“How am I then a villain” - Shakespeare’s Othello (Act II, Scene III)...
...With 2020 having reached its much-deserved demise (still doesn't feel like it will ever end) and 2021 now here, I wanted to take a look back on some films of 2020 that made things a little more bearable and gave us a much-needed escape from the world around us.
This year delivered some outstanding horror films that highlight the genre’s resurgence over the last couple years. These films always have a villain lurking somewhere beneath the surface and, while the real villain of 2020 is the COVID-19 pandemic devastating the world and causing untold pain and grief, we don’t like rubbing salt in an open wound. So, without further ado here are my TOP TEN FAVORITE VILLAINS OF 2020:
Honorable Mention: Barbara Minerva & Maxwell Lord (Kristen Wiig & Pedro Pascal) - Wonder Woman 1984
While not a horror film, Wiig and Pascal’s performances in the blockbuster superhero film were a highlight to end the year on.
Wiig’s casting was surprising but her badass glow up, similar to Michelle Pfeiffer as Selena Kyle in Batman Returns, made her take on the feline villain all the more fun to watch (and anyone else picture that Adventure Time “Now Kiss!” gif whenever Barbara and Diana were on screen together or was that just me?)
Pascal channels the same energy Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor exuded while still being utterly charming even when plotting world domination. Pascal’s Lord is like Gordon Gekko if Gekko ran ‘80s inspirational self-help seminars. Both are representations of their time periods and boy is it enjoyable.
Athena Stone (Hillary Swank) - The Hunt
Perhaps going down as one of the most controversial films of 2020, director Craig Zobel and writers Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse’s The Hunt put a modern spin on The Most Dangerous Game and, while Betty Gilpin carries the film and delivers a badass performance, the final fight between her and Swank is a highlight thanks to great stunt work from both actresses (as well as their stunt performers for the more dangerous ones). Hilary Swank gives us a cold, methodical villain to root against with Athena Stone, a nice opposition to Betty Gilpin’s Crystal Creasey. It was just fun to watch these two perform.
The Creature - Underwater
Director William Eubank and writers Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad’s Underwater feels almost like if Jaws was in an underwater facility. The creature’s appearance left me speechless. In most horror films the villain or monster is always spoiled in the trailer, so the fact that this was kept hidden makes the impact of the reveal all the more worth the watch.
Diane Sherman (Sarah Paulson) - Run
The thought of someone reaching Kathy Bates’ performance in Misery was relatively unheard of until Sarah Paulson’s performance in writer/director Aneesh Chaganty’s Run, written with Sev Ohanian. There’s something unnerving about Diane from the very beginning, so when her true motives are revealed later in the film you are left to feel as helpless as Kiera Allen’s Chloe. Paulson’s performance never feels like a caricature of a mental illness sufferer, and by film’s end you feel sort of sorry for both women; the cycle repeats but never breaks.
Aiden Hall & Mia Hall (Jaedan Martell & Lia McHugh) - The Lodge
Do you ever look at a character(s) and just wanna slap them? This is the reaction I had to the children in writer/directors’ Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s The Lodge. While Lia McHugh’s Mia just feels like a follower to Jaedan Martell’s Aiden’s plots and schemes, when the reveal occurs and the tables are turned you find yourself pulling at your hair yelling, “You did this to yourselves!”
The performances by the two really sell the story and make the ending all the more heart wrenching.
Holda/The Witch (Alice Krige) - Gretel & Hansel
Alice Krige…I mean what else can be said? She delivers a bone chilling, stunning performance as the Witch in this adaptation of the fairy tale. Coupled with visuals by director Oz Perkins, Gretel & Hansel’s the Witch is one of the most memorable performances in Krige’s portfolio.
Alexander “Al” Monroe (Chris Lowell) - Promising Young Woman
While some of the men that fall prey to Carey Mulligan’s Cassie’s revenge in this thrilling debut from writer/director Emerald Fennell could make this list, it is Chris Lowell’s Al that takes the crown. His character feels very much like a villain in all ways—especially when victim blaming—so you get the feeling that perhaps there are other victims that have borne the brunt of his abuse.
The Organization - Possessor
The “possessor” organization featured in writer/director Brandon Cronenberg’s film, while unnamed, features many great villains—including the protagonist herself. The concept of someone taking over your body to kill is a terrifying concept that feels reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a Black Mirror twist.
The film depicts the world as it is: morally grey.
Apeth/The Witch (Cornell John & Javier Botet) - His House
When you have Javier Botet as your creature actor then you know, next to Doug Jones, you’re sure to get the best creature performance out there. What makes writer/director Remi Weekes’ His House and its witch character work is that it's a metaphor for escaping trauma and the ghosts of your past that follow you made physical. The message that, upon facing that trauma and those ghosts, you can move towards a happier, more peaceful life is what makes His House a surprise hit.
Edna (Robyn Nevin) - Relic
While not an outright villain, Edna’s descent into and fight with dementia—or, rather, the black gooey mold that possesses her—creates most of the trauma and fuels the horror and drama of the film. Robyn Nevin delivers a tour de force performance as Edna loses more and more of herself to the entity eating away at her. The strength of her depiction is what makes writer/director Natalie Erika James’ Relic such a heartbreaking, ultimately human film.
Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) - The Invisible Man
Oliver Jackson-Cohen has had a heck of year playing villains, from Haunting of Bly Manor to our number one spot in writer/director Leigh Whannell’s sensational Invisible Man. While his screen time is limited—as one would expect given the character’s invisibility—his performance is menacing, and you can feel his presence throughout the film. The final sequence between Jackson-Cohen and Moss is perhaps one of the most intense scenes in the film. The tension builds between them and both utilize their body language perfectly.
By Kalani Landgraf