If you’ve read our wrap-up of my favorite horror movies from 2019, you’re aware that there were a number of top-tier films making the rounds on the festival circuit that won’t get a wider release until 2020. Rather than fill my year’s best with a number of films most readers won’t have had the chance to see, I opted to highlight them here. Following are a handful of films, arranged alphabetically, that you should definitely have on your watch list as we move into the new year.
I reviewed Jeremy Gardner & Christian Stella’s genre mashup out of the Tribeca Film Festival, when it was literally called Something Else (see my review here). Gardner and Stella first caught my attention back in 2014, when I first saw The Battery. But the since-retitled After Midnight is—ahem—something else entirely. The film deftly balances character study, romantic comedy, paranoid thriller, and creature feature. After Midnight has such a depth of heart and emotion that it deserves to be seen by a wide audience. Gardner and co-star Brea Grant both turn in some of their best work here, resulting in a movie unlike anything you’ve seen before. After Midnight is coming to theaters and VOD on Valentine’s Day, and I can’t think of a better time for it.
Color Out of Space
Richard Stanley’s return to narrative features was one of my most anticipated films from this year’s Fantastic Fest, and it did not disappoint (see my review here). Stanley’s film updates the setting of the classic H.P. Lovecraft tale to modern day, injecting it with a healthy dose of SpectreVision’s signature weirdness, a completely unhinged performance from Nicolas Cage, and some of the best cinematic representations of Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors we’ve yet to see. Rumors have begun swirling about SpectreVision continuing to adapt Lovecraft’s work. If that ends up being true, we’ve got exciting and otherworldly to look forward to! Color Out of Space heads to select theaters in January.
The Lodge, from Goodnight Mommy directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, has had a long, strange trip to theater screens. It seems like trailers declaring it to be “Coming Soon” have been showing up for close to a year. I’m aware of at least two release date changes, the most recent pushing it to February 2020. I was fortunate to catch the film during Fantastic Fest, and found it to be a tense and at times shocking experience (see my review here). Multiple times I thought I had figured out where the film was headed, only to be surprised. This continues up until The Lodge’s final moments, which resulted in an audible gasp from a sizable portion of the Fantastic Fest crowd. I’d recommend going in as fresh as possible for this one.
Jordan Graham’s Sator is a spellbinding and frightening film, made all the more potent because strands of the story are taken from the true story of Graham’s grandmother. Graham spent five years crafting this intensely personal work, handling numerous duties both behind and in front of the camera. Sator is exactly the kind of film you hope to discover during a film festival, and was among my favorites from this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival (reviewed here). Recommended for fans of the films of David Lynch and Robert Eggers, as well as for those interested in truly independent film. The story of the making of Sator is just as intriguing as the story onscreen—which, along with The Lighthouse, included one of the two most striking images I’ve seen all year.
Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson make a second appearance on this list, after serving as producers on After Midnight. Synchronic may just be the pair’s most intriguing and accomplished film yet, and was a highlight of my time at Fantastic Fest this year. Set against the backdrop of New Orleans, the film stars Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan as paramedics drawn into a mind-bending mystery surrounding a designer drug called Synchronic. As with their previous films, Benson and Moorhead blend thought-provoking sci-fi, horror, and an emotionally resonant core. Synchronic also weaves its threads into the common cinematic universe the duo has created with Resolution, Spring, and The Endless. Do not miss this!
Closing out the list is Joe Begos’s balls-out blast VFW. In addition to numerous Channel 83 regulars like Josh Ethier and Graham Skipper, VFW features memorable turns from William Sadler, Stephen Lang, Fred Williamson, George Wendt, David Patrick Kelly, and Sierra McCormick (playing a drastically different role from the one she played in sci-fi standout The Vast of Night, which also played Fantastic Fest). VFW arrives under the Fangoria banner, and the gore and FX live up what you’d expect from a collaboration between Begos and Fangoria. During Fantastic Fest, VFW played alongside Begos’s excellent Bliss (which Luke reviewed here), providing a double dose of the director’s high octane approach to film. Slated for release in February. Check out the trailer here!