Was 2018 the lamentable year in horror that some dumbasses suggest? No! There was a wild and impressive range in independent horror and blockbuster stuff, gore and comedy, psychological scares and slashers. It was a really fun year to look back on, as we do today to rank the best in horror the year had to offer. Join us, won’t you?
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10. The Ritual
David Bruckner has entertained us with some of the best shorts in horror today, including work from V/H/S, Southbound, and one of our favorites, The Signal. Directing his feature debut in The Ritual, Bruckner takes what feels familiar, roots it in genuine human emotion, takes a wild left turn and delivers the scares.
Five friends decide to mourn a tragedy with a trip together into the woods. Grief is a tricky, personal, often ugly process and as they work through their feelings, their frustration quickly turns to fear as they lose themselves in a foreign forest where danger lurks.
The film works for a number of reasons, but its greatest triumph is in making the woods scary again. That environment has become such a profound cliché in horror that it is almost impossible to make it feel fresh, but there is an authenticity to the performances, the interaction among the characters, and the frustration and fear that grounds the horror. And then there is horror—intriguing, startling, genuinely frightening horror. Yay!
Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy—brittle, unlikeable and amazing) is living your worst nightmare. After moving 400 miles to escape her stalker, she begins seeing him everywhere. She visits an insurance-approved therapist in a nearby clinic and quickly finds herself being held involuntarily for 24 hours.
After punching an orderly she mistakes for her stalker, that 24 hours turns into one week. And now she’s convinced that the new orderly George is, in fact, her stalker David (Joshua Leonard—cloying, terrifying perfection).
After laying bare some terrifying facts about our privatized mental health industry, Steven Soderbergh structures this critique with a somewhat traditional is-she-or-isn’t-she-crazy storyline. Anyone who watches much horror will recognize that uneasy line: you may be here against your will, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be here.
And the seasoned director of misdirection knows how to toy with that notion, how to employ Sawyer’s very real damage, touch on her raw nerve of struggling to remain in control of her own life only to have another’s will forced upon her.
He relies on familiar tropes to say something relevant and in doing so creates a tidy, satisfying thriller.
8. Mom and Dad
I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it.
It’s a joke, of course, an idle threat. Right?
Maybe so, but deep down, it does speak to the unspeakable tumult of emotions and desires that come with parenting. Wisely, a humorous tumult is exactly the approach writer/director Brian Taylor brings to his horror comedy Mom and Dad.
Why do you want to see it? Because of the unhinged Nicolas Cage. Not just any Nic Cage—the kind who can convincingly sing the Hokey Pokey while demolishing furniture with a sledge hammer.
Perhaps you don’t know this, but Nazi zombies have a horror genre unto themselves: Shock Waves, Zombie Lake, Dead Snow, Dead Snow 2, Blood Creek. Well, there’s a new Nazi Zombie Sheriff in town, and he is effing glorious.
Overlord drops us into enemy territory on D-Day. One rag tag group of American soldiers needs to disable the radio tower the Nazis have set up on top of a rural French church, disabling Nazi communications and allowing our guys to land safely.
What’s on the church tower is not so much the problem. It’s what’s in the basement.
A satisfying Good V Evil film that benefits from layers, Overlord reminds us repeatedly that it is possible to retain your humanity, even in the face of inhuman evil.
Plus, Nazi zombies, which is never not awesome!
The rape-revenge film is a tough one to pull off. Even in the cases where the victim rips bloody vengeance through the bodies of her betrayers, the films are too often titillating. Almost exclusively written and directed by men for a primarily male audience, the comeuppance angle can be so bent by the male gaze that the film feels more like an additional violation.
Well, friends, writer/director Coralie Fargeat changes all that with Revenge, a breathless, visually fascinating, bloody-as-hell vengeance flick that repays the viewer for her endurance. (His, too.)
Fargeat’s grasp of male entitlement and the elements of a rape culture are as sharp as her instincts for visual storytelling. Wildly off-kilter close-ups sandwich gorgeous vistas to create a dreamlike frame for the utterly brutal mess of a film unfolding.
Symbol-heavy but never pretentious or preachy, the film follows a traditional path—she is betrayed, she is underestimated, she repays her assailants for their toxic masculinity. But between Fargeat’s wild aesthetic, four very solid performances, and thoughtful yet visceral storytelling, the film feels break-neck, terrifying and entirely satisfying.
David Gordon Green’s direct sequel is, above all things, a mash note to the original. Visual odes continually call back to Carpenter, often in ways that allude to an intriguing about-face the film is leading to.
Kills—more numerous and grisly than the first go round—are often handled offscreen, just the wet thud or slice of the deed to enlighten us until the corpse gets a quick showcase. The result is a jumpy, fun, “don’t go in there!” experience reminiscent of the best of the genre.
The film takes it up a notch in its final reel, as tables turn, panic rooms open and cop heads become Jack-o-lanterns. The result is a respectful, fun and creepy experience meant to be shared with a crowd.
4. A Quiet Place
Damn. John Krasinski. That big, tall guy, kind of doughy-faced? Married to Emily Blunt? Dude can direct the shit out of a horror movie.
Krasinski plays the patriarch of a close-knit family trying to survive the post-alien-invasion apocalypse by staying really, really quiet. The beasts use sound to hunt, but the family is prepared. The cast, anchored by Krasinski’s on-and-off-screen wife Emily Blunt is amazing. That you may expect.
What you may not expect is Krasinski’s masterful direction: where and when the camera lingers or cuts away, how often and how much he shows the monsters, when he decides the silence will generate the most dread and when he chooses to let Marco Beltrami’s ominous score do that work for him.
It’s smart in the way it’s written, sly in its direction and spot-on in its ability to pile on the mayhem in the final reel without feeling gimmicky or silly.
Writer/director Panos Cosmatos’s hallucinogenic fever dream of social, political and pop-culture subtexts layered with good old, blood-soaked revenge, Mandy throws enough visionary strangeness on the screen to dwarf even Nicolas Cage in full freakout mode.
Like Cosmatos’s 2010 debut Beyond the Black Rainbow, Mandy is both formally daring and wildly borrowed. While Black Rainbow, also set in 1983, shines with the antiseptic aesthetic of Cronenberg or Kubrick, Mandy feels more like something snatched from a Dio album cover.
Cosmatos blends ingredients from decades-spanning indie horror into a stew that tastes like nothing else.
Surrender to it.
Luca Guadagnino continues to be a master film craftsman. Much as he draped Call Me by Your Name in waves of dreamy romance, here he establishes a consistent mood of nightmarish goth. Macabre visions dart in and out like a video that will kill you in 7 days while sudden, extreme zooms, precise sound design and a vivid score from Thom Yorke help cement the homage to another era.
But even when this new Suspiria—a “cover version” of Dario Argento’s 1974 gaillo classic—is tipping its hat, Guadagnino leaves no doubt he is making his own confident statement. The color scheme is intentionally muted, and you’ll find no men in this dance troupe, serving immediate notice that superficialities are not the endgame here.
Grief and guilt color every somber, shadowy frame of writer/director Ari Aster’s unbelievably assured feature film debut, Hereditary.
With just a handful of mannerisms, one melodic clucking noise, and a few seemingly throwaway lines, Aster and his magnificent cast quickly establish what will become nuanced, layered human characters, all of them scarred and battered by family.
Art and life imitate each other to macabre degrees while family members strain to behave in the manner that feels human, seems connected, or might be normal. What is said and what stays hidden, what’s festering in the attic and in the unspoken tensions within the family, it’s all part of a horrific atmosphere meticulously crafted to unnerve you.
Aster takes advantage of a remarkably committed cast to explore family dysfunction of the most insidious type. Whether his supernatural twisting and turning amount to metaphor or fact hardly matters with performances this unnerving and visual storytelling this hypnotic.