Here we are just squeaking by the midpoint of 2020 (and let’s face it, this feels like it’s been the longest year ever!) and already, as any genre fan can attest, we’ve seen a wealth of outstanding horror, fantasy and sci-fi films. The following list of 20 titles rates and ranks what have so far been Taste of Cinema’s favorite genre films.
It’s worth pointing out that the best genre films of 2020 may well be yet to come, especially considering that such admired director’s as Christopher Nolan (Tenet), Denis Vileneuve (Dune), Ben Wheatley (Rebecca), Edgar Wright (Last Night in Soho) and Chloe Zhao (Eternals) are set to unleash hotly anticipated genre films.
And now, without further ado, here are the films, and be sure to join the conversation in the comments section below (be nice!). Enjoy!
Considering all the ingredients in this heady stew, it’s somewhat of a let down that Dreamland doesn’t reach the exalted heights it threatens to once it starts unraveling. How could it? Directed by Canadian filmmaking legend Bruce McDonald (Hard Core Logo, Pontypool), reteaming with novelist/screenwriter Tony Burgess (“Pontypool Changes Everything”) and with an impressive international cast that includes Stephen McHattie (in a dual role), Juliette Lewis, Lisa Houle, and Henry Rollins, Dreamland is a midnight movie that wears its odd eccentricity on its blood-flecked sleeve.
Fans of Pontypool may be able to draw a line from Pontypool’s surrealist, dream-like post-credit sequence to this metaphysical head trip of a movie, that spends some of its trim running time (a scant 92 minutes) as an OTT John Wickian action thriller and the rest as an existentialist art house satire. Yes, it will tire some, but also excite others as McHattie’s cold-blooded hitman (who barely blinks when he discovers his doppelganger) turns tables on Rollins’s sicko ganglord.
19. The Grudge
Writer-director Nicolas Pesce (The Eyes of My Mother, Piercing) continues his trajectory of injurious, art-film tinged terror with the supernatural gorefest The Grudge. And while this is, at least on the surface, another remake/reboot of Takashi Shimizu’s oft-adapted J-horror Ju-on films, it aligns with Pesce’s previous films as its slow-burn chills build to full-on frights with startling violence and a few original moments of utter disbelief and shock.
The Grudge does regrettably over rely on jump-scares and a lot of predictability, but it’s also elevated by Pesce’s go-to cinematographer Zack Galler’s expert lensing and a riveting central performance from the always awesome Andrea Riseborough (Mandy).
The Ju-On ghosts might be a vindictive and relentless lot, but genre fans will get some terrific frights, sickening scares, and flashing bits of brilliance every time Pesce bucks convention. Of course, it goes both ways and detractors aren’t wrong to suggest that the Grudge slips into stale waters half the time, too.
18. Guns Akimbo
Five long years since Kiwi filmmaker Jason Lei Howden gleefully grabbed our attention with his hilariously gruesome horror-comedy Deathgasm (2015) and he’s back, guns blazing, with Guns
Akimbo. Deliriously deranged and not at all for the faint of heart, this live-action video game smorgasbord won’t be to all tastes, but for those with the right appetite, it’s a rich and savagely satisfying dish.
Set in a familiar but all the same alternate near future, computer programmer Miles Lee Harris (Daniel Radcliffe) finds himself running afoul online trolls who back Skizm — an unprecidentedly popular fight-club-to-the-death live-streaming presentation –when suddenly and quicker than you can say “Can you help me? I have guns bolted to my hands!” he’s in one hell of a pickle.
Co-starring Samara Weaving, who’s in everything awesome these days, and Rhys Darby, amongst others, Guns Akimbo is a silly, slick, and gratuitous grindhouse jewel. As far as bratty black comedies go, this one’s a bang.
17. The Lodge
This American-British horror film from writers-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala had genre junkies pumping their fists in anticipation thanks to their previously well-played full-on psychological freakout from 2014, Goodnight Mommy. And if you’re a fan of deep dark terror of the slow-burning variety, The Lodge does not disappoint.
Catalyzed by grief and the ghost of suicide, this twisted tale focuses on two siblings, Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) who are still reeling from the loss of their mother when their father (Richard Armitage) too swiftly pulls them into a new relationship with his new bride-to-be, Grace (Riley Keough, excellent).
Brace yourself for an unsettling stay in the titular abode as Grace and her stepchildren have it out in the most macabre of ways as the biggest and baddest disturbances and reveals are saved for the brutal and bitter end.
16. Judy & Punch
Its very title suggesting a lot of sick slapstick violence and theatricality, Judy & Punch is set in the ironically named town of Seaside, there’s no sea to be found, puppeteers Judy (Mia Wasikowska) and Punch (Damon Herriman) try to resuscitate their ill-fated marionette show. This whimsical whirlwind of black comedy and revenge is a live-action reinterpretation of the infamous 16th century puppet show, wherein Judy almost always falls victim to Mr. Punch’s violent slapstick, though here it’s put in a contemporary setting, aswell it marks the directorial debut of Australian actress Mirrah Foulkes, and it’s an ambitious one at that.
With vibrant visuals, a gifted cast of hot stars, Wasikowska has had a string of excellent roles in very cool projects including Piercing, Crimson Peak, and Only Lovers Left Alive, and Herriman is still hot off playing Charles Manson in both the Netflix series Mindhunters and Tarantino’s celebrated Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (typecast much?) , here’s hoping that this is the beginning of a lengthy and prolific new chapter for Foulkes.
15. Come to Daddy
While it’s hard to deny that much of what works with Ant Timpson’s very violent and very fun B-movie thriller utterly evaporates by the final reel, Come to Daddy is still an enthusiastic and effective ride with the top down and the wind blasting you full on in the face.
Elijah Wood is a sheer delight as entitled man-child Norval Greenwood, out to reconnect, if he can, with his estranged father (Stephen McHattie) at his remote cabin off the bucolic coast of the Pacific Northwest. It’s not long before things escalate in upsetting ways and weirdos start to dogpile at Norval’s doorstep (brilliant character actors like Martin Donovan and Michael Smiley make memorable appearances).
Come to Daddy has so much vicious violence and caustic wit that these elements make up for some sadly overdone banalities with the rather flimsy plot, making for a horror comedy that tries very hard to be likeable, and though it may not be as clever as it sets out to be, it has a warped warmth and eagerness that’s hard to resist.
Director Joe Begos (whose weird fun film Bliss was another contender for this very list) along with writers Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle have a gory good time in store for grindhouse fans looking for some largely familiar but no less enjoyable upsets in VFW. Blending such beloved and beastly John Carpenter gems as Assault on Precinct 13 with Escape From New York, this ultra-violent exploitation homage is sometimes silly but also a grainy and nihilistic good time.
The ragtag regulars at the local VFW are a group of largely likeable, if old fashioned, war veterans who want nothing more than to swig cheap beers while waxing nostalgia for the glory days, but a greedy gang of punk mutants — this is an alternate near future with a drug-addiction crisis similar to our own, after all — have other designs.
Buttressed by a great cast (which includes David Patrick Kelly, Martin Kove, Stephen Lang, Sierra McCormick, William Sadler, and George Wendt) and a cool Carpenter-esque soundtrack (truly, the fact that a credit reading “inspired by the works of John Carpenter” doesn’t appear is beyond me), this is a genre detour you won’t mind driving down and getting distracted along the way.
13. The Invisible Man
Writer-director Leigh Whannel follows up 2018’s ultra-violent sci-fi sleeper Upgrade with a revisionist take on the H.G. Wells classic from 1897, “The Invisible Man”. I’ll be the first to admit that several aspects of Whannel’s new iteration of the Invisible Man are flimsy and entirely predictable. The villain, who we both literally and figuratively see very little of isn’t that scary at all, based on what we see, get it? And I guess that’s why Elisabeth Moss is here, to overcompensate the plot’s many holes, and there are far too many convenient design flaws (and not just in the silly top secret invisible suit) before we even get back to the unstoppable evildoer trope, his neglected yet well-fed dog and eye rolling cheat in the third act.
But let’s face it, Whannel has a lot of ruthless fun as Cecilia (Moss) tries to convince the world at large that her abusive piece of human garbage ex (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is after her beyond the grave because, you know, he staged his suicide so he can zip around in his invisible underoos (instead of making a fortune and founding a legacy that would make Bill Gates green with envy).
Moss pulls you in, makes you care, makes you mad at the hand she’s been dealt, and definitely makes you fistpump at many startling setpieces (like that jailbreak scene that really is the movie’s topper) and, despite the smoke and mirrors, makes you curious if an Invisible Woman sequel might be in the cards because, hey, Cecilia deserves a better turn, and after two hours of this, so do we. But despite the snarkiness here, this damsel in distress detour is familiar fun, and for a mainstream movie, Whannel proves his mettle.
12. Daniel Isn’t Real
Luke (Miles Robbins) is a troubled man who survives a horrific family trauma that resuscitates Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of Arnold), his imaginary friend from childhood to help him deal. But Drop Dead Fred this most certainly is not.
Based on Brian DeLeeuw’s 2009 novel “In This Way I was Saved”, director Adam Egypt Mortimer (who also adapted the book along with DeLeeuw) has crafted a supernatural suspense thriller that keeps viewers enthralled, off-balance, and fully engaged. Is Luke suffering from mental illness or something truly demonic?
The film may be low-budget, but there’s nothing on screen that would suggest that, and Mortimer, who must be a Clive Barker fan, also scores points for casting so many promising and personable young stars. Sasha Lane (American Honey, Hellboy) and Hannah Marks (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency) are standouts in this creepy and catchy little number. Don’t miss it.
Perhaps the less said about the Twilight Zone-ish plot behind Irish director Lorcan Finnegan’s mystery-shrouded Vivarium the better. Let’s just say that young couple Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) get much more than they bargained for when they, on a whim, take advice from bizarro real estate agent Martin (Jonathan Aris) and drive out to the suburban development called Loom for a look-see.
Nightmares of marriage, parenthood, and complacency loom on Loom’s serpentine horizon, but so does much more. Finnegan and writer Garret Shanley maintain a relentless and cruel clip as this sci-fi horror film pulls willing viewers down the rabbit hole. Home sweet home this most assuredly is not!