After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets.
While this film was panned by viewers, but loved by critics, I absolutely love this film specifically for the fact it is a slow burn horror film focused around the unpredictable nature of people’s emotions when dealing with death. To give a personal preface, I had a parent die when I was younger, which left the other to raise me while they had their own stressful family ties to deal with, and a demanding full-time job; consequently, I would never know which parent I would get when they came home, relaxed and distant or over-bearing and confrontational. Anything could lead to an argument or screaming match, and I never knew if it was them speaking to me or their inherited hardships and strife.
This is to say, Hereditary does certainly illustrate ailments and ticks we have as supernatural inheritance, but it also does an unnervingly superb job of playing out the arbitrary and fragile conversations and mannerisms of a family in the wake of tragedy coupled with baggage each individual has still not let go. Toni Collette’s performance as a well-meaning but unhinged mother is haunting, her ability to act completely peaceful and then bare her teeth at her family is almost as terrifying as the supernatural elements in this film. The lingering still frame shots in some scenes hark back to Kubrick’s work on The Shining.
A common remark I heard about Hereditary was how it subverted people’s expectations with the plot’s direction, but I contest it does a better job of averting your attention to the immediately noticeable foreground as opposed to things you most likely missed. I gladly gave this movie another 3 watches to piece together what exactly was going on in the background of some scenes, and it definitely added an entirely new layer of sinister ambiance to the film.
Hereditary is not a movie you can sit and turn your brain off for on your first or second viewing. It expects you to immerse yourself in the escalating trauma of loss with characters you could easily find in day to day life. Coupled with some gut-wrenching, suspenseful and brutal scenes, Hereditary is my favorite horror film this year, easily.
The enchanted lives of a couple in a secluded forest are brutally shattered by a nightmarish hippie cult and their demon-biker henchmen, propelling a man into a spiraling, surreal rampage of vengeance.
Mandy is not a horror film, but it does fit that niche of shlocky violence you’d get from the likes of Mad Max or Kill Bill that fans of horror still gladly devour. I recall doing a news piece back in early summer covering this film’s release on Blu-ray, and I was mainly drawn to the words “Nicholas Cage” and “revenge movie” followed by a header image of Nicholas Cage engaged in a chainsaw duel. There was absolutely no way I’d miss a revenge movie featuring Nicolas Cage fighting bikers and dueling with chainsaws.
If you enjoy Nicholas Cage’s signature acting mannerisms but in the style of Kill Bill meets Mad Max with a splash of I Saw the Devil, and a hint of Heavy Metal, then you are obligated to watch this. The bright color pallet combined with ambient drone metal background score, and Nicholas Cage eliminating BDSM wearing demon bikers whilst his character’s coked out of his skull, makes for easily one of the most engaging and fun revenge flicks to date. Segments between violence are broken up with beautiful, highly color contrasting landscape shots, or psychedelic ambient scenes and Nicholas Cage just “Caging” it up.
It’s violent, it’s bat-shit, it’s rock and roll, and it’s crucial you see this movie. I personally liked this movie because it’s a breath of fresh air from the monotony of superhero flicks, supernatural ghost story movies, and various animated series I watch, along with the fact it’s a unique revenge story that feels completely raw but is shot with enchanting visuals.
3. The Ritual
A group of college friends reunite for a trip to the forest but encounter a menacing presence in the woods that’s stalking them.
Yes, this film technically came out in 2017, but it didn’t get a US release until 2018, so this counts to me. With that said, this monster movie has my favorite cast of characters in this list: Luke, Phil, Hutch, Dom. The Ritual deserves praise alone for just being able to establish a group of likable characters who carry the scenes with grounded banter which fleshes out their personalities and a sense that you’ve probably met these guys before at some point.
Another huge plus towards the film in the woods, Sarek National Park, where everything is shot. The landscape is breathtaking, but the shots of the thick grouping of tree trunks that fade in the dark green tunnels of oblivion help establish the atmosphere of uncertainty, and that something is stalking the men on their journey back to the cabin/loft. There are a few particular scenes where the protagonist, Luke, has visions of the night his friend Rob was killed, and the blend between the forest and the convenient store resulting from a decaying shop with supernatural forest overgrowth is such a cool visual effect.
The Ritual also has my favorite monster of this year. Stalking the four hikers is a monster viewers only receive glimpses of for a majority of the film. I have to disclose that you do see the monster, but words almost do not do justice how insane it looks: a hellish combination of beautiful nature with hellish Norse beast.
It’s revealing, for me, rivaled to when the Xenomorph revealed itself in the first Alien film; a terrifyingly gorgeous spectacle.
4. A Quiet Place
In a post-apocalyptic world, a family is forced to live in silence while hiding from monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing.
“John Krasinski is making a horror movie? That guy from The Office? Yeah, ok, we’ll see how that’ll turn out.”
And it turned out to be a heart tearing, gut-wrenching sci-fi horror flick about a family trying to stay together in a post-apocalyptic landscape inhabited by aliens with super hearing. This is a movie with maybe 5-10 lines of dialogue and 6 cast members, and it’s able to get me invested in the daily life and turmoil of a family who lives near-complete silence. I’m a fan of Don’t Breathe, so the gimmick for A Quiet Place wasn’t too off base.
The family in this movie has a tight-knit bond and their own system of stealth and alarms set up that work in thematic accordance with the world they live in (e.g. sanded paths, sound isolating rooms, and utensil-less food). Additionally, a favorite scene, like for most, is when the red lights are flipped to signal the aliens are stalking the family. It adds this dark red tint to everything that ups the intensity of the scene. There are some scenes I absolutely cannot spoil, but this film would have been higher on the list if it were not for the last second of the final scene.
I understand it’s significance to instilling optimism, but it was such a jarring juxtaposition to the dark and brooding tone that it just left this off-kilter feeling that I wish could be different, but I completely understand as to why it was put in as the final scene.
5. Strangers Prey At Night
A family of four staying at a secluded mobile home park for the night are stalked and then hunted by three masked psychopaths.
I understand that Strangers Prey At Night wasn’t necessarily as well-received as its predecessor, but I think it’s a sequel consistent in its theme from the first The Strangers: Sometimes there’s no reason, it’s just because others can kill you if they choose. This was a similar scenario seen in John Carpenter’s Halloween, and it’s what made it so terrifying. While the first The Strangers focused on a married couple trying to survive and fight back against the three killers, Prey At Night pits an at odds family against the Pinup, Dollface, and Man in the Mask.
In its early scenes, Prey At Night does a competent job at showing that the family is sincerely striving to emotionally stay together, their fight for survival instills a deeper bond and appreciation. That’s about as emotionally heavy as this film gets though, the rest is just Pinup, Dollface, and Man in the Mask stalking and picking off family members in an exceptionally more gruesome and sadist manner than the first The Strangers. Merciless kills were a huge plus along with the playful disposition from the killer trio, but a couple of other shining aspects to Prey at Night is the juxtaposition of some horrific kills happening to upbeat 80’s pop songs, and a false sense of victory to try and coax viewers into naively believing the family are the stars of the movie; however, we still know it’s the cold, familiar masked faces who are the real stars.
Laurie Strode confronts her long-time foe Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago.
So, when this was announced I asked myself “How exactly do you follow up a horror film with a sequel that ultimately took 40 years to come out?” I was hoping the first step would be making sure that you call your sequel something else other than the exact same title as its predecessor, but I guess that’s why I’m not on the writing staff. Other suitable answers for my skepticism were to make Laurie Strode the Halloween equivalent of Sara Connor, and to turn Michael from a seemingly ethereal force of death, to an unrelenting tornado of slaughter that butchers everyone: from children to unsuspecting housewives nowhere near in his immediate path forward to Lauri Strode.
When your two stars of the movie only have one film to go off, which was just about serial killer escaping an asylum and targeting some kids, it seems totally logical that your main forms of character development are giving the protagonist a family she sets aside for a socially unhealthy obsession/paranoia; and, to make more your antagonist more pissed off and brutal in his methods of slaughter. Laurie Strode’s depressing interactions with her family were a solid illustration of her character though, giving her a sense of depth and complexity to how she operates. She wants to be with her family and live a normal life, but she’s too afraid to set aside preparations and vigilance in case Michael comes “home”. In contrast, Michael is explicitly given no depth in the film and is only fed more rage as he is antagonized by the journalists who visit him in the asylum.
Independently as a slasher film, Halloween is a decent movie, but if you’re a die-hard fan of the first Carpenter Halloween, then the sequel is riddled with a plethora of fan service and nods that establish this as a near-perfect sequel (and there does not need to be another installment).
- Annihilation: Like sci-fi? I mean, REALLY like sci-fi? How about diverse and compelling characters with grounded-in-reality tragic backstories? What about beautiful sci-fi alien landscape designs and grotesque monsters? Natalie Portman? Yes? Watch Annihilation, because it deserves way more attention than what it got.
- Upgrade: I couldn’t justify putting this in the list, even though I put in Mandy. However, this is a film for people who like Taken, I Saw the Devil and Bladerunner. A man who’s lost his wife to a random group of cyborgs, who’ve crippled him, looks to exact his revenge outside the realms of the law in a near Orwellian future. He utilizes a new bio-organic enhancement given to him, but it’s an A.I. that guides him on his journey of revenge, unbeknownst to its creator. It’s like watching the making of a terminator in real-time, and is easily up there in one of my favorite movies both this year and of all time.
We have a myriad of other top 2018 lists coming out soon, so stick around for those, but if you need something to put you in the holiday spirit, then please check out this video of Predator eviscerating some elves and reindeer for the ultimate Horror / Christmas special!!