Film Lists

Set The Tape’s Top Films of 2020

2020 was an odd year. Hardly anything got a release in cinemas and, while some stuff did eventually make its way to streaming services, films released this year are in short supply. Still, I did manage to see some things that got a cinema/VOD release, so let’s take a look at the ones I liked most in the order that I watched them.


Underwater

It’s not often that I feel like I was a little harsh on a film, but my initial review of this movie was… yeah, a little harsh. Underwater has actually become one that I regularly go back to watch and every time I notice some new little detail that I hadn’t seen before.

Take one part The Abyss and one part Alien and sprinkle in a dash of Cthulhu mythos and you have a recipe for a fun underwater disaster movie. When their drilling rig suddenly experiences a catastrophic failure, our small band of survivors must walk across the ocean floor in the hopes of finding rescue. Just one problem… they’re not alone down there.

    
    

This film is just a great time. For most of its runtime it’s a straight up disaster film, only really morphing into something more sinister around the halfway point. It’s not as scary as horror fans might like, but it’s a bloody good time nonetheless. My initial review gave it a 3/5 but now I’d rate it a definite 4/5. Check it out.


1917

While not as gut-wrenching as Schindler’s List, or as flat out traumatising as Saving Private Ryan, 1917 deserves a place in the canon of iconic war movies.

Set just after the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, two soldiers are dispatched with messages to try and avert a British attack that will end in disaster. It’s all the more important for one of them as his brother is among the troops who will be attacking.

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Based on real events, it’s a tightly shot, often claustrophobic film and an interesting period piece, as all too often war films focus on WW2 rather than WW1 and its grim trench warfare. With a great soundtrack from Thomas Newman and stellar performances all around, this film was rightfully nominated for a slew of awards. It deserves every one of them. If you’re any sort of war movie fan, check this out if you somehow haven’t already.


The Invisible Man

I went into The Invisible Man with a ton of scepticism. The initial trailer, honestly, didn’t entirely convince me so I was fully expecting to hate this film. Damn, I was so glad to be proved wrong. This is a great adaptation of the story, focusing less on a mad-science-gone-wrong story and instead turning it into an allegory for domestic abuse.

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Cecilia Kass is trapped in an abusive relationship with her super smart and super creepy tech mogul boyfriend Adrian Griffin. After drugging him she manages to escape the house and flee with her sister, but her attempts to settle into a new life are constantly sabotaged by events she can’t control. As things escalate she becomes more and more convinced that her boyfriend has found some way to stalk her and attempt to control her again while her friends begin to wonder if her paranoia is spiralling out of control.

This is a superbly creepy film. You have to respect a director who can manage to turn a literal empty room into something utterly terrifying. Can’t recommend this one highly enough. Watch it.


VFW

If you want an up-close, down and dirty home (bar) invasion movie, then VFW is the film for you.

A group of military veterans facing down hordes of drug addicts and drug-dealer thugs in tight quarters, improvised weaponry everywhere, blood splattering the walls and soaking the carpets in one brutal last stand, all backed by a stonking John Carpenter-esque electronica soundtrack by Steve Moore.

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VFW missed out on a proper cinema release thanks to the covid pandemic but found critical acclaim on streaming platforms and on Blu-ray. With a cast of genre stalwarts including Stephen Lang and Fred Williamson it’s one hour and twenty-five minutes of hand to hand carnage that barely pauses for breath from the moment the first punch is thrown.


Sputnik

Sputnik, from director Egor Abramenko and writers Oleg Malovichko and Andrey Zolotarev may not break any particularly new ground in the realms of sci-fi horror, containing more than a nod and a wink towards other films such as 2017’s rather excellent Life and the seminal classic that is Ridley Scott’s Alien.

Two Russian cosmonauts go up into space, but only one comes back alive, with an odd blank spot in his memory regarding the events that took place just before re-entry. Bucker of rules and flaunter of conventional thinking, Doctor Tatyana Klimova, is brought in to try and puzzle out what happened before time runs out.

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What follows is one part Iron Curtain spy thriller, one part sci-fi horror; the solid if well-worn story carried by the performances from Oksana Akinshina as Tatyana, Fedor Bondarchuk as the base commander Colonel Semiradov and Pyotr Fyodorov as Cosmonaut Konstantin Veshnyakov. It’s available to rent/buy on Amazon for less than a tenner and is definitely worth your time and money.

Honourable mentions for a few films I saw doing the rounds on the festival circuit: Come True (beautifully, horrifyingly creepy); The Special (brilliantly fucked up); and The Oak Room (stories, unreliable narrators and secrets).

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