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The Invisible Man and Freaky Made 2020 A Great Year For Horror

There wasn't going to be a better chance for horror movies to get recognized than the 93rd Oscars, and yet...

By James Grebey

Horror movies typically don’t get respect at the Academy Awards. Only 18 horror movies have ever won Oscars in the history of the Awards, and only one, The Silence of the Lambs, has won Best Picture. A grand total of a dozen horror films have scored nominations for acting categories, including movies like Black Swan, Misery, and the 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Generally speaking, it’s not a genre that the Academy considers much. This makes the 93rd Oscars, which honored the especially weird, peak-pandemic film slate of 2020, feel like a missed opportunity. In a year with far fewer movies than normal to offer, two horror movies featured performances worthy of a Best Actor or Best Actress nomination. Neither The Invisible Man nor Freaky, both of which are streaming on Peacock, got the nod. 

The Invisible Man, which was one of the few 2020 movies to get a proper release in late February before the COVID-19 pandemic began the following month, stars Elizabeth Moss as a woman trying to escape an abusive relationship with her gaslighting husband. The problem is, that husband is also a cutting-edge optics researcher, and he uses a high-tech invisibility suit he invented to drive her crazy and make her life a living hell. Freaky, which got a release in November of 2020, when moviegoing was still uncommon due to the pandemic, before getting a VOD release in December, is a slasher twist on Freaky Friday. A high school girl played by Kathryn Newton switches bodies with a hulking serial killer, played by Vince Vaughn. Hilarity — and bloodshed — ensues. 

RELATED: How the 2020 Invisible Man Weaponizes Emptiness

Moss and Vaughn deliver incredible performances in these films. They just happened to be in a genre that the Academy rarely rewards. (And, in Vaughn’s case, two overlooked genres, as Freaky is a horror-comedy.)

Elisabeth Moss in The Invisible Man (2020)

As Cecilia, the protagonist of The Invisible Man, Moss carries the movie for long stretches. She’s playing a complex woman in a maddening situation. The scariest parts of the movie come when the camera pans to “empty” hallways, as the audience (and eventually Cecilia) knows that those hallways and corridors might not be empty. Moss is reacting, in many scenes, to “nothing,” and the film is so chilling because of how Moss gets the audience to empathize with her plight and feel her terror. She’s the emotional core of the film, delivering a powerhouse performance that’s on the same level (if not better) than the Best Actress nominees for that year, Frances McDormand, Viola Davis, Andra Day, Vanessa Kirby, and Carey Mulligan.

RELATED: Freaky’s Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton Talk Getting Into Character and Pulling Off a Killer Stare

Freaky is part of a long tradition of body-swap films, as the name is an overt homage to Freaky Friday. Movies of this genre live and die by how successful the actors sell the body-swapping, and Vaughn is frighteningly good. Newton, who plays a high school girl named Millie who finds herself in the body of the Blissfield Butcher is good, too, but she has the easier role. For most of the movie, she is playing the Blissfield Butcher, just in Millie’s body, meaning she needs to hold a knife and be menacing (which she is). Vaughn, though, spends most of the movie playing a teenage girl, just in the body of a middle-aged serial killer. Watching the movie, you will forget that you are watching a Vince Vaughn performance and find yourself thinking that you’re watching Kathryn Newton, just in his body. Vaughn fully commits to being Millie, and the movie works in large part because of how effectively Vaughn sells the body swap.

Nyla (Celeste O’Connor), The Butcher (Vince Vaughn), and Joshua (Misha Osherovich) stand in a school hallway in Freaky (2020).

The Best Actor nominees for the 93rd Oscars are, admittedly, a fairly formidable crop even given the extenuating, limiting circumstances of 2020’s film slate. Anthony Hopkins, Riz Ahmed, Chadwick Boseman, Gary Oldman, and Steven Yeun were all nominated, and it’s tough to decide which one of them should go if Vaughn were to get a nod. Still, if there ever was a year when an actor in a horror-comedy was going to be nominated for Best Actor, it was probably 2020. Moss feels even more deserving of recognition, and while in a “normal” year there probably would have been no chance, for these Oscars it seemed like an actual possibility.  

Sadly, neither Freaky nor The Invisible Man were nominated for any Oscars, acting or otherwise. However, if you want to watch what should have been Oscar-caliber performances, both films are now streaming on Peacock