What a year! Reflecting on 2020 through the lens of horror is easy because every day since March has been an exercise in absolute terror. Beyond the horror of our reality, 2020 has been a very strange year for the movies. In the span of a few short months (that only feel like centuries) the entire film industry has uprooted, shifted, and contorted itself into something more suited to the current moment.

While film overall has struggled and scraped, horror has had a surprisingly meaningful year. Streaming services like Shudder came in clutch during those early quarantine days, the horror genre forcefully inserted itself into the national conversation (with mixed results), and horror drove the rise of drive-in theaters around the country, a pleasant return to a largely forgotten resource. 2020 has been an experience, and here are the five films that sum up everything this year has been.

The Invisible Man (The One Before It All Went Dark)

It causes me no shortage of anxiety to think about how long it has been since I’ve visited a cinema. With the majority of the country locking down in March and movie theaters remaining empty as COVID-19 numbers (and anxieties) continue to rise, the memories we hold of our last in-theater experiences take on a greater value. For many theatergoers The Invisible Man was the last film they enjoyed in the theater before everything shut down.

The Invisible Man, by default, is noteworthy on the merits of just being a truly great film, an exciting and contemporary take of an iconic horror figure, backed by the incredible performance of an always-that-good Elisabeth Moss. It’s a highlight of 2020 made even more significant by virtue of the fact that many viewers were able to enjoy it at their favorite theater—a privilege and luxury many of us took for granted. Further, The Invisible Man was one of the first films to forge the new frontier of premiere VOD streaming. For better or for worse, The Invisible Man led the charge into the industry’s current practices.

The Wretched (The Drive-In Sensation) 

In any other year, The Wretched would have come and gone as one of the many small-budget film festival horrors that occasionally picks up a later following. But this isn’t just any year, this is 2020 goddammit. In May, The Wretched hit VOD as expected, but also made a huge splash in drive-in theaters across the US. As a direct result of theaters being closed down and people turning to the drive-in, The Wretched became the first film since 2009’s Avatar to top the box office for six consecutive weeks!

It’s no surprise that it would be so successful. The film is a perfect “midnight movie” watch that is just made for the drive-in crowd. With its ultra-creepy effects and Blair Witch-esque mythology, The Wretched is a fascinating horror that deserved every bit of extra recognition it received.

Host (The Sign of the Times) 

There’s something to be said for seizing the moment and putting out a timely film. It’s a bold move that could pay off when done right. This year gave us the bad, with films like Corona Zombies, and then there was the good. Host was damn good.

Host was completely developed and filmed while quarantine restrictions were in place. Director Rob Savage had to direct the actors remotely, including teaching each of them how to pull off the practical effects that make up the film’s scares. Horror fans immediately connected to Host’s corona-era setting, which distinguishes Host from other found-footage supernatural horrors. Within its subgenre, Host is an incredibly effective film that is made all the more impressive when you consider the circumstances of its creation.

Antebellum (The Political Misfire)

The historic weight of 2020 cannot be understated. Beyond the current pandemic, our conversations and concerns were driven by politics and culture. It was an election year. A brutal one. It was also a year of showing up, in the form of protest and movements for social change. Riding in on the current of any movement is the discourse, productive and derivative.

Antebellum was one of 2020’s most blatantly political releases. The horror film was steeped in the brutal and painful history of American racism, past and present. Antebellum entered the cultural conversation at a critical moment and its reception was mixed (to put it lightly). While the film had amazing attention to detail and was saturated in a history and experience that is very difficult to grapple with, many critics and viewers alike were left disappointed by its heavy-handedness. Was this the film we needed right now?

Saint Maud (The One That Got Away)

They say that it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. A24’s Saint Maud was the toast of the 2019 festival circuit. Early audiences had fallen hard for the stylish and thoroughly terrifying horror. Saint Maud topped the lists of many film lovers as one of their most anticipated releases of 2020… assuming it ever would come out.

Perhaps the most tragic in a long line of film industry casualties, Saint Maud’s original March 2020 release date was postponed due to COVID-19. The release teased along, moving and moving again at a moment’s notice, before eventually releasing in the United Kingdom in October 2020 with a domestic release date still on the horizon. It seems like genre fans (and critics waiting to share their thoughts on the film) have a little longer to wait for the salvation of Saint Maud.

HONORABLE MENTION Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

In 2020, there is no greater horror than our own reality.


Check back here for more Favorites of 2020 lists from the Daily Dead team!

  • Caitlin Kennedy
    About the Author - Caitlin Kennedy

    Caitlin is a sweater enthusiast, film critic, and lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began with being shown Rosemary’s Baby at a particularly impressionable age and she’s been hooked ever since. She loves a good bourbon and hates people who talk in movies. Caitlin has been writing since 2014 and you can find her work on Film Inquiry, The Financial Diet, Nightmarish Conjurings, and many others. Follow her on Twitter at @CaitDoes.