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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.

Velvet Buzzsaw

Writer/director Dan Gilroy made a dark splash in 2014 with Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as an amoral photojournalist 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."

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."

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). 

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 Samarra 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."

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.