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These are the best horror films of 2019

For as long as there have been movies, there have been horror movies. In fact, there have always been great horror movies — films that reflected their times or impacted culture, and still prove effective decades after release. The Expressionist masterworks of the silent era helped to define the artform. Filmmakers of the mid-20th century tapped into Space Age fears, Cold War paranoia, and civil rights tensions. Consumerism, capitalism, and loss of identity were all explored by the genre as the Digital Age began.

While every era has had its own "important" horror films, recent years have seen a particular surge in the mainstream popularity of smart, stylish, effective chillers. It's been such a noteworthy trend that some critics have started referring to this new wave as "prestige horror." That can be frustrating for horror fans who know the good stuff has always been around, but it's undeniable that something is changing. After years of grim, jumpscare-laden gore fests getting all the attention at the box office, studios are giving clever, beautiful, socially conscious horror a major platform, and audiences are loving it.

Whether you're a lifelong horror hound or a new convert to the joys of the genre, it's a good time to be a horror fan. Recent years have had something for everyone, and 2019 is showing no sign of letting us down yet. Here are the best horror films of the year so far.

Midsommar

Director Ari Aster's followup to Hereditary is Midsommar, and it is every bit as crazy as its predecessor. Following a horrific family tragedy, Dani tags along with her boyfriend and his friends to a remote Swedish village as it prepares for a rare midsummer festival. Things spiral quickly for the group, who realize that the festival isn't as inviting as it first seemed.

Midsommar isn't just horrifying — while there are some standard horror film elements thrown in, the bulk of what makes the movie frightening is also what it has in common with Hereditary. It's about guilt and grief and loss, and it's raw and unnerving. It's also set in a world without night, so all of these things are amplified by the harsh spotlight of everlasting daytime.

Aster told Vulture that the horror aspect of his films are more of a side-effect to his storytelling than anything else. "Like, what is the horror of existing?" he asked. "That is a feeling I know and I think everybody knows it, and I think we spend a lot of time pushing it away." Midsommar does anything but push that feeling away — it faces it head on, in all its bloody glory.

Us

We don't need to recap the cultural impact that Get Out had in 2017. If you're on the internet reading about movies right now, you've definitely caught wind of writer/director Jordan Peele's debut feature and what made it so captivating. When the first trailer for Peele's second movie, Us, dropped at the end of 2018, we had a lot of questions. The most important was simply whether the auteur could avoid a sophomore slump and deliver a follow-up worthy of that well-deserved Best Screenplay Oscar.

The answer to that question is largely subjective. While the critical consensus on Us is about as positive as it was for Get Out, audiences seem a little more divided on Peele's new nightmare. This tale of a family encountering their own crazed, murderous doubles is even more layered and complex in its themes than Get Out, and whether it clicks with you or leaves you feeling like it might be a little too ambitious might depend on what you bring with you going in. Either way, Us proves that Jordan Peele's position as one of the most important creative voices of his generation is secure (and also that Lupita Nyong'o is one of the greatest actors currently working). 

Happy Death Day 2U

Blumhouse Productions has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of the horror world over the past decade, building a reputation for crowd-pleasing frights on the foundation of hit series like Paranormal Activity and the Purge franchise. As their clout increased, they made a point of diversifying their portfolio, expanding to include thrillers like M. Night Shyamalan's Split, dramas like Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman, and even kids' movies like the recent reboots of Benji and Jem and the Holograms. And then there's 2017's Happy Death Day, a slasher movie with a sci-fi engine under the hood.

Happy Death Day finds a college student (Jessica Rothe) getting murdered by a masked killer again and again, forced to relive her birthday until she can figure out how to break the time loop. 2019's sequel, Happy Death Day 2U (a title so ridiculous it circles back around to being clever), moves the story just one day into the future and deeper into science fiction. Rothe herself compared the follow-up to Back to the Future, and that's fairly apt, with quantum reactors, alternate timelines, and colliding doppelgangers twisting in all kinds of directions, including back into the original film. Matthew Rosza of Salon called it a "rarity — a sequel that is both better than the original and manages to retroactively improve that movie."

Child's Play

Reboots can be tricky. Follow too closely to the original, and there's a good chance a film will be labeled as lazy. Go too far outside the lines, you'll lose the nostalgia that appeals to an already established fanbase. Child's Play has succeeded in walking that fine line, giving a 1980s horror story about a possessed doll an internet-era update that plays on the ridiculousness of its premise.

Yes, Child's Play is going to be about what you'd expect to see from a killer doll film. But it also seems to have an understanding of its own limitations and doesn't try to project some deeper meaning. It's an hour and a half of gory horror, wrapped up in a bow of '80s nostalgia. Director Lars Klevberg first imagined it as "E.T. on acid," which turns out to be a pretty accurate description.

With help from the voice of Mark Hamill, who die-hard fans will forever associate with both Luke Skywalker and the Joker, Child's Play is a campy update that plays up the comedic aspect of the original series. 

Velvet Buzzsaw

Writer/director Dan Gilroy made a dark splash in 2014 with Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as an amoral videographer antihero navigating the seedy soul of Los Angeles after dark. While Nightcrawler is an undeniably disturbing thriller, it doesn't exactly veer into horror territory. Gilroy and Gyllenhaal were ready to fully cross that line when they reunited for 2019's Velvet Buzzsaw.

Released via Netflix in February, Velvet Buzzsaw finds Gilroy again turning a satirical lens on a piece of Los Angeles, this time the pretentious fine art scene. Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo lead an ensemble cast of characters who come into contact with the works of a little-known deceased painter. The paintings themselves begin killing off critics and dealers one by one, putting a serious crimp in their lucrative dealings and torrid affairs.

This supernatural, occasionally silly, blood-drenched commentary on the collision of art and commerce didn't quite garner the overwhelming praise that Nightcrawler earned. Nonetheless, many critics found plenty to be charmed by. As David Sims of The Atlantic said, "Velvet Buzzsaw is a pretty soulless piece of art about the soullessness of art; but that doesn't mean it can't have a little fun proving its point."

The Perfection

What starts out as a film that feels like a clear-cut revenge thriller takes every twist and turn toward a very dark place, as Netflix's The Perfection rides the lines between horror, thriller, and psychological drama. Fresh off Jordan Peele's 2017 horror hit Get Out, Allison Williams takes another dive into the genre here as Charlotte, a former musical prodigy who begins an affair with her school's current lead cellist, Elizabeth (Dear White People's Logan Browning). While it's clear from the beginning that Charlotte doesn't have the purest of intentions, the full extent of her motivation makes for one hell of a twisted ride.

Director Richard Shepard told Collider he was influenced by South Korean revenge horror — particularly the work of Park Chan-wook — when it came to creating The Perfection's twisting narrative. "I love the way that [Park] plays with structure and does twists in his movies that are outrageous..." he said, "and yet all somehow make sense in the final film, and I love how elegantly he does all of that."

The Perfection may not actually be perfect, but it certainly gets close. According to Rolling Stone, "...in its own blood-splattered, limb-lopping way, it may be a particularly perfect thriller for this moment."

Greta

Greta is as much about emotional vulnerability as it is about the horrors of befriending random strangers in the New York City subway system. Chloë Grace Moretz plays Frances, a young woman new to the city, who's dealing with her mother's recent death and is in need of a friend. Enter Isabelle Huppert's Greta, a seemingly kind older woman who's forgotten her purse on the subway and could also use a friend. The pair strike up a relationship and, shockingly, it isn't as innocent as it first appears to be.

Greta is a wild B-movie experience that's really made worthwhile by Huppert's performance. The actress told W Magazine that she was attracted to the film because of how horrific her character was. "There was no point trying to make her nicer than she is or make her legitimate," she said. "These things happen most of the time when you read the newspapers, some horrible event happens and you always wonder what kind of mystery of human nature was the driving force and how the evil can really hide in someone's soul." 

Sweetheart

Blumhouse Productions first built a name for itself by producing low-budget, high-quality horror films that wind up doing really well with audiences. Over the last several years, however, it isn't just genre fans who are lining up to see the latest Blumhouse release — films like Whiplash, Get Out, and BlacKkKlansman have been praised by critics and gone on to become huge award winners.

That seems to be the path that Sweetheart is taking. The survival horror film premiered at Sundance in January and is already garnering some serious acclaim. Vulture calls it "a no-nonsense monster movie that uses its limitations effectively and tells its story cinematically." And with a runtime under 90 minutes, Sweetheart gets its point across without ever dragging out — which is saying something, considering the bulk of the film relies on a single person to carry it. 

Kiersey Clemons stars as Jennifer Remming, a woman who's washed ashore on a deserted island and must not only survive the elements but a mostly unseen creature that comes at night. The scenario is terrifying, and it's made all the more unsettling by the film's overall lack of dialogue.

The Wind

One of the most satisfying ways for a horror movie to stay fresh and surprising is to blend with another genre, adding some quality scares to the tropes and trademarks of a story that wouldn't usually have them. There are plenty of excellent examples of horror/sci-fi (like Alien or The Thing), horror-comedies (Shaun of the Dead or Re-Animator), and horror-fantasy (think of the works of Guillermo del Toro). Horror-westerns are less often discussed, though there are some gems (like Kathryn Bigelow's vampire cowboy story Near Dark) to be found.

The wide open spaces of the American frontier are often romanticized by classic westerns, but The Wind recognizes the horrific potential of all that emptiness. In this debut film from director Emma Tammi, tough frontierswoman Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard) is haunted by that emptiness, personified by the ever-present wind howling across the plains. Despite reassurances from her husband (Ashley Zuckerman), Lizzy becomes increasingly convinced that some sort of demonic presence is haunting their homestead. Is there something supernatural out there, or is the horror of The Wind nothing more or less than loneliness itself? It's a question that will haunt anyone who goes along for this moody, atmospheric ride.

The Hole in the Ground

Themes of parenthood will always be a mainstay in the horror genre. From bad dads like The Shining's Jack Torrance to creepy kids like The Ring's Samara Morgan and potent metaphors like The Babadook's maternal anxieties, filmmakers are always ready to bring horror home to the family. 2019 saw a less-than-stellar example of this tradition in the listless possessed-kid thriller The Prodigy, but we've also gotten a better (if less-seen) film about a boy who ain't right, The Hole in the Ground.

This unnerving movie from the U.K. puts the "slow" in "slow burn," but for horror fans willing to fall under its spell, it's worth the time. In his feature film debut, Irish writer/director Lee Cronin spins a subtle story about a woman (Seána Kerslake) and her son (James Quinn Markey) moving to a village in the countryside to escape a troubled past. But there's something disturbing about their new home — namely, the enormous sinkhole in the nearby woods.

The atmosphere and metaphors of The Hole in the Ground are far better experienced than described, but in short, the boy's encounter with the titular crevice leaves his mother feeling unsafe around him. It may be yet another "creepy kid" movie, but as Rotten Tomatoes' critical consensus puts it, The Hole in the Ground "makes up in sheer effectiveness what it lacks in originality."

It: Chapter Two

Two years after the first chapter of Stephen King's It came to the big screen, director Andy Muschietti managed to create a follow-up story that may not quite live up to its predecessor, but it certainly comes close. It: Chapter Two picks up 27 years after we last left the Losers Club in Derry — everyone has gone their separate ways and found success (or lack thereof) on their own. Everyone, that is, except for Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), who's stayed behind on unofficial Pennywise watch. When the killer clown returns, Mike gets the gang back together for a final showdown.

While It: Chapter Two could have benefited from trimming some of its massive run time, it does a solid job of bringing to life King's visions of extraterrestrial spider monsters and a giant turtle that vomited the universe into existence. Where the 1990 miniseries went the literal route with its second half, the 2019 film improves upon the idea, and it translates the source material into something that's worth watching more than once. It also gives depth to its more lighthearted characters — if you see it for no other reason, do it because of Bill Hader's grown-up portrayal of Richie.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Any child of the '80s or '90s knows Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The book series, written by Alvin Schwartz, originally ran from 1981 to 1991, and it was comprised of complete nightmare fuel, in bite-sized form. Schwartz gathered up the most eerie and unsettling short tales from the annals of urban legend and folklore. The most terrifying thing about the books, though, wasn't the stories themselves — it was the unnervingly surreal illustrations, courtesy of Stephen Gammell. 

Leave it to director André Øvredal and producer Guillermo del Toro to be able to bring Scary Stories to the big screen in a way that's enjoyable for both younger and older audiences. With a certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film "opens a creepy gateway into horror for younger genre enthusiasts," while also appealing to that frightening nostalgia of the elder millennial crowd. By bringing several of the anthology's most famous stories into one cohesive narrative, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark winds up being a creepy, well-built horror flick that delivers the occasional jump scare without going overboard.

Crawl

Not every great horror movie has to take itself seriously — that's the biggest lesson to be learned with Crawl, a throwback creature feature about killer alligators that go after a father and daughter when their Florida home is flooded in a Category 5 hurricane. Mixing elements from survival thrillers, slasher horror, and Piranha-style ridiculousness, Crawl winds up being a fun ride from start to finish.

Bucking the recent trend of "elevated horror" (if you believe there is such a thing), Crawl focuses instead on the sheer terror of being trapped inside a confined area with a flesh eating monster. There's no particularly deep premise here — and that's absolutely okay. Slate says of the film, "It's fast, efficient, crisply directed, and delivers on the promised alligator thrills," commending its "B-movie values" as a welcome change from the superhero bloat of the summer box office. It's a popcorn movie for sure, but in a way that won't make you feel as though you've wasted money on the ticket.

Ready or Not

The premise of Ready or Not sounds a little like something from the Purge series — a young woman named Grace (Samara Weaving) is forced to endure a deadly hide-and-seek ritual when she marries into a wealthy and strangely privileged family. As it turns out, the family signed a deal with the devil years prior, and it requires the sacrifice of a newly-joined member in order to keep everyone alive and well. Suffice to say, things don't go as planned.

Ready or Not kind of flew under the radar when it hit theaters at the end of summer. But it's a real horror gem, a black comedy set within a slasher flick that's funny, intelligent, and incredibly well acted. The ensemble cast is an eclectic bunch, one that includes Andie MacDowell and The O.C. alum Adam Brody. And the film itself manages to say something about wealth and privilege in a way that only the best horror movies can. 

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Tigers Are Not Afraid is not for the faint of heart. It may blend fantasy elements into its dark tale, but at its core, the film is a horror based very much in reality. Written and directed by Issa López, Tigers Are Not Afraid tells the story of Estrella (Paola Lara), a girl who unwittingly finds herself at the very center of an ongoing and brutal drug war. Given the power of three wishes, Estrella discovers the results of her actions are far more horrifying than she could ever imagine.

It isn't often that a film like this comes around, one which so seamlessly blends fantasy with horror and almost documentary-style filmmaking. Tigers Are Not Afraid is about the things that go bump in the night, and while its horror elements are frightening and beautiful, the reality in which its based is so gut-wrenching that it becomes difficult to watch at times. It's worth it to get through, though, even if it does wind up leaving you in tears.

Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse

In the 15th century Alps, young Albrun has been deemed an outsider and a witch by the townsfolk who live nearby. She spends her days alone, with only her infant child and her beloved goats to keep her company. But when the townspeople turn against her in a violent manner, Albrun descends into a madness that's both fascinating and repelling to watch.

Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse marks the cinematic debut of writer/director Lukas Feigelfeld, who said he was interested in fleshing out the reality of old Pagan superstitions. Variety likens it to The Witch, "had [it] been directed by the early-career Werner Herzog of Aguirre, Heart of Glass, and Even Dwarfs Started Small." Hagazussa winds up being as far from mainstream horror as a movie can be — it's slow, sometimes confusing, and very, very strange. But it's beautifully shot and creepy as hell. Feigelfeld's interpretation of medieval lore is well-done, even if you leave with more questions than were answered.

Bliss

Set in the dark underbelly of the Los Angeles art scene, Bliss follows struggling painter Dezzy (Dora Madison) as she blows through every drug imaginable in search of inspiration. She finds it, but the side effects of Dezzy's new drug of choice are a little more than she bargained for.

Bliss is an assault on the senses, but in all the best ways. It's so far out there visually that it's impossible not to appreciate the film for its screw-it-all attitude. The A.V. Club says Bliss has a "torrid sexuality and Fulci-style ooze," and that it "approaches its aesthetic with a straight-faced intensity, pummeling the viewer with woozy handheld closeups and violent bursts of montage until you feel like maybe you might have been dosed somehow on your way into the theater." The film is unapologetic and relentless, and it probably isn't for every horror fan out there. But if psychedelic music video horror is what you're after, Bliss won't disappoint.

Depraved

Through the years, we've seen plenty of takes on Mary Shelley's classic Frankenstein. Depraved doesn't reinvent the monster turned against his maker story, but it definitely gives it an incredible update, one that sees our beloved undead creature try to navigate his way through New York nightlife.

With a certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the critics' consensus of Depraved is that it's "a thrillingly effective update on a classic story," one that "jolts a familiar monster back to life with a potent blend of timely themes and old-school chills." This Dr. Frankenstein, Henry (David Call), is an ex-army medic with PTSD. His creation, Adam (Alex Breaux), is thoughtful and intelligent, played with a great deal of emotion. In fact, this creature is somehow an even more empathetic one than in most takes on the story, especially given his near-immediate recollection of his erstwhile life.

There's enough gore to satisfy the monster lover in every horror fan, but the best thing about Depraved — like Frankenstein — is its exploration of humanity.

Little Monsters

What would happen if a zombie outbreak occurred in the middle of a kindergarten class field trip? That's the question Little Monsters asks, and it answers it with a solid combination of humor and heart. Lupita Nyong'o plays Miss Caroline, a wholesome schoolteacher who's just trying to show her class a good time but comes face to face with a horde of slow-moving, flesh-eating zombies. In order to keep her kids from getting scared, she attempts to make the entire outing a game, complete with a "jam"-soaked singalong. Throw in Josh Gad as the popular kids' show personality Teddy McGiggle, and Little Monsters proves that horror doesn't have to serious to be incredible.

It's also been a huge hit with critics. Boasting a 93% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Little Monsters is every bit as entertaining as it is hilarious. Just don't think this is another Shaun of the Dead — writer/director Abe Forsythe told Bloody Disgusting that while he admires Edgar Wright's film, he had no desire to emulate it. In spite of its surface similarities, Little Monsters is a film all its own.

I See You

I See You may at first come across as just another story about a missing child in a town full of secrets, but writer Devon Graye (this is his first credit) and director Adam Randall (iBoy) manage to throw in enough twists and turns to keep even the biggest horror sleuths out there guessing. The film centers on the Harpers, a family struggling to keep things together after wife Jackie (Helen Hunt) has an affair. Her husband Greg (Jon Tenney) is a detective assigned to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a ten-year-old boy that may have some connection to an old child killer case. Things get weird when unexplained occurrences begin to happen in the family's home, and the relationship between Jackie and their son Connor (Judah Lewis) becomes increasingly tumultuous.

Critics have been somewhat divided over I See You, with consensus being that it "gets tripped up on its own narrative contortions," but it strives to be more than just your average horror whodunnit. It also straddles a number of different genres — while definitely horror, I See You brings in elements from the psychological thriller and family drama genres as well. And in spite of its sometimes confusing twists, it does an incredible job of finding balance in the murkiness where it resides.

Harpoon

Like summer 2019's Crawl, Harpoon deals with the dangers of the open sea. Except where Crawl's terror comes from a monster alligator, Harpoon's comes from a dysfunctional trio of best friends. Rich kid Richard (Christopher Gray) has a serious anger problem, which tends to manifest in particularly violent ways toward his less affluent best friend Jonah (Munro Chambers). Caught in the middle is Sasha (Emily Tyra), Richard's girlfriend, who he suspects is cheating on him with Jonah. As a birthday surprise for Richard, Jonah and Sasha plan a yacht trip for the trio, and clearly things don't go as planned.

Harpoon is by any measure a B-movie, but as Rotten Tomatoes puts it, it's "a B-movie with an A-level commitment to entertain." The film's snarky tone is punctuated by its narrator (Brett Gelman), its stylish camerawork, and its incredible soundtrack. There's nothing to love about the movie's "protagonists," but that's exactly what makes Harpoon so lovable.