirement is that the film be released for the first time between January 1st and March 31st — to theaters, VOD, Blu-ray, DVD… or film festivals. This means that while some of the films below have been/will be released others are still in need of a US distributor. All of the movies here deserve that so distributors take note!
Keep reading for a look at the ten best horror movies of 2019… so far.
Boyz in the Wood
Survival horror films are often grim affairs pitting potential victims against threats both human and otherwise, but there’s no reason the most dangerous game can’t also be ridiculously enjoyable. This Scottish romp sends a quartet of unruly teens into the Highlands while a masked man with a silver spoon in his mouth hunts them down, and it still manages to find thrills and heart amid the hillsides and bloodshed. Friends, class warfare, and rabbit shite go a long way.
[My review; no US distributor or release date]
I Trapped the Devil
This debut effort by writer/director Josh Lobo sinks its hooks in early will an irresistible premise — it’s Christmas time, but while others celebrate, one man is dealing with the fact that he has the devil trapped in his basement. Things get even more complicated when family arrives, and the film does good work leaving viewers uncertain at first if the prisoner is actually an evil threat or just a stranger caught up in madness. Strong performances, a solid ending, and a touch of the under-loved Mister Frost add to the fun.
[Opens April 26th, 2019]
Every time we think we’ve seen the best of what the zom-com genre has to offer a new one comes around to thrill and delight viewers, and for 2019 that zombie comedy is Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters. Ignore the forced romance and focus on the genius of putting Lupita Nyong’o in the lead role of a dedicated kindergarten teacher ready to face off against the undead to keep her students safe. Big laughs, lots of blood, and a ridiculously fun turn by Josh Gad help make this an entertaining and uplifting winner.
[No release date]
Slow burn horror is definitely an acquired taste, but fans of beautifully crafted chills heavy with atmosphere, terror, and uncertainty will most likely love this follow-up from the filmmakers behind Goodnight Mommy. The always fantastic Riley Keough gets a rare lead role here and kills it with a character who shifts effortlessly back and forth between someone we fear and someone we fear for. It’s a gorgeously shot nightmare capturing well the icy dread of winter and the cold breath of the dead on the back of your neck.
[My review; no release date]
Takashi Miike’s Audition remains an absolute gem of madness, brilliance, and darkly comic terror, and while he’s a big part of that the source novel by Rya Murakami is equally deserving of credit. Director Nicolas Pesce takes the reins on another Murakami adaptation, and the results are equally memorable. A young man sets out to kill a random prostitute, but instead he finds a love story, of sorts, about two people finding each other at the best possible time. Or maybe the worst. It’s really all about perspective (and pain).
[My review; currently available on Blu-ray/DVD/streaming]
It’s understood that hazing rituals at fraternities and sororities across the country are unnecessary, potentially dangerous, and not something the average person would put themselves through, but each year we’re reminded that some college freshman are below average. This tightly crafted and frequently fun horror/thriller digs into that world with a fresh take on the topic delivering some highly entertaining suspense beats on it way towards a solidly unexpected ending.
[Currently available on DVD/streaming]
Horror/comedies are killing it this year, and it’s only April! This delightful romp started life as a web series before being retrofitted into a deliriously fun feature that feels at times like the unholy and hilarious love child of Mean Girls, It’s Alive, and Juno. A status-focused teen is forced to confront the reality of icky creatures, monstrous mind control, and the biological unfairness of mammalian pregnancy, and the result is a movie that’s as sincere in its observations on friendship as it is in its embrace of gooey and gory practical effects.
[My review; no US distributor or release date]
Blumhouse films vary in quality but are fairly consistent in their low budgets, and that means the best come from filmmakers who have a strong script and the ability to do a lot with fairly little. Writer/director J.D. Dillard has given genre fans one of the studio’s best with his directorial debut — a terrifically entertaining slice of survival horror that drops Kiersey Clemons on an isolated and desolate island in the middle of nowhere. What starts as Castaway shifts into a lively and thrilling creature feature, and that’s all you need to know going in.
[Our review; no US distributor or release date]
Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out (2017) is better in some ways and a lesser experience in others, but at its core the film delivers with a thrilling home invasion tale that sees a family of four terrorized by their doppelgangers. It’s a fun watch complete with action, laughs, and one hell of a lead performance by Lupita Nyong’o, and while Peele’s disinterest in narrative logic is clear he has a masterful eye and mind for visuals and metaphor.
[Our review; currently in theaters]
Horror westerns are a sub-genre worth loving — Sundown (1989), Ravenous (1999), The Burrowers (2008) — but there aren’t nearly enough of them. Director Emma Tammi’s feature debut fills that niche with an atmospheric slow burn set against the lonely expanse of a desolate prairie. The film is a beautifully shot descent into madness that captures well the entwined feelings of fear and isolation, and its focus on the female experience offers a refreshing counter to the western’s usual masculine tone.
[Our review; opens April 5th, 2019]
Runners Up: Escape Room, Girl on the Third Floor, The Hole in the Ground, Pet Sematary