Ten Unsettling and Unnerving 2020 Horror Films You Can Stream This Halloween
It's that time, again — and 2020 has delivered a heap of top-notch new movies perfect for the occasion.
When John Carpenter gave the world the exceptional slasher flick that is Halloween, the iconic filmmaker also gave us all something to watch each and every October 31. No one wants to limit themselves to just one scary movie on the spookiest day of the year, though. And while the Halloween franchise has plenty of entries (some excellent, some terrible, some average), it's not the only thing worthy of your eyeballs while you're carving pumpkins, eating candy and dressing up in the most frightening costume you can conjure up.
While 2020 has been unsettling all round for everyone, it has also served up a heap of unnerving flicks — especially (and fittingly) via streaming platforms. So if your idea of a perfect Halloween this year involves getting reacquainted with that groove on your sofa and binging your way through the latest and greatest horror movies that are currently offer, we've rounded up a ten-movie viewing list that'll do the trick. You'll need to supply the treats, obviously.
THE MORTUARY COLLECTION
When The Mortuary Collection begins with a kid on a bicycle making his way towards a creepy multi-level mansion in a remote part of a small town — a mortuary, as the title makes plain — you can be forgiven for thinking that it's about to step into Goosebumps or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark-style territory. That firmly isn't the case, even though this horror flick serves up an anthology of unnerving tales all framed by an overarching narrative. In the bigger picture, as set in the 80s, Raven's End mortician Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown, Billions) finds a young woman called Sam (Caitlin Custer, Teen Wolf) hovering around the house. She says she's enquiring about the 'help wanted' sign outside and, as they chat, he starts talking her through the histories of folks who've died in the town. Cue four separate segments that feature everything from tentacled monsters and sleazy frat boys to creepy corpses and escaped asylum patients. Each story within the bigger story tells a tale about bad choices leading to bad outcomes, and they're so richly staged that even the briefest still keeps viewers interested. Writer/director Ryan Spindell might be making his feature debut, but from his handling of the movie's equally ominous and entertaining mood to its well-executed lashings of gore, he has crafted himself quite the calling card.
The Mortuary Collection is available to stream via Shudder.
It's a recognisable setup: a remote house, a family haunted by decades-old troubles, a murky history that's still leaving an imprint and tension levels rising when, naturally, strange things start to happen. But Australian horror movie Relic has more than a few surprises up its sleeves as it follows three generations of women in a Victorian-based family. In fact, while the slow-burning affair is set in a nerve-shatteringly creepy house that's up there with many a horror great, and it serves up well-executed jumps, bumps and unnerving sensations, this smart, thoughtful and constantly disquieting film also uses its concept and plot to ponder the physical and emotional impact of ageing, including dementia. It all starts with the disappearances of the widowed and elderly Edna (Top of the Lake's Robyn Nevin). Her daughter Kay (Mary Poppins Returns' Emily Mortimer) arrives from Melbourne to join the search, with her own offspring Sam (Bloom's Bella Heathcote) in tow, but then Edna reappears suddenly without any explanation for her absence. In the assured feature directorial debut of Japanese Australian filmmaker Natalie Erika James, Kay and Sam still need to try to ascertain just what happened, though, and work out why Edna's house — and, increasingly, Edna too — seems so sinister.
Relic is available to stream via Stan.
SHE DIES TOMORROW
When She Dies Tomorrow splashes Kate Lyn Sheil's face across the screen, then bathes it in neon flashes of pink, blue, red and purple, it isn't easily forgotten. It's a vivid, visceral, even psychedelic sight, which filmmaker Amy Seimetz lingers on, forcing her audience to do the same as well. Viewers aren't just soaking in trippy lights and colours, though. They're staring at the expression beneath the multi-hued glow, which seethes with harrowing levels of shock, fright, distress and anxiety. That's understandable; this is the look of someone who has just had the most unnerving realisation there is: that she is going to die tomorrow. Yes, that's the film's premise, with Sheil's Amy believing that her life will end the next day. But it's how the on-screen Amy copes with the apocalyptic news, and how it also spreads virally from person to person, that fuels this gloriously smart and unsettling thriller. Toying with surreal Lynchian moments yet always feeling disarmingly astute, She Dies Tomorrow follows the spread of that potentially paranoid, persecution-driven delusion like a contagion, with the haunting feature's cast also including Katie Aselton (Bombshell), Chris Messina (Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)), Josh Lucas (Ford vs Ferrari), Tunde Adebimpe (Marriage Story) and Jennifer Kim (Mozart in the Jungle).
Train to Busan and Peninsula aren't the only recent films to wonder how South Korea might cope with a sudden zombie outbreak. The unrelated #Alive also explores the concept, focusing on a video game streamer as an unexplained disease turns most of Seoul's residents into members of the guts-munching undead. Holed up in the seeming safety of his family's apartment, Oh Jun-u (Burning's Yoo Ah-in) doesn't initially take the situation well. As shuffling hordes lurk outside, his dismal food supply rapidly declines, and he worries about the safety of his parents and sister, he attempts to survive — and to fight off the gnawing feeling that perhaps his struggle is futile. A box office hit when it released in South Korean cinemas this year, #Alive never feels as formulaic as its premise might suggest. In fact, this horror-thriller proves constantly tense, and not just because pandemic films have that effect at the moment. Making his first feature, writer/director Il Cho handles the zombie scenes with urgency and makes ample room for quiet moments; however, his best decision is casting the ever-watchable Yoo.
#Alive is available to stream via Netflix.
Set in a series of confined spaces, stressing the immense disparities between the haves and the have nots, and watching as people fight over everyday items — food, in this case — The Platform couldn't be more relevant to 2020. That's a coincidence, of course, with this twisty Spanish thriller first screening at film festivals in 2019 before hitting Netflix this year. It all starts when Goreng (Iván Massagué) wakes up in a prison cell. He's on level 48 and, as his cellmate Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor) explains, there are 47 storeys above and who knows how many below. He can see this for himself, however, because the concrete room has a hole in the centre of both the ceiling and floor. Through this opening, their daily meal descends on a platform, before moving to the lower levels. For the folks at the top, that means that a huge feast awaits. Alas, as the platform makes its way down level by level, each cell is faced with leftovers, scraps, bones and eventually nothing. Funny, furious, grim and violent all at once, The Platform is also impeccably staged and shot, stressing the claustrophobia of its setting as well as the dog-eat-dog mindset that quickly develops among its characters.
The Platform is available to stream on Netflix.
Not to be confused with Bong Joon-ho's creature feature The Host, nor with the terrible sci-fi romance of the same name based on a novel by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, Shudder's engaging horror flick Host is relevant to the absolute minute. Indeed, it could've only been made this year. The setup: bored in COVID-19 lockdown, a group of British friends (Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward and Edward Linard) decide to spice up their weekly Zoom catchup by enlisting a medium to conduct an online seance. Obviously, anyone who has ever seen a scary movie before knows that this is a bad plan, and that things won't end well. It's not so much what happens here that serves up the film's thrills, however, but how director Rob Savage (Strings) unfurls this creepy, timely premise. Frightening and tense features solely set on computer and mobile phone screens are by no means new — see Unfriended, Searching and Profile, just to name a few recent examples — but this is a savvy, cleverly managed and suitably spooky addition to the genre. It'll also turn you off trying to summon the dead next time you jump on Zoom yourself.
Host is available to stream via Shudder.
Some films boast a stellar lead performance, so much so that you couldn't imagine the movie without it. Some find their strength in a clever, astute and engaging premise. Swallow ticks both boxes — and combines them with a mood and look that instantly make an imprint. In the feature debut of writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis, young housewife Hunter Conrad (Haley Bennett, The Devil All the Time) seems to have it all. She has married into a wealthy family, her husband (Austin Stowell, Fantasy Island) has a high-flying job, they've been gifted a lavish house surrounded by countryside and she's now expecting. But, when she isn't being left home alone day in, day out, she's expected to be dutiful and doting by her controlling new family. So, to regain a sliver of power over her life, Hunter starts swallowing strange objects. Bennett is phenomenal as a woman slowly awakening to her restricted reality, fighting to break free and coming to terms with her past, putting in a quiet, nuanced yet potent performance. And the film itself walks confidently in the footsteps of masterpieces such as Safe and Rosemary's Baby, while always following its own path.
Swallow is available to stream on Stan.
Written and directed by Josh Ruben, and starring him also, Scare Me doesn't just like scary movies — it flat-out loves scary stories. Indeed, this pared-back horror film understands that sometimes all that's needed to keep an audience on the edge of their seats is a great tale told well. Its characters, both writers, are all about unfurling creepy narratives. Fred (Ruben) falls into the aspiring category, while Fanny (You're the Worst and The Boys' Aya Cash) has an acclaimed best-seller to her name. With each taking time out in the mountains to get some work done, these two strangers end up in Fred's cabin telling each other disturbing stories when the power goes out (and trying to one-up each other, naturally). For its first two-thirds, Scare Me makes the most of that basic concept. Fred and Fanny perform their tales, sound effects and ominous lighting kicks in — it's a stormy night, of course — and the mood is suitably perturbing. The film also demonstrates its self-awareness, namedropping other genre titles with frequency and sending in a pizza from the Overlook. When this Sundance-premiering feature decides to ponder real-life horrors as part of its layered stories, however, it proves especially potent.
Scare Me is available to stream now via Shudder.
It shares its name with the next movie in the Saw franchise, which'll hit cinemas next year. But this Spiral gives a familiar premise a smart, topical and resonant twist. In the mid-90s, Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, UnREAL) and Aaron (Ari Cohen, IT: Chapter Two) move to a small town with the latter's teenage daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte, iZombie), seeking a quieter, happier life away from the city. They're initially greeted warmly by neighbours Marshall (Lochlyn Munro, Riverdale) and Tiffany (Chandra West); however, in general territory traversed by many a horror film before this, things aren't quite what they seem. Indeed, when Malik comes home one day to find a homophobic slur graffitied on their living room wall, he starts to get suspicious about the cliquey community they're now calling home — fears that Aaron doesn't share. There is clearly much about Spiral that fits a template, but director Kurtis David Harder and writers Colin Minihan and John Poliquin do an shrewd job of moulding this unsettling movie into a timely statement. The result: a feature that's as much about spooky terrors as societal ones, and that possesses a considerable bite.
Spiral is available to stream via Shudder.
Blumhouse, the filmmaking company started and run by producer Jason Blum, has quite a number of horror flicks to its name. It's responsible for Get Out, Happy Death Day, the latest Halloween and this year's version of The Invisible Man, with that list only continuing — and in 2020 it has launched a movie anthology series on Amazon Prime Video as well. Black Box is one of the flicks in the Welcome to the Blumhouse franchise, and it's the best of the four released so far. Written and directed by feature first-timer Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr, the Black Mirror-esque sci-fi/horror hybrid focuses on photographer Nolan Wright (Mamoudou Athie, The Front Runner), who is struggling to regain his memory after a traumatic car accident. Then he's given the opportunity to try an experimental new treatment by brain specialist Dr Lilian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad), and this film starts toying with identity, loyalty and ethics. There aren't all that many surprises, narrative-wise, but Athie is excellent, Osei-Kuffour Jr maintains a sense of intrigue and, more often than not, the movie hits an emotional note, too.
Black Box is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
Published on October 29, 2020 by Sarah Ward