Like the large majority of popular cinema in 2020, horror is dominated by remakes, reboots, sequels and franchise-builders — some are even on this list. Horror films feel well-suited to slight tweaking because it is usually based on the things that have been inextricably linked to horror: ghosts, monsters, serial killers, etc. Reworking previously established monsters and scenarios in new ways is pretty much the only job for horror cinema. The films on the list below are the ones that seem unashamedly personal in their goals. Even if they suggest grand ambitions or innovation, all the upcoming horror films here suggest an honest and compelling viewpoint.
1. I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Co-written and directed by Charlie Kaufman for Netflix, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is an adaptation of Ian Reid’s novel of the same name. While the novel’s not a conventional horror story, there’s a palpable sense of unease running through almost everything. The novel is told from the perspective of its nameless protagonist, and it follows her and her boyfriend as they go on a road trip to meet his family. The eeriness of the novel comes through in the way that the provided details feel insufficient; the protagonist feels like she’s hopelessly unaware of a series of sinister truths shared by the people around her.
Although the novel’s ending is hampered by its self-congratulatory execution, the story and its ending ultimately feel like they’re perfect for a film adaptation. The indelible images and interactions feel like they’d accumulate in a more affecting way through film rather than through prose. Kaufman’s interest in exploring obsession, relationships and perception makes him an excellent choice for this adaptation. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” may be the odd one out on this list, but I’d say fans of the eerier moments of David Lynch will find a lot to enjoy here.
2. Last Night in Soho
“Last Night in Soho” is the upcoming film from British filmmaker Edgar Wright. Despite gaining early success from his zombie comedy, “Shaun of the Dead,” Wright is not a filmmaker commonly associated with horror. His horror spoof for “Grindhouse,” however, which spoofs “The Legend of Hell House” and a dozen other ‘70s genre films, is the clearest evidence of his interest in the genre. The film will follow a woman who time travels to the swinging London of the ‘60s.
The director cited “Don’t Look Now” and “Repulsion” as being largely influential on the film. Combining the blinkered perspective of psychological horror with the terrifying implications of time travel should make for a gripping genre-mashup film. There may not be a trailer yet, but the concept and talent behind the film suggest potential.
3. Gretel & Hansel
Director Osgood Perkins made a name for himself in the world of horror with his first two films, “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” and “I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in This House.” Rather than employing funereal pacing solely as a swipe at profundity, Perkins uses the weary, sluggish pace of his movies to give form to his characters’ interior lives.
His characters’ loneliness allows ostensibly irrational fears to take on a life of their own — a distinction that lets the familiar and the mundane feel consuming. It’s unsurprising then that his next film will be a reimagining of a classic folklore tale, a story that fostered many irrational fears surrounding the woods and seemingly kind strangers. Though the trailer suggests a noticeably more gruesome immediacy than his past films, the film still carries on Perkin’s interest in portraying horror as a secret we look into with morbid interest.
4. Army of the Dead
Following a long stint of directing comic book films, Zach Snyder makes his first return to the zombie film since his 2004 debut, “Dawn of the Dead.” The film came shortly after the bleak takes on a zombie-ruled world had been popularized by the likes of “28 Days Later” and “The Walking Dead” comic; however, “Dawn of the Dead” had the most viscerally grim take on the concept.
If these horror pieces wanted to show how the darker sides of humanity would flourish in newly constructed societies, Zach Snyder’s film makes every step toward peace and human connection feel frail. Any hard-earned leeway in “Dawn of the Dead” is quashed in the most brutal, hopeless way. Snyder is probably the best candidate for making zombie cinema feel dangerous and new again. “Army of the Dead” will arrive on Netflix sometime later this year.
5. Escape Room 2
The first “Escape Room” feels like a proper successor to the “Final Destination” series of films. The plot about a company tricking people into entering deadly escape rooms has boundless potential, and it’s likely the sequel won’t carry the burden of wasting precious time with exposition.
Despite being bound to a time-sensitive series of new puzzles, the conceit has a looseness that lends itself to sequels; the rooms’ designs are more impish than self-consciously clever, and this outlook sets itself apart from a lot of current horror films valuing leanness over excess. If “Escape Room 2” is able to foster the macabre creativity of the first film, we might have something truly special.
6. Black Water: Abyss
The sequel to 2006’s “Black Water” has the most tantalizing animal attack concept in recent memory: crocs in a cave. Four people hide from a storm in an underground cave, but they are quickly met with unwelcome reptile company. “Black Water: Abyss” continues from the original film’s focus on the overwhelming menace of nature — something it accomplished with a complete familiarization with a nondescript patch of mangrove swamp.
The film’s most effective moments come from watching the actors traverse through murky waters and thin connective branches. The themes surrounding nature are completely implicit, so there are zero distractions from the crocodile survival action. Given the recent success of “The Shallows” and “Crawl,” we’re likely to see a much-welcome animal attack renaissance.
7. The Coll3ted
The two “Collector” films are often thought of as just “torture-porn” footnotes, but they feel individual in how they gleefully indulge in visceral depictions of pain and violence. The unaffected dinginess of the first film’s grainy 16mm footage and saturated colors align us with both the killer’s sadism and the victim’s terror.
The black humor feels highly specific and odd rather than appeasing, and the humor often feels inseparable from the keen eye for inflicting relatable, household pains on the series’ victims. The titular collector is one of the most imposing mascot killers ever; his mask is off-putting in its simplicity, and the animalistic eyeshine effect is disarming, to say the least. The series’ distinctive, unfettered embrace of the id will undoubtedly shine in the long-awaited third installment.
8. The Invisible Man
The year 2020 is stacked with remakes and re-adapatations, but “The Invisible Man” feels like it’s the most willing to separate itself from its originator. The trailer is an interesting combination of the smallness of a psychological thriller and the intensity of a monster-on-the-loose film. Elizabeth Moss, who plays the lead, portrayed a volatility in recent films like “Queen of Earth” and “Her Smell,” and she’s wholly tapping into those manic performances in the latest trailer.
Director Leigh Wannell’s interest in blending sci-fi and action was apparent in both his last film, “Upgrade,” and scenes shown here. The trailer’s suddenly broken limbs make the film feel more in line with the nastiness of “Hollow Man.” It’s hard to not be interested in a trailer so willing to throw out such a myriad different tones and trashy concepts.
9. Blood Rise: Subspecies V
The next installment in Full Moon’s vampire saga is part of an initiative to revive or continue some of the production company’s most beloved series. The “Subspecies” films follow the vampire Radu and his would-be fledgling in their small war over the bloodstone. The films’ wholly endearing atmosphere and sweeping drama make the series feel like more than the sum of its individual chapters. The film mixes intentional goofiness, mournful moodiness, and gruesome action effortlessly, which is largely due to how it takes time to mythologize and subtly build on its small cast. The next “Subspecies” installment will be a prequel, and actors Anders Hove and Denise Duff will return. Director Ted Nicolaou discusses the project in the video below.