Horror movies ride the trends. Some years are swamped with slasher flicks. Sometimes we get zombie apocalypse after zombie apocalypse. Other years are all about shaky-cam ghosts. For our money, the best horror comes from years in which there is no prevailing sub-genre. Rather than trying to cash in on the zeitgeist, it’s just people making the spooky stories they most want to see.
So far, 2018 has been one of those years, and with a wide variety of creators comes a wide variety of thrills. We’ve seen high-quality horror in a huge number of sub-genres. Splatterfest or arthouse? Sci-fi or period piece? No matter what you’re in the mood for, 2018 has an offering for you. Here are all the movies so far that smacked us upside the head with their terror or lingered in our brains long after the screen went dark. And, do not fear: We’ll update again before the end of the year.
After the passing of her mother (eulogized euphemistically as a “difficult” woman), Annie (Toni Collette), an artist of miniature dioramas, begins to see apparitions, and reaches out to a support group to find a way to deal with the long history of mental illness in her family. Meanwhile her daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) has been acting strangely, and her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) learns that her mother’s grave has been desecrated. The body is missing.
That summary is the absolute tip of the iceberg. Do yourself a favor and don’t read a full synopsis of Hereditary; you’ll spoil the plot and it won’t do the movie justice anyway.
The directorial debut of Ari Aster is devastating, and lingers without the use excessive gore or torture, but with a keen understanding of emotion and the desperation that sometimes comes from grief. The performances of Collette and Alex Wolff, playing her son Peter, are particularly heart-wrenching. If you only see one horror movie this year, let it be Hereditary. Just don’t watch it immediately before bed.
An atmospheric tribute to 1970s thrillers, Suspiria tells the tale of fresh-off-the-farm Susie (Dakota Johnson) ready to make it big at the prestigious Helena Markos Dance Company. She catches the eye of Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), who has bigger plans than just teaching her to dance. Meanwhile, Dr. Josef Klemperer (also Tilda Swinton, completely unrecognizable) is on the trail of his missing patient, who was once the star dancer.
Suspiria doesn’t tip it’s hand early, and even when you think you know what’s happening, there’s more at work behind the mirrored walls of the academy. The entrancing and modern choreography is well deployed to capture the chilling power of the dance company’s coven. The movie doesn’t lack for the gruesome body horror the giallo genre is known for, but there’s more touches of contemplative, arthouse-style horror than you might expect.
In theaters now
Even in our post-Cabin in the Woods world, there are still opportunities for clever filmmakers to spook us with creepy-shack-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-wait-why-the-hell-would-you-go-in-there-what-was-that-in-the-shadows-no-no-no-no-no stories.
The Ritual follows four friends who trek along northern Sweden’s Kungsleden trail as a tribute to a fifth friend, who was recently murdered in a convenience store. The death especially weighs on Luke (Prometheus’ Rafe Spall), whose drunken belligerence put his buddy in harm’s way in the first place. Luke is also the member of the group who realizes that, after discovering a wooden deer altar in an abandoned house along their unadvised detour, the group is being haunted by more than memories. Like a unique mix of Euro-horror and The Hills Have Eyes, The Ritual twists a familiar journey with creature-feature instincts to keep the genre fresh.
Stream on Netflix
So you saw the Suspiria remake and were left with a lingering craving for the pink ferocity of the original? You’re in luck, because the first half of Mandy is basically an aesthetic sequel. Early on the story follows the eponymous Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) and her boyfriend Red (Nicolas Cage) in their quiet life in the woods. When she is abducted by a Manson-Family-style cult, Red will stop at nothing for revenge.
A tribute to trippy, ’70s-style flicks, the film deploys vibrant color overlays and surreal effects — at least until it jumps a decade into ’80s action gore-fest for the second half. Mandy feels almost calculated to be cult film, drawing on a number of classics like Heavy Metal and Conan the Barbarian, and making great use of Nick Cage’s manic rage to power through fight scenes.
The movie does not lack for style or intensity, even if the plot sometimes feels as dated as the movies it draws from. It’s not the only movie on this list that uses violence against women to justify the spectacle of extreme male violence, but it is the only one that features Nic Cage dueling with chainsaws against demon bikers.
Upgrade rests more in the sci-fi-action realm than traditional horror, but the underlying themes are so creepy — and believable — that it can’t help but find a place on this list. A self-driving-car accident leaves Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) paralyzed and his wife (Melanie Vallejo) dead. The only thing giving him purpose is the pursuit of those that attacked him, aided by a new neuro-chip that not only restores the use of his limbs, but makes him an expert at combat tactics. The fight scenes are brisk and brutal, and filmed in a style that manages to feel clever rather than gimmicky.
Upgrade takes a lot of familiar tropes (the hip luddite; the Matrix-esque programmable skills) and draws them to a conclusion that most movies shy away from. On the surface it seems like a straightforward allegory about the sacrifices we make for technological advancements — a timely but perhaps well-worn message. It’s easy to miss the equally relevant and less often explored secondary theme: the effect of giving ourselves over to violence. Much like Mandy, this story is about a man serving back the violence perpetrated against his partner, but it acknowledges that you can’t just put down that rage once it has served you. The results, of course, are nothing short of terrifying.
With two, high-profile remakes of horror classics coming out this year, it’s probably wise that Apostle didn’t bill itself as a remake of The Wicker Man. But maybe it’s more fair to say it’s The Wicker Man by way of The Witch, a period piece set on an island where a pagan cult rules. Thomas (Dan Stevens) is sent to recover his sister, who is being held for ransom by the cult leader, desperate the prop up failing crops and livestock with a cash supplement. Rather than hand over the payment, Thomas sneaks in and sets about uncovering the mystery of the cult’s practices, which include nightly bloodlettings.
Apostle manages to be clever in the way that quality mystery-thrillers are. Thomas and the cult leader Malcolm (Michael Sheen) dance around each other, trying to discern the others’ steps without showing their own. Even after the opponents are revealed to each other and everything starts unraveling, the movie remains effective and engaging, and the horror at the heart of the mystery doesn’t disappoint.
Stream it on Netflix
A Quiet Place
A Quiet Place features one of the simplest and most effective concepts of the year: a world where making a single noise can get you killed. As if that wasn’t already tense enough, imagine trying to deliver a newborn when the slightest cry could mean their death. Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and Lee (John Krasinski, who also directed) are doing their best to keep their family whole, and the movie plays out like a slice-of-life film of their lives, which happens to be in a post-apocalyptic setting.
At times, the scenes are almost idyllic, the twinkling lights strung around the corn fields giving the feeling of a made-for-Instagram wedding venue. But this only serves to underline the stress inherent in their existence. The only mar on this film is the underwhelming monster design itself, which I can excuse because A Quiet Place isn’t really about the monsters. It’s about the way the monsters changed the world to turn every second into a struggle with the basically non-existent margin of error. If you still need to be convinced, check out this piece on the relatable terror inherent in the concept.
Hannah (Matilda Lutz) is visiting her married boyfriend Richie (Kevin Janssens) when his hunting friends Stan (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) arrive early, blowing their cover. After a night of partying, Hannah finds herself alone in the house with Stan, and from there things progress as expected from a rape-revenge film.
I’m not fond of the rape-revenge genre; I hate having to sit through sensationalized sexual assault to get to some blood-vessel-popping action sequences. But this article isn’t “best 2018 horror movies in genres Jenna likes,” so I watched this movie. I’m glad I did.
Revenge is classic exploitation, and impeccably well-made at that. Director Coralie Fargeat manages to combine quality filmmaking with the schlocky and excessive standards of the genre. She pushes grotesque body horror into absurd spectacle, in the style of Oldboy or Kill Bill, broken up with moments of unexpected humor. If you watched Planet Terror and got bogged down by the mechanics of the gun-leg, this isn’t the movie for you — realism isn’t the point of the exploitation genre. Still if you want to watch 110 minutes of assholes getting what’s coming to them in the most cathartic, blood-pooling way possible, this is your flick.
Scrapping 40 years worth of sequel mythology, Halloween reunites masked serial killer Michael Myers and his coincidental target Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) for one last face-off, with the bystanders of Haddonfield, Illinois poised as collateral damage. The results are heavier, and scarier, than any slasher in recent memory.
Writer-director David Gordon Green combines the grit and relentless viciousness of John Carpenter’s original 1978 film with deeply felt consideration of Laurie’s character. Though Michael’s been locked away at Smith’s Grove Sanitarium (callback!) for years, Laurie has relived her attack every day since their encounter, and the calcification of her vengeance — not to mention her commitment to doomsday prepping — has turned loved ones into skeptics. The generational tension comes to a boiling point when Michael escapes from prison, and embarks on a killing spree that will inevitably end with Laurie — by her choice.
Green’s psychological route electrifies the terror of Michael’s action. There’s sick pleasure in watching the knife-wielding brute stick it two investigative true-crime podcasters who hope to sensationalize Laurie’s trauma. A slow-burn rampage through crowds of Trick ’r Treaters takes the breath away, even while Green and co-writer Danny McBride pepper it with comedy. The final confrontation, reversing the roles in the cat and mouse game, gets fans on their feet. Halloween is pure horror entertainment done with gusto.
In theaters now