It’s a chilly January evening as I finish my year-end list of exceptional horror movies. Picking 10 standout films seemed more difficult this year than last. Does that mean extraordinary horror was hard to find or was horror in general operating at such a high level that it was difficult to choose just 10 for this list? Honestly, I don’t know, and I don’t care. Horror and genre filmmaking is on a rampage with audiences and critics alike finding box-office gems within the traditional confines the of horror label.
This list is in no particular order because it’s difficult to accurately compare the timely #MeToo themes of Revenge with the comedic joyfulness of Tragedy Girls. I do have my favorite, but you’ll have to ask.
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE
If feels like everyone slept on Lynne Ramsay’s, writer and director, You Were Never Really Here starring Joaquin Phoenix. This is a slow-burn of a movie that’s not directly horror but certainly falls in the genre space. It’s oddly ambiguous, violent without showing it, and unsettling for reasons you never really understand.
I’m a fan of Dario Argento’s Suspiria and was eager to see Luca Guadagnino’s reimagining. What we got was a dark, haunting, and unique tale that takes Argento’s characters and remixes the plot into an unsettling tale of witchery. The score is stupendous with wonderful cinematography, solid acting, and a rewarding final act.
This indie gem has put creators Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (Spring, Resolution) on top of the world. The Endless is about two brothers who leave a cult, but return years later as they struggle with life outside its confines. However, strange occurrences test the brothers’ faith—or lack thereof.
Tragedy Girls got a small release just before the end of last year, but it wasn’t a wide release, keeping it off last year’s list. But now it’s out, and I enjoyed this charmer. The movie follows two friends as a serial killer terrorizes their town—but there’s a delightful twist early in the film. However, you won’t stop rooting for the two leads.
Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy is the cinematic equivalent of LSD and the color pallet of a Nicolas Winding Refn movie stumbling into Clive Barker’s Hellraiser universe. The first half of Mandy is slow, but there’s a substantial payoff if you can make it into the second half of the movie. Nicolas Cage does Nicolas Cage things—and this is his best movie in a long time.
INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND
Pascal Laugier’s Incident in a Ghostland piqued my interest thanks to one of his earlier works called Martyrs, a staple of the new French Extremity movement. Incident in a Ghostland is a haunting tale that portrays the horrifying realities of abuse on the psyche. It’s not a perfect film, but it will stick with you.
If Toni Collette doesn’t earn an Oscar nomination for her role in Hereditary, I’ll rage tweet for a year. Hereditary is a horror movie that’s less about the supernatural and more about the horror of family relationships. You watch, in horror, as the family structure breaks down right before your eyes, and there are few horror images that can compare.
Upgrade isn’t the first time you’ve seen Leigh Whannell’s work on the big screen. Whannell got his start in horror with Saw before launching the Insidious franchise. Upgrade is a distillation of his years on set, which gives us a unique, violent, and fun action-horror movie. The camera work is refreshing while Logan Marshall-Green’s dichotomous acting is exceptional.
Sci-fi horror came roaring back in 2018 thanks to Alex Garland’s (Ex Machina) Annihilation. This beautiful and brutal film is infused with more than a pretty exterior. Annihilation explores deep, human relationships, and how they fail. Garland’s exceptional filmmaking prowess is on full display.
The inclusion of Revenge on this list should come as no surprise. It’s a new French extremity flick with a strong leading female character and buckets of blood and violence. It’s a cathartic film. Writer-director Coralie Fargeat takes the tired rape-revenge genre and turns it on its head, creating an uncomfortable yet essential film.