2018 has been a really good year for horror movies.
It probably has to do with the unease we're all feeling, whether it be political, cultural, or environmental. The filmmakers behind these films have internalized those anxieties, and given them supernatural or mythological weight, to create something as entertaining as it is cathartic. (If anything, the success of "Get Out" has established the tone and tenor for the entire year's horror output, in new and idiosyncratic ways.)
Quite frankly, the fact that these films scare the pants off of you while also saying something makes them even more miraculous.
‘A Quiet Place’
This year’s breakout horror sensation was, undoubtedly, “A Quiet Place,” an unnerving and fiendishly clever take on the alien invasion genre wherein the creatures’ primary motivation is sound. (It shares a lot with a terrific episode of the original “Twilight Zone” series, “The Invaders.”) Co-writer/director/star John Krasinski turned what could have been a gimmicky romp into something profound and unnerving, playing like a single continuously sustained suspense set piece for its entire 90-minute runtime.
But if it was only thrills Krasinksi was after, it wouldn’t have connected the way it did; thankfully, he grounded it with a remarkably human story of a single family living their lives at the end of the world. And Emily Blunt, as the pregnant matriarch struggling to hold her family together, gives one of the greatest performances of the year. She’s a scream queen who can’t make a peep.
“Veronica” quietly premiered on Netflix in February, unceremoniously dropped on the service despite its high pedigree (it comes from Paco Plaza, co-creator of the wonderful “[rec]” franchise) and catchy, based-on-a-true-story logline (involving a teenage girl, a “spirit board” and demonic possession). But from those inglorious beginnings came something of a word-of-mouth sensation, with many taking to the Internet to proclaim it the scariest movie they’d ever seen.
And while that reaction might be a bit much, it’s not exactly wrong, either, especially since the most vocal Twitter users maybe haven’t seen some of the older classics. “Veronica” is definitely sleep-with-the-lights-on scary, and its supposed basis in fact makes it even more haunting and terrifying. Because stuff like this can’t happen in real life, right?
Netflix debuted this deeply heartfelt post-apocalyptic chiller, arguably the most thoughtful and emotionally resonant zombie film you’ll see this year.
In “Cargo,” Martin Freeman stars as a man living in the Australian outback after the end of the world. He’s got a small child and, early in the film, loses his wife to the zombie outbreak. He also soon becomes bitten and so it becomes a race against time to get his child in safe hands before he succumbs. The film’s subtle, intricate world-building (people were bracelets that tell them how long they have until they turn, there are medical needles handed out that kill the undead) and nifty additions to preexisting mythology (the honeyed goo that covers the soon-to-be-zombie’s eyes and mouth is a great flourish) do much to pave over some of the more well-worn territory.
The breakout indie horror movie of the year (it wound up being A24’s biggest hit), “Hereditary” is still giving us the heebie-jeebies.
Ari Aster’s assured debut features a tour de force performance by Toni Collette as a woman whose family is coming unglued after the death of her mother, an overpowering matriarch with an incredibly dark secret. The movie unfolds slowly and deliberately, with the audience uncovering the mystery alongside Collette, to profoundly disturbing results. Punctuated by bursts of shocking violence, a spine-tingling score by frequent Arcade Fire confederate Colin Stetson and some of the spookiest moments in recent horror movie memory, “Hereditary” takes hold of you and never, ever lets go. *clucks tongue.
To anyone who is thinking, "Isn't 'Annihilation' more of a heady sci-fi movie?", we'd just like to remind you of the screaming bear creature that brutally murders somebody … or the mutant shark-alligator that puts the big beastie in "The Meg" to shame … or the part where somebody's stomach is sliced open and eel-like intestines slither underneath. And these are just the parts we can remember off the top of our head.
"Annihilation" is a brutal, brilliant film, that follows a scientist (Natalie Portman) as she journeys into an alien region known as The Shimmer, hunting for answers about what happened to her lost husband (Oscar Isaac) – and how to save him.
Ultimately, the title refers to her own self-destruction, beautifully depicted in the film's final act with a virtuoso climax as chilling as anything in a straight "horror film" this year.
Chances are, "The Ritual" (now on Netflix) will seem familiar to you. It most closely resembles "The Descent," in the sense that it's about a group of friends (this time, they're male and led by the in-demand Rafe Spall) who go on a hiking trip following a personal tragedy. Of course, like in "The Descent," that trip soon turns very, very ugly.
But if you let go of its connections to other films, "The Ritual" is strangely rewarding, with a heavy atmosphere of dread that permeates every frame and a handful of finely honed performances (Spall, in particular, haunted by a brutal event, is compelling and cowardly in equal measure). Plus, the creature is one of the strangest, most bewitching designs in the current horror landscape. You'll be riveted.
"Mandy" has turned out to be one of the sleeper hits of the year. It was released on VOD and theatrically at the same time and after a few weeks actually expanded into more theaters. And with good reason -- it's not only one of the year's best horror movies but it's one of the year's best movies (period).
As directed by the truly visionary Panos Cosmatos ("Beyond the Black Rainbow"), "Mandy" concerns a lumberjack named Red (Nicolas Cage), who goes on a rampage after his titular girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough) is murdered by cultists. It's weird, for sure (we didn't even mention the supernatural S&M biker gang), but also profoundly moving and haunting, with one of the all-time greatest Cage performances (seriously).
It's also arguably the most metal movie ever made.
'Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich'
Sorry, “The Happytime Murders,” but this is the X-rated puppet movie we’ve all been waiting for. “Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich” is a gore-soaked reboot of the horror franchise that began way back in 1989 and has continued, unabated, to this day. (There was a canonical sequel – the 12th – released in 2017.)
In this entry, written by certifiable genius S. Craig Zahler (“Brawl in Cell Block 99,” “Bone Tomahawk”), the backstory has been rewritten (hello, Udo Kier as a Nazi toymaker!) and a new story has formed around a toy convention where the demonic playthings run amok. The narrative is inspired, in part, by racial, ethnic and homophobic prejudice. So, yes, this isn’t for everyone. But if you’re finding yourself wanting a bloody blast of inappropriate humor, outré horror, and some very, er, “heightened” performances (led by Thomas Lennon), it’s hard to top this.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Luca Guadagino’s “Suspiria” is that it doesn’t try to ape Dario Argento’s peerless original. Instead, he crafted a brand new experience around the same basic framework (a dewy American girl, this time played by Dakota Johnson, travels to a European ballet school run by witches). The remake is incredibly artful and effective in completely different and equally profound ways. (He even stayed away from the primary colors of the original; this one is awash in autumnal hues.)
Guadagino fascinatingly chooses to set the movie in the same year that the original film was released, bringing in elements of socio-political unease that the original steered clear of, broadening the scope but maintaining its emotional intimacy. The cast's performances (led by Tilda Swinton) are peerless and Thom Yorke’s score is, like the rest of the film, haunting and unforgettable.
If you aren’t moved, puzzled, or enraged by “Suspiria,” you probably had your eyes closed.
40 years after John Carpenter’s original, David Gordon Green has crafted a “Halloween” that stands nobly alongside it. In this new movie, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has gone from a terrified babysitter to an embittered survivalist, keenly aware of how prepared she should be if Michael Myers ever breaks free. (Spoiler alert: he does.)
This is a horror movie as much about a homicidal maniac ruthlessly murdering folks on Halloween night as it is about how acts of violence can cause trauma that can course through entire generations. Green’s direction is layered and nuanced, combining Carpenter’s elegance with more down-and-dirty moments, and the script (by Green, Danny McBride, and Jeff Fradley) wisely avoids the muddled mythology that the franchise had built up in the subsequent sequels. Instead, this is a direct follow-up to the original, full of chilly synths, bloody kills, and a female empowerment subtext that makes it the best possible horror sequel for 2018.
"Ghost Stories" flew under the radar for a lot of people earlier this year, blotted out by the titanic horror movie events of 2018. But you should go back and check it out. It's a hoot.
Written and directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, based on their stage play, "Ghost Stories" is playful and scary. It is an expert homage to the old British horror anthologies that Amicus would put out in the 1960s (oftentimes employing down-on-their-luck horror icons) that still feels fresh and relevantly today.
Nyman plays a professional debunker who is assigned three seemingly unexplainable cases by an aging mentor -- in one, a night security guard is menaced by an otherworldly force; in another, a young motorist encounters a forest-dwelling beast. The third and final story yet focuses on a successful businessman ("Sherlock's" Martin Freeman) who is plagued by strangeness while waiting for the birth of his child. All of the stories will chill your blood, and the wraparound segments create their own kind of messed-up story.
Creepy, twisty, and oddly mournful, "Ghost Tales" (which is now out on home video) is worth spending a sleepless night with.
Gareth Evans, who had previously directed the two "Raid" movies, moved into far spookier territory with his epic follow-up, a folkloric mind-f*ck that makes "The Wicker Man" look like "Hotel Transylvania."
In 1905, a restless man (Dan Stevens) travels to a remote British island to rescue his sister from a dangerous cult, led by a charismatic madman (Michael Sheen). That's pretty much all you can say about "Apostle" without giving way some of its myriad, blood-splattered surprises, but just know this … it's going to mess you up and it's going to mess you up good.
Evans, known for his visceral fight sequences, plays things more atmospheric here, instead settling into the sorrowful presence of the island, and how broken people are able to build a society that is just as broken. It's beautiful and compelling, with an ending you will not believe, and since it arrived on Netflix, there's no excuse for you to not watch right now. Like, go!
2018 seems like the perfect time for a feminist rape-revenge movie and whew boy did French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat deliver. In "Revenge," Jen (Matilda Lutz, star earrings dangling from each lobe) is invited to a lavish weekend getaway by her rich (and married) boyfriend. Things take a turn for the worse when one of his buddies rapes her, and then her said boyfriend attempts to kill her. Thankfully, she's got a will to live and a locket full of high-powered hallucinogens.
While some of the make-up effects are wildly over-the-top (so much gushing blood), they are all in service of putting the viewer in Jen's position, as the claws her way to vengeance. She is a survivor. And while this is sounding more like a thesis project than a thrilling piece of entertainment, let me assure you that it is. The subtext is all there, and Fargeat (in her very first film!) delicately balances the message of the movie with the thrill of watching very bad people get dispatched in appropriately nasty ways. (Lutz is a revelation.)
Think of it as the first drive-in classic of the #MeToo era.