Sunday, December 30, 2018

Top 30 Horror Films of 2018

Normally, I try to get my articles for the best films of the year (both horror and action) out by mid-December, but 2018 was a strangely packed year. Not only for personal reasons, but there was a lot of material to watch and properly sift through. In fact, my queue is not quite finished by the time that I felt it was necessary to get these written and posted for our readers, but most of what seemed would make the upper echelons of these lists seemed covered. However, as with all of these articles, there are gaps and the ranking is meant to be a discussion starter more than a definitive ranking. If there are films missed, please, do not hesitate to reach out to us with comments, emails, and the like. Share with your friends too. Keep the discussion going!

For this article, it’s time to discuss the best horror films of the year. Despite what Vogue seems to think, there was plenty of great horror to dig through this year and, as there always are, there were some disappointments. As horror continues to make waves beyond the usual die-hard fan bases and into the mainstream, there is plenty of diversity to see this year and, while I certainly have specific tastes in what I enjoy in my horror films, I tried to cover a lot of ground in those various subgenres. As mentioned above, this article is meant to spur discussion about the quality and variety of films released in the horror genre this year and you are welcome to disagree with me. Keep the comments clean, be curious, and if we all agree to keep an open mind then 2018 could very well be one of the most interesting years in horror.

Without further ado, here is our list for Top 30 Horror Films of 2018:

30. The Night Eats the World [Dir. Dominique Rocher]

The saturation of zombie films at this time and point is eye rolling and suffocating. Unfortunately, it makes enjoying even some of the better zombie films a bit of chore. On the other hand, a film like The Night Eats the World takes just enough of an arthouse and character study approach to the genre that it stakes its own claim that works. Essentially, the film is anchored on a single character as he awakens to find the world in the shambles of the zombie apocalypse and attempts to survive in an apartment complex in France. The film is less about the zombies and more about a character’s mental state as he attempts to deal with loneliness, but the quirky humor, some bold choices in sound design, and an artsy narrative make it a fascinating watch. It might be a bit slow and nuanced for a lot of more mainstream zombie “fans,” but it’s worth the watch.

29. Sequence Break [Dir. Graham Skipper]

Although Sequence Break might lean further into being a science fiction film than a true horror film, the sheer oddity of its mumblecore meets Cronenberg tones make it one of the stranger and more interesting films of the year. Outside of the romantic plotting and body horror elements that arise in the second half of the film, it’s hard to say definitively what Sequence Break is really about, but that’s so much of why it works. It plays on the interpretation an audience has of what is happening to the lead character and his infatuation with video arcades, but needless to say where the film doesn’t try to “scare” it’s audience, it definitely unnerves them.

28. The House that Jack Built [Dir. Lars Von Trier]

If I’m being perfectly honest, Lars Von Trier is a fantastic director whose films do essentially nothing for me. Sure, they can be challenging and he does outlandish and strange things with them to continually push the audience (yay!) but he also does it with such a pretentiousness that it often feels like he’s forcing the audience to think his way rather than persuading them in follow along willingly (boo!). This is perhaps the one thing that prevents The House that Jack Built from being in my top 10, or even 5, of the year. The House that Jack Built attempts to recreate the same dirty and visceral edge that previous serial killer films like Maniac and Henry did and when it succeeds it truly is an abrasive and dynamic triumph. Matt Dillon gives one of the most powerful performances of his very impressive career, the film digs into key moments to show the killer’s manipulation and struggle with understanding the world while simultaneously destroying it, and the third act bleeds further into arthouse territory as a fantastic rumination on the events previous. Still, the narrative feels a tad scattered and the voice over narrative of our villainous protagonist speaking with some kind of “psychiatrist” spends so much time bantering about various tangents and their meanings, that one has to wonder if Von Trier suffers from the same problem that Tarantino seems afflicted with recently: word vomit and storytelling for the sake of it. Still, its strengths overcome most of its weaknesses and in the end, it still remains my favorite Von Trier film.

27. May the Devil Take You [Dir. Timo Tjahjanto]

Over the last handful of years, Timo Tjahjanto has become one of the best directors working in genre cinema. Not just in horror, but in action as well. He has a visceral style that is all his own and his knack for embracing the brutality and abrasiveness of whatever topic he is tackling. For his latest horror film though, I guess that Timo decided doing an Evil Dead inspired demonic gore fest was a good idea. Well, I think it’s a great idea. The film may not make a lot of sense in terms of cohesive narrative, but the fantastic use of gore and horrifyingly stylish set pieces makes May the Devil Take You one to see.

26. Veronica [Dir. Paco Plaza]

Netflix continually delivered some fantastic foreign horror films this year and Veronica is just another one to add to the list. Although fans seem a bit torn on the film, thanks to its rather by-the-numbers plotting, the use of its ghostly/demonic haunting as a parallel to a young woman who feels as though she has been forced to mature before her time due to her familial circumstances is remarkably layered. Not to mention Paco Plaza proves that he can still deliver the thrills and chills.

25. Terrifier [Dir. Damien Leone]

Terrifier is an odd film and one that normally wouldn’t have made a year end list for me, mainly because the film is a bit “simple.” However, in its simplicity is where Terrifier succeeds. It’s a throwback 80s exploitative slasher film in a lot of ways, the grittiness of the visuals and the score for example, but the film also isn’t afraid to bend the rules as it goes though. In the end though, the biggest selling point of Terrifier is Art the Clown which is, at times, darkly humorous, grotesque, and completely memorable.  Old school horror fans will for sure want to take a look at would this one has to offer as it wouldn’t shock me if it’s the start of a solid franchise.

24. Halloween (2018) [Dir. David Gordon Green]

Speaking of franchises, 2018 saw the return of Michael Myers in the oddly titled Halloween. For all of the hype, it almost seemed as though it was a crapshoot on whether or not David Gordon Green and company could pull off this reboot/sequel that would ignore all of the previous sequels to John Carpenter’s iconic slasher. Still, Halloween is a rather fun and ambitious flick. It attempts to lean into the narrative strength of the original, but add in its own fair share of modern insights as three generations of women (final girls?) attempt to thwart the Shape as he comes back to Haddonfield again. The reason the film works is that there is so much heart invested in the film that even some of the flaws (the podcasters are a major plot point for….a third of the film?) seem as though they are full invested in and that works. Getting Jamie Lee Curtis back to reprise the role of Laurie Strode helps as does convincing John Carpenter to come back to do the score again. Yes, as with all Halloween sequels, this one will come with a decent amount of mixed feelings, but for this reviewer it was a welcome return to form for the franchise.

23. You Might Be the Killer [Dir. Brett Simmons]

A couple of years ago, the horror comedy came back with a huge splash. Although this subgenre has never necessarily been one of my favorites, it was nice to stumble into this Shudder exclusive that seemingly understood the comedy of a horror film so inherently that it was able to be effective at both. Even as the slasher film has seemingly been deconstructed left and right by comedies (with some classics like Behind the Mask and Final Girls falling into that category) one could make an argument to add You Might Be the Killer to that list. On paper, the film feels thin, but the sheer energy, charm, and chemistry of its approach and cast handedly make up from some of the more predictable elements of it.

22. Into the Dark: The Body [Dir. Paul Davis]

Hulu and Blumhouse’s Into the Dark “series” seems a bit ambitious, but if all of the episodes could live up to the sheer entertainment that The Body contained, then it will be one hell of a year for this combination. The Body, the first of this program, has that perfect mix of horror and comedy as it follows the exploits of a hitman forced to drag the body of his target through the city streets on Halloween night. The hijinks that ensue are quite hilarious, powered by some great comedic timing, some silly characters, and a great sense of pacing.

21. Downrange [Dir. Ryuhei Kitamura]

Ryuhei Kitamura is one of those directors that, even when his film falters, does it with such an energy that I always end up enjoying his work. Oddly enough, Downrange which was another Shudder exclusive in 2018, is perhaps one of his more subdued films stylistically. Still, there are plenty of key moments in the movie that feel inherently his and the low key and minimalist plot that sees a group of 20-somethings trapped behind their car on the side of a desolate road by an unknown sniper is fascinatingly straightforward. Still, it’s a great film that doubles down on the tension and entertaining suspense of its concept. It might not be Kitamura’s most ambitious film, but it’s brilliantly pulled back too.

20. Pyewacket [Dir. Adam MacDonald]

Following his cult hit Backcountry, director Adam MacDonald decided to take is slow burn and strongly realistic style to a witchcraft film and the results are surprisingly good. It’s easy to see why some horror fans would kick back on Pyewacket due to its insanely slow burn approach to the narrative and vague fringe horror elements that arise in the third act, but the drowning atmosphere and ‘up to interpretation’ blending of tones make this one a true cinematic experience.

19. Ghost Stories [Dir. Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman]

Like the previous entry, Ghost Stories is going to end up being a film that receives more mixed reviews by die hard horror fans than anything else. It’s based on a theatrical play and that kind of intimacy and structure is evident in how the film plays out its ‘anthology’ of classic style ghost stories. Even if the threaded structure of the film, which follows an investigator who is looking into three ‘unsolved’ ghost stories, can leave some fans with huge questions (that finale, man) the stories themselves are diverse and really effectively fun stories. Ghost Stories is not a film for everyone, but for those willing to dig into an oddity of the year, this is one of the best.

18. Ghostland [Dir. Pascal Laugier]

Laugier punched the horror genre in the face with his modern classic Martyrs, but since then his output as a film maker has been rather spotty. His latest, Ghostland or Incident in Ghostland depending on where you live, does feel like a return to form for the director even if the film doesn’t quite hit those high notes of Martyrs. The combination of a slightly more artistic narrative with some impressive twists and turns along with the New French Extreme elements of violence and abrasive sequences make this feel like a true follow up for Laugier.

17. The Dark [Dir. Justin P. Lange]

It’s already an ambitious move to make a movie that relies so heavily on only two characters, but then to make both of those characters children? That’s a huge leap of faith. Fortunately, The Dark nails it. Not only does the film succeed with two child actors as the leads, but it forms a remarkable amount of heart and hope out of a film where both characters are horrifyingly traumatized and tormented and then adds a layer where one of them is a cannibalistic “undead” monster that was resurrected by hatred and revenge…and it still pulls off the heartwarming character chemistry and hopeful narrative. The film is ultimately more of a character drama and many more casual horror fans may find its slower pacing and meticulous character development a bit tiresome, but the emotional weight of the film strikes hard here and it makes it one of the best.

16. Terrified [Dir. Demian Rugna]

One of the big leaps of quality this year were films that Shudder were able to grab for release. You’ve already seen a handful of them on this list, Terrified is the one right now, and you’re going to see a few more before this list is done. Terrified lives up to the title though and has some of the most terrifying sequences in horror this year. The film has a loose anthology kind of concept as it looks at the various “hauntings” for three houses in the same neighborhood and the investigations that go around it. The film plays its narrative very loose, but the houses themselves are terrifying experiences of true cinematic horror. In a lot of ways, Terrified feels a bit like the South American version of Ju-On and that’s a massive compliment.

15. Satan’s Slaves [Dir. Joko Anwar]

Oh look, another Shudder exclusive? Go figure! We go from South America in the last entry to Indonesia with this remake of the classic cult horror film. Satan’s Slaves is a little bit of everything. Possession film, haunted house flick, evil cult movie, and it even goes into one other genre that would be spoiling the fun in the third act to reveal, but Satan’s Slaves goes between all of them with relative ease. Like the previous film, this one also features some brilliantly executed scares, built on some fantastic dramatic familial bonds, and it features a pacing that only continually builds momentum. I have never seen the original, but if it’s even half as good as Anwar’s Satan’s Slaves, then it needs a US release immediately.

14. Tragedy Girls [Dir. Tyler MacIntyre]

One of the things about Tragedy Girls is that the film got a limited theatrical release in late 2017 and so technically it should have been included on my list for last year, but the film did not get a release near me until early 2018. So, I’m sure I’m going to get a bit of flim flam from readers for having it on this list, but the film was too good not to include on at least ONE list. The blend of super dark humor and horror, the commentary on social media fame, and the manner that it deconstructs the usual slasher/serial killer narrative is just energetic and charming as hell. Not to mention, it features a plethora of great performances and the visual style is fun and entertaining as it plays on the horror tropes. It might be a ‘loose’ 2018 release, but it deserves as much attention as it gets.

13. Cold Hell [Dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky]

Cold Hell is one of those films that didn’t garner a lot of word of mouth when it came out as an exclusive on Shudder. In fact, I had it on my queue for probably a month or so before I finally came around to watching it. Shame really that it never caught on because Cold Hell is a wickedly fun and hard hitting film. It blends a bit of a giallo inspired murder mystery with modern gritty action and the results are intense. A young cab driver finds herself on the run from a serial killer after she witnesses him at the scene of the crime and soon she finds herself a crossroads with the villain and the police and has to turn the tables. The cat and mouse narrative works here, but the detailing of this lady’s world is what really makes it work. She’s hardly a heroine in the traditional concept, but by the time the third act rolls around it’s hard not to want to see her completely demolish everything around her and completely obliterate this killer. It’s strangely provocative and has some great style as a film. Definitely one of the fresher feeling films in 2018.

12. Cam [Dir. Daniel Goldhaber]

The hype was big, but what Cam does as a film is not try to blow minds as much as dig under the skin with a thoughtful and meticulously paced science fiction-y social horror thriller. It helps that the film is anchored by a phenomenal lead performance and the tone and approach to the narrative never makes bold statements about the cam girl setting as much as showcases the nuances and layers of the world itself. The horror elements are light, but the impact is strong. It’s artful and impressively executed.

11. Suspiria (2018) [Dir. Luca Guadagnino]

Suspiria was one of those films that made me anxious. How do you remake the classic Dario Argento film and not somehow alienate everyone? Well, this is exactly how you do it. Although the core story is the same, the rest of Suspiria is a completely different beast. It has its own style, it’s own approach, and it’s own inventive spins on what previous viewers may come to expect. The performances are layered and punchy, the changes made make sense for the newly added social and political commentary, and it does its own thing. Fans of the original may not buy in, simply because it is it’s own thing, but considering the other options this film felt like a reinvigorated reinterpretation.

10. The Endless [Dirs. Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson]

I’m a sucker for a film with great and thick atmosphere, but The Endless won me over by having a film with such a strangely evolving atmosphere to it. At times the film is a dramedy, at other times a Twilight Zone episode, and there’s definitely a strong leaning towards Lovecraftian existential horror, but it navigates the pitfalls with the utmost of awkward grace. The directors and stars keep it grounded in their brotherly relationship when it gets too wild, so by the end of the film one is fulfilled with a sense of oddity and heart.

09. A Quiet Place [dir. John Krasinski]

‘Did you see that the guy from The Office is directing a silent film?’ Sure, that idea was brought up again and again when the first trailers dropped for A Quiet Place, but the monumental box office and strong critical praise for the film indicates that it is just more than what it would look like on paper. That’s because, well, it is. A Quiet Place is the quintessential effective mainstream horror film. It feeds into a strong family dynamic, has a great gimmick of the sound design, and features a strong cast to get it’s fairly easy to consume story out. It might not push too many boundaries, but it’s really effective at what it is and that’s impressive enough.

08. What Keeps You Alive [dir. Colin Minihan]

Yet, despite a well crated script, some powerhouse performances, and a great setting, What Keeps You Alive truly feels like a fully realized artistic film by the director. His knack for using space, long takes, and truly unique moments (particularly in the final act) not only makes this one of the best films of the year, but easily the best film of his career. Although I’m sure there are some people that will find the film to be a bit slow or perhaps predictable, the execution of What Keeps You Alive easily uplifts it to a level that is a massive surprise. It’s one of the best of the year and also highly recommended.

07. Overlord [Dir. Julius Avery]

Nazi zombies are usually a recipe for entertainment, but this World War II set horror action flick takes it to the next level. It’s blissfully entertaining, over-the-top gory, weirdly funny, and gut punching in its delivery. The opening sequence is jaw dropping in how its crafted, but it’s a relentless roller coaster that takes a B-horror/action concept and injects it with a mid-blockbuster budget and gloss from beginning to end. This one might be one of the most entertaining theatrical experiences I had all year.

06. Annihilation [Dir. Alex Garland]

Following up his very well received (and quite terrifying) science fiction modern classic Ex Machina, Alex Garland decided to tackle Annihilation – which, from what I hear, is a very hard book to adapt. Unfortunately, audiences were not keen on flocking to the theater to see Annihilation despite the fact that it’s easily one of the most unnerving and well-crafted cinematic experiences of the year. Between the impressively cast ensemble, lead by Natalie Portman, a fantastic sense of visual and auditory wonder, and a narrative that abrasively challenges its audience, Annihilation is a film that will definitely find its audience with time. Either people are going to love it or love to hate it. For me, it’s definitely the former.  

05. The Ranger [Dir. Jenn Wexler]

The Ranger was a film that garnered quite a bit of attention and word of mouth through various film festivals as the year wore on and then, weirdly enough, it just randomly dropped into Red Box as I waited for an announcement. It’s a shame really, The Ranger is a film that utilizes its punk energy to maximize the 80s throwback tones and approach with vigor and spunk. The slasher elements are all in play here, but the film loves to slyly undercut them in various ways that makes it feel fresh and effective. In a lot of ways our main heroine can be seen as an anti-final girl as the film wears on and it’s choices like that which lift The Ranger into a top five of the year status.

04. The Ritual [Dir. David Bruckner]

I'm a sucker for atmospheric horror films to begin with, but to be able to pull off a psychologically scarring, atmospheric drenched, and horrifying monster in the woods story like The Ritual is just really impressive. The performances are layered and natural, the use of the setting is suffocating and unreal at times, and the manner that the narrative explores the character interactions as they begin to suspect that there is something going on in the woods around them with some THING behind it all is a masterclass in horror exploration. Just wait for those final 15 minutes. The slow burn ride getting there is well worth the time and effort. It’s just off the rails.

03. Hereditary [Dir. Ari Aster]

Hereditary is not a film for everyone, particularly since the film does do some unique things with its narrative pacing that can leave those with the wrong expectations either bored at the slow burn process of the first act or baffled by the broad and bold horror choices of the third act. For those that go in expecting a horror film that actually develops layers, characters that are more human than slaughter fodder, and takes chances with its story, then this is definitely one of the best of the year. Hereditary is not just a film about a family surviving a supernatural horror, but it’s one about a family surviving itself as a supernatural horror pushes them further. Here’s to hoping that A24 continues to craft and release such strong films for the genre in the future. Until then, Hereditary remains one of their best. 

02. Mandy [Dir. Panos Cosmatos]

Love it or hate it, Mandy made a massive splash in all of cinema this year, not just in genre cinema. Panos Cosmatos followed up his impressive Beyond the Black Rainbow with a film that is a pure cinematic experience. The film is almost suffocating in its extensive and dense atmosphere, punctuated by a phenomenal score and bold visual statements that partner blurred neons with deep blacks, and the film never hesitates to go 1000% in any direction it is going. Whether or not the audience is ready for it, a wild and unleashed Nicolas Cage and a film that throws in things like demonic bikers and chainsaw fights is going to drag them along for the ride. Either you’re ready for Mandy or you will never be.

01. Revenge [Dir. Coralie Fargeat]

Truthfully, I’m not a particular fan of the entire rape and Revenge genre, but when the genre works, it can work so spectacularly well that it stakes down a cinematic statement. That is Revenge. Coralie Fargeat comes out of the gates blazing with this debut, taking the genre and spinning it into the origin story of one of 2018’s greatest heroes – left for dead and properly looking to even the score. The film does not shy away from its exploitative elements, providing the grim and gory details of its story in the bright and well utilized desert setting. That is, before it spins its finale into one of the most insane cat and mouse chases ever in film.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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