JANUARY 5 ― It's been another strong year for genre films, which I'm defining as films from more specific genres like horror, thriller, action films/fight flicks and a certain brand of sci-fi/fantasy.
This is in line with the definition of the word in the world of film marketing, film criticism and festival programming as can be seen in the programming of festivals like Fantastic Fest, Fantasia Film Festival, Sitges Film Festival and the Midnight sections of Sundance and SXSW.
As usual, the more interesting (and therefore excellent) genre stuff will mostly be found in the indie sections of the film industry as opposed to the more mainstream Hollywood ones, as apart from A Quiet Place, we've lacked anything in 2018 that approaches the excellence and hit status of Hollywood genre hits like Get Out, Happy Death Day or The Conjuring from recent years.
But still, there are more than enough good stuff that came out in 2018 that I can not only make a top 10 list along with a few more honourable mentions, but I can also ignore major studio outings like The Nun, Truth Or Dare and The First Purge and still couldn't find the space to put in excellent films like The Night Eats The World, Habit and The Dark, and that's after putting One Cut Of The Dead and The Commuter in my favourite films of 2018 list last week.
The Witch In The Window
The Haunting Of Hill House is one of genre's greatest achievements in 2018, but since it's a 10-episode series on Netflix, it doesn't really qualify as a “film”, making me unable to put it on this list.
But if you loved the series, especially its haunting mix of subtle scares and emotional family dynamics, you'll find plenty to love in this low-budget, under-the-radar film from director Andy Mitton. It's one of those films where the less you know, the better it is for your viewing experience.
All I can say is that it's about an estranged father trying to reconnect with his son by taking him along on a house restoration project, and that the house reportedly once belonged to a witch.
Where the film goes with this story is what makes it so special, especially the unforgettable emotional punch you'll feel at the end.
I've been telling people about the virtues of the writing and directing team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead for years now, with them even gracing one of my lists in 2015 with their film Spring.
They're back with another unclassifiable sci-fi and horror hybrid called The Endless, about two brothers returning to a UFO death cult that once raised them when they were younger, after finding it difficult to adjust to normal life, only to discover that not all is as they remembered.
It's a refreshingly original film that's filled with its own mythology (go see their debut film Resolution first, and The Endless will be an even more startling viewing experience), and proves that a low budget is not an impediment to big ambitions.
Another follow-up film from an alumni of one of my lists from previous years, Turkish writer-director Can Evrenol (whose 2016 film Baskin was my favourite that year) returns with a head trip of a bang with Housewife, a Turkish production in English involving astral projection, murder, childhood trauma and destiny that plays like a trippy retelling of the story in Hereditary, but with wilder visuals and crazier concepts.
The spoken English can take a bit of getting used to, as it's pretty obvious that it's not the first language of almost everyone in the cast, but that small niggle aside, this is another hugely impressive piece of horror film-making from this young Turkish auteur.
A wondrous achievement from the glorious mind of Panos Cosmatos, this is a rarity in genre film-making in that it plays almost like a beautiful arthouse film ― it's such a sensual and visceral experience that it needs you to submit to its dream/nightmare logic in order to fully experience the pleasures on offer.
To just describe the narrative is not even a quarter of the actual experience watching it.
Just sit back, and be hypnotised by this tale of a man, his wife, a cult, a gang of demon bikers, and ultimately, bloody vengeance.
To put it simply, this latest film from Filipino genre auteur Erik Matti plays a bit like The Raid, because it's also about a raiding police squad caught in a criminals' den, only this time this thrilla is in Manila!
Also, instead of a multi-storey building, the criminals' den is smack in the middle of a labyrinthine Manila slum, and instead of neatly choreographed hand to hand combat, BuyBust is full of realistic, messy and wildly choreographed shootouts and fight scenes.
A glorious rampage of an action movie, it's quite unbelievable that the film's lead is Anne Curtis, previously a rom-com queen, giving her all and very convincingly too!
A feminist rape-revenge film has been a long time coming, and it's finally here in director Coralie Fargeat's debut film, which might just be the most gorgeously shot rape-revenge film that I've ever seen so far.
It still follows the expected plot beats of previous rape-revenge films like I Spit On Your Grave and its many sequels, but what makes this one different is that it's made by a female director, and seeing this kind of film from a female perspective is not something one can experience in the genre film scene every day.
The fact that it's made this well makes it even more special.
One of the most critically acclaimed horror films of 2018, Hereditary deserves every single word of praise it got for delivering what is at first a classy psychological horror flick, about a mother possibly losing her mind, before going totally off the rails with its other storyline involving poisoned bloodlines and destiny (it’s titled Hereditary for a reason) is wonderfully spooky stuff.
This, like The Babadook, The Witch and It Follows from recent years, is one of those “elevated genre” films that fans and critics like to talk about, a genre film with all the class, invention and imagination that one can expect from the mind of a true artist.
I can’t wait to see what writer-director Ari Aster comes up with next.
2018 wasn’t such a hot year for lo-fi sci-fi films. True, there are many of those made and released, but not many of them managed to catch the eye, let alone approach true classics like Primer and Coherence.
Time Trap, Sequence Break and Higher Power were some of the better ones from 2018, but the real discovery is undoubtedly Bruce Wemple and his film Altered Hours.
An intricate time travel scenario that plays like a blend of Primer, Predestination, Coherence and Memento but with drugs as the catalyst instead of the usual time machine (it might even make sense to call this Requiem For A Predestination, if you know what I mean) this is a hugely entertaining and smart little film that deserves a large audience.
A Quiet Place
A critical and box office smash, I never expected John Krasinski (who previously made typical US indies like The Hollars and Brief Interviews With Hideous Men) to have genre blood in him, but A Quiet Place is quite simply brilliant in the pure simplicity of its hook ― the planet has been invaded by creatures who are blind, hungry and navigate by sound, so the few survivors will have to navigate their lives around that.
It’s a family in peril scenario that’s ruthlessly efficient in its scares that you might even find yourself holding your breath, trying not to make a sound, just like the characters in the movie.
Not since the similarly amazing Don’t Breathe has a thriller been this consistently nail-biting.
Sebelum Iblis Menjemput
If there's one thing that connects the many films that involve the writing and directing talents of Timo Tjahjanto, it's his love for over the top bloodletting.
From Rumah Dara to Killers to Headshot and 2018's most gloriously ultra-violent fight flick The Night Comes For Us, he's never shied away from splashing not only copious amounts of blood, but also chunks of flesh and bone, despite the kind of censorship that Indonesian films are subject to when it comes to violence.
So when he makes a horror flick that's clearly a love letter to Sam Raimi and his Evil Dead films with Sebelum Iblis Menjemput, which is of course about a group of people encountering evil in an abandoned old house, one can reasonably expect another well-imagined and well-executed gorefest, which is exactly what he delivers here.
Fun and scary, this is what all horror rollercoaster rides should feel like!
Honourable mentions: Searching, Lowlife, Upgrade, Pyewacket, Mohawk, Mom And Dad.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.