It’s the age of Peak TV, but damn if it isn’t the era of Peak Movies, too — which means that sometimes films you absolutely should be seeing accidentally slip through the cracks. The critically lauded best-of culture lists that pour out at the end of the year usually represent blue-chip entertainment that’s likely been written about all year long, and thoroughly (ours included). But that doesn’t mean that the little hidden treasures should be left unaccounted for — and when it comes to horror, while you should definitely be celebrating the high-profile hits like Hereditary and Halloween, you should also check out the following list of more modest scary movies that have debuted this year. Here’s the best of what you might have missed in horror in 2018.
Are We Not Cats
One of the stranger body-horror experiences you can have this year. It’s a humble film with a slow build, and telling you anything about it would undermine the wonderful strangeness of watching the plot build to its climax. So all we’ll tell you is this: When an unmotivated guy is forced to move out of his parents’ house (and into the back of a moving van) after they sell the family home and relocate to sunny Arizona, his aimlessness and need for work leads him to a new acquaintance with a very strange habit. Written and directed by Xander Robin, Are We Not Cats keeps you feeling uneasy throughout, and comes to a bizarre boiling point that you just won’t see coming.
The Dark is about a formative relationship for a pair of young people, and those young people just happen to be a blind boy held captive by a clergyman and a zombie girl. Not like a shambling “brrraaaiiinnsss!” zombie, though. Mina’s life was taken under bad circumstances, and her undead state seems to be more like a curse — a purgatory state she dwells in between death and a life unfinished. But she still needs flesh to survive, and going on the hunt one day is what leads her to Alex, whom she finds hiding in the back of a weird old man’s car. The two are both in danger for very different reasons, and realize they’re more likely to survive if they stick together. It’s one of those coming-of-age tales wrapped in the conventions of horror — and aren’t interpersonal relationships more fun to watch when they involve undead teen girls feasting on bad men?
Fans of the 2008 movie Doomsday or those who enjoy a good “fall of civilization” thrill ride can find a weird little gem in The Domestics, which follows a husband and wife on the rocks as they fight to make a five-hour drive across the Midwest. A chemical attack has left America in ruins. Scores died in the immediate aftermath, and those who survived divided into factions. There are the gangs — the Cherries, the Nailers, the Sheets, and so on — and then there are the Domestics, the ones who are trying to maintain some semblance of civility among the madness. It all makes for a kind of The Purge meets Divergent scenario, complete with crazy melee battles, costumed baddies, and a strangely great ensemble cast. The husband and wife at the center of the story are played by Kate Bosworth and Tyler Hoechlin, and along the way they encounter Lance Reddick, David Dastmalchian, Brad Leland (Buddy Garrity!), and even Sonoya Mizuno. The Domestics isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, but it’s a fine ride.
Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum
This Korean found-footage movie features a group of people going into an infamous abandoned asylum for a livestreaming show about haunted destinations. The core group of three guys recruit a handful of willing adventurers to suit up with camera equipment and poke around the supernatural hot zones of Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital, which, spoiler, is extremely creepy! Gonjiam has claimed thrill seekers in the past, putting those who try to solve the mystery of room 402, allegedly the asylum’s most haunted area, at especially great risk. This movie grips you with fear because the increasing sense of panic among the ghost hunters transfers extremely effectively to the audience — for better or for worse.
Hell House LLC: Abaddon Hotel
Abaddon Hotel is a sequel to the 2015 movie Hell House LLC. Both follow documentary film crews investigating haunted houses where patrons were mysteriously killed, and the center of the story in the new movie is an abandoned hotel called the Abaddon. The documentarians are trying to figure out what happened to a group of friends and business associates who tried to set up a haunt at the old inn — only to have everything go murderously wrong on the opening night. A found-footage movie, Abaddon Hotel makes the absolute best of low-fi effects and creates an escalating sense of dread and unease that will get you screaming at your screen.
May The Devil Take You
Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto made two great films this year. One of them is a bone-liquifying martial-arts marathon called The Night Comes for Us, and the other is the haunted-house movie May the Devil Take You. When an aging man is hospitalized with a mysterious illness, his first daughter and the second family he left her behind to be with are brought together to sort out his estate. It’s too bad for everyone involved that the basement of a long-abandoned home he owns keeps a vengeful spirit inside — a spirit that’s in the mood to collect some souls. The monster of May the Devil is truly scary, and Tjahjanto, who directed Headshot, Killers, and the best segment in V/H/S 2, is a director to follow.
Monster Party will have appeal for the Purge fans out there, but it’s heavier on the just-because bombast and lighter on social messaging. What starts with a trio of thieves targeting an extravagant mansion in Malibu to score some quick cash becomes a game of survival when the petty crooks realize they’re working as fake caterers for some partygoers who are a lot more hard-core than a little group of burglars. Sometimes a horror fan just wants some over-the-top spree killing with an overfull scoop of gore on top. Monster Party — with an ensemble cast lead by Robin Tunney, Julian McMahon, Lance Reddick — is a fun popcorn flick when you’ve hit your quota of artsy Important Horror, and it doesn’t let you get comfortable in the notion that your heroes will make it out alive.
Possum is an exercise in patience and discomfort. It’s a slow-moving, surreal character study that calls to mind the suffocating dread of British horror from the 1970s, and is best explained only in the most surface-level terms. An emotionally crippled former children’s puppeteer named Philip finds himself getting sidelong glances from members of the community after a local teen boy goes missing. Philip, played with excruciating reserve by Sean Harris, is lonely. Isolated. And the only other figures in his life seem to be his grotesque stepdad and a disturbing puppet that he carries around in a satchel. It’s a talisman that he is both codependent on and desperate to get rid of — a relationship theme in Philip’s life that he will have to confront if he wants to defeat his demons, both internal and external. Writer and director Matthew Holness will really mess you up with this one.
When will teenagers learn that you never mess with occult rituals unless you’re really seriously prepared for the consequences? In Pyewacket, a high-school girl named Leah (Nicole Muñoz) is mourning the loss of her father and turns to the dark arts for comfort. When her mother, who is also crippled by grief, goes too far with the insults during an argument one night, it prompts Leah to summon a demon, Pyewacket, to get rid of her. But, wow, did this teen get in over her head! As days go by, Leah is haunted by more ominous signs of a malevolent presence — but is it all just in her head, or is her mother unknowingly standing in the path of a blood-hungry creature? Next time you think a blood ritual is the answer to your problems, definitely don’t!
The Ritual offers a surprisingly rare dynamic for horror movies in that it’s got a bunch of guys alone together in the woods. The story follows a group of men who meet up for a get-back-to-nature trip in the wilds of Sweden to honor one of their friends who was killed in a robbery gone awry. After one of them is significantly injured, the men decided to abbreviate their trip by taking a shortcut through an ominous forest. We’ll just cut through the woods, they said. It will take half the time, they said! With tensions running high, the bonds of friendship are tested, but so is the guys’ ability to withstand a supernatural onslaught.