10. Better Watch Out

Chris Peckover’s Better Watch Out (formerly Safe Neighborhood) is best consumed with zero knowledge of plot or spoilers. You can expect Christmas themes, nasty Home Alone turns, and babysitter home-invasion “horror” that savors each dash of seasonal malevolence. Decked-out performances from Levi Miller and Olivia DeJonge are the bow on top of this twisted, sometimes expected master plan, appreciated in terms of what expectancies or candy-striped twists might play out. JUST TRUST ME.

9. Among The Living

Filmmakers Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury are familiar with the stench of “Distribution Hell,” not exclusive to their Leatherface prequel. See: Among The Living, a 2014 SXSW premiere that toured festivals until 2015 then vanished. Shudder’s 2017 rebirth is something of a miracle, as Among The Living was entering that fabled “I swear this movie exists!” phase among North American audiences. France and Turkey were lucky enough to get full rollouts, but nothing stateside. Thankfully, that’s now in the past.

So the movie itself – holy shit. What else do you expect from the creators of Inside and Livide? There are some glaring story issues – antagonist motivations primarily – but interest never wavers. Bustillo and Maury are masters of the punishingly macabre, and with It/Stand By Me vibes thrown in, Among The Living becomes this pseudo-coming-of-age-slasher with a taste for blood. Men, women and children alike. Equality in beaten bodies, and some seriously tormented messages at that.

8. Therapy

Who said found footage is going out of style? Nathan Ambrosioni’s Therapy features murders caught on tape, but only as supplemental recordings in a dueling criminal narrative. For too long we’ve wondered “Who is watching these ‘found’ films, and more importantly, who is editing them?!” Well, consider your questions answered. Law enforcement are forced to review snuffy evidence tapes, and it’s not with pleasure. How else are you going to catch a killer?

It’s such a smart deviation from subgenre norms. Play a section of video, then pull back into third-person while law enforcement makes sense of gruesome murder tapes. You get your slasher elements – a slow-moving killer with a mask – and some planted found footage thrills, but that’s not all! Ambrosioni ensures an even meatier story once the televisions are shut off, questions left to be answered. How hasn’t this format been exploited before? I bet that’s what a ton of other horror filmmakers are thinking after they’ve kicked themselves black-and-blue.

7. We Are The Flesh

We Are The Flesh is one of those deduce-your-own-meaning experiences that never apologizes for walking an ambiguous line. Incest, cannibalism and blasphemous intent? It’s a “WTF” movie with a capital “REPENT OR BE DAMNED” if I’ve ever seen one. We Are The Flesh has rewatch value like a hypnotizing orgy of hedonistic intrigue, worthy of each ever-fucked deep dive. Religion, morality, humanity, realism – it’s all burned on a pyre. You can only watch and achieve your own nirvana, which becomes oddly possible.

Director Emiliano Rocha Minter smashes together the stylings of Michel Gondry and Lars Von Trier in We Are The Flesh. Imagery tells a sadistic story hinged on cultism and blind faith, deliberate in its borderline-pornographic provocation. Minter perverts humanity and we’re left with so many questions. But in a good way. I think? There’s plenty to revisit, and in most cases, repeat viewings will be necessary when deciphering meaning. That’s the beauty of it all. “Beauty” being subjective, of course.

6. Lake Bodom

In an era where slashers have become a fad of the past (except on television with the likes of Scream and Scream Queens before the axe fell), Lake Bodom is a breath of stale Nordic air. Taneli Mustonen plays with a true crime legend by exploiting one of its rumored realities, bringing to life the whispered fears of small-town locals. Teenagers, drugs, and a vacation destination that should never be. Sounds like the recipe for so many sleepover rentals of yesteryear – and that’s when everything pivots.

Just like a good foreign indie does, Mustonen swerves down a dangerous road that takes cues from such films as High Tension and The Cabin In The Woods. Each young-adult actor approaches their arc with seasoned intrigue and does well to blur motivation, playing into a story with so much worth discovering. Cinematography and tension may overshadow true “scares,” but such creates lip-smacking horror appeal. Slashers are back in style with Lake Bodom. Dark and sinister, like the moonlit waters of a proper genre baptism.

5. The Witch In The Window

Filmmaker Andy Mitton steps away from frequent co-creator Jesse Holland on his individual feature debut The Witch In The Window and there’s certainly no confidence lost. Alex Draper stars as a home-restoring father who brings his son to a haunted fixer-upper. Maybe he’ll escape, maybe he’ll be consumed by a grieving apparition. Along the way you’ll experience two of 2018’s most chilling haunted house scares, an exemplary display of familial horror in a year stacked with similarly themed genre efforts, and a 77-minute running length because Mr. Mitton respects your time. Terrifying, traumatizing, and to the point. A perfect streaming horror formula.

4. Always Shine

Sophia Takal’s cautionary Hollywood tale is one of the more hypnotic, gender-pumped thrillers as of the last few years. Much like my number one pick below, Always Shine benefits from a free-spirited female POV. Claws fly and tempers rage. Takal’s starlet subjects are used, chewed-out and exploited by male gazes, both professionally and for pleasure. Do you get pegged as the pretty bimbo, or starve as a female artist who dies on her mountain of pride? Neither a fair sentencing, but both are reality.

Caitlin FitzGerald and Mackenzie Davis sell every single quarrel, yoga pose and suppressed outlash. One struggles with jealous resentment, the other “flaunts” her moderate success. Whether it becomes a competition for attention or an argument about opportunistic regret, Always Shine does just that thanks to Takal’s leading ladies. So dark a story, so delicious a setup. And you better believe that current social/political realities only make these fears/complaints/warnings ten times more relevant.

3. Mayhem

Joe Lynch’s Mayhem never fails to provide angry, “Worksploitation” thrills in a white-collar office environment. It’s what happens when Dante’s Inferno meets 28 Days Later meets Office Space. Steven Yeun stars as Derek Cho, a driven employee of Towers & Smythe Consulting, while Samara Weaving’s Melanie Cross picked the wrong day to fight her foreclosure notice. Together they battle the bullshit of corporate bureaucracy one floor at a time, murdering any desk cronies who stand in their way.

Yeun’s performance is everything that eats away at a corporate stooge like myself. Someone who grinds, toils, yet harbors passions that exist outside cubicle walls (but, like, nowhere near as exaggerated as depicted). It’s enough to call Mayhem rage-infection fun as coworkers expel some much-needed demons, but Lynch’s societal commentary is equally loud. Nor is Weaving’s star-making role as a badass genre mainstay. Mayhem is a wonderfully damaged middle finger to corporate culture, gleeful in its desire to decorate cubicles with bloody red splatters.

2. Satan’s Slaves

I’ve said it before, I’ve said it again, and I’m not shutting up until the entire world has seen Joko Anwar’s Satan’s Slaves. Expect parallels to Hereditary via family “curses,” atmospheric control on par with James Wan, and scares that’ll fill your scream tank for years. I’ve been writing about this movie incessantly on /Film and I apologize, but so often under-the-radar gems *still* get overlooked no matter how much content is churned out in their name. Satan’s Slaves does not deserve such a fate. Satan’s Slaves is designed to shock and disturb households across the world like an inescapable plague. Inarguably of the top horror films of 2018.

1. Prevenge

My favorite Shudder Exclusive thus far is Prevenge, the most sublime slasher to strike in quite some time. Alice Lowe’s murderous mommy-to-be only kills because her fetus telepathically orders her to, like a pregnant Son of Sam scenario. What follows is maternal mayhem from a female perspective, empathetically tuned to single-mother fears and a general parenting paranoia. Prenatal punishment with a side of Tarantino character devotion – you better not be sleeping on this one.

The fulfilling sense of womanly creation is no novelty here. Prevenge is a horror/thriller that could only be conceived by a truly pregnant mastermind, in this case writer/director Alice Lowe. Every kill is brilliant. The bop-your-head synth soundtrack evokes a very John Carpenter feel. Carnage, while brief, is brutally practical. Lowe feverishly controls themes and has an absolute blast diving into placenta mind-control psychosis.  A single Halloween party scene shows what vision this feature-debut filmmaker possesses, from shot selection to costume approval –  no one is going to forget Disco Dan. To say Prevenge is anything short of brilliant would be a lie.

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