My favourite genre films of 2019

DECEMBER 28 — This has been another solid year for genre films, with plenty of highlights coming not only from the ever-dependable indie horror scene, but also major studios and even streaming giants like Netflix. 

There are still quite a few 2019 genre films that I haven’t managed to see at the time of writing, like The Witch director Robert Eggers’ highly anticipated follow-up The Lighthouse, US indie horror legend Larry Fessenden’s very highly touted latest film Depraved and festival faves like Tigers Are Not Afraid, Daniel Isn’t Real, Ghost Killers vs Bloody Mary and The Dead Ones.

But even then, not only can I draw up a top 10 list, but I can also add another 10 to the honourable mentions list right below it, so you can bet that it’s been a pretty damn solid year for genre cinema. 

So, without wasting any time, let’s get to it!

Bliss

When director Joe Begos dropped his second film The Mind’s Eye back in 2016, it was quite startling to see how much his craft had developed when compared to his decent, but definitely not outstanding debut feature Almost Human

So when he dropped his third film Bliss this year, I was already expecting more improvements but I definitely didn’t expect him to deliver something this confident and unique. 

A very Begos take on the drug/vampire film, it’s a simple narrative about a painter with a serious case of painter’s block resorting to drugs to get out of her creative rut and finish a long overdue painting, with increasingly unhinged results. 

Playing like a blend of Gaspar Noe, Abel Ferrara and Panos Cosmatos, Bliss is a horror film that terrorises you not with jump scares or crippling suspense, but with purely brutal aural and visual assault. 

Hypnotic, delirious and truly mesmerising, if you thought Mandy was mental, wait till you see what Bliss has in store for you.

Avengement

Scott Adkins may only be a DTV (direct-to-video) action star, with most of his movies, especially the good and great ones like the Undisputed sequels, Ninja 2: Shadow Of A Tear and Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning deemed not worthy of a cinema release and going straight to home video, but I’ll watch almost anything new that he stars in. 

Directed by the DTV scene’s current “it” auteur Jesse V. Johnson (who also helmed Triple Threat and previous Adkins films like Savage Dog and Accident Man), Avengement is quite simply a wonderful little fight flick. 

Creatively set in a pub for the majority of its running time, where this differs from most fight flicks is in the story department, where there’s a lot more emotions involved, which makes the awesomely staged fight scenes even more cathartic and exciting, elevating the film into one of Adkins’ best in what is already a pretty glittering DTV career.

Doctor Sleep

A sequel to The Shining is never going to please everyone, just as the original itself was divisive when it was released, simply because there were two opposing sensibilities fighting for prominence, those of the novel’s author Stephen King and director Stanley Kubrick. 

It’s just our luck that the novel’s sequel, Doctor Sleep, was first published in 2013, which coincided nicely with the rise of horror auteur Mike Flanagan, whose mainstream breakthrough Oculus also came out in 2013, as Flanagan is just the right guy to try and meld these two sensibilities together and make a film adaptation of Doctor Sleep that we all deserve. 

By the time Doctor Sleep came out in 2019, Flanagan is already a highly respected horror director, thanks to films like Hush, Gerald’s Game and of course his Netflix hit series The Haunting Of Hill House, and the excellent Doctor Sleep, very probably the year’s best commercial horror film, will no doubt cement his reputation further. 

One of the year’s most satisfying cinematic experiences, it’s a deeply pleasurable viewing experience visually, aurally, intellectually and emotionally.

In Fabric

Director Peter Strickland’s career progression has taken a very interesting turn after he made his breakthrough with his debut feature Katalin Varga, which played like your usual European arthouse fare, as he’s now very much knee deep in genre filmmaking from his second film onwards, embracing the high style of giallo movies and even Jess Franco-style Euro soft-core with his previous film The Duke Of Burgundy

His fourth film In Fabric adds another element to his by now very quirky take on the giallo and Euro horror — comedy — and the results are quite simply glorious. 

A totally odd film full of odd little things and characters, In Fabric tells the story of an evil/haunted dress, the people owning it and selling it, the unforgettable department store that sells it, and of course its very memorable collection of employees. 

If you like your horror films to be original, strange, and beautifully dreamlike, this is definitely one of 2019’s finest offerings.

Happy Death Day 2U

Sequels, even more so when they’re horror sequels, are very rarely worth your time. 

But there’s something about the way the Blumhouse machine works that some of their sequels are indeed pretty good. 

Happy Death Day 2U though, is something quite special — a brilliantly entertaining sequel that not only manages to live up to the already brilliant original, but also manages to top its murderous fun. 

If the original was Groundhog Day meets Scream, then this sequel adds another ingredient to up the ante and kick out the jams — Back To The Future 2

Finally explaining what triggered the main character Tree’s repeating day in the original, there’s even a multi-verse now as Tree not only has to deal with a repeating day, but also finds herself in a world that looks familiar but is slightly different.

And it’s in these slight differences that writer-director Christopher Landon managed to cleverly weave in bits of emotional heft into his already successful slasher-comedy. 

This is how you do horror as pop entertainment. Can’t wait for part 3!

Dragged Across Concrete

Just three films in, US genre auteur S Craig Zahler has already established a signature style, which may on first glance seem similar to Quentin Tarantino’s but on a deeper look is significantly his own. 

His third film Dragged Across Concrete is like his own version of Jackie Brown in its relaxed and measured pace, and its confident and borderline luxurious ways it plays with flowery dialogue. 

But where Zahler is definitely different is that he’s totally unafraid to go absolutely nasty and brutal with his violence, and this cop thriller, despite its stupendous length (it runs 2 hours and 39 minutes!) and unhurried pace, is gloriously and morbidly violent. 

There are basically two kinds of pleasures to be had here, one is savouring its very musical dialogue, and the other in witnessing its almost absurd ultra-violence, both things that I definitely won’t mind encountering in movies.

Ready Or Not

I’m a bit of a Radio Silence (a filmmaking collective consisting of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett and Chad Villella) fanboy, thanks to their superb segments on the first V/H/S anthology film and on Southbound, so any new movie from them is something I really look forward to. 

A modest critical and box-office hit (US$58 million or RM239 million worldwide from a budget of US$6 million), this jet black horror comedy about a young woman marrying into a rich family and subjected to a murderous game of “Hide and Seek” with her new family has a lot of fun lampooning the rich family’s dynamics and staging all sorts of bloody and gory set-pieces, making it a hugely entertaining ride that might even make it a future cult classic.

The Nightingale 

Aussie director Jennifer Kent follows up her breakthrough horror hit The Babadook with something totally different, a revenge Western, but one clearly made by someone with genre in her veins. 

Clearly fuelled by Kent’s rage against historical injustice and colonialism, The Nightingale is a scorchingly emotional and at times powerfully violent tale of a female Irish prisoner’s quest for revenge against English soldiers who committed some truly painful and unspeakable atrocities on her and her family. 

The injustice felt by the lead character Clare (a superb Aisling Franciosi) is complicated tenfold by the way she treats the film’s other major character Billy (an even more impressive Baykali Ganambarr), a native guide hired by Clare to track down the English soldiers, who appears about 40 minutes into the film. 

What began as rage against colonialism then adds racism into the mix, and what transpires next is totally brutal and unflinching stuff, which reportedly prompted walkouts when it premiered at Sundance early this year. 

But this is a necessary film, the kind that needs to show evil deeds, no holds barred, in order to make sure that such evil never occurs again, hopefully.

Nightmare Cinema

Originally conceived by Mick Garris as a follow-up to his very successful Masters Of Horror series from a while back, but after years of development what ultimately came out was a feature film horror anthology involving such highly regarded horror auteurs like Joe Dante (Gremlins, Small Soldiers), David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days Of Night), Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Midnight Meat Train) Alejandro Brugues (Juan Of The Dead) and Garris himself. 

I’d say at least four out of the five segments (excluding the wraparound story involving a projectionist and a cinema) are rock solid entertainment, my favourites being the one by Kitamura (a gloriously batshit crazy convent horror), Brugues (a very clever take on Evil Dead-style horror in the woods slasher) and Dante’s chilling plastic surgery horror. 

Endlessly re-watchable, this might just be one of the best horror anthology flicks ever.

Ip Man 4: The Finale

Making this list at the very last minute, thanks to the fact that it was released just last week, never in my wildest dreams did I expect the finale to the Donnie Yen version of the Ip Man franchise to be this good, especially after the disappointing parts 2 and 3. 

But this installment is every bit as involving as the first film, with the added gravitas of Ip Man’s mortality hanging over the whole film as he now enters old age. 

In short, try imagining a blend of Herman Yau’s soulful but underrated and much overlooked Ip Man: The Final Fight (no relation to the Donnie Yen franchise, which stars Anthony Wong as an elderly Ip Man) and the first Ip Man film, and you’ll probably get this film. 

Taking part mostly in San Francisco, where Ip Man goes to arrange for a school for his teenage son to attend and encountering the immigrant experience first-hand, this installment is very much about the pains (and joys) of assimilation, and the frustrating and humiliating injustice that’s caused not only by racism, but also insularity. 

The fights are immaculately choreographed and shot, the drama emotionally satisfying, this is definitely a finale that this franchise fully deserves. Bravo!

Honourable mentions: Lifechanger, Brightburn, The Hole In The Ground, The Golem, Extra Ordinary, Us, The Perfection, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, Girl On The Third Floor, Iron Sky: The Coming Race.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.