You know what, 2020 is just going to be remembered as its own horror story. I mean, filmmakers have a lot of competition if they think they can scare us more than real life right now. Still, we’ve seen a decent batch of horror: Blood Quantum, The Droving, Time Out of Space, The Hunt and more. What more, you ask? Well, we’ll tell you. Here are our favorite horror films of the first half of 2020.
5. The Invisible Man
Instead of the existential ponderings that generally underscore cinematic Invisible Man retellings, writer/director Leigh Whannell uses this story to examine sexual politics, abuse, control and agency.
It’s a laudable aim, but the reason it works is casting.
Whannell’s script is smart, with much needed upgrades to the invisibility formula as well as the havoc wrought. But the success of The Invisible Man is almost entirely shouldered by Elisabeth Moss, who nails every moment of oppressed Cecilia Kass’s arc.
At its core, The Invisible Man is an entertaining B-movie horror propped up by contrivance. Whannell’s aim is to give the story new relevance, and thanks to Moss, his aim is true.
4. The Other Lamb
The first step toward freedom is telling your own story.
Writer C.S. McMullen and director Malgorzata Szumowska tell this one really well. Between McMullen’s outrage and the macabre lyricism of Szumowska’s camera, The Other Lamb offers a dark, angry and satisfying coming-of-age tale.
Selah’s (Raffey Cassity) first period and her commune’s migration to a new and more isolated Eden offer the tale some structure. Like many a horror film, The Other Lamb occupies itself with burgeoning womanhood, the end of innocence. Unlike most others in the genre, Szumowska’s film depicts this as a time of finding your own power.
The Other Lamb does not simply suggest you question authority. It demands that you do far more than that, and do it for your own good.
3. Gretel & Hansel
Sophia Lillis (IT) narrates and stars as Gretel, the center of this coming of age story—reasonable, given the change of billing suggested by the film’s title. The witch may still have a tasty meal on her mind, but this is less a cautionary tale than it is a metaphor for agency over obligation.
Alice Krige and her cheekbones strike the perfect mixture of menace and mentorship, while Sammy Leakey’s little Hansel manages to be both adorable and tiresome, as is required for the story to work.
Perkins continues to impress with his talent for visual storytelling and Galo Olivares’s cinematography heightens the film’s folkloric atmosphere.
There’s no escaping this spell. The whole affair feels like an intriguing dream.
2. The Lodge
Several Fiala and Veronika Franz follow up their creepy Goodnight Mommy with this “white death” horror that sees a future stepmom having a tough time getting to know the kids during a weeklong, snowbound cabin retreat. Riley Keough is riding an impressive run of performances and her work here is slippery and wonderful. As the unwanted new member in the family, she’s sympathetic but also brittle.
Jaeden Martell, a kid who has yet to deliver a less than impressive turn, is the human heartbeat at the center of the mystery in the cabin. His tenderness gives the film a quiet, pleading tragedy. Whether he’s comforting his grieving little sister or begging Grace (Keough) to come in from the snow, his performance aches and you ache with him.
There’s no denying the mounting dread the filmmakers create, and the three central performances are uniquely effective. Thanks to the actors’ commitment and the filmmakers’ skill in atmospheric horror, the movie grips you, makes you cold and uncomfortable, and ends with a memorable slap.
Putting a relevant twist on the classic “horrific mother” trope, writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis uses the rare eating disorder pica to anchor his exploration of gender dynamics and, in particular, control.
Where Mirabella-Davis’s talent for building tension and framing scenes drive the narrative, it’s Bennett’s performance that elevates the film. Serving as executive producer as well as star, Haley Bennett transforms over the course of the film.
When things finally burst, director and star shake off the traditional storytelling, the Yellow Wallpaper or Awakening or even Safe. The filmmaker’s vision and imagery come full circle with a bold conclusion worthy of Bennett’s performance.