What a wonderful year 2018 was for cinematic scare fare! Fans of all manner of horror films had plenty in which to delight, and several horror-adjacent titles added to the fun and frights. Narrowing down my favorite film to 10 was no easy task, but following is my valiant attempt.
10. (tie) THE NIGHT SITTER, d. Abiel Bruhn and John Rocco, and HALLOWEEN, d. David Gordon Green
Green’s Halloween gave me a similar feeling to when I was a teenager watching John Carpenter’s original Halloween. The scares and the laughs blended perfectly for me, the tension was helmed with precision, and the performances were all spot-on. Obviously crafted with reverence and respect, this movie is my favorite follow-up to the original.
Elyse Dufour gives a winning performance as a babysitter in peril in Bruhn and Rocco’s terrific horror comedy The Night Sitter. Take a sitter with ulterior motives, her two boy charges, and a room that the sitter’s boss has declared as off limits to all three of them, and you have a perfect set-up for some gory chaos and calamity. This film marries the nostalgia of Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? with stronger supernatural adult-oriented fare such as The Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell.
9. REVENGE, d. Coralie Fargeat
The levels of absurdity in this film regarding the amounts of blood spilled and the limits of punishment that the human body can take are darkly comical, but this rape revenge thriller delivers truly nail-biting tension. Matilda Lutz gives an unforgettable, star-making turn as a young woman violated and left for dead who hunts down the men responsible. Revenge and Panos Cosmatos’ jaw-dropping Mandy (which just narrowly missed my top 10 but certainly deserves honorable mention) are shining examples of neo-grindhouse meeting arthouse cinema sensibilities, a movement I can absolutely get behind.
8. DEMENTIA PART II, d. Mike Testin and Matt Mercer
Co-writer and co-director Mercer stars as a down-on-his luck ex-con whose first assignment as an odd job repairman finds him escaping the seductive advancements and deadly threats of an elderly widow (Suzanne Voss in a superb performance). Dementia Part II is often uncomfortable viewing, but in a darkly fun way. It pushes the boundaries of taste, providing plenty of forehead-slapping, stomach-churning, and riotously funny scenes. Even seasoned scare-fare veterans will find themselves squeamish with this one.
7. THE GOD INSIDE MY EAR, d. Joe Badon
This melange of of surrealism, horror, psychological thriller, and science fiction follows the descent of a young woman (Linnea Gregg in a hypnotic turn) as she slowly descends into depression, madness, and paranoia. The God Inside My Ear offers up plenty of riddles, surprises, and esoteric references, with plenty of imaginative visuals. It is equal parts arthouse (with shades of Roman Polanski, David Lynch, and Luis Bunuel) and underground (a la Frank Henenlotter and John Waters), often puzzling, and wholly captivating.
6. SATAN’S SLAVES, d. Joko Anwar
This fascinating Muslim take on supernatural horror offers an engrossing alternative to the Christian- and Catholic-based outings with which Western audiences are more familiar. Members of a family and a local cleric and his son uncover an occult conspiracy in this outstanding Indonesian film, which provides plenty of tension and chills.
5. ANNIHILATION, d. Alex Garland
This gorgeous-looking philosophical entry concerns a group of female military scientists who enter a quarantined zone called “The Shimmer,” which is home to mutating landscapes and bizarre creatures. A fine cast headed up by Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, astounding visuals, and top-shelf direction make this complex, multilayered film a must-see.
4. THE RITUAL, d. David Bruckner
The fact that this British supernatural shocker didn’t get a wide theatrical release is a true shame. With stunning visuals, superb drama and engaging character conflict, and a white-knuckler third act, The Ritual delivers the goods in a huge way.
3. A QUIET PLACE, d. John Krasinski
When you can hear a pin drop because of how involved moviegoers are in modern-day sold-out cinemas, you know a film is a winner, and that is just what audiences got with this remarkable creature feature. Director Krasinski and wife Emily Blunt are sensational as parents trying to hold their family together and keep everyone alive in a world where the slightest sound could mean death.
2. THOROUGHBREDS, d. Cory Finley
I have probably pushed this darkly comic thriller by word of mouth harder than any other movie this year. I believe it has passed under the radars of many people, which is a shame, because it is brilliantly written and directed, has sharp dialogue, and features splendid performances by two of today’s brightest young horror actresses. Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy play estranged friends from wealthy families who uneasily reunite years later. Cooke’s character is an admitted sociopath and Taylor-Joy’s character hates her stepfather. The two hatch a plan that puts Thoroughbreds in classic film noir territory, with enough malevolence and the red stuff to have it cross over into horror territory. This one is delightfully chilling and well worth seeking out.
1. HEREDITARY, d. Ari Aster
Probably the most-discussed horror film of the year, and arguably the most polarizing, Hereditary is a magnificent feature-film debut by director Ari Aster. Toni Collette gives a master class in acting as the mother of a family haunted by its own problems, but for whom those personal demons are only the beginning. Repeated viewings reveal just how much detail and how many layers of puzzle pieces Aster put into this incredible work.
Besides the aforementioned Mandy, my other honorable mentions are Japanese horror comedy One Cut of the Dead (learn nothing about this film in advance and let it steal your heart) and Argentinian supernatural shocker Terrified. I’m still waiting to see big-screen releases such as Suspiria and Overlord, which haven’t yet made it over here to South Korea. If you’re wondering why Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s excellent The Endless isn’t on my list, it is because it made my list last year, after I saw it at South Korea’s Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival.
The new year looks to continue the trend of the past couple of years of offering a wealth of horror cinema riches. Here’s hoping, because 2018 will be hard to beat!