Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The 15 Best Horror Movies Of 2018

Despite the annual hot takes to the contrary, 2018 has been an awesome year for horror. There are always great horror movies if you care to look. As much as I love the genre, it can, admittedly, take some excavation and exploration—horror enthusiasts know we will have to wade through some dreck, but the gems are well worth the trouble. And what the hell, I’m going to run through the ones I enjoyed the most in 2018.

(As for that Vogue article that pissed everyone off a few months back—while it feels like it’s written by someone who doesn’t actually like horror and only pays attention to mainstream horror, and I have issues with the general conceit as well as some of the author’s points—the main argument is basically, horror in 2018 wasn’t as good as in 2017. That honestly might be true. Last year brought us Get Out, It, Thelma, and many others. I’m not saying I agree with that assessment, but an argument can be made—I don’t know that we got any movies, horror or otherwise, as good as Get Out this year. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter, many other people with more time and energy on their hands have written detailed pieces in response to that initial article. Read them.)

First off, I’m not going to rank these movies. Even if I wanted to say one was better than another, as soon as I listed them in order, I could go back and swap this one for that and so on. It would never end. Just know if I mention a film, it scared me, creeped me out, fascinated me, or otherwise slapped me around in one way or another.

Second, I already wrote a BEST OF 2018 list. Which, of course, includes multiple horror movies. Because I already wrote about those titles, and I want an excuse to write about other movies I loved this year, I chose to leave those off. So, to that end, no Mandy, no Suspiria, no Hereditary. In the lengthy coda, I do mention a few other horror and horror-themed titles, but I have more to offer than a sentence or two, so those are still fair game.

Finally, I use a loose definition of “horror.” In my mind, horror is broad; it can mean monsters, it can mean ghosts, it can mean horrific real-world situations. People love to argue semantics—I’ve already seen folks call Jordan Peele’s new movie. Us, a “social thriller” instead of a horror movie. Part of my love of the genre is that it’s so expansive and contains so much—honestly, many of these toe the line between multiple genres. Call it whatever you want, I don’t care, but despite recent critical and awards acclaim, the genre still carries a stigma and people will bend over backwards rhetorically to avoid admitting they like a horror movie. I don’t get it, like what you like, but that’s a them-problem, not a me-problem.

Enough rambling, here are my top horror movies of 2018. I don’t claim to have seen everything, but I’ve seen quite a bit. If you feel inclined, sound off in the comments below with your favorites. 


The easy comparison points for Gareth Evans’ old timey cult horror Apostle are The Wicker Man and Kill List, but that’s the easy road. Sure, it has cults, revenge, and a remote, isolated setting, but the story of a man (Dan Stevens) searching for his sister who’s being held for ransom by zealots, offers a shifting, brutal story of faith, power, corruption, and the supernatural. It also has head-drilling and meat hooks, so there’s that. This proves a definite change of pace for the director of The Raid, but it’s one I wholeheartedly endorse.

The Ritual

One of many Netflix movies that feels like it was unfairly swept under the rug, released with little to no pomp and circumstances, David Bruckner’s The Ritual is a horror film that’s been on my mind since it dropped early this year. On an annual adventure trip, a group of friends stumble off course in the deep Swedish woods only to encounter sinister forces. With a familiar set up, Bruckner and company craft a smart, grim, atmospheric film that pulls from natural, otherworldly, cult, and more horror subgenres. Scenic and beautiful, the characters are complex and damaged, and the film features some of the best creature design of the year.


Rape-revenge movies are a dicey proposition, but first-time French director Coraline Fargeat’s aptly titled Revenge shows just how good the subgenre can be. Brutal and unrelenting, Fargeat seamlessly meshes exploitation roots and influences with modern feminist concerns, and the result is spectacular. Stylish and stylized, propulsive and thrilling, Revenge is one of the best movies of the year—it came close to my top ten—announces a sharp new filmmaking talent, and will likely make you question how much blood the human body holds.

Hold the Dark

Of the movies on this list, Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold the Dark may be the poster child for the “is it horror?” debate. But it contains rogue wolves, creepy masks, mystics talking about spirits and myths—in short, enough horror elements for me to include. This is all slow-burn tension; off-kilter mood; quiet, desolate frontier grimness and revenge. Not for everyone, Jeffrey Wright playing a writer commissioned to track down wolves thought responsible for killing children, is a tense, vicious game of psychological warfare that is very much my style.

The Endless

Mix Lovecraftian atmosphere, a doomsday cult full of peppy cultists, and a character named Shitty Carl, and you have Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s twisty sci-fi horror The Endless. Funny, charming, and strange at the same time it’s odd and terrifying, it layers time and delves into the nature of fear, delivering a smart, mind-bending puzzle for the viewer to piece together. And all of this on a shoe-string budget. This is a prime example that you don’t need endless financial resources to make a killer movie, all you need is an idea, the drive, and a collection of like-minded lunatics with a shared vision.

Mom and Dad

I don’t know that I love the whole movie, but Mom and Dad certainly is a wild ride. If nothing else, it’s worth watching to see Nicolas Cage smash a pool table with a sledge hammer while screaming “The Hokey Pokey.” And the basic premise—a mysterious hysteria takes over parents and awakens a rabid desire to violently murder their children—is just the kind of gonzo horror schlock that makes for perfect late-night viewing with a group of like-minded friends and the intoxicants of your choice.

A Quiet Place

So, the charming slacker from The Office made a horror movie with his wife and…it’s good? I’m as surprised as you, but we have John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place as proof. With a cool hook—aliens have invaded, but they can’t see, only hear, so all sound puts you in immediate peril—almost no dialogue, and only seven cast members, Krasinski crafts endless tension and uses the horror set up and omni-present creatures as a mediation on the terror inherent in parenthood, raising a family, and coping with tragedy. It’s about something far more hair-raising and horrific than monsters.


If there’s any justice, in a few years we will look back at Steven Soderbergh’s shot-on-an-iPhone insane-asylum picture Unsane as a movie we as a movie-going populace failed miserably. Buried in an early-spring release hole, it deserves much better. Low-budget and gritty, what starts as a paranoid pot-boiler about a sane woman trapped against her will in a mental institution morphs quickly into something else. A dark, twisted, claustrophobic thriller with a mean streak, Unsane is timely and smart, and Claire Foy delivers one of the best performances of the year—IMO it’s up there with Toni Collette in Hereditary.

Ghost Stories

A layered anthology of connected tales of the supernatural, Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories tinkers with familiar horror tropes and genre staples to create something fresh and unique. Not every individual chapter succeeds, but the overarching picture the filmmakers create, and the clever, inventive crescendo the film ultimately achieves, hits marked highs and is an eye-popping narrative accomplishment that winds up far from the destination you initially anticipate.

Tigers are not Afraid

With Tigers are not Afraid, Mexican director Issa Lopez uses dark fable and shadowy magical realism to illustrate the horror of the drug war on the most vulnerable segment of the population, poor young children who exist without a safety net. Gorgeous and dreamy, hauntingly bleak and utterly joyous, this is one of the most moving, devastating films in years. While it has an international distributor, it still doesn’t have domestic distribution as far as I know, and that’s a travesty of epic proportions because this is nothing short of breathtaking—for me, this ranks with movies like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone

The Night Eats the World

It’s tough to bring anything new to a zombie movie, but when it happens, it reminds us how good the subgenre can be. Dominique Rocher’s underseen gem The Night Eats the World does just that. Working within familiar constraints, it puts an inventive spin on what is too often a stale arm of horror. Sam goes to a party, drinks too much, and wakes up to find a zombie plague has engulphed the world. Essentially him alone in a building, it’s a sparse, spare character study as he gradually unravels and circumstances force him to become an active participant in his life. Ambivalent at its core, this is a movie you can read as either hopeful and optimistic or crushing and desolate, and your take probably says more about you than the film itself.


I love a good Nazi zombie movie, and in 2018, nothing delivered that quite like Julius Avery’s Overlord. Not a stealth Cloverfield prequel as many speculated, it’s fast-paced, stripped-down, and full of Nazis getting shot in the face—I call it “the feel-good movie of 2018” because of that last fact. Set during World War II, just before D-Day, a group of American GIs parachute behind enemy lines on a vital mission, only to discover the enemy engaged in horrific experiments. It doesn’t waste time with backstory, motivation, or character development, but Overlord is gory and slick and straddles the line between action banger and raucous exploitation horror.


Alex Garland’s adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel Annihilation plays fast and loose with the source material—the two only vaguely resemble each other—but the Heart of Darkness style journey into the unknown provides a heady mixture of thematically dense science fiction, atmospheric creature feature, and cerebral mind-bending lunacy. And all of this comes wrapped in the best visual effects package of the year and anchored by a diverse, female-fronted cast of Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Jennifer Jason-Leigh. I initially had mixed-to-positive feelings, but Annihilation burrowed deep into my brain and, upon subsequent watches, any issues I had faded and what remains is a fantastic philosophical adventure that cuts across genre lines.


I do think David Gordon Green and Danny McBride’s Halloween redux gets overhyped. The plotting and pace are all over, it ignores the most interesting thematic elements, and in general, it’s a solid if unremarkable slasher. That said, I watched the whole thing with a goofy, shit-eating smile plastered ear-to-ear. It’s gory, tense, and I’m here all day for grizzled, survivalist, loaded-for-bear Laurie Strode. More than anything, this movie is a damn lot of fun and a chilly shiver of joy ran up my spine when that iconic theme kicks in.


Admittedly, I’m not as in love with Lee Chang-dong’s Haruki Murakami adaptation, Burning, as most. It’s long, very long, which will turn off some viewers. And many will argue it’s not horror at all, but a thriller. And they probably aren’t wrong. But for the patient, Burning has a lot to offer, and it’s stuck around in my head long after watching. When it does kick in, Lee delivers shades of Hitchcock; deliberate, meditative twists and shifts in perspective; and Steven Yeun creates one of the best, most chilling villains of 2018.

The Haunting of Hill House

I know it’s not a horror movie, but I have to give a loud shout to Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House. Not only does the limited series rank up there with 2018’s best horror, with creepy, inventive scares, tension, and masterful craft, it’s also a constant emotional pummeling and portrait of a family coping with tragedy and the long-reaching tendrils of trauma.

UPDATE: Of course, as soon as I hit publish, I thought of more movies. Blue My Mindshould definitely be on this list. As should Thoroughbreds, though this one people are sure to argue isn't a tried and true horror movie. Still, it rules.

UPDATE 2: Upgrade, Upgrade rules so hard and is going to be a cult classic people can't believe they slept on in a few years.

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