The Absolute Best Horror, Cinema Offered This Year
We’re Sordid Cinema, and we know horror. 2018 was an outstanding year for the genre, whether you’re a fan of psychological terror, sci-fi dread, traditional slasher flicks, or gory splatterfests. Our list this year also covers entries from around the world, from acclaimed veterans like Steven Soderbergh, to directors making their outstanding debuts. It showcases both big-budget and small, from major theatrical releases to unheralded VOD originals. It has fresh originals, faithful adaptations, and glorious re-imaginings; have we missed anything?
This year really has had something for everyone when it comes to the horror genre, so check out our list below and don’t miss out on some of the best horror films of 2018.
Editor’s Note: In order to qualify for a nomination, a movie had to have been released either theatrically or on VOD in 2018. We are not including any of the amazing horror films we watched at film festivals that have not yet been released. In addition, because it was such a strong year for horror films, we also listed some special mentions below. Enjoy
Tokyo Vampire Hotel, CAM, Strangers: Prey at Night, The Domestics, Unfriended 2, What Keeps You Alive, Cargo, Ghost Stories, The Lodgers, The Witch in the Window, Cold Skin, Knuckleball, Our House, Marrowbone, Pyewacket, Sequence Break, The Meg, Veronica,
15 – The Little Stranger
There’s a good chance that The Little Stranger, of all the films on this list, is the least known. Dumped by its distributor with almost no advertising then promptly yanked, The Little Stranger barely had a chance to make an impact on audiences. Some wouldn’t even consider it a horror film; there’s a haunted house, but it’s not haunted in the traditional ways we expect, and the film is as concerned with English class politics and loneliness as it is with ghouls. Domhnall Gleason stars as Dr. Faraday, a country physician who begins to care for the inhabitants of a run-down manor. Faraday comes from a lower class family, and as a child he always dreamed about someday living in the same manor. Yet as he ingratiates himself among the family, he becomes aware of the unusual occurrences that have terrorized them for years.
The Little Stranger, directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Room), is more concerned with atmosphere than with simple jump scares (though there are still a few of those). Those searching for gallons of blood or gruesome gore may be disappointed, but it’s a simple, yet incredibly elegant film that understands that loneliness can be even more chilling than a ghost. (Brian Marks)
14 – The Endless
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have basically solidified themselves as two of the best horror directors working today. From Resolution to Spring, and now The Endless, they are mining horrors from some of the most interesting subject matter. The latest explores the ways in which cults can attach themselves to you and affect the way you remember things. More importantly, The Endless also tackles the fear of the unknown, with one of the best Lovecraftian-feeling movies since In the Mouth of Madness.
Benson and Moorhead co-star as brothers who find their way back to the cult that they ran away from years ago. Things haven’t changed much, but while one brother harbors contempt for the effects the cult had on the siblings, the other finds a home he could easily settle back into. It’s not until the mysteries that were shielded from them are revealed that they discover that perhaps what makes the cult lifestyle so idyllic is an acceptance of fate. In that concept alone, The Endless is a thinking man’s horror film, and one that will stay with you long after the credits roll. (Christopher Cross)
13 – Upgrade
There’s a surprisingly simple way to determine if Upgrade is your cup of tea, and it depends on your feelings about the first Mad Max film. There are plenty of viewers who prefer the operatic sweep of The Road Warrior or Fury Road, but others delight in the grindhouse origins and nastiness of the original. It’s that latter group who will find the most to love in Upgrade.
Perpetual Tom Hardy-lookalike Logan Marshall-Green plays Grey, a mechanic. After a seemingly random bout of gang violence leaves Grey paralyzed and his wife dead, he settles into life as a quadriplegic. However, a wealthy customer offers him a way back to his old life: a chip embedded in his spine that allows him to walk again, and so much more. Grey sets out to find the men who murdered his wife, though he may regret failing to read the terms of service for his new chip.
Like Mad Max, Upgrade takes place in the near future at the earliest stages of the Apocalypse. It’s mean and dirty, with plenty of spine-snapping gore to sate the biggest horror fans. Fittingly, it’s also written and directed by an Aussie, Leigh Whannell, who abandons the clichéd jump scares of his recent work to return to the griminess that marked his Saw collaborations. There’s nothing especially new about the bones of the story, but Whannell’s meditation on technology’s grip on society, as well as his flair for bloody set pieces, make Upgrade a chilling vision of the future. (Brian Marks)
12 – Unsane
After a short-lived retirement from feature filmmaking, Steven Soderbergh re-emerged last year to continue producing, writing, and directing movies outside the usual Hollywood parameters. While Logan Lucky (his comeback) may have been slightly overrated, his latest feature, titled Unsane, may just be the most overlooked and underrated film of his career.
The psychological thriller follows a young woman (Claire Foy) who signs in for a voluntary 24-hour treatment at a mental institution in order to cope with her psychological trauma after being stalked by a man for the last two years. Her stay at the facility, however, soon gets extended when doctors and nurses begin to question her sanity after she claims one of the staffers is her stalker.
Wading into timeless psychological thriller territory that leaves audiences questioning what is real and what is not, Unsane will have you questioning the sanity of the protagonist right up until its chilling third act. To a large extent, the success of the movie relies on the performance of Claire Foy, who dominates just about every scene and displays an astounding range of acting as her character is abused, manipulated, ignored, and not taken seriously by just about every man she meets. Unsane isn’t necessarily political filmmaking, but it did emerge during the #MeToo movement, and in this critic’s opinion, works best as a dark cautionary tale about a woman trying to reclaim her life, her self-respect, and her sanity.
Not only is Unsane a deeply disturbing film about how someone’s freedom (mentally or physically) can be easily taken away, but it also serves as an interesting case study on how effective smartphones can be, since Soderbergh shot the entire movie on an iPhone 7 Plus in ultra-crisp 4k digital resolution. While he is not the first auteur to use a smartphone to film a feature, his direction, odd shot composition, and unusual aspect ratio work perfectly for the genre. The director (who also shoots and edits his own work, albeit pseudonymously) takes full advantage of the limitations of the iPhone in order to narrow the perspective and wield his camera in ways that truly heighten a story in which the sanity of the protagonist is in question. From the cold opening to the bloody conclusion, Unsane shows just how much mileage a talented filmmaker like Steven Soderbergh can get with little resources. (Ricky D)
11 – Cold Hell
It can be hard to see the beauty and good in this world full of filth and depravity, but with blinders on that becomes an even tougher task. Push the universe away enough, and eventually, it will push back. Cold Hell (Die Hölle), a taut thriller from director Stefan Ruzowitzky, recognizes that hell may be other people, but it’s also the absence of them — so you better make some friends.
After spending nights ferrying drunken louts around Prague in her taxicab, fending off insults from macho pigs and evading the leers of sleazy businessmen, it’s easy to see why a Turkish immigrant wants to retreat a bit from society, to fade into the darkness. She is thrust back into the light, however, upon witnessing the results of a grisly murder in the building across from her bathroom window. She does not see the killer’s face, but he sees hers, and so a taut game of creepy cat-and-mouse begins to play out, giving the first half of Cold Hell the feel of a serial killer story where gloom and death lurk around every shadowy corner.
It won’t stay that way for long. Thanks to extensive kickboxing experience and a chip on her shoulder, this young woman knows how to take care of herself, and the latter half of the film becomes more of a tense thriller, awaiting a vengeful confrontation that will surely determine the fate of its hero’s soul. Along the way, viewers can check Prague off their travel list, with Ruzowitzky depicting only the grimiest, neon-lit underbellies the city has to offer. Throw in some gruesome murders, and the Czech Republic’s tourist board must have been nervous. To top it off, Cold Hell offers up one of the more satisfying conclusions the genre is capable of, a catharsis worthy of the masterful ticking bomb that precedes it. (Patrick Murphy)
10 – The Ritual
Like another popular horror film released in 2018 (the chilling Hereditary), The Ritual basks in its mystery as it invites its audience to try and piece together what exactly is happening to its central characters.
Centered on a hike undertaken by four friends in order to commemorate their dead comrade, The Ritual sees this quartet face unyielding terror after they choose to take a shortcut through a dense, uninviting forest. While seeking shelter in a cabin for the night, it becomes abundantly clear that they are not alone in these woods, and that there is a force dead set on keeping them there for good.
Taking inspiration from Scandinavian mythology, David Bruckner’s film improves drastically over his previous work (The Signal, V/H/S) by leaving the terror stalking its protagonists to the viewer’s imagination, holding back on anything resembling an explanation of the horrors being unleashed until the final act.
A chilling and evocative horror effort, The Ritual may not be for everyone, but if you find yourself in its target audience, you’re in for a very special treat. (Mike Worby)
9 – Satan’s Slaves
A huge hit in Indonesia, Joko Anwar’s Satan’s Slaves is a remake of his favourite movie growing up: a 1982 Indonesian horror film of the same name that despite being hard to track down, has found a loyal cult following around the world. While I am also a fan of the original, Anwar’s update is, in my opinion, a better film — and a truly haunting look at the dissolution of the family unit.
Set in the early ’80s, Satan’s Slaves follows a rural family in a state of strife. Its matriarch, a once-famous singer, has been extremely ill and bedridden for years, leaving her oldest daughter to care for her siblings and her grandmother while her father desperately tries to make ends meet and save the family home. Just as the last of their income dries up, the mother passes away from the mysterious illness, and as the film’s title might suggest, her death takes a supernatural twist. (Ricky D)
8 – Halloween
That the director of Pineapple Express and George Washington made the best sequel to Halloween is perhaps surprising to some. That he co-wrote it with Danny McBride, who also barely had any experience with horror prior to this film, is even more shocking. But when you watch 2018’s Halloween, it becomes quite clear that they didn’t try to re-invent the wheel with the latest stab at the Michael Myers franchise. Instead, they rely on their comedic sensibilities to create a tense, yet fun sequel that pays homage to John Carpenter’s classic 1978 film, subverting it in clever, endearing ways.
Halloween may ignore everything that’s come after the original film, but perhaps it works best because we know that Michael Myers has been killing people for the past 40 years. That helps audiences get in the headspace of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who is forced to confront Myers for the first time since he terrorized the town of Haddonfield so long ago. When the movie starts playing with the idea of predator and prey, as well as lingering on the effects such a trauma would have on a person, that’s when Halloween strikes gold. It’s an infectiously fun movie that has an entire third act which remains one of the most fun and tense sequences in a horror movie this year. (Christopher Cross)
7 – Apostle
What happens when a man who has lost his faith finds himself trapped in the grasp of another faith? This is the question behind Netflix’s Apostle.
Written and directed by Gareth Evans (The Raid, The Raid 2, and the best segment in the V/H/S series) Apostle follows Thomas, an ex-minister on a secluded island in search of his sister. The kicker, of course, is that his sister happens to have been abducted by a pagan cult. Thomas (the magnetic Dan Stevens) must now infiltrate the ranks of the cult and win the trust of its charismatic leader (Michael Sheen) if he hopes to ever see his sister again.
This is the set-up for Apostle, but like with Evans’ other films, the inciting incident is mainly a jumping off point that allows the director’s imagination to run wild, crafting increasingly tense scenes of suspense as the script slowly burns away toward its chilling conclusion.
Visually stunning and thematically evocative, Apostle is an unsettling and disturbing look into the idea of faith and how we reconcile it with the cruelty and selfishness of our fellow humans. If you have Netflix, then this one is a must-watch for horror fans. (Mike Worby)
6 – Revenge
In any other year, a movie as good as Revenge would have easily topped our list of the best horror films, but it’s been such an exceptionally strong year for the genre that the writing/directorial debut by Coralie Fargeat only lands in the sixth spot. But don’t let that stop you in any way from watching this gem. Revenge is an incredibly stylish exercise in horror filmmaking and a film that takes one of the oldest and exploitation subgenres—the rape-revenge drama— and flips it upside down in unexpected ways. Twisting genre tropes while working within an exploitation framework, Coralie Fargeat delivers one of the most viscerally thrilling and action-packed horror films of this decade – and with a feminist spin to boot. It’s at times nasty and hard to watch, but fuck is it ever great!
Newcomer Coralie Fargeat gains instant credibility as one of the best horror filmmakers working today. Revenge is scene after scene, a master class in exploitation cinema done right. The best scene – an extended sequence, in which our heroine must perform impromptu surgery on herself after pulling out a tree stump lodged in her stomach, ends with her branding a phoenix logo on her belly (a symbol of rebirth) before transforming herself into a vengeful, quick-thinking, killing machine. From here, Revenge becomes a combination of survivalist thriller and a gripping cat-and-mouse slasher with plenty of gore, rivers of blood and a wicked sense of humour.
From its very first shot of the reflection of man’s sunglasses which shows both his male gaze and what he’s staring at, to the inevitable final showdown in which the male aggressor is hunted while naked in the shower – Revenge makes the perfect film for a feminist genre studies class. If you watch one horror film this Halloween, make it this! (Ricky D)
5 – Hereditary
It may not go down as the scariest film of all time, but Ari Aster’s feature debut is still a bracing, disturbing ride of psychological and supernatural horror. Toni Collette gives the performance of a lifetime as the matriarch of a grieving family who slowly realizes that her late mother left her more than just grief and resentment. She’s matched step by step by Alex Wolff as her stoner headcase son, Milly Shapiro as her oddball daughter, and Gabriel Byrne as her ineffectual husband.
Aster relishes putting this family under the microscope a little more than dissecting them via ritualistic terror, but that’s not to say he doesn’t pull off some bravura sequences. Once the true nightmare of this family’s damnation becomes clear, the rug-pulling feels a little pat compared to an unforgettable first-act gut punch (nothing this year has elicited such a nauseating reaction). But as a calling card for a new master of screw twisting, it’s an ace up the sleeve. (Shane Ramirez)
4 – Annihilation
Alex Garland’s beautiful, uninviting, cold, pulsing journey into the nature of change and destruction is the sleek, thoughtful antidote to standard slasher horror. As former soldier-turned-biology-professor Lena (Natalie Portman) and her squadmates wander deeper into The Shimmer, a patch of swampy forest strangely encased by an opalescent bubble that is continuously expanding, they discover a mutating world full of dazzling beauty and terrible fear — from which no one has returned. Tasked with finding the source of the disturbance (and beholden to their own motivations for accepting the mission), the five women are forced to confront demons from without and within; but what does it all mean?
Like its protagonist, Annihilation offers few explanations willingly. Characters withhold information, often lie, and due to the nature of the phenomenon on display, even what we see can’t always be trusted. It’s certain that there are real psychological issues being tackled here, but what they are is open to interpretation, inspiring the best sorts of post-viewing conversations. Despite occasionally wallowing in its ambiguity, however, the film never loses focus on what’s important, what the real draw is. It knows that even in a story with suspicious meteors, genetic anomalies, and hybrid monsters, humans can still be the strangest, most dangerous creatures on screen.
The rotten dread permeating every aspect of the screenplay is wonderfully reinforced by mesmerizing visuals, but Garland refuses to get lost in them. His direction is consistently inventive, luring audiences in with imagery that entices as much as repulses, but it’s all in service of the characters — not the setting. Still, it’s hard not to be sucked in by such gloriously cinematic compositions, patient editing, and expert use of effects. Add to that a surging, hypnotic score, and you’ve got something that reminds us what makes movies still so special. Tense, captivating, and bold, Annihilation is proof that there’s still life in sci-fi horror movies. (Patrick Murphy)
3 – Suspiria
Dario Argento’s 1977 Suspiria is a masterpiece of the horror genre, one of the few modern films that stands up to the expressionist classics of the silent era. So how could anyone ever hope to replicate its piercing neon colors, icily melodic score, and baroquely grotesque murders? Luckily, Call Me by Your Name director Luca Guadagnino never attempts to harness Argento’s style for his own version of the story. More an homage than a direct remake, Guadagnino’s Suspiria is an epic horror film that replaces Argento’s pure style with a more nuanced focus on female relationships and the legacy of trauma.
One of the few bursts of color (until its bloody climax) is Dakota Fanning’s waist-long red hair. She plays Susie Bannion, an American newly-arrived in Berlin to audition for a prestigious dance company. (Jessica Harper, the original film’s star, also has a small role.) Susie quickly falls under the wing of Madame Blanc (the chameleonic Tilda Swinton), who leads a sinister cabal of instructors in plotting against their students.
At 152 minutes, Suspiria is as luxuriant as a mink coat. It’s a kind of epic filmmaking that rarely graces horror films, which regardless of their ambitions, tend to be short and sweet. Guadagnino is at the height of his powers, and the movie is imbued with his own brand of magic. His Suspiria won’t replace Argento’s original, which remains just as vital now as it was more than 40 years ago, but it’s a stunning counterpoint that desperately needs to be seen. (Brian Marks)
2 – Mandy
Mandy is the latest truly metal horror movie, following last year’s chilling The Devil’s Candy. This one leans more on stoner and progressive metal for its imagery, with a grindcore climax that shreds everything in its path. Utilizing the same slow-burn that could be found throughout director Panos Cosmatos’s last movie, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Mandy sets the titular character (played by Andrea Riseborough) up as the one person keeping the worlds of chaos and order at equilibrium; she stands above everyone else as a beacon of light within the darkness. However, once that darkness is given into, Mandy becomes something else entirely.
Cosmatos evokes metal in almost every regard. From visually striking cinematography that conjures every piece of metal artwork imaginable into one cohesive masterpiece, to the late Johann Johannson’s score, which aches with melancholy and revenge, this is by far one of the most technically impressive films of 2018. It also features a Nicolas Cage performance that moves from somber to lucid madness — an encapsulation of his career in one vengeful character. What makes Mandy one of the greatest metal films of all time is its representation of the relationship we hold with darkness — and how easy it is to let that darkness in when we’re at our lowest point. (Christopher Cross)
1 – A Quiet Place
This one came out of nowhere: a tightly wound monster thriller by Jim from The Office, the director best known for twee indie #343, The Hollars. For A Quiet Place, John Krasinski teams with wife Emily Blunt for the first time, the two lending their natural chemistry to a post-apocalyptic world where sound sensitive aliens have ravaged the Earth. The couple grasps with the loss of a child by sheltering their remaining two kids and soundproofing their farmhouse. The film excels most at clever details: painted steps to avoid creaky floorboards, an intimate conversation under the cover of a raging waterfall, a soundproof box that comes into ingenious use later.
It’s these world-building grace notes that paper over slight characterizations and an almost too thin script. One even wonders what might have been had Krasinski gone all in on the sound design by excluding a musical score altogether (Marco Beltrami does fine work nonetheless). The movie pays off in crowd-pleasing fashion, often flirting right on the edge of classic. A Quiet Place is like a hit on the radio–immensely hummable when you’re listening to it, just don’t expect to get it stuck in your ears for good. (Shane Ramirez)