I was lucky enough to attend the entire run of this year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. But even though I was at the Alamo Drafthouse every day between September 20th and September 27th, it was impossible to see every movie that screened at the genre extravaganza. As anyone who’s attended Fantastic Fest can attest, there are way more viewing options than hours in a day. Plus, there’s always the possibility that two great films will be screening at the same time, meaning difficult choices are sometimes necessary.
I would have loved to have seen Climax, In Fabric, The Boat, and The Unthinkable (among many others), but it wasn’t meant to be. Still, having taken in over two dozen films in eight days, I feel qualified to compose a list of the Top 10 horror movies that screened at Fantastic Fest 2018. I’ve included trailers for each film and, when available, reviews.
Believe the hype. Everything you’ve heard out of TIFF and Fantastic Fest is true. When Michael Myers slashes his way back into theaters on October 19th, moviegoers will be treated to the most terrifying, extreme incarnation of The Shape since John Carpenter’s original Halloween. It’s poised to make a killing at the box office (pun intended) with the potential to revitalize the slasher subgenre of horror in a major way. Director David Gordon Green and his script co-writer Danny McBride have created something that will please old-school franchise fans; at the same time, Halloween 2018 successfully expands the mythology into the 21st Century breathing new life into this classic property.
Cam is a deceptively nuanced experience that will thrill many horror fans while completely perplexing others. In many ways, it’s exactly what to expect: A sordid, voyeuristic look into the life of a cam girl who uses beauty and manipulation to rake in thousands of dollars from legions of adoring fans online. Unfortunately, the Internet isn’t as safe as it used to be and its promised anonymity is little more than an illusion. Behind the curtain, our heroine’s life is in turmoil; one of her followers has crossed the line into physical stalking and, worse, someone has hijacked her profile. But the mastermind of her downfall isn’t a jealous competitor or a cunning doppelganger; rather, something nearly unfathomable—and absolutely terrifying.
In a nutshell, Level 16 could be described as a young adult version of The Handmaid’s Tale. But it’s more than that: Level 16 is a timely exploration of the commoditization of beauty and how society forces oppressive expectations on young women. Making brilliant use of a spartan set, the film takes place in a prison-like school for girls, an institute that prepares them for “adoption” once they’ve been thoroughly indoctrinated. Obedience is prized above all other virtues. The most chilling aspect of this dystopian nightmare is the fact that it’s not set in a distant future, rather it could be an era just beyond tomorrow’s horizon.
Rory Culkin rules Lords of Chaos as Euronymous, the creative pioneer who invented true Norwegian black metal. Depending on who you ask, he was either manipulative Svengali holding sway over legions of obsessed fans or an opportunistic and shrewd alpha male who took credit for the achievements (and atrocities) of others. Based on the true story of the band Mayhem, Lords of Chaos is a portrait of a cultural phenomenon, one contingent on a specific time (the 1980s) and geography (Scandinavia). It’s a perfect storm of youthful rebellion, competitive one-upmanship, and a desire to push a specific subgenre of music to violent extremes. It was an era that left burning churches and a sizable body count in its wake.
The Night Shifter
This grisly black comedy out of Brazil begins where The Sixth Sense ended: A morgue technician with a lifelong ability to communicate with the dead has taken it upon himself to comfort those transitioning into the afterlife. He gets in trouble, however, when he uses the secrets of the dead to meddle in the lives of the living (specifically, his cheating wife and her lover). Before long, our antihero is in trouble with dangerous characters on both sides of the veil that separates the living from the dead. For the sake of his children, he’ll do whatever it takes to set things straight, but the dead seem hellbent on vengeance, making for a dizzying and devastating final act.
One Cut of the Dead
We’ve seen meta horror movies before, but One Cut of the Dead takes meta to new levels, completely obliterating the lines between fiction and reality. A director is hired to produce a “reality” TV segment about the set of a zombie movie that gets overrun by actual zombies. See what I’m saying? We essentially get three films in one: The final product, the history of the project, and a behind the camera look at what it took to pull off the project. The credits even feature some actual behind the scenes footage, making One Cut of the Dead meta squared! It’s not as confusing as I’m probably making it sound and, at the end of the day, it’s a love letter to seat-of-your-pants indie filmmaking.
The secret screening at Fantastic Fest 2018 was one of the worst kept secrets ever! Still, attendees were thrilled to experience the North American premiere of Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, even if aspects of the film left some scratching their heads. Anchored by powerful turns from Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, and Mia Goth, it’s a stark departure for Dario Argento’s original Suspiria. I was surprised to discover the film takes place is the same year as Argento’s film, but is set in another city: the divided Berlin of the 1970s. Considerably longer than 1977’s Suspiria, Guadagnino’s movie spends significant time with characters that didn’t even exist in the source material and, while they don’t necessarily add volumes to the previously established mythologies, they don’t distract or dilute the film’s impact as a whole. While Suspiria exhibits many arthouse sensibilities, it’s bloody and hypnotic climax will thrill even the most hardened horror purists.
How much trauma can one family endure! The Norwegian film The Quake is a sequel to 2015’s The Wave. It sees the same family who endured a tsunami in the idyllic fjords relocated to the bustling metropolis of Oslo—just in time for an unprecedented seismic event. Like before, geologist Kristian Eikjord (played by Kristoffer Joner) is a modern-day Cassandra, blessed with foreknowledge but cursed by the inability to change inevitable catastrophes. Considering how many times we’ve seen cities crumble in disaster movies, you might think there’s nothing left to do when it comes to buildings falling down—but you’d be wrong. The CGI is perfect for illustrating an earthquake on a massive scale, and the aftermath is just as nerve-shredding as the initial, powerful jolt. In addition to being a film about destruction, it’s the story of a father willing to walk through hell in order to protect his family.
You Might Be the Killer
You Might Be the Killer was part of Fantastic Fest’s Midnight slate and it’s the perfect flick to watch with a group of friends; a good time, horror comedy with a twist. It stars genre favorites Fran Kranz (Marty from The Cabin in the Woods) as Sam and Alyson Hannigan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Willow) as his BFF Chuck. You Might Be the Killer could be considered a spiritual successor to Scream, a meta-horror movie about a terrified camp councilor who just might be his own worst enemy. With a crackling script and great chemistry amongst the supporting ensemble cast, it’s simultaneously a celebration and a send-up of supernatural slashers. While tropes are often upended, the cardinal rules of horror prove difficult to break.
Under the Silver Lake
If possible, Under the Silver Lake may prove even more divisive than David Robert Mitchell’s debut feature film, It Follows. Like it’s predecessor, Under the Silver Lake takes place in a world both familiar and alien. While the Los Angeles suburb of Silver Lake is accurately portrayed, the film goes to some truly bizarre places—literally and thematically. Andrew Garfield plays Sam, a shiftless Hollywood hipster who finds himself caught up in a series of mysteries involving a missing neighbor, a serial dog killer, and a cult of elitists seeking transcendence. Just as Sam pulls coded messages seemingly out of the ether, Under the Silver Lake offers viewers ample opportunities to play detective, stuffed with patters, symbols, and subtexts that will have curious cinephiles like myself returning for multiple viewings. Under the Silver Lake is long, and rumors suggest Mitchell and A24 are butting heads over whether or not to release a truncated version when the film hit theaters on December 7th.
Did you attend Fantastic Fest 2018? If so, what do you think of my selections for the Top 10 horror movies screened? What are some films you think should have made the list? Sound off in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram!