Horror is a timeless genre that typically swings one of two ways: iconic masterpiece, or throwaway nonsense. It’s brimming with cliche and pastiche, and yet sometimes something wholly unique comes along and reinvents what has always been a very bankable subset of cinema. This year was no different, offering plenty of terrifying scares, insidious monsters, and Nicholas Cage screaming while drenched in blood. Here’s our ten best horror movies from the past year. By the way: we’re not ranking, so any of them can be #1. Or your favourite, so it’s a win-win. Unless it’s The Nun. Then you lose.
1. The Ritual
Originally released last year in the UK but brought to Netflix in 2018 for American audiences, The Ritual is an interesting beast. What first appears to be a 20-year too-late ripoff of The Blair Witch Project becomes something much more interesting and nuanced than that film’s unsuccessful reboot ever could have hoped for.
By banking on the friendship and subtle tension between the film’s four leads, The Ritual presents a fun and believable lads holiday that descends into nightmarish cults and refreshing monster design. Our own Adi Pramana had this to say in his review:
The Ritual combines a straightfoward horror formula with [a] powerful undercurrent of emotional baggage, with splashes of other horror subgenres around it. It is a haunting film, with immaculate direction, impressive creature design, as well as well-acted and well-realised characters.
Part sci-fi extravaganza, part body horror nightmare, Annihilation is Alex Garland’s follow-up to the excellent Ex Machina and is brimming with fascinating ideas that are more often than not executed brilliantly.
Taking place largely within the mysterious ‘Shimmer’, Natalie Portman helms a group of damaged women who endeavour to find out what this gradually growing field is and why everybody who enters, vanishes. What ensues is a hard sci-fi glimpse into humanity and evolution, as Garland’s adaptation of the first in Jeff VanderMeer’s trilogy of books presents some amazing visuals and layered characters.
Why’s it a horror movie, you may ask? One word: bear.
Here’s what Thomas Broome-Jones wrote in our review:
If Ex Machina was about the morality of our relationship with technology, then this is a tale of our relationship with the fragility of what it means to exist.
I haven’t had the chance to check out Mandy just yet, as no local cinemas were playing Panos Cosmatos’ latest psychedelic fever dream. That being said, everything I’ve heard about this cult film has made me eager to check it out, and see how a movie that looks entirely based around Nicholas Cage’s psychotic acting can pan out.
To approach Mandy as you would any other Nicholas Cage movie would miss the intention of it entirely. Panos Cosmatos has crafted an utterly uncompromising vision of horror that is undoubtedly destined for cult status by horror fans. Though, to simply refer to it as horror would be disingenuous to just how blatantly different it is through and through.
Despite a third act that deteriorates into familiar thriller tropes, Soderbergh’s Unsane begins as a unique and exciting horror movie that explores voyeurism and mental health through the lens of an iPhone 7. Literally; the film was shot entirely on a smartphone, and this mimics the constant unease that Claire Foy’s lead has to go through every day, on account of her personal stalker.
After inadvertently subjecting herself to involuntary commitment, Foy has to confront her deepest fears and try to remain sane in an environment that is anything but. It’s gritty, tense, and a whole lot of fun. I had the chance to review the film upon release, and wrote:
…but a presentation that is more than just a gimmick: the entire movie is filmed on an iPhone 7. This lends itself to the themes of insidious voyeurism and invasive terror that Unsane is working with, and makes for some brilliantly original cinematography.
Filled with more domestic horror than some of the other entries on this list, Searching tells the story of a man and his daughter. Specifically, John Cho’s David Kim and his daughter Margot (Michelle La), who disappears one day and only leaves behind some digital footprints that her panicked father must follow.
Searching is an unrelenting look into a frightened parent’s desperation, and Cho leads with an absolute powerhouse of a performance. Utilising familiar tools like iMessage and Facebook, Searching hits close to home and really elevates the ‘in-screen thriller’ subgenre of horror, above what the likes of Unfriended originally achieved. Here’s what I thought in my review:
Searching differs from those horror-focused predecessors, however, by being a smarter thriller that holds back on the slapstick gore and instead opts for a much more realistic story of a missing teen and her mysterious internet history.
While not the all-out zombie movie it’s advertised to be, Overlord is a whole lot of gory, Nazi-killing fun.
Masquerading as a WWII thriller, the movie gradually turns into something much more sinister as secret underground labs give way to brutal body horror and a whole lot of blood. Placing the audience firmly in the terrified shoes of private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), it’s a film that skimps on wild battle sequences in favour of foreboding tension. That’s aside from the blistering opening, which showcases a 10-minute sequence in which Boyce’s company is violently thrown into the hellish landscape of WWII France.
Nicolás Delgadillo had this to say when he wrote about this J.J. Abrams-produced gorefest:
Even though it sometimes stumbles into cheesiness and ticking off cliché boxes, Overlord is still a wild ride. The action is superb and bloody, the horror is tense and nail-biting, and its leading man turns in one hell of a performance.
7. A Quiet Place
Written and directed by the infinitely charming John Krasinski, A Quiet Place is far more than its initial gimmick might have you believe. Set in a world where any sound will summon murderous creatures, one family living on a secluded farm must deal with life’s crushing blows and the realisation that everything might not work out okay in the end.
Filled with outstanding performances (such as Millicent Simmons, who plays Krasinski’s daughter and is deaf in real-life), this is a movie that fully capitalises on its premise, while also offering a level of depth and scope rarely found in a monster flick. There’s some stupidly clever world-building, such as the family eating their dinner on noise-muffling leaves, and moments of genuine family wholesomeness that’s quickly destroyed by the sparse blows of swift violence. If you can make it past the brutal opening scene, then enjoy this wild ride.
Thomas Broome-Jones was a big fan of this silent monster movie, and said:
This is a film with domino effect momentum; a continuous chain of events mounting on top of each other as it all builds to the inevitable crescendo of the third act. The tense atmosphere is palpable.
Now we’re onto this year’s heavy-hitters.
Set 40 years after John Carpenter’s original, Halloween is now the only canonically-true sequel to that horror classic. Feeling like it’s part sequel and part remake, Halloween achieves something that few other revisited genre staples have: it’s actually good. And not just good, but exhilarating, scary, and every bit as brutal as you’d want from Michael Myers’ return.
Set in Haddonfield just like before, David Gordon Green brings back Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode; though she’s far from the wailing babysitter of the original movie. Packing serious firepower and struggling with PTSD, Laurie is an expertly developed character who compliments her murderous rival perfectly. And I haven’t even mentioned the flawless soundtrack, that’s every bit as ominous and synth-infused as we could have hoped. Our own Avery McReynolds was just as big a fan, and said:
As far as being a sequel to one of the greatest horror movies of all time, it’s a tremendous companion piece with a powerful narrative; told by avid franchise fans.
This was very nearly my favourite horror film of the year – and one of 2018’s best films in general – were it not for the next entry. Still, Hereditary provided some near-perfect scares and a twisting tale that will go down as one of modern horror’s very best.
If Searching showcases the trauma of a loved one going missing, Hereditary focuses instead on the damaging effects of mental health within a typical family unit. It’s an effortless blend of traditional scares and psychological machinations, which is all injected with an incredible lead performance from Tony Collette. Collette’s matriarch Annie Graham is caught between her mother’s enigmatic past and her daughter’s terrifying present, and all of this culminates in a car sequence that left cinemagoers shocked into silence.
It’s a story of loss, grief, family, depression, and so much more. And it’s told so expertly, with only the very end being the subject of controversy. But don’t just take my word for it; Jay Krieger had this to say:
The realistic introspective exploration of a seemingly strained, but average family casts a spell of calm over the audience, which left me entirely unprepared for the film’s terrifying third act. Not only visually shocking but processing the emotional baggage these characters undertake is so profoundly disturbing that I couldn’t shake this film long after I’d left the theatre.
10. Ghost Stories
This is it – my favourite horror movie this year, and one of the best instalments in British horror that I’ve seen in a long time.
I know I said this list wasn’t ranked, but hypothetically, if it were, Ghost Stories would take the top spot. Films like Hereditary and Halloween achieve certain highs that directors Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman don’t quite reach, but the film is packed with so much love for the genre that it’s an absolute joy to behold.
Encompassing three ghoulish tales that are so expertly interwoven by the movie’s conclusion, Ghost Stories features some standout performances from British staples like Martin Freeman and Paul Whitehouse, and feels like a frightening freight train hurtling out of control as the minutes tick by. It deals with scepticism alongside spiritualism, but never comes across as cynical – just full of adoration for the horror genre.
Much of Ghost Stories evokes the kind of fear experienced when laying in bed late at night. You know, because you’re an adult, that there can’t possibly be a demonic, ghostly figure huddled in the corner of your room, slowly creeping towards you in the darkness – yet, regardless, you can’t turn around because if it were there, you wouldn’t be able to handle it.