Horror is one of the most pliant and broadest film genres. Every year we witness unique spooky tales that transcend familiar, boring tropes of the genre. And as the year comes to an end, it’s time to reflect on the silver linings of 2018 horror movies.
Some of the films listed here might have initially released in 2017, but only became widely accessible in 2018. Also, there are films of the genre which (to me) aren’t accessible yet, like Suspiria, Overlord, etc. Nevertheless, here’s some of the best in horror the year had to offer:
Steven Soderbergh’s B-movie horror shot entirely on an iPhone is set in a claustrophobic and diabolical mental asylum. Unsane tells the tale of a young woman (Claire Foy) trying to get away from her dangerously obsessive stalker. But she only gets tricked into committing herself to a dubious mental hospital where her stalker has taken up a job under an assumed name.
From a dramatic standpoint, most of the narrative developments might seem illogical or silly. Nevertheless, it’s all pitched in a lean and creepily entertaining manner that we didn’t mind its shortcomings.
Adam MacDonald’s micro-budget indie chiller is mostly a triumph because it keeps its horror grounded in reality. The narrative follows a frustrated Goth teen named Leah. Her father’s sudden death seems to be the source of Leah’s angst. Leah’s mother also struggles to cope with her grief. The mother, subsequently, decides to move away from town to escape the constant reminders of her husband’s memory. This only widens the rift between mother and daughter. After an altercation, in a fit of rage, Leah performs an occult ritual. The spell summons a demon.
Pyewacket might be too restrained and its payoff meager for some genre fans. Nevertheless, it was emotionally gripping from start to finish and maintains a perfectly eerie atmosphere.
David Gordon Green’s direct sequel to John Carpenter’s classic 1978 version puts together some inventive, relentless thrills. Jamie Lee Curtis is solid as Laurie Strode who has her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked psychopath.
The new Halloween isn’t exactly a deconstruction of slasher-genre films and suffers from poorly written characters. Particularly, the subplot involving Myers’ psychiatrist comes close to derail the film. Yet it was fun watching three generations of women taking on a stoic, super-human killer.
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12. Ghost Stories
Jeremy Dyson’s feature-film debut is an effective anthology horror of sorts, detailing imaginative and scary supernatural intrusions. Set in the desolate quarters of Yorkshire, the film revolves around Professor Philip Goodman. The man is a professional debunker of alleged supernatural phenomenons. One day, to his surprise, he receives a tape from his childhood idol and paranormal investigator Charles Cameron. Charles was thought to have vanished years ago. But now the old man challenges Goodman with three cases which he wasn’t able to debunk.
Ghost Stories boasts some terrifying jump-scares. However, it’s largely enjoyable only on the moment and seems hollow and daft the more you ponder over it. (Read full review)
11. The Cured
David Freyne’s debut feature goes beyond the basic zombie-apocalypse premise. It wonders what if there’s a cure for zombies. The cured, however, retain the memory of their flesh-eating days. Most importantly, healthy survivors and a totalitarian military government harshly persecute ‘the cured’. Seenan (Keeley), one of the cured, is placed under the care of his sister-in-law (Ellen Page). The buried secrets of the past torment him. Meanwhile, Seenan’s embittered ‘cured’ friend spearheads a militant campaign against his oppressors.
Irish director Freyne infuses some fascinating political and domestic conflicts into a stale horror sub-genre. Although the film doesn’t quite reach its potential, it’s a gripping watch all through.
10. Night Eats the World
Dominique Rocher’s French zombie flick opens with a lonely man Sam trapped amidst a cacophony of noises. No, he is not facing zombies. But has only arrived at his ex-girlfriend’s apartment (who is partying) to collect his things. He dozes off on the office-room sofa and only wakes up to see that the world has ended. Sam, after killing some undead, fortifies the place, collects food, essential tools, and also procures a weapon.
The set-up might be very familiar, but Rocher isn’t interested in intense zombie-action set-pieces. The narrative rather focuses on the ennui that afflicts Sam once he safeguards himself from the extremely hungry outside world. Overall, it’s a fairly intriguing reworking of a predictable premise that may not wholly satisfy the genre fans.
9. The Clovehitch Killer
Duncan Skiles’ creepy tale of a deviant dad is set in an unnamed Bible belt small town. Charlie Plummer plays high-schooler Tyler, a good-natured boy partaking in the Boy Scout activities. Tyler’s father Don (Dylan McDermott) is the leader of the Scouts group. Don looks like an affable guy with a dark goatee and a slight paunch. Meanwhile, there’s fear in the town of a serial-killer, the victims largely being young girls. Soon, a chain of events sets alarm bells in Tyler’s head, making him wonder if his father kills women for fun.
Director Duncan effectively underplays the boiler-plate scenario and the narrative is grippingly unpredictable. Altogether, Clovehitch Killer is quite obscure yet highly captivating horror.
Daniel Goldhaber’s techno-horror benefits from a terrific central performance from Madeline Brewer as an erotic webcam performer. The film also deftly focuses on the business side of cam girl shows as screenwriter Isa Mazzei channels her past experiences in the field. Madeline’s cam girl character finds her audience stolen by a doppelganger who also seizes control of her channel. Consequently, the doppelganger, with no scruples whatsoever, seems hell bent to destroy Madeline’s life.
The horror quotient in Cam is existential in nature. It eerily inquires into a person’s self who is engaged with sex work in the virtual world. Barring the too-neat resolution in the ending, Cam perfectly works as a socially conscious horror flick.
Ari Aster’s much-hyped slow-burn horror possesses brilliant moody backdrop and precisely mounted supernatural madness. It also depicts one of the most shocking on-screen deaths ever witnessed in cinema. Yet the film’s hackneyed and poor last act left me disappointed. In fact, the superbly maintained emotional undercurrents and malevolent atmospherics only end up with a tedious schlock-fest.
Hereditary focuses on a weird, parochial family mourning the death of a matriarch. Immediately after the grandma’s death, irrational and disruptive things begin to plague the family. Aster’s low-key approach, which eschews jump-scares, and Toni Collette’s fiercely committed performance are the film’s most gratifying aspects.
Coralie Fargeat’s subversive exploitation horror fascinatingly (although unsubtly) deconstructs the sexual politics of the sub-genre. Fargeat’s incredibly stylish exercise subverts the misogynistic streak found in rape-revenge dramas. Here the heroine, Jen starts off as a voiceless sex object, but eventually claims agency in the ghastliest manner possible. The film, set in a lavish, secluded mansion, follows a young woman enacting her vengeance after getting raped by her lover’s friend.
Fargeat’s meticulous staging of the grisly horror action mostly transcends the unoriginal nature of the premise. Even so, this is an extreme horror experience not every viewer can handle.
Panos Cosmatos’ phantasmagorical horror is an exercise in high style, further amplified by Nicolas Cage’s mad-dog performance. Cage plays lumberjack on the revenge trail of a religious cult who killed his beloved wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough).
Admittedly derivative yet richly textured, the film’s dizzyingly stylized visuals offer a blissful experience. Whether it is chainsaw duels or gruesome decapitations, Cage’s over-the-top acting adds terrific gusto to the proceedings. Overall, it’s a frantic psychedelic chiller that’s also definitely an acquired taste.
Anil Barve’s atmospheric supernatural horror is a compelling fable of greed set in the backdrop of colonial India. Central to the narrative is a mythology which chronicles the conflict between Earth Mother and her greedy first-born baby Hastar. Sohum Shah plays the protagonist Vinayak, who is tied down to his family’s secret knowledge of treasure and its curse.
The biggest strength of Tumbbad is the vivid sensorial experience it provides. From the cobwebbed, rusty mansion to the rain-drenched countryside, Barve presents an elaborately eerie atmosphere. Barve lifts the film using distinctive folklore and a memorable monster, even though the weak characterizations are a big letdown. (Read full review by Soven Trehan)
Leigh Whanell’s pulpy sci-fi/horror is blessed with inventive gory action and a fairly captivating every-man protagonist. It tells a story of revenge and possession, set in a near-future full of self-driving cars and wickedly smart A.I. The narrative revolves around Grey Trace, a hyper-masculine mechanic rendered quadriplegic in an attack that killed his wife. Subsequently, a billionaire tech-guy approaches Grey with a yet-to-be-tested AI implant. Clipped to the spine after a surgery, the AI restores the severed connection between Grey’s brain and his body. But when the AI starts manipulating Grey’s lust for revenge, the situation turns for worse. Overall, the blend of b-movie horror and retro sci-fi narrative manages to deliver buckets of gruesome fun.
2. The Endless
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s cosmic horror is a journey into the unexpected and unexplained. The directors play brothers — Justin and Aaron — and former members of a cult. Justin has fled the cult with his younger brother after feeling that the group is preparing for mass suicide. Since then the siblings are working as cleaners and struggling with deprogramming. The duo soon receives a mysterious video tape urging the two to come back.
The directors’ formalist tricks and visual choices to build frights are commendable. Furthermore, the arid desert-like landscape adds to the narrative’s unreality and heightening intensity. The naturalistic central performances also bring forth robust emotional investment. (Read full review)
1. A Quiet Place
John Krasinski’s post-apocalyptic horror delivers raw genre thrills through the effective use of silence. The film is set in a near-future, where ravenous extraterrestrial creatures have annihilated most of the human population. The creatures are sightless. But their super-sensitive hearing powers allow them to zero-in on their prey. The narrative follows the complicated existence of an isolated family, caught in this terrifying crisis.
The set-pieces are nerve-shreddingly intense, reminding us how silence is a vital part of horror sound design. Moreover, the film is emotionally gripping thanks largely to the dynamic performances of Emily Blunt, Krasinski, and Millicent Simmonds.
Notable Omissions: Anna and the Apocalypse, Apostle, Possum, Summer of ’84, and What Keeps You Alive
By Arun Kumar