Horror Movies: 2020

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Okay, here we go. Here’s my list of the horror movies I saw in 2020, from worst to first.

Enjoy!

THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN

14 THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN (2020) was by far the worst horror movie I saw this year. A pointless sequel to the superior original THE BABYSITER (2017). In spite of this being a horror comedy, this one is a snooze from start to finish.

13. THE TURNING

Turn this one off. Another clunker, this horror movie based on the Henry James’ novella “The Turn of the Screw,” and starring Mackenzie Davies and Finn Wolfhard, couldn’t turn a stomach, let alone a screw.

12. YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT

Haunted house thriller starring Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried is just standard. Offers no surprises.

11. HIS HOUSE

Netflix thriller about a refugee couple in a haunted house has its moments, but not enough of them to really make this worth your while.

THE DARK AND THE WICKED

10. THE DARK AND THE WICKED

Dark thriller about an adult sister and brother on a farm caring for their dying father who happens to be possessed is solidly made but suffers from the “you are all victims syndrome” in that none of the folks in this movie ever stand a chance. The dark wins. Easily.

9. RELIC

Intriguing tale of a mother and daughter caring for the daughter’s ailing grandmother who also seems to be possessed. Clever allegory about dementia doesn’t entirely work but it has its moments.

8. THE WRETCHED

Story of a witch living in the woods works because the main character, a teenage boy scarred by his parents’ divorce, feels empathy for his neighbors and decides to help them fend off the witch, but he has a troubled past, which gets in the way of his heroic efforts. Well-written horror flick.

7. WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS

Lively horror movie about three girlfriends who meet up with three guys at a rock concert as a serial killer is on the loose. Major plot twist takes this over-the top horror flick in an entirely different direction midway through. Takes place in the 1980s.

6. THE RENTAL

Alison Brie and Dan Stevens star in this effective thriller about two couples away for the weekend at a vacation home, very suspicious of the creepy sketchy owner. I liked this one.

5 #ALIVE

Stylish zombie thriller from South Korea is very entertaining even as it doesn’t really offer anything that is new to the zombie genre.

4. UNDERWATER

Fun underwater adventure starring Kristen Stewart . Far from perfect, but fun and suspenseful all the same.

3. ANTEBELLUM

I really liked this ambitious horror movie starring Janelle Monae about slaves on a Civil War era plantation run by sadistic Confederate soldiers. Jumps back and forth between the 1860s and modern times, and contains a VERY controversial plot twist that most fans hated. I didn’t like the twist, but I did like the movie. Powerful music score as well.

2. THE INVISIBLE MAN

Clever re-imagining of THE INVISIBLE MAN concept, stars Elizabeth Moss as a woman tormented by her supposedly deceased abusive husband. She thinks he’s invisible, her friends think she’s crazy. Works best as a psychologicial thriller. Plays its hand a bit too early, but still an above average horror movie.

SPUTNIK

  1. SPUTNIK

My favorite horror movie of 2020 is the tale of a Russian cosmonaut who returns to Earth harboring an alien creature inside his body. Oksana Akinshina steals the show as the psychologist brought in to study him. Superior horror film. Worthwhile viewing from start to finish.

And there you have it. The horror films I watched in 2020, from worst to first.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

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THE WRETCHED (2020) – Horror Movie About a Hungry Witch Works Well

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the wretched

There’s a lot to like about THE WRETCHED (2020), a new horror movie about a very hungry witch whose favorite item on the menu happens to be young children.

Yikes!

A teenager Ben (John-Paul Howard) who’s struggling with his parents’ recent divorce prepares to spend the summer both living with his dad Liam (Jamison Jones) and working for him at the local marina, and it’s there on the job that Ben strikes up a friendship with fellow teen Mallory (Piper Curda). Speaking of relationships, his dad also happens to be  in one, also with a co-worker, Sara (Azie Tesfai), which does not sit well with Ben.

Actually, Ben has his share of issues. He has a broken arm, which he got when he jumped out of his neighbor’s window after trying to steal some pills from their medicine cabinet. Yes, Ben has a history of substance abuse problems. He’s also headstrong, opinionated, and defiant.

But one night he hears and then glimpses a strange creature lurking outside which makes its way to his dad’s neighbor’s house. Turns out, this creature happens to be a witch which likes to invade and take over other people’s bodies. And it does just that, taking over the body of the young mother Abbie (Zarah Mahler) next door, and since this witch likes to prey on children, it has a couple of tasty morsels waiting for it inside the home.

When Abbie’s son Dillon (Blane Crockarell) turns to Ben for help, Ben believes the young boy and decides to make it his mission to protect him. Trouble is, the witch is rather powerful, and when Ben turns to others for help, who is going to believe a teen with the kind of history he has?

I really liked THE WRETCHED, mostly because of the way it framed its story. It was just different enough to keep an old trope fresh. It also does an excellent job creating its characters. Ben’s story is an interesting one even without the supernatural elements, and the film does such a good job developing his back story, that once the horror stuff starts, it really gets interesting.

The character of Ben is an intriguing protagonist, and he lifts what could have been a standard tale of a hungry witch to more watchable levels.

The screenplay was written by Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce, and they also directed the movie, billed as The Pierce Brothers.

The dialogue is fresh and real, and all the characters are fleshed out, which is something that doesn’t always happen in a horror movie. The character that is fleshed out the least, ironically, is the witch. We never learn all that much about it, but in this case, it doesn’t matter because the story is driven by Ben and the other characters, and having the witch as simply an evil entity intending them harm works here.

The special effects are also pretty good for a low budget movie. The Pierce Brothers use a less is more approach, in that we don’t always get clear shots of the witch, as we often catch glimpses, or there are effective uses of lighting and shadow, but combined with the sound effects, it all looks terrific. And scary. The witch is certainly a frightening looking creature.

That being said, THE WRETCHED is somewhat of a slow burn horror movie. The empahsis here is on character, and the horror elements are few and far between, and there really aren’t all that many satisfying shock scenes. But on the other hand it’s not a let down either. The scares are there, as is the suspense, especially during the film’s third act.

There’s even a twist thrown in for good measure that I didn’t see coming. It’s an intriguing one, and unlike a lot of twists that show up in horror movies only to unintentionally ruin and undo all that came before it, the one here in THE WRETCHED supports the story and while not a game changer in either direction, good or bad, it’s one that makes you nod your head and say, “That’s cool. I didn’t see that.”

There are also some gory scenes that work well, too.

There is a prologue which takes place in the middle of the opening credits that while well done doesn’t really seem to have any place in the story, other than to show that the witch has been at it for a long time. But this is just an afterthought. The rest of the movie works fine.

John-Paul Howard does an excellent job in the lead role as Ben. He nails the character, who is often annoying, which makes the audience empathize with the characters who don’t believe him later more than him, which is a neat trick to pull off in a movie like this. Because he needs to be believed! Howard also starred in HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016), one of my favorite movies from that year. It was a small role, as he played the son of Chris Pine’s lead character.

All the acting here is good, from Piper Curda as Mallory, who grows closer to Ben as the story goes along, to Jamison Jones as Ben’s dad Liam, who desperately wants to support his son, but Ben’s increasingly erratic behavior makes it more and more difficult for him to do so.

THE WRETCHED is not going to do for witches what THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) did two decades ago, nor should it, as it’s not as innovative a movie as BLAIR WITCH, but it is a very good horror movie in its own right, one that horror fans especially should definitely check out.

It’s much better than THE TURNING (2020) which came out earlier this year, and it’s also witch brooms ahead of some of the horror films from last year, clinkers like PET SEMATARY (2019), ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019), and THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA (2019).

In spite of these inferior entries, horror movies, contrary to popular opinion, are alive and well and have been thriving these past twenty years. There have been a lot of quality horror films during this time. In fact, already here in 2020 there have been some really good horror flicks, films like UNDERWATER (2020) and THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020).

And you can go ahead and add THE WRETCHED to that list.

It’s quality horror at its best.

Now, pass me that ladle. I need to sample what’s brewing here in the cauldron.

Mmm. Delicious!

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THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020) – Frightening Re-Imagining of Classic Tale

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the invisible man 2020

THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020) is a clever and creative re-imagining of the Invisible Man tale, of both the classic Universal Invisible Man movies, and of H.G. Wells’ famous novel, on which all of these movies are based.

Writer/director Leigh Whannell changes the focus of the story and places it on a young woman Cecilia “Cece” Kass (Elisabeth Moss) who is trapped in an abusive relationship which only gets worse when her husband fakes his own death and makes himself invisible, giving him unlimited power to torment her relentlessly. It adds a whole new layer to the story and gives new meaning to “he said, she said,” since obviously no one believes her story.

My only question when all was said and done was why? Why go through all the trouble of faking your own death and making yourself invisible if your only goal was to torture your wife? The movie does give a reason for his motives, but it still doesn’t change the fact that this is an incredibly convoluted way of getting what he wants.

When THE INVISIBLE MAN opens, a frightened Cece escapes from her abusive husband Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and is whisked away to safety by her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer). Cece is so fearful of Adrian, that even when she is staying with Emily’s friend James (Aldis Hodge) who’s a cop, and his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid) she can’t bring herself to step out of the house, terrified that her husband will find her.

But a short time later, the news breaks that Adrian committed suicide, which strikes Cece as odd since he was always in control, and taking his own life would be the last thing she’d expect him to do. Anyway, he leaves her a ton of money, and all seems well, until Cece begins to feel his presence around her, and then strange things begin to happen.

Cece becomes convinced that Adrian faked his own death and has found a way to become invisible. Of course, her story is completely unbelievable and makes her sound crazy, as if Adrian got inside her head and scarred her so badly that she’s now having delusions that he’s still alive. So, she sets out to prove she’s right, but before she can do so, there’s a vicious murder and when she is seen with the bloody knife in hand, her defense that it was an invisible man and not her, all but seals her fate.

I really liked this new version of THE INVISIBLE MAN. It’s smart and scary and provides a fresh new way of telling the story. The only thing I didn’t like, as I already said, is I thought the plot was a bit too contrived. Why a man would go to all this trouble to get what he ultimately wants is a head scratcher. There are far easier ways to get the same result.

Still, the screenplay by Leigh Whannell is a good one. Whannell, who wrote the SAW movies and the INSIDIOUS films, has written his most ambitious screenplay yet with THE INVISIBLE MAN. Making it a story about an abused wife living in horrific fear of her abuser husband adds an entirely different element to the tale and makes it that much scarier.

Speaking of which, that’s one of my favorite parts of THE INVISIBLE MAN, that the film is scary. While I’ve enjoyed Leigh Whannell’s screenplays, I did not enjoy his directorial debut with INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015), the first film in the INSIDIOUS series that I didn’t really like. But he more than makes up for it here with THE INVISIBLE MAN.

I don’t get scared easily at the movies, but there are a couple of scenes in this one which made me jump. There’s a nice contrast between silence and noise here. When Cece senses something is wrong, it’s dead silent. She feels someone in the room with her but she can’t see him, and so she keeps perfectly still, relying on her other senses, hearing and smell, and so you have scenes that go from silence to terror, and they really work.

The underlying theme of the entire movie, the abused wife, keeps the audience unsettled throughout and enhances the traditional horror movie elements, which also work really well.

I wish the movie had played up the plot point of whether or not the invisible man is real, or is Cece just going psycho? I found this aspect of the story fascinating, but the film only flirts with this for a while before making it clear that yup, there’s an invisible guy on the loose.

I’ve been a fan of Elisabeth Moss since her days on MAD MEN (2007-15), and of course she now stars in THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2017-2020). She’s excellent here as the tormented Cece. The film is mostly about her, and Moss is convincing throughout. She does ask a question which also unfortunately remains unanswered, when she asks Adrian, “Why me?” He could have had any woman in the world. Why was he obsessed with her? The film doesn’t really provide an answer, which is one of the weaknesses of the movie.

The Invisible Man himself Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) isn’t developed at all. We know little about him. He just comes off as a jerk who happens to be a genius. In a way, this makes sense. Do we really want a back story for vicious wife abuser? Not really. But compared to Claude Rains in the original THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) who stole that movie with his crazed voice in spite of never being seen since he was invisible, Oliver Jackson-Cohen is barely a blip on the monster meter. Jackson-Cohen was much more memorable as troubled brother Luke on the Netflix series THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018-2020).

Strangely, more villainous here is Adrian’s brother Tom, played with weasel-like coldness by Michael Dorman.

It’s worth noting that Leigh Whannell kept the name Griffin for the Invisible Man, which hearkens back to H.G. Wells’ novel and the classic Universal Invisible Man movies of the 1930s and 1940s.

Aldis Hodge is excellent as police detective James Lanier, as is Harriet Dyer as Cece’s sister Emily. Storm Reid is also very good as James’ daughter Sydney.

The film also has a menacingly powerful music score by Benjamin Wallfisch, which really adds a lot to the tension in the story.

THE INVISIBLE MAN is a successful re-imagining of the Invisible Man story that adds layers and depth not present in previous tellings. That being said, it doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny, as it never convincingly makes its case for the reasons its main villain takes such a convoluted route to achieve his goal, but if you can look past this, you’ll enjoy this frightening new take on a classic science fiction horror tale.

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