No matter your horror tastes or boundaries, there’s bound to be something for you in this spooky season watch list.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And I’ve made you a list of recent and current horror movies and TV shows for the 2020 Spooky Season. It’s less a list of recommendations and more a presentation of your options. Each of them have evident imperfections, some more than others, but they vary in subgenre, style, intensity, and age-appropriateness. No matter your horror tastes or boundaries, there’s bound to be something for you here.
Jenn (Kiersey Clemons) washes ashore on a small tropical island. Completely alone now, she has to fight to survive the elements, the isolation, and the monster that emerges from the ocean’s depth to hunt her at night. It’s a slow-paced and quiet creature feature with palpable tension. Unassuming in its scares, it trusts the audience in the way I believe all horror should. To me, it feels like a thoughtful contemplation on agency, gaslighting, infantilization, and mental illness.
Black Box (2020)
After losing his wife and his memory in a car accident, Nolan (Mamoudou Athie) undergoes an experimental treatment with enigmatic neuro specialist, Dr. Lilian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad). The treatment sends him into a dark, unfamiliar past and causes him to question his reality, character, and identity. It’s a Black Mirror-esque feature that is entertaining enough and disturbs more than it scares, but it’s heartwarming in its own way.
(CW: medical exploitation, ableism, familial abuse, intimate partner violence)
When zombie contagion breaks out in Seoul, Oh Joon-woo (Yoo Ah-In) is left to survive alone in his family’s apartment. The story revolves around the possibilities and limits of technology as Joon-woo searches for solutions to the predicaments that continue to arise and escalate as the days go on.
Telling a contained story with very few characters that is also compelling is difficult to do, and this film does a pretty okay (definitely not great) job of it. Among the typical nonsensical horror movie decisions are a few well-acted and well-executed emotional beats, many that will inevitably hit very close to home in 2020—after many months of quarantine, isolation, and reliance upon/deepened connections through technology in the midst of a pandemic.
Vampires vs. the Bronx (2020)
A group of Black and Latinx kids find themselves going up against the property management company taking over their neighborhood, and the company happens to be run by a coven of ancient vampires. It’s obviously a response to the gentrification of the Bronx and other predominately Black and brown neighborhoods like it, and using vampires as a symbol of white supremacy and capitalism makes perfect sense if you ask me. Younger audiences will enjoy this one more than discerning adults, but horror fans of all ages will be able to find something in it to appreciate (and also to criticize).
Little Monsters (2019)
Dave (Alexander England) is a washed-up musician meandering through life after a devastating breakup. When he accompanies his nephew, Felix (Diesel La Torraca), on a school field trip, he ends up having to help defend Felix’s entire class from a sudden zombie outbreak alongside their sunny, ukulele-strumming teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o).
This one is just good fun. Watch it.
Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)
This horrific fairytale is one of my personal favorites. It comments on the real-life epidemic of missing and murdered women and trafficked children in Mexico, and how they are wrapped up with the violence of the drug cartels. We follow the story through the eyes of Estrella (Paola Lara), a girl trying to survive and navigate this hellscape, and who is haunted by more than just ghosts. When Estrella comes home to find that her mother has disappeared, she is left to fend for herself. Soon, she joins a gang of other abandoned children who live on the street. Their time together, unfortunately, is marked by tragedy. Even so, it’s a beautiful film.
(CW: femicide and child death)
Blood Quantum (2019)
A zombie virus emerges and wipes out much of Earth’s population. The only people immune to the bite are the Mi’qmaq community on the Red Crow Indian Reservation in Quebec, Canada. This one is for you only if you can stomach really bad, indie flicks with (sometimes hilariously) poor acting, gross-outs, toilet humor, and body horror involving babies. Personally, I cannot. The best thing about this film is its premise. That, and the fact that it occasionally has some great imagery and pretty gnarly, entertaining zombie kills.
(CW: child death)
The Wrath (2018)
This remake of the 1986 Korean horror film Woman’s Wail follows Ok-Bun (Son Na-Eun), a woman chosen to be the bride of an aristocrat’s son during the Joseon Era. Strange things begin to occur and she soon discovers that the house she has married into is haunted. Now she must find a way to combat the evil presence.
Taking inspiration from the legend of Okiku—the ghost lady in the well—much like Ringu (1998)/The Ring (2002) before it, this genre-bending piece of horror has an eerie atmosphere as well as genuine frights, though it is a bit unhinged at times. It also has elements reminiscent of Raise the Red Lantern (1991), the Blue Exorcist anime series, and the original, gory Cinderella fairytale.
The Tokoloshe (2018)
Busi (Petronella Tshuma) is young, destitute, and living on her own in unstable housing. Desperate for money, she begins working as a custodian at a rundown hospital in Johannesburg with a lewd, predatory manager and soon encounters supernatural dangers. When she meets and bonds with an abandoned girl there, Busi must face her own demons and repressed emotions in order to save the child from the tokoloshe—a monster from African folklore. The film contends with violence against women and children. Most significantly, it addresses the issue of child sexual abuse in South Africa (Google at your own discretion), the residual trauma it causes, and the scapegoating of adults who fail to protect children from this abuse.
(CW: sexual harassment, exploitation, and assault, child sexual abuse, and suicide)
When young Clara (Apallonia Pratt) is bitten by a rattlesnake and is saved by a mysterious stranger, her mom is coerced into a gruesome deal with the devil. Now Katrina (Carmen Ejogo) must ensure her daughter’s continued survival by hunting down a soul to be taken in Clara’s place. And she only has until sundown to repay her debt. It’s a tense, nerve-racking, race against the clock with a Twilight Zone feel, but I think this thriller drops the ball in a few places—especially an opportunity present in the story to say a lot more about the world, particularly about intimate partner violence.
(CW: domestic abuse)
The Soul Collector (2020)
An isolated, aging man named Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe) is bound by a spirit to collect souls for eternity as he seeks atonement and carries guilt for the tragic death of his daughter. Honestly, I don’t like this film very much. It centers a white South African family in a story that should be more about the Black people in it—in this way, and a few others, it resembles Bernard Rose’s Candyman (1992). However, it does have some interesting horror elements, which I believe deserved far more exploration, and a moving performance from Tshamano Sebe despite the subpar script.
(CW: child death)
Ghost Stories (2020)
One film. Four stories. Four Indian directors. Only two of them are true ghost stories though. Do not expect to be scared out of your skin. Do expect to be creeped out, unsettled, and more than a little disgusted at times.
(CW: Miscarriage, child death, fetus imagery, and gore in Segment 2. Gore and graphic child death in Segment 3.)
Rumor has it the old King is dead and the Crown Prince is a traitor. The family of the new, young queen is vying for control of the kingdom as Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-Hoon) fights to secure the throne. And in the midst of it all, the dead awaken and begin to attack everyone in their path.
It’s an amazing political thriller and family drama that uses the undead in a way that I have never seen before. Like a fair amount of Korean cinema, it tells an exciting story while commenting on class warfare, food insecurity, government corruption and cowardice, and propaganda.
A supernatural mini-series that follows an Indigenous teen named Jared (Joel Oulette) who is already struggling to keep his family stable when a stranger named Wade (Kalani Queypo) comes into their lives and disturbs the balance even more. What follows is a series of strange, supernatural events replete with monsters and magic. The show is available only on CBC and the CBC Gem streaming platform for Canadian residents, but you can use a VPN to get access outside of Canada. The pilot episode sets a dark and preternatural tone for this coming-of-age series, and the weirdness is sure to only ramp up from there. It also makes clear that the show will directly address issues significant to the livelihoods and experiences of Indigenous people.
(CW: drugs, addiction, the dog dies, might be difficult to watch if you grew up with Emotionally Immature Parents)
Coming Soon/In Theaters
Four years into the zombie apocalypse, the Korean peninsula has been devastated. Jung Seok (Gang Dong-won), a former soldier, departs on a mission that requires him to return to the peninsula from overseas and he unexpectedly meets survivors.
It pains me that I am not able to see this film yet. Train to Busan (2016)—with its animated prequel, Seoul Station (2016)—is my favorite horror franchise, and it feels like I have been waiting for this next chapter for so long already. Peninsula is in select theaters and will not be coming to Netflix until some time in 2021… so close and yet so far.
UPDATE: It’s been announced that the digital home release will come to the US on October 27th!
Usha (Sarita Choudhury) is very superstitious, but when her daughter, Pallavi (Sunita Mani), introduces Sandeep (Omar Maskati) as her new boyfriend, Usha is convinced that the uneasy feeling she has is far from usual superstition. She suspects that Sandeep is the reincarnation of a man who tried to kill her 30 years ago, back to try and finish the job. And she might be right. This film looks like a psychological thriller that will fascinate and deliver a distinctly South Asian story. Premiering October 13th on Amazon Prime.
A husband (Sope Dirisu) and wife (Wunmi Mosaku) escape from war-torn South Sudan and become refugees in the UK, but their life there isn’t as peaceful as they believed it would be. Their new home seems to have an unknown evil lurking in its walls, and it just might be seeping out and touching their lives in unthinkable ways. My speculation is that the film will have something to say about the plight of refugees, racist xenophobia, and the violence of borders. Premiering October 30th on Netflix.
Marquis (Omari Hardwick) crash lands in rural Appalachia and awakens in the attic of Eloise (Loretta Devine), a traditional Hoodoo practitioner. He soon learns that his family is in danger and he must break free from the grip of Eloise’s magic in order to somehow save them from a sinister ritual before the blood moon rises. From the trailer, it really seems like this will be yet another horror film that follows the tradition of demonizing any religious practice outside of Christianity, especially Vodou and Hoodoo. Even so, it may be worth watching. At the very least so we can critique it. In theaters October 30th.
No, not the Octavia Butler novel.
When her boyfriend dies suddenly, Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) is swayed by his mother, Margaret (Fiona Shaw), to stay with her family for the duration of her pregnancy. However, the family becomes increasingly obsessed with Charlotte, attempting to monitor and control her every move. The question is: are they trying to protect the troubled, psychologically fragile mother-to-be from because they believe she is a danger to herself or do they have ill-boding plans for her unborn baby? It’s my guess that this one will be something like a re-imagined Rosemary’s Baby (1968) meets A Cure for Wellness (2016). In theaters November 6th.
Taiwan’s parliament turns deadly when a virus transforms politicians into ravenous zombie mutants. It’s a political horror comedy that doesn’t do quite enough to challenge the Taiwanese political system, according to one review. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean it’s not still at least somewhat fun to watch. In select theaters on October 23rd.
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