The Top Ten Horror Films of 2019: Jon’s Totally Subjective List
’Tis the season…
I was fortunate enough to catch a 35mm screening of Joe Begos’s Bliss at a late show during Fantastic Fest, immediately after watching his forthcoming VFW. Bliss may be Begos’s best and most personal film to date. Don’t get that twisted though. Bliss’s 74 minutes are filled to the brim with what you’ve come to expect from a Channel 83 production. Bliss is the tale of an artist mired in self-doubt who turns to an unusual drug in an effort to break through the doldrums paralyzing her work. Featuring a killer soundtrack, hypnotic visuals, Chet Zar art, and the type of practical effects you’d expect from a Joe Begos vampire flick, Bliss has the hit you’ve been craving. Check out Luke Rodriguez’s review of Bliss here.
The films of Gaspar Noé are decidedly not for everyone. Much like latter-day Lars von Trier, Noé pushes boundaries with every film he releases. With his prior films, particularly Irreversible, one viewing has been enough to tide me over for five to ten years, despite the filmmaker’s obvious talent. So Climax took me completely by surprise. After the end of my first viewing, I was immediately ready to watch the film again. It’s an almost overwhelming rush of sights and sounds, pushed over the top by the jaw-dropping choreography and Gaspar Noé’s inspired, restless camera work. Noé speaks of the film as being inspired by the giallo genre, and a quick review of the clues presented in the film shows that its horror bona fides don’t stop there. Climax is a bad trip viewed through the lens of horror. It is also Noé’s most accessible film to date. Read Jeremy Burgess’s review of Climax here.
2. The Lighthouse
Robert Eggers’s follow-up to The Witch was one of the secret screenings during this year’s Fantastic Fest (read my full review here). My initial response to the film was positive, and those feelings have solidified with subsequent viewings. The Lighthouse is essentially a two-man piece, a character study of two men succumbing to drunkenness, depravity, and madness. While there are glimpses of ghosts, sirens, and things Lovecraftian, Eggers’s film never tips its hand too much in those directions, preferring to maintain its focus on the powerhouse performances from Dafoe and Pattinson. The Lighthouse, like The Witch before it, is a film likely to both divide audience opinions and inspire discussions about what constitutes horror today. But the artistry on display, from cast and crew, is undeniable. The Lighthouse contains what may be the single most striking image I’ve seen on the big screen in the entirety of 2019.
If you’ve been paying attention to me this year, this should come as no surprise. Ari Aster’s sophomore film absolutely floored me. His attention to intricate detail and eye for cinematic composition is nothing short of stunning. Aster’s exploration of mundane grief coupled with supernatural horrors seems tailor-made for my own sensibilities. My review of Midsommar praised the director’s aptitude for creating a crushing sense of dread. I predicted that the film would reward repeated viewings, and after seeing it eight times, I can safely state that to be true. Midsommar’s psychedelic and gory visuals will leave an indelible mark in the viewer’s mind. More importantly, Ari Aster creates characters that we feel true empathy with. While audiences most closely identify with Dani as she navigates through grief and uncertainty, many of us will also see aspects of ourselves in some of the other characters, whether or not we’d like to admit it.
As I said at the beginning, this list is completely subjective—but no other film affected me this year the way that Midsommar did.
Honorable Mentions: Girl on the Third Floor, The Head Hunter, Level 16 (reviewed here), Tigers Are Not Afraid, Us, Villains (reviewed here)
Recommended 2019 Films from Other Genres: First Love, John Wick 3, Knives Out, The Nightingale, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Parasite, Uncut Gems, Waves