5) A Quiet Place
Even though director John Krasinski admitted his lower-level interest in horror during his SXSW Q&A, A Quiet Place sure ends up making a mark on the genre. In a world where the slightest sonic waves mean certain death, Krasinski’s opening scene assures *anything* can happen, as a small child is mauled right in front of his mother, father, and siblings. Make a noise, you die. Horribly.
This witnessed promise sets a survivalist stage that only adds to white-knuckled sound design, as spikes in the smallest leafy crunch ring like a bullet with no background muffling. A Quiet Place is an achievement in conception, a masterclass in audible manipulation, and one rare mainstream original horror success story that hopefully paves the way for more studio genre gambles.
4) Satan’s Slaves
I end 2018 as I started it – talking about the genre dominance of Joko Anwar’s Satan’s Slaves, which is Indonesia’s exhaustingly horrific answer to James Wan’s stranglehold on horror cinema. Pengabdi Setan aka Satan’s Slaves ended 2017 as the highest grossing Indonesian title, which checks out given the film’s proficiently punishing ability to land scare after scare without sacrificing a family’s doomed backstory. The musician mother now almost comatose on her bed, ghosts under blankets, creepy children – Satan’s Slaves has it all, which is why Shudder snagged those exclusive rights like Indiana Jones and priceless artifacts. Stream it now with the lights off, you cowards.
3) The Endless
Another year, another Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead release, another appearance in my Top 10. The Endless picks up with the lives of “Justin” and “Aaron” after they’ve fled a “UFO Death Cult” for civilization. Years later a tape surfaces and memories of Camp Arcadia pull Aaron back. Back to the tug-go-war games against an unseen foe, back to the hefeweizen brewing, back to all the uncertainty that warped Justin and Aaron’s minds in the first place.
Resolution introduces an almighty presence with the power to paralyze, and The Endless grabs its demon horns. A human notion of cyclical apathy that numbs the senses is put on trial, while their magnificent mindf#*k teases and intensifies with poetic command – horror through human experience. It’s all about what can’t be predicted, what lies ahead, and the uncertainty that rattles our core.
“But Matt, is Upgrade *really* a hor-”
Let me stop you right there because Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade is 1,000% a horror movie. A nanochip implant that takes control of human bodies and shines a light on man’s obsolescence in the face of advanced AI? Yes, that’s goddamn scary if you ask me. Upgrade is also an unstoppably exciting John Wick meets Weekend At Bernie’s meets Her hybrid with some of the year’s best editing and action sequences.
How many movies can boast a splattery headshot after Logan Marshall-Green – who y’all sleep on year after year – breaks Cyber Assassin #3’s arm, so his forearm canon’s pointed directly at his head? Not to mention how Whannell blows bloated studio sci-fi projects out of the water with comparatively meager means. This is a true testament to confidence behind the camera.
At the risk of sounding unoriginal or parroting other horror rankings, Ari Aster’s Heredity is 2018’s horror film to beat. Every mock shuffle that didn’t have Hereditary at #1 felt wrong. Toni Collette’s Oscar-worthy performance is just as significant a reason as Milly Shapiro’s paralyzing backseat exit. Alex Wolff’s a legitimate contender for Best Supporting Actor in my book, equally as important as Aster’s ability to coax every last drop of exasperating trauma from the quietest – and most patient – scares.
Then to counterbalance with parents engulfed by flames, wire decapitations, visual grotesqueries, and pure evil horror conceits? Hereditary’s package hasn’t an ounce of room left because every facet is packed in Tetris-tight. Cinematography that parallels Collette’s miniatures, a family in mourning, inescapable bloodline rituals – I could go on for days about how Aster shows more competence in his feature debut than decades-old veterans in his field.
Instead, I’ll say congratulations and end 2018 on another unimaginable high note.