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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The 10 Best International Horror Films of 2020

2020 has been an absolute beast of a year in every capacity.

The movie industry faced unprecedented upheaval and solutions are still being found on how to best release movies. This year has still featured some big movies, but there are a number of highly anticipated horror releases like Candyman, Halloween Kills, and Spiral: The Book of Saw that have all been pushed to the indefinite future. Horror fans are anxiously anticipating the upcoming releases of these big genre films, but there are a number of horror movies from across the world that did get released this year.

As the year comes to an end, we take a look at the very best international horror films that 2020 has had to offer.

Directed by Egor Abramenko; Russia

If the movie Alien were to lay eggs in Silence of the Lambs, the creature that would burst out of its chest would be Sputnik. Sci-fi/horror hybrids can sometimes feel exhausting or like they’re not bringing anything new to the genre, but Sputnik presents a genuinely original story that makes for an extremely promising directorial debut from Egor Abramenko. Sputnik is the type of movie where it’s an asset to go in blind, but its story revolves around a psychiatrist who gets brought in by the military to examine a cosmonaut that’s returned from space a very changed man.

Sputnik is patient and while it contains a fantastic creature design and some well executed violence and gore, it’s much more a powerful character study. Sputnik‘s leads, Oksana Akinshina and Fyodor Bondarchuk, have electric chemistry, which brings out the personal nature of this heightened premise. Sputnik tells a powerful and claustrophobic story that only benefits from the Cold War fear and dread that the film’s Russian perspective brings forward. It will make you want to seek out other Russian horror films.

Anything for Jackson
Directed by Justin G. Dyck; Canada

Grief makes people do awful things and there are many horror films that use this as their catalyst. Anything for Jackson looks at an elderly couple, Audrey and Henry, who have recently lost their grandson and attempt to invoke black magick to resurrect him through a pregnant woman’s baby-to-be. At face value Anything for Jackson sounds like a standard exorcism or possession story, but it continually subverts expectations every chance that it gets. It cannot be stressed enough how exceptional the chemistry is between Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings as Audrey and Henry. They feel like desperate people who are out of options, not some evil team, which makes it all the worse when their plans continue to spiral out of control. It’s chilling to watch brutal acts get juxtaposed with their sweet acts of long-term marital warmth.

When all hell breaks loose in Anything for Jackson the movie becomes legitimately frightening. There are some brilliantly conceived set pieces and a litany of renegade spirits that are all nightmare fuel. There’s a “Flossing Demon” that perpetually loses teeth that’s one of the scariest things that I’ve seen in a long time and it would easily be getting its own spin-off film if it were a part of The Conjuring universe. Canada may be a stretch when it comes to “foreign” films, but Anything for Jackson is such a satisfying and surprising ride that it deserves some attention.

The Platform
Directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia; Spain

The Platform is the simple, yet effective kind of premise that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of The Twilight Zone. People wake up in a mysterious vertical prison that consists of 333 floors. Every day a platform descends that provides the prison’s food supply, with the people at the bottom’s meals being dependent on those above them not eating more than their share. What transpires is a fascinating experiment that’s like a more socially minded version of Cube. The Platform asks enlightening questions about the distribution of power and the dangers of capitalism in a tight and engaging film. The Platform actually has something to say, but it’s also full of tense encounters and a wry sense of humor about the twisted situation that’s befallen these characters.

The Wolf House
Directed by Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León; Chile, Germany

There’s no way that you’re ready for The Wolf House. It’s a nightmarish fairy tale about a frail girl’s struggle to rebuild herself that’s as if David Lynch directed Pan’s Labyrinth, but decided to do it all as stop-motion and focus on Pinochet’s repressive rule over Chile. Incredible things have been achieved with stop-motion and puppetry in the past few years, but The Wolf House still feels wholly unique as it presents an unflinching examination of young Maria’s PTSD. The Wolf House is depressing juggernaut of a tale, but that only strengthens the feeling of escapism that Maria tries to achieve. At a lean 75 minutes, The Wolf House is hard to deny. Even those that are unmoved by the film’s story will be left in marvel of the artistry of the visuals. It’s a movie where every frame is a work of art and blinking feels like a sin.

His House
Directed by Remi Weekes; United Kingdom

His House may be a UK production, but its story centers around the difficulties that Sudanese refugees face and a more global perspective is baked into the film. His House is absolutely gutting and the very best kind of slow burn horror. It begins with Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) as they attempt to acclimate to their new home in the UK as they face rampant racism and criticism. As His House continues, Bol and Rial learn that something more sinister has its sights set on them and that they’re the targets for a vengeful “apeth.” It’s devastating to see this “night witch” pick apart at Bol and Rial’s happiness and leave them in such a destabilized place. His House creates strong characters and upsetting scares, not to mention a fantastic twist, all of which point to a bright career ahead for debut filmmaker Remi Weekes.

Directed by Cho Il-hyung; South Korea

Just when it feels that the zombie genre has become completely oversaturated, there are movies like #Alive that come out and breathe new life into the flailing genre. #Alive features a zombie outbreak in Seoul, but it’s all filtered through a video game live streamer, who holes himself up in his apartment. What’s so unique about #Alive is that it takes an epic disaster and strips it down to a solo character in a cramped apartment. It becomes just as much an examination of character as Park Shin-hye becomes subject to his own impulses as the social media driven gamer is forced to isolate himself. It becomes an oddly appropriate film for the current times, but not for the same reasons as any other outbreak horror movie. #Alive isn’t as groundbreaking as last year’s One Cut of the Dead, but it’s still a worthwhile and innovative addition to the crowded zombie genre.

Directed by Joko Anwar; Indonesia

Impetigore is a slow descent into terror and the movie feels like it gradually strangles the audience as tension builds and never gets an opportunity to release. A woman, Maya (Tara Basro), relocates to a secluded village in the forest to claim her family’s house, but the community becomes a magnet for paranormal activity. It’s truly upsetting to watch an entire community come up against one person and the sense of helplessness that builds inside of her. Impetigore is a more confident horror film than Anwar’s previous movie, Satan’s Slaves, and it holds off from cheap jump scares in favor of a deep lore and mystery. It sometimes gets a little lost in its own mythology, but some of Impetigore’s best scenes also involve the curse that’s consumed Maya. Impetigore is a haunting folk tale that operates with an unnerving magical realism that leads to some powerful visuals that will linger with the audience.

La Llorona
Directed by Jayro Bustamante; Guatemala

The subpar reception to The Conjuring Universe’s Curse of La Llorona looked like it had soured any interest on this classical Latin American urban legend. For this reason people may be skeptical to dig into another La Llorona-based offering, but this new release is exactly everything that the previous movie should have been. Bustamante’s La Llorona isn’t aggressive with its scares, but instead focuses on tension and atmosphere, which makes this feel even more like a piece of haunted folklore. This take on the La Llorona legend is improved by how it makes a corrupt dictator its lead character and presents a deeper message about responsibility and abuses of power. This social message makes La Llorona’s vengeance hit harder and it’s the proper way to get introduced to the legend of the Weeping Woman.

The Pool
Directed by Ping Lumpraploeng; Thailand

A man gets stuck in a near-empty swimming pool with hungry crocodiles nearby. That’s it. The Pool is either going to instantly click with audiences or immediately have them rolling their eyes. The Pool is aware of how ridiculous it is and there’s a self-aware sense of humor that assists the contrived twists that continue to develop. However, none of that really matters because it’s an animal horror film about a guy stuck in a swimming pool with a crocodile. The Pool is able to stretch out this premise just far enough without making this ambitious experiment a chore. It leaps from one tense set piece to the next and somehow makes all of this work. It makes for the very best double feature alongside The Shallows.

The Call
Directed by Lee Chung-hyun; South Korea

If the Scream movies ever crossed over with The Lake House then the end product might look something like The Call. The South Korean horror film begins innocently enough with two girls who begin to communicate with each other over the phone, only to learn that they’re 20 years apart in time. The girls use this time difference to help each other out and retroactively change their fates. However, the kindhearted plan leads to one of these girls becoming a serial killer and a dangerous chain of events plays out as a result. The Call benefits from its compelling story that transforms something tender into something dangerous and the careful things that it has to say about the way in which people and events can affect others in life.

Honorable Mentions: Darkness, The Swerve, Peninsula, Amulet, Don’t Listen (Voices), May The Devil Take You Too, Blood Quantum, as well as Koko-Di Koko Da and Sea Fever, which were included on last year’s list, but have now finally seen wider releases.


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