2018: YEAR IN REVIEW
“The Shape of Water” (Directed by Guillermo del Toro) This only really counts as a 2018 film in the UK, as it was actually released on Valentine’s Day over here but months earlier everywhere else. However it was an appropriate date for this wonderful genre-mashing movie. It’s a pure delight from beginning to end, with incredible performances from Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, and Michael Shannon. It perhaps represents the culmination of del Toro’s work so far, seamlessly fusing horror, monsters, romance, and social commentary… and even a surreal excursion into musicals. The deaf Elisa Esposito (Hawkins) falls for the Amphibious Man (Jones) and must save him from the clutches of the evil military and predictable Government short-sightedness.
It’s basically an unashamed update of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”, but mixed with mature themes and empathy. During the perfectly judged and sometimes nail-biting sequences, del Toro provides an ode of love to all the outsiders in society. If you’re marked by physical, sexual, racial differences, then you’re still not as “monstrous” as the “normal” folk in this periodic fable. Deservedly bagging an Oscar for the director (and a nomination for Hawkins), you really owe it to yourself to see it, if you haven’t already done so.
“Annihilation” (Directed by Alex Garland) Sadly bypassing a big screen release in the UK (where it would have looked awesome), this sci-fi horror went immediately to Netflix in many areas, but was a definite cut above most straight-to-streaming productions. Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, it contains many of the mind-bending and existential touches that you would expect from the maker of “Ex Machina”. It also has some phenomenal performances from the talented female-centric cast including Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Ostensibly it follows the journey of Lena (Portman) as she travels into a slowly expanding electromagnetic field (“The Shimmer”) with an entourage of scientists. Of course the story is so much more than that, and explores themes of “self” and humanity. But it also works as a straightforward horror/thriller, with one of the best “creature” scenes that you’ll see this year. The sequence where Portman and Co. are menaced by a “bear”, which is mutated and emits human screams, is a real chilling stunner. The maturity with which Garland adapts the source material is also worthy of high praise, with numerous clues and Easter eggs pointing to a challenging denouement. It’s the unexpectedly classiest piece of sci-fi horror from this year.
“A Quiet Place” (Directed by John Krasinski) This finely tuned apocalyptic horror was the surprise sleeper hit of the year, becoming the highest earning genre movie in the US and taking over $340m worldwide. You wouldn’t expect the star of “The Office” and his wife to be so savvy with scare tactics and effective horror, but that’s what happened here. The plot takes the genius theme of a family unit adapting to a world of silence, and milks that sucker for all that its worth. Whilst the premise takes inspiration from a number of classics like “Alien” and “Predator”, Krasinski shows incredible flair for directing the narrative with a remarkable freshness and vigour.
Taking place sometime in the near future, humanity and most animals have been decimated by blind monsters that are indestructible and hunt by sound. Lee and Evelyn Abbott (Krasinski and real-life spouse Emily Blunt) must live in silence, lest they attract the beasts. This makes for a string of meticulously crafted sequences, which had audiences chewing their fingernails down to the knuckles, and finally stopped needless talking from half-wits during screenings! From the heart-breaking opening, to the nerve-shredding birthing scene, and the perfect ending… it just works on so many levels. And it even proves that PG-13 horror can still be scary if done right. It will be interesting to see where the planned s