The horror-sphere of 2018 can be summed up by two of the genre’s most popular discussion topics: the is-it-or-isn’t-it-horror debate and that Vogue writer’s much-contested opinion (you can read my response here) on the year’s offerings. The influences of these two aspects are apparent in my list, which contains plenty of genre-bending films as well as smaller, independent releases. While big production houses have more money to push “safe bet” horror films (which are safe bets because they are in fact well done; several of which are included on this list), indie writers and directors have more of a stage now to deliver their horror innovations to a growing audience. With 2019 under way, the spotlight is on our spooky scene which I only hope can deliver an even more impressive crop of films in the next 300+ days.
Terrifier certainly isn’t for everyone, but it does what it sets out to do and it does it well. Putting over-the-top ‘80s-influenced carnage in the forefront while still making it legitimately scary is no easy task, and the film accomplishes this with Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton). Make-up and practical effects paired with the pantomime clown persona will leave you feeling unsettled and maybe a little dirty.
12. The Witch in the Window
While the reveal of the title character isn’t the scariest thing in cinema this year, the story is truly the star. Alex Draper puts on an honest performance as Simon, a father looking to rebuild his relationship with his preteen son. Navigating the intricacies of parenting with the aid of a ghostly entity, writer/director Andy Mitton is onto something here.
11. Mom and Dad
Nic Cage! Selma Blair! The Hokey Pokey! Reagan Youth! This film is poignant in a time where people are delaying childbearing to check more boxes off of their personal to-do lists. Though the commentary could have been slightly more heavy handed, it is still an enjoyable survival horror/thriller that flips instincts on their heads. Remember, the Sawzall saws all.
10. Our House
One of several emotional family stories masquerading as horror from 2018, Our House takes a supernatural, almost light-hearted approach to grief. Percy Hynes White and Kate Moyer, the younger actors in the film, deliver stellar performances that elevate it from being a run-of-the-mill ghost story to an emotional tale of growth and rebirth.
9. The Dark
The Dark is truly, well, dark. It’s a heavy, Let the Right One In-esque horror-drama examining the long lasting effects of abuse. Toby Nichols and Nadia Alexander bring the stories of of survivors Alex and Mina, which will break the hearts of even the most stoic viewer. Patently not a “Kelly movie,” prepare yourself for a rewarding yet emotionally exhausting watch.
8. The Ritual
The trailer for the Ritual gives off some Descent-but-with-a-male-cast vibes. This might hold true for the first quarter of the movie, but things get a whole lot weirder in this Netflix original. The attic scene is chill-inducing and the ending squashes any preconceived notions you had about what this movie would be. Maybe “fun” isn’t the right word for the viewing experience, but it is one you will likely reflect on fondly.
Indisputably, Terrified has some of the most horrific imagery of 2018. Its skilled actors pack a powerful punch, developing complex and relatable identities. While others have pointed out some loose ends and lack of thorough explanation, the ambiguity allows you to take what you want from the film and avoids spelling everything out. (Also: let’s stop making remakes of things that just came out. It’s insulting to the cast and crew who worked so hard on such a great film. An Oscar win does not absolve you of this, Guillermo.)
6. You Might Be the Killer
Meta-horror AND Alyson Hannigan and Fran Kranz? This movie, spawned from a Twitter conversation, screened at Telluride Horror Show before seeing a Shudder release in December. Fun, funny, and compelling with Easter eggs for genre aficionados, You Might Be the Killer is a must-see for fans of lighthearted horror. And for those wondering: yes, the director is aware that the mask resembles Groot.
If there’s something film doesn’t need anymore of right now, it’s definitely sequels and reboots. As evidenced by this list, there are plenty of original ideas worthy of their time on the silver screen. But this year’s installment in the Halloween franchise gets a pass. Carpenter cranked up the bass on the soundtrack and David Gordon Green made sure the third act of booby traps galore was one to be remembered.
4. A Quiet Place
For John Krasinski’s first exploration in genre film, A Quiet Place holds its own. The absence of speech takes this from a PG-13 family drama into a captivating thriller. Questionable plot points (why are you pregnant when you can’t make sound when you know that babies are noise machines?) and humorous shushing fingers can be forgiven and/or explained away. Book-ended with some fun action scenes and incorporating every other emotion in the middle, it will be exciting to see what Krasinski does next.
An ambiguous look at destruction, Alex Garland’s Annihilation leaves deciphering the takeaway in the hands of the viewer. Employing both sorrowfully beautiful and uniquely frightening imagery, the concluding lack of resolution is almost fitting. The cast is without a weak link and we are presented with some crazy critters.
Less of a horror movie and more of a genre study in grief, Hereditary was heavily hyped with good reason. It guts you, ropes you in, and throws you into a whirlwind of a psychologically stimulating family drama and occultist mythology. Plus there’s re-watch value: the intricacies and self-references in the film by new director Ari Aster make it a must-watch (times two).
1. What Keeps You Alive
My top pick from this past year is, of course, a cat-and-mouse thriller with non-pandering representation and Silverchair. Hannah Emily Anderson and Brittany Allen excel in their roles as married couple Jackie and Jules, bringing clear and expressive displays of psychopathy, tension, passion, and wit.
The Hug (Huluween short)
Lippy (Huluween short)
Sam Did It (short)
Right Place Wrong Tim (short)
Seeing Killer Klowns from Outer Space for the first time two rows behind Stephen Chiodo at the 30th anniversary screening at Telluride Horror