While 2017 was a big year for Blockbusters, 2018 has had some really solid limited-release films flowing through genre-focused festivals and streaming services like Netflix and Shudder.
As is our annual tradition here at iHorror, I’ve compiled a list of some of my personal favorite horror films from 2018.
#13 Incident in a Ghostland
Synopsis: A mother of two who inherits a house is confronted with murderous intruders on the first night in their new home and fights for her daughters’ lives. Sixteen years later when the daughters reunite at the house, things get really strange.
Why I love it: Written and directed by Pascal Laugier (best known for Martyrs, a New French Extremity classic), Incident in a Ghostland is… not for everyone. Though it’s an English-language film, it has all the familiar features of a New French Extremity title.
After the first 20 minutes, I was stunned. It’s the most emotionally brutal opening to a film that I’ve ever seen, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days afterwards. Incident in a Ghostland hits like a sucker-punch to the gut from a fist covered in rusty nails. It’s rough, relentless, and – at times – difficult to watch. It affected me on a deeply personal level, and I still can’t shake it. Mission accomplished, Laugier.
#12 What Keeps You Alive
Synopsis: Majestic mountains, a still lake and venomous betrayals engulf a female married couple attempting to celebrate their one-year anniversary.
Why I love it: Writer/director Colin Minihan paints a thrilling portrait of betrayal in this beautifully shot, brilliantly acted film. He combines a peaceful, comforting location with sudden, unexpected horror, aided by a fantastic score that slips between Silverchair and Beethoven. The rustic home is littered with mirrors: a clever detail that is aesthetically charming but strangely off-putting, and heavy with symbolism.
What Keeps You Alive is a stylish and deliciously unsettling film stacked with tension and emotional terror.
#11 The Ritual
Synopsis: A group of college friends reunite for a trip to the forest, but encounter a menacing presence in the woods that’s stalking them.
Why I love it: The Ritual – as a whole – is a reflection on guilt and trauma with the bonus of being legitimately horrific. It doesn’t ease you in; sudden jolts of terror are sprinkled through the film and it is effective. Director David Bruckner uses the unnatural and unexpected to put us on edge; there’s a greater fear in what we can’t see, and he knows it.
Anxious tension ripples through the film. It runs between the friends, quickly pulling them apart; it echoes through the vast and silent forest; it hums around a ritual they can’t translate. We feel it on a primal level.
Synopsis: Alice, an ambitious camgirl, wakes up one day to discover she’s been replaced on her show with an exact replica of herself.
Why I love it: Cam is a smart and savvy film that’s driven by an intensely likable performance by Madeline Brewer. In a genre where sex workers are often nameless, disposable victims, Cam shows a healthy and honest representation of their goal-setting, show planning, day-to-day lives.
The film also explores the frustration and fear of identity theft and the uncomfortable reality of how vulnerable we are when it comes to technology. Deepfakes and hacked accounts are a very real threat; they don’t need your consent to hijack your life, and that’s pretty terrifying. (You can read my full review here).
#9 A Quiet Place
Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic world, a family is forced to live in silence while hiding from monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing.
Why I love it: John Krasinski and Emily Blunt put small details into their signing and body language that perfectly communicate emphasis, emotion, and tone, and it’s brilliant.
As a director, Krasinski cranks up the tension and holds it through the film. The roaming sound-sensitive monsters (which have a fantastic creature design) could pick up even the smallest noise if they’re in close proximity. Truly, trouble could come at any time.
Synopsis: A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.
Why I love it: I never would have guessed that the director of Call Me By Your Name would create one of the most visceral and horrific scenes of body horror in modern film history, but, here we are.
Director Luca Guadagnino makes Suspiria its own unique beast, both in style and in story. The skeleton is the same as Argento’s original giallo classic (Susie Bannion goes to a dance academy that is secretly run by a coven of witches), but the meat and flesh of the film are completely different.
Suspiria grants everyone on the production team a chance to show off their incredible skill. The set and costume designers transport you; the makeup artists completely transform Tilda Swinton (who plays 3 different characters) and create insane body horrors; the foley artists grind the sound effects into your bones; the camerawork is so beautifully done that you never see the camera – not once – in a room full of mirrors. It’s a technical masterclass that celebrates the artistry of film.
Synopsis: Set in the near-future, technology controls nearly all aspects of life. But when Grey, a self-identified technophobe, has his world turned upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant called Stem.
Why I love it: Written and directed by the wonderful Leigh Whannell, Upgrade is a fantastic action/thriller that puts an interesting spin on the body horror subgenre. It explores the concept of your body transforming and adapting in ways you can’t control, but Grey’s trust and dependence on this new system is an excellent twist on the trope.
The camerawork is on point, and the film as a whole is a deliriously fun watch with enough situational weight to keep the whole thing grounded.
Synopsis: A small group of American soldiers find horror behind enemy lines on the eve of D-Day.
Why I love it: Overlord is a bold, action-packed, full-throttle thrill ride. As our mismatched band of brothers stumbles into an unbelievable nightmare, the stakes for their mission go from “high” to “world-ending”. The super-charged enemy soldiers are are an unstoppable force to be reckoned with.
Blessed with a phenomenal ensemble cast, Overlord is a brass-knuckle-boxing fury that grips you from beginning to end. (Read my full review here).
Synopsis: Never take your mistress on an annual guys’ getaway, especially one devoted to hunting – a violent lesson for three wealthy married men.
Why I love it: Writer/director Coralie Fargeat spins a fresh and vicious take on the rape-revenge subgenre by focusing the rage through the “female gaze”.
The start of this horrible chain of events is particularly upsetting as it comes from an awkward conversation that every woman has experienced. The action that follows is, of course, dramatically over-the-top and gorgeously stylized (seriously, the vibrant, sun-scorched color scheme is incredible), but it’s so deeply satisfying to cheer on our heroine as she blazes a brutal, bloody path of vengeance.
Synopsis: A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don’t apply.
Why I love it: Annihilation gets under your skin with scarring images of coiling intestines, a giant mutant gator, and a shrieking skeletal bear. But the Shimmer isn’t all nightmare fuel – there’s a serene beauty to it.
In broad terms, Annihilation is a visually stunning, brilliantly structured exploration of pain and identity. It’s about self-destruction and acceptance; all of the events that happen within the Shimmer are a reflection of each of the women and their personal pain. Who they are, what they’ve been through, and how it has changed them. The horror isn’t just physical, it’s existential.
#3 Tigers Are Not Afraid
Synopsis: A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war.
Why I love it: Though this is technically a 2017 release, it hit the Festival circuit in 2018 so I’m going to say it counts (I had to play this game last year with The Endless and The Devil’s Candy, too… distribution is weird, okay?).
Written and directed by Issa López, Tigers Are Not Afraid is an emotional, beautiful dark fairytale. As the real-world violence simmers under every scene, the element of fantasy is a source of childlike wonder and true terror.
If you’re a fan of Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone, you should definitely see this film. (Read my full review here)
#2 Assassination Nation
Synopsis: After a malicious data hack exposes the secrets of the perpetually American town of Salem, chaos descends and four girls must fight to survive, while coping with the hack themselves.
Why I love it: It’s Mean Girls meets The Purge with a Spring Breakers aesthetic – The Crucible of youth culture in the digital age – that screams its empowered, feminist message like a Valkyrie riding into battle.
Assassination Nation is beautifully shot with a whip-smart script and an excellent young cast. Director Sam Levinson and cinematographer Marcell Rév work together in full flex mode (the single tracking shot outside the house in the third act is so well done it’s almost unfair) to create a dreamy, vibrant haze that sharpens its edge when shit hits the fan. Assassination Nation crackles with energy and fury, and it truly deserves to be seen. (Read my full review here)
Synopsis: After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets.
Why I love it: I’m sure you’ll see Hereditary on a lot of “Best of 2018” lists, and there’s a really good reason for that. Hereditary is family horror at its finest. A deft and layered study of grief, loss, and guilt, it ventures down a dark and twisted path that was set out long before the film began (always take note of a film’s classroom lecture topics).
Toni Collette’s performance is Oscar-worthy (seriously, if she’s not at least nominated, I will flip every table in Hollywood). Between the revealing monologue about her family history, her raw moments of grief, and her final, escalating scenes, she’s an absolute powerhouse.
Writer/director Ari Aster binds all of the film’s elements in a tightly woven tapestry with so much hidden detail that – like Jordan Peele’s Get Out – it’s deeply satisfying to revisit. There are a ton of individual elements that I could rant about for ages, but this is already far too long so I’ll spare you the details. Besides, they’re all spoilers and I’m not a monster.
Hold the Dark: Beautifully shot and bleak as hell, with all-around incredible performances from the talented cast. This dark thriller sneaks up on you before slitting your throat and slinking out through the back door. Tonally it’s quite different from Saulnier’s earlier films – Green Room and Blue Ruin – but it simmers with that same controlled, buried anger. Once again, Jeremy Saulnier has ripped my heart out. (Read my full review here)
The Night Comes For Us: The most balls-to-the-wall, insanely brutal action film I have ever seen. Indonesian action films are truly next level (see also; The Raid: Redemption) and it’s quickly become a region to watch for as a source of incredible genre filmmaking. Writer/directors Timo Tjahjanto (May the Devil Take You, Macabre, Killers, V/H/S 2) and Joko Anwar (Satan’s Slaves, Modus Anomali, Folklore) have been absolutely killing it.
The Endless: As mentioned in my Tigers Are Not Afraid comments, I had already included The Endless in my 2017 list. But, distribution is tricky, and it had a limited theatrical run in 2018 before its DVD release so I don’t want to leave it out.