THE BEST (AND WORST) OF 2020

It's been a crappy old year hasn't it? Lockdown affected us all at some point and movies provided a form of escapism for many but there's no denying that the industry has been hit hard, with many big releases being shelved until next year. Fortunately there were still some titles worth shouting about - and here are our faves from 2020 (and some we really didn't like)


THE BEST


The Hunt

Director: Craig Zobel


The Hunt was one of those films that had the odds stacked against it, even before the 'rona bit hard into the release schedules and started shutting cinemas down. Due to its fairly violent weapons-based premise, it's initial release was delayed because of more U.S. shootings, and even allegedly due to a certain President making some ill-judged observations on social media. It was also perceived to be an "attack on far-right" politics and suchlike. All wrong and unnecessary of course but when it was finally released in March, the publicity tried to play off this and labelled itself as, "The Most Talked about movie of the year… that no one's actually seen". This sort of hype was counter-productive and left cinemagoers expecting a different type of movie to what they got.


Which is a shame as this was one of wittiest, goriest, and just-damn-fun films of the year. This twisted and updated version of The Most Dangerous Game, mocks the far-left and the far-right, as well as action/horror genre films in general. It does all this by being a highly enjoyable romp that swerves between dumb comedy, witty banter, and some cool violence. Zobel does a great job of juggling all the different tones and plot swerves. But the film belongs to Betty Gilpin as Crystal, a simple country gal (or is she?) who says little but has an amusing set of mannerisms, and absolutely slays it when she does speak. Yes, there is some social satire, but it doesn't swamp the film, and the blood-strewn set pieces are superb (even if there is a smidgen too much CGI). Enjoyable, witty, and bloody. What more could you want?



The Invisible Man

Director: Leigh Whannell


When the Cruise version of The Mummy deep-sixed the ambitious plans for a new movie Universe (can all the studios stop doing that now please?), it looked like more updated versions of classic Universal Monsters would never happen. Luckily for us, Blumhouse studios and Whannell had something to say about and recruited sought-after actress Elisabeth Moss to their cause. The result was a film that found favour with critics AND the audience and became a huge hit. Even if that bloke had passed on the bat and eaten something less Coronary, this would likely still have been one of the biggest genre films of the year.


And rightly so! It is a cracking R-rated thriller that captivated everyone that saw it. Keeping only the name of H.G. Well's original antagonist (Griffin), it veers off into a mixture of technologically based updates, domestic abuse themes, and some jaw-dropping violence. Moss is perfect as Cecilia Kass, who is convinced that her ex-partner has faked his death and is now stalking her. But is he a ghost, is she mad, or is there something else going on? A canny mixture of paranoia and outright scares, this is exactly what a 21st Century update of a classic story/film should be. Moss is brilliant as the lead, veering from scared victim to righteous opponent. It is also the perfect follow-up to Whannel's frantic Upgrade and shares some of the same camera-styles. Great stuff, and it will be interesting to see how the (hopefully) upcoming version of Wolfman with Ryan Gosling will perform.



Underwater

Director: William Eubank


This film isn't perfect, but it is hugely entertaining and has built up something of an (appropriate) underground following. It didn't perform well at the box office, had an awful promotion and advertising campaign, and reviewed poorly. A delayed release for some time, it garnered the dubious honour of being the last film distributed by 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios. Lame.). It had a director who made the interesting sci-fi "The Signal" and featured such notable actors as Kirsten Stewart and Vincent Cassel. Despite early images showing something BIG and Meg-like on the ocean floor, all subsequent pictures just showed Stewart looking queasy in a deep-sea diving suit. Way to undersell a movie, guys!


Because it's a freakin' Monster Movie, people! And a rather good one at that. Refreshingly it hits the ground running as undersea drilling operation… she go BOOM! And it pretty much never stops from that point. Sure, the characters are paper-thin, and whilst Stewart does a decent job as the main protagonist (Norah Price, jobbing mechanical engineer), any accomplished actress could have taken that role. The things that save it from obscurity are; the relentless pacing, likeable characters with no douche-bag-for-no-reason swerves, genuine scares and unease created by the settings (claustrophobic followed by expanses of dark nothingness), and the fact that it takes itself seriously. The genre cherry-on-top-of-the-slimy-cake is when the main menace turns out to be **Censored, in case you don't know**, which is genius! There are also some great moments which riff on "Alien" and suchlike. Especially the reverse chest-burst scene! A character is swallowed by a hinge-mouthed monster… only to eject from their chest! We see what they did there! Slightly hammy and generic in places, it nonetheless remains a fun underrated creature-feature and well worth catching.



Host

Director: Rob Savage


You don't need us to tell you that making a film during a worldwide pandemic is problematic in a myriad of ways. In most cases physically producing a film is just not possible. However, ingenuity and creativity are still possible even in times of adversity. In fact, one film was able not only to work around the obvious covid issues but actually fully embrace them, That film went on to become perhaps the sleeper hit of the year and has propelled its film-makers towards big things. That film was techno found-footage flick, Host.


Host is a movie that really feels of its time. Although a bunch of friends sitting around talking on Zoom doesn't necessarily have to be set during the current Covid pandemic (films such as Unfriended and Friend Request have similar formats), this has become such a staple of most people's lives this year that it just feels so current. The touching of elbows between two characters at one point also means that there is no doubt it is set in the world we all currently inhabit. Will it mean that it ages a little faster than other horror movies? Perhaps – but then all techno horrors are resigned to this fate to some degree.

All of this cultural zeitgeist stuff aside, the reason Host is such a blast is because it's actually very good at delivering scares. The found footage genre has been a real boon for low budget film-makers and Director Rob Savage has a whole host of nasty little tricks up his sleeve. Host is actually under an hour long but by stripping away the usual superfluous stuff in the first act, we are instead treated to an hour or so of dread and tension. Also, the concept is a stroke of genius. An online séance. It's a perfect combination of old school supernatural horror through a modern lens.


Relic

Director: Natalie Erika James