A recent, laughable Vogue article (because clearly they are experts in horror films) got it all wrong a couple months back, when they complained that the horror genre was dead-in-the-water this year. On the contrary, 2018 has been one of the best years for the genre yet, which brought us many harrowing, immersive looks inside disturbing family trauma narratives, women and men seeking revenge, secretive serial killers, and a haunting coven of witches, just to name a few. If you missed a few of these because you were bombarded by the all-consuming Halloween (2018) and A Quiet Place press coverage this year, catch up on these quieter greats before the year is up. Many of these were not seen nor talked about nearly enough as they deserved to be. 2018 has been exceptionally good to us.
Steven Soderbergh’s tale of an uptight-ish working woman who gets manipulated into checking herself into a mental health facility is something that came and went this year, but reconsider giving it a chance. Claire Foy’s Sawyer Valentini leaves one city, in favor of another, after narrowly escaping a stalking situation she experienced with a disturbed man. When she seeks a consultation session with a therapist in her new city, she begins to see the man who once stalked her everywhere she goes, including the mental health facility that she was tricked into entering. Of course, Sawyer is not believed, and she not only has to prove her sanity, but also prove that the man who was stalking her before, has, in fact, started to follow her once again. Soderbergh’s B-movie inspired film about the gaslighting of women/failure of believing women was entirely shot on an iPhone, which gives Unsane a gritty feel, that is surprisingly not as distracting and schlocky as you would assume. Unsane gives a lot of food for thought that I won’t spoil here, and is most definitely worth checking out.
Arguably one of the most stylish rape revenge films of recent memory, Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge introduces us to Jen (Matilda Lutz), away on a romantic randevu with her married boyfriend, before two of his sleazy friends show up, and things go horribly awry. Jen is not your typical, goody two shoes horror heroine– she’s overtly flirtatious, relatively quiet, and even a bit unlikeable, as she contributes little to conversations. However, that is exactly the point: it does not matter if a woman is likable, pure, innocent, and engaging to your liking, because, regardless, no woman deserves to be treated the way Jen eventually does. By the time one of the boyfriend’s asshole friends blatantly rapes her after she rejects him, she takes matters into her own hands, as you remain on the edge of your seat, all the way to the very blood-soaked finale. With her female perspective, director Fargeat is careful to not shoot anything disrespectfully and gratuitously, as even the rape scene is seldom shown to us– but instead, mostly heard off-screen, proving that women directors are well on their way to becoming the exciting future of fantastically-shot horror films. Suck on that, Jason Blum from Blumhouse.
The revival of 2017’s version of Pennywise the Clown ain’t got a damn thing on Art the Clown- the sadistic, completely silent, vicious clown from this year’s VOD release of Terrifier. With his jet black-painted mouth, menacing grin filled with some serious dental issues, tiny black top hat, black and white colored clown suit (complete with blood spatter) and black trash bag (likely filled with varying degrees of body parts) draping over his shoulder, Art the Clown (calculably portrayed by David Howard Thornton) may be one of the most terrifying movie clowns in horror history, as he reprises his murderous role from his first appearance in the 2013 horror anthology film All Hallows Eve. Terrifier has a perfectly retro ’80s slasher feel to it, while also making sure to include some nods to modern-day technology that will not bode well for Art the Clown’s victims. We are initially introduced to two college-aged girls who are stumbling their way home from a night of Halloween drinking. The two girls bump into (what they think) is just some bizarre stranger dressed up in a freaky clown costume for Halloween, and pretty soon, nobody that stands in Art the Clown’s way is safe from dying an absolutely miserable death.
Read more about it here.
The Clovehitch Killer
There comes a point in many sons’ and daughters’ lives when they stop looking up to their parents as perfect heroes of their childhoods— and begin to see them as the flawed human beings they actually are. Some parents disguise their flaws by attempting to teach their children differently than how they were raised, while others disguise themselves under the guises of righteousness and religion, which, ultimately, leads to hypocrisy. Duncan Skile’s The Clovehitch Killer is yet another strong family dynamic thriller, about the father-son narrative, led by thoughtful performances by Charlie Plummer and Dylan McDermott, as Plummer starts to suspect that his Boy Scout-leading, dorky-by-day, yet BDSM-porn-reader-by-night father may be behind some of the town’s unsolved murders of the past. The Clovehitch Killer is a notably quieter thriller that is a slow burn, and manages to go into directions that you would not always expect.
A captivating social thriller about familial relations and the underbellies of the Internet age, Aneesh Chaganty’s Sundance winner Searching tells the story of David Kim (helmed by an impressive and completely relatable performance by John Cho) and his sometimes-distant teenage daughter, Margot, who fails to return home after a night out at a study group. When a concerned David begins to panic and files a missing persons report, Detective Vick (played by a sometimes awkward Debra Messing) is assigned to the case, and suggests that David should hop on Margot’s laptop— in order to contact her possible friends and acquaintances, as well as to view her recent website browser visits, in order to gather possible evidence of her whereabouts. As the film’s tagline cleverly hints at, David will never be able to find his daughter until he understands who she truly was in the first place.
Read more about it here.
The Witch in the Window
In Andy Mitton’s subtle, yet effective 77-minute film, loving father Simon (Alex Draper) takes his odd son Finn (Charles Everett Tacker) to help him work on a countryside house that he intends to “flip” over to new owners– which may or may not be haunted– once he finishes his repairs. Simon and Finn’s mom Beverly (Arija Bareikis) are separated, and Beverly expresses concern over Finn’s coldness towards her, as well as his questionable Internet browser searches. Finn is a precocious preteen, right at the age of 12– on the brink of leaving childhood and entering his teen years– who seems to prefer the company of his oft-gone father over his protective mother. Finn seems to have no problem asking Simon the uncomfortable questions that any parent dreads being asked, like, Does he believe in ghosts? The Witch in the Window is yet another quiet horror film with a beating heart family narrative, that still satisfies with genuinely creepy moments sprinkled throughout.
Read more about it here.
Opening with a significant Lovecraft quote about man’s greatest fear, which is the fear of the unknown, The Endless introduces us to two brothers, Aaron and Justin, who are attempting to make sense of their lives after leaving a UFO death cult many years before. Despite their foray into normalcy, Aaron still misses his life that he shared with the cult- especially after receiving a video message from a current member. Justin, on the other hand, appears to be the more sensible brother, as he explains that he figured out the cult’s suicidal intentions, and got him and Aaron out of there just in the nick of time, before their lives could have possibly ended. After one of their deprogramming therapy sessions one day, Aaron suggests they return to Camp Arcadia for “closure,” and Justin reluctantly goes along with it, hoping his brother will be reminded of all the toxicity they left behind a decade before. Upon their return, we quickly realize that this cult is even more bizarre (and more accurate) than we originally presumed, in which you’ll be whispering “What the fuck?!” to yourself more than once over the course of its 112-minute run time.
Read more here.
Alex Garland’s science fiction-horror gem Annihilation, based on the novel of the same name, is a visual wonder. Not that I have ever played a video game before in my life, but watching this film reminded me of entering a visually stunning video game, where your eyes follow the dripping rainbow colors inside this third dimensional place called “The Shimmer,” where aesthetic beauty meets eery, strange mutations that will send chills up your spine. Your head may be left spinning by the film’s final moments, but if you are one who possesses the desire to read more about what you just witnessed after a wondrously thought-provoking film, Annihilation, and its many mind-bending, self-destruction-based themes, are worth your time.
A character study about a man who has carried his childhood anxieties into his adulthood, the moody, British, psychological horror Possum takes its time, and chooses atmospheric dread over cheap jump scares. Its eery score and camerawork follow Philip (Sean Harris) a former children’s puppeteer who is ridden with social awkwardness and PTSD from childhood memories and tragedies. Sean Harris’s heartbreaking performance is never overshadowed by Possum– Philip’s puppet that never seems to stay in the trash — even though Possum is nothing short of nightmare fodder. (If you see it, you’ll understand.) Possum represents numerous things that haunt Philip, as he is forced to live with his repulsive and abusive uncle while he is ostracized by other locals in his town, for something he likely did not do. Possum requires some patience, but it is a very thoughtful little horror film. “Possum, with his black balloons, will eat you up in bed.”
The House That Jack Built
In a span of 12 years within the ’70s and ’80s, an OCD-ridden serial killer, Jack (Matt Dillon) relays a handful of his predatory “incidents,” to a mysterious older gentleman– whose identity is seldom revealed until the last act– in which a comparison of murder and execution styles to various forms of architecture and artwork is discussed, similarly to the ways in which Patrick Bateman discusses his forms of materialism to his murders in American Psycho. In fact, if American Psycho and Peeping Tom had an evil, arthouse lovechild, you’d get The House That Jack Built, naturally. What else would you expect from a Von Trier film?
This is most definitely NOT for everyone, as the violence (sometimes) retains value, but is oftentimes used for shock purposes– so the easily offended, the casual horror fans, and those who claim they “don’t like to think” about thematic analysis after watching a film, should probably sit this one out.
Read more about it here.
Are We Not Cats
Arguably the strangest and most gag-worthy film on this list in some ways, Xander Robin’s bizzaro indie Are We Not Cats is as touching as it is tough to swallow. When a late-twenty-something guy loses his girlfriend and his job on the same day, he seeks new beginnings, and ends up meeting a girl who shares the same weird habit that he does: eating hair. (I told you this one was an oddball.) It’s difficult to recommend to everyone, as the film isn’t straight-up body horror as much as it’s a weird/hipster/indie movie fare, and it takes a while to get where it’s going (even in its short run-time) but it’s impeccably shot and well-acted by all parties, especially the two leads, and it gives you the same glimmer of misfit romantic hope that you got when you watched Jack Skellington and Sally fall in love in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Just as a warning, you’ll want to cough up your own hairball after watching this one…
Stephen King has said many times that there are two important key factors to creating a great horror story: an effective, core narrative and properly fleshed out characters and character relationships. In Adam MacDonald’s under-seen gem, teenager Leah (Nicole Munoz) develops an interest in the occult, particularly as a means of coping with her father’s death. Her mother, portrayed skillfully by Laurie Holden, is severely depressed, and doesn’t seem to know how to raise Leah without her father around, which pushes Leah even further away from their already strained relationship. They frequently argue, until one day things go too far, and words are said that cannot be taken back, which leads Leah to retaliate, by casting a black magic spell upon her mother. The mean-spirited spell– which brings upon the titular, hellish entity named Pyewacket– begins to dreadfully seep into their lives, as Leah wishes that she could reverse the spell and reconcile with her mother. The reserved, atmospheric Pyewacket is one of the most underrated films of 2018.
Horror aficionados are particularly skeptical when it comes to accepting the dreaded “remake” and “reboot” treatment of cult classics from the past. (Four words: ‘The Wicker Man’ remake!! Ugh.) And when a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo (Italian horror) masterpiece Suspiria was announced to follow suit, many wondered how a film that iconic could ever be taken into different hands, as well as what else could possibly be squeezed out of a film that isn’t exactly remembered for its super intricate plot. Fortunately, renowned Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino is at the helm of the 2018 version, and the man has not only given the original film its justice, but he has created an entirely unique piece of art that merely takes the skeletal framework of the original film, and has transformed it into its own, stylish identity.
Read more here.
Visually stunning, emotionally gripping, and led by Nicolas Cage’s best performance in years, Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy is destined to become the cult classic/revenge horror/acid trip film you didn’t realize you needed. In early ’80s Pacific Northwest territory, quietly loving couple Red (Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) live in isolated peace, until a cult of Manson-esque hippies invade their town and disrupt their peaceful existence. Shades of various blood-red hues, along with a haunting original score by Johann Johansson accompany this psychedelic indie that is far superior than you would assume. Watch in awe as Red attempts to channel his grief while seeking revenge for his pain, and takes back the once-peaceful life that was stolen from him.
When we think of a familial construct, we’d (like) to associate it with support, communication, and love, but in Ari Aster’s masterful directorial debut, we follow the Graham family– a mother, husband, teenage son and daughter– who are haunted by the tragedies that have befallen them after their elusive grandmother has died. Inspired by some of the classics that came before it, Hereditary manages to draw artistic aspects from Rosemary’s Baby, Don’t Look Now, The Shining, and The Exorcist. With little-to-no jump scares, ’70s style dread-induced atmosphere, and characters that are raw and genuine, it is simply the kind of horror that many of us crave. A brutal, yet poetic look at grief, parent/child relationships, betrayal, and figurative (and literal) demons that can be passed down from the generations before us, Hereditary even serves as a metaphor for mental illness running through a family– even though the members of the Graham family likely do not suffer from any mental illnesses, whatsoever. Meticulously shot, beautifully acted by Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, Ann Dowd, and Milly Shapiro, and bone-chilling to its core long after the credits roll, Hereditary has crawled under my skin and remained there ever since my first watch.
Read more about it here.
Best horror film musical scores of 2018 you should stream:
- Mandy (score by Johannes Johansson)
- Halloween (score by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies)
- Hereditary (score by Colin Stetson)
- Suspiria (score by Thom Yorke)
Exceptional non-horror films of 2018 you should also check out:
- First Reformed (A24)
- Roma (Netflix)
- Three Identical Strangers (Neon)
- The Favourite (Fox Searchlight)
- Sorry to Bother You (Annapurna Pictures) Read more here.
- Can You Ever Forgive Me (Fox Searchlight)
Thank you to 2018, for being so good to us film lovers.
Coming soon: Horror to look forward to in 2019.~