My Top 20 Scares of 2020: #1

CONGRATULATIONS! WE MADE IT!

Today we bid goodbye to a weird year with a poor plot and a mediocre cast. (except you, obviously. You’re great!) For the last 19 days I’ve been celebrating movies I watched in 2020 that truly scared and delighted me. Today I will reveal my top scare of this year!

But first, a recap! Here are my twenty favorite films of 2020:

20. A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003)
19. AS ABOVE, SO BELOW (2014)
18. THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932)
17. HIS HOUSE (2020)
16. ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE (2017)
15. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
14. CREEP 2 (2017)
13. ALIEN (1979)
12. RUN (2020)
11. THE VVITCH (2015)
10. HOST (2020)
9. CREEP (2014)
8. THE WICKER MAN (1973)
7. MANDY (2018)
6. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
5. CANDYMAN (1992)
4. HEREDITARY (2018)
3. READY OR NOT (2019)
2. TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)

And now, the information you have most assuredly all been waiting for! With bated breath! For 20 entire days!

My number 1 movie of 2020 was so scary it gave me multiple nights of anxiety nightmares and I loved it. My favorite movie that I watched this year was:

1. IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017)

(c) IT COMES AT NIGHT 2017

IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017) is the only movie I watched this year to score a full 5 points in the scary category, because it not only scared me while I was watching it, it also haunted my dreams and my waking hours for days thereafter. I still think about how much this movie freaked me out. The only other movies in my entire life that compete in terms of lasting fear and anxiety are IT FOLLOWS (2014) and my biggest childhood trauma, ARACHNOPHOBIA (1999).

If that experience sounds desirable I honestly recommend you stop reading this review RIGHT NOW, and go watch the movie (it’s on Netflix). I watched IT COMES AT NIGHT knowing next to nothing about it and I definitely think that contributed to its effectiveness.

You have been warned! Spoilers ahead.

IT COMES AT NIGHT was written and directed by Trey Edward Shults. It follows a teenage boy, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), who lives in an isolated cabin in the woods with his parents, his cute dog, and until recently, his grandpa. Grandpa has died of a mysterious disease. Travis is haunted by grotesque nightmares. A strange man, Will (Christopher Abbott) appears. After brutally questioning him for several days, Travis’s father Paul (Joel Edgerton) decides to trust Will. Rather than release him, Paul “invites” Will and his wife and small son to live permanently in the cabin. Because security. Will and his family move into the house. The families settle into an uneasy peace. They agree on the rules. Nobody goes outside at night. Paul keeps the house key. The house stays locked. Then…the dog goes missing in the woods. That night Travis wakes up from a nightmare to find Will’s son asleep in the downstairs of the house. And the front door is unlocked. And the dog is back. And obviously sick. Panic. Will and Paul are hyper-suspicious of one-another in the midst of sudden uncertainty about who might be infected and who might be at fault. Will wants to leave. Paul says no. The final horrific moments of this movie made me feel physically sick with dread.

IT WAS GREAT.

I admit that watching this movie in the early days of the pandemic may have made me more susceptible to fear about isolation and disease. BUT I WILL NOT ADMIT that that makes this movie less fantastic. If anything, on reflection I’m even more impressed. I’ll start with the title: “It Come At Night” tells us that there is a Thing Out There and It is Coming (most likely) At Night. Nobody talks about what The Thing is. They mention infection from time to time, but we know what that is so it doesn’t require discussion. You (I) spend a lot of the movie assuming the illness is a byproduct of a Big Bad Thing and anxiously waiting for It to Come. The anxiety is high and it gets even higher when you finally realize It is never coming. There is no scary thing out there in the dark, waiting to pounce.

This is a movie not about A Scary Thing, but about human fear and what our fear can drive us to do. It’s deeply unsettling to realize, more than halfway through the film, that the scariest thing we have or will meet in this movie are the people we’ve already met. Whom we’ve already come to care about. When shit eventually goes down it’s unexpected but also inevitable. Everyone is at fault, everyone is a victim. Since we’ve been with them the whole time and we care about them, we are complicit. I was one of them. I’m the bad guys, too.

The thing that literally kept me up the night after I watched IT COMES AT NIGHT was how much it felt like a real human disaster. A plausible, relatable series of human mistakes. I kept going over the events in my mind and trying to figure out how the disaster could have been averted.

IT COMES AT NIGHT is excellent horror because I believed in it’s realness. The actors are natural, the setting is simple, there are no mad capers or gimmicky effects. Humans are the protagonists and the villains and it’s difficult to blame them for their actions which is a deeply uncomfortable feeling. I was terrified. I wept. I trusted the filmmaker and he bashed me in the soul and, like Aaron from CREEP (2014) to his future murderer: I said Thank You.

How Did It Score
  • How scary was it? 5/5
  • How memorable was it? 5/5
  • Was it a Quality film? 5/5
    • Full points for excellent use of the low-budget psychological horror genre to scare the pants off me, make me feel things, and express a thoughtful and haunting horror moral: Maybe what we should be scared of is ourselves.
  • How about those women? 2/5
    • I have high hopes that someday my top horror movies will score better in this category but so far not yet. Here is how IT COMES AT NIGHT scores on each of the gender tests:
      • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass.
      • Sexy Lamp Test: Fail. Travis’s mom does things, but nothing critically important to the plot. Will’s wife is a quintessential sexy lamp. Especially if sexy lamps could scream in a way that haunted my dreams forever.
      • Willis Test: Fail. The characters fall hard into gender roles (especially: men protect/women nurture. Bleh.)
      • Ko Test: Pass!
      • Roxane Gay Test: Fail
      • Carie-Burns Test: Fail
  • Total points: 17/20

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Published by Brandy N. Carie

Playwright. Director. Producer. Dramaturg. I like coffee and Whisky and dogs and talking in person.

2 thoughts on “My Top 20 Scares of 2020: #1

  1. Incredible list! I’ve watched 5 of these so far thanks to the blog coverage! Idk that I can psychologically handle It Comes at Night’s 5/5 Scares, but there’s definitely a few more from this list that I want to look into.

    Liked by 1 person

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