As 2018 comes to a close, we take a look at the very best foreign horror films that the year has had to offer!
There is so much horror out there—both old and new—that it’s incredibly easy to miss some of the major titles that come out each year. Not only is to difficult to be aware of every upcoming horror film, but not all titles get major releases in every market. Sure, everyone saw Halloween and Hereditary, but here are some brilliant films from across the world that may not yet be on your radar. This year was incredible for domestic horror, but there are lots of exciting horror projects that are brewing outside of North America, too. So here’s a helpful list of some of the more impressive foreign endeavors from 2018!
Directed by Coralie Fargeat; France
Revenge goes for the throat and while it can be painful to watch at times, it amounts to an incredibly cathartic revenge story about female empowerment more than anything else. There are plenty of women scorned revenge films and the problem with many of them is that you have to endure so much physical and sexual abuse before the revenge actually begins. Revenge, however, finds a much more comfortable balance and this is very clear about Jen kicking ass, not being beaten down. Part of what makes Revenge such a memorable experience is Matilda Lutz’ performance as Jen. It’s unreal to watch this vicious near-death experience that she goes through essentially lead to her rebirth as a kick-ass Terminator-like force. Lutz sells both sides of the performance and the film turns up the psychological and cat and mouse elements to her rampage rather than reduce it to simply a violent bloodbath. The final showdown with her abuser is also such a visceral and messy fight that boils the film down to its gender binaries in a really moving way.
Directed by Tilman Singer; Germany
Luz’ plot about a taxi driver who goes to the police after she’s been assaulted is very simple at its surface level, but this is actually a shockingly unique and mysterious way to tell a story of obsession and demon possession. It touches on the lengths that a demon will go to secure their prey in a very unconventional style. The film also puts to use regression therapy and hypnosis as a means to help solve a crime and the mime-like results and impeccable sound design are one of the most creative things that I’ve seen in a movie all year. Luz is deeply confident in its storytelling and nothing is over-explained to the audience. Luz is only 70 minutes long, but it packs a lot into that runtime. It also feels like it’s some kind of lost relic from the ‘70s and carries a very Fulci-esque aesthetic. There is no doubt that this film will surprise you in one way or another.
Directed by Veronica Kedar; Israel/Germany
Veronica Kedar writes, directs, and stars in Family and it’s one of the more jarring looks at a fractured family that you’ll come across (this would actually make for a great double feature with Hereditary). Family explores why Lily would suddenly kill her entire family, but it presents the story in non-linear fashion to keep the audience guessing and generate mystery over this seismic act that she commits. This non-linear nature jumps through Lily’s life to depict various experiences with her family and why she’s grown to resent them to the point of murder. Family delicately handles these glimpses into this family’s past and it’s a strong way to make this story more layered. It also handles the difficult task of humanizing Lily, who begins the film as a monster, but is full of depth and emotion by the end. Family makes for an engrossing character study and psychological puzzle that actually has a lot to say about humanity. It makes certain strong stylistic choices, like how it presents itself almost like a session of therapy or inexplicably turns into a musical that help Family stand out even more.
Field Guide to Evil
Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, Peter Strickland, Agnieszka Smoczynska, Katrin Gebbe, Can Evrenol, Calvin Reeder, Ashim Ahluwalia, Yannis Veslemes; Austria, Greece, Poland, Germany, Turkey, USA, India, Hungary
Anthology films always wield a lot of potential, especially when they can put a bunch of new filmmakers on your radar or approach a common theme in a creative way. Field Guide to Evil’s approach is to pull from classic pieces of cultural folklore for its inspiration. As a result, the film pushes a gentler more archetypal attitude than a more aggressive horror anthology, but the whole point of this film is to highlight how horror stories from across the world and throughout different cultures still share many similarities. Not all of the eight stories here are winners, but they all tap into the same energy that makes this a fun, unusual anthology experiment, warts and all. These stories want to have fun and push a tradition of the form more than outright terrify their viewers. That being said, the variety in content here and how the movie specifically looks to be globally minded is wonderful. This will likely be your first exposure to many of these directors, even if there are a few slightly bigger names like Veronika Franz (Goodnight Mommy) and Can Evrenol (Baskin, Housewife) on the roster, too.
Ghost Mask: Scar
Directed by Takeshi Sone; South Korea, Japan
Ghost Mask: Scar plays in the world of plastic surgery and facial reconstruction, which can be a delightfully eerie field when in the right context. Ghost Mask: Scar looks at Miyu, who travels to Seoul in order to find her missing sister. Miyu doesn’t find her sister, but she does run into someone who certainly looks a lot like her and just like that the film begins to touch on areas of mistaken identity and wanting to be someone else. Ghost Mask: Scar is a very slow burn, but its final ten minutes go completely off the rails in psychotic lunacy and justify the entire picture. The film isn’t perfect, but the metamorphosis that these characters go through and the heavy things that are said about family and identity will stick with you just as much as the bloodshed.
Directed by Isabella Eklöfl; Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Turkey
Holiday is almost the antithesis to Revenge. It’s incredibly violent, features one of the most brutal, extreme rape scenes this side of Irreversible, and it was said to be the darkest film to come out of Sundance this year. Holiday is an exercise in endurance to get through, but it’s a film that’s worth it due to the complex character of Sascha and the tragic story that’s she caught in. Sascha is the trophy girlfriend to an abusive drug lord and she basically receives pain wherever she turns. However, Sascha learns to accept this abuse as the price of being this kingpin’s girlfriend and a crushing case of Stockholm Syndrome develops. It’s devastating to see Sascha turn down her possible escapes from this lifestyle and the film wants the viewer to ask if she’s even complicit in all of this. Holiday isn’t for everyone, but it still manages to subvert the typical expectations for this variety of revenge story. It’s an unflinching, fearless film and it’s clear that the film’s female director, Isabella Eklöfl, wants the audience to stew in that tension and trauma.
Directed by Demián Rugna; Argentina
Terrified is the perfect kind of disturbing ghost story that gets under your skin and stays there for the rest of the film. This is easily one of the scariest movies to come out of this year and Rugna’s film is a masterpiece in tones and genuine scares. What’s even better is that nothing in Terrified is exactly new. All of this has been done before in one sense or another, but the film still makes it work and creates a tense, unnerving experience in the process. Terrified also deserves points for rather than making its focus a haunted house, it makes it a whole haunted neighborhood. It’s a fun twist on the typical supernatural idea and allows much fuel for the film’s many scares. Demián Rugna is definitely someone to keep your eye on.
Directed by Xavier Gens; Spain/France
Frontier(s) filmmaker, Xavier Gens, returns with a much more methodical picture that attempts to dip its toe into the Lovecraftian pool with a delicate story about who the real monsters are. A man ventures to a secluded island that’s inhabited with a bizarre fish-like humanoid race. Cold Skin is a little clunky in its execution and at times does feel like a watered down take on The Shape of Water, but the movie boasts gorgeous cinematography and Gens still creates something beautiful here, even if it isn’t as deep as it thinks it is. If you can connect to the humanity within the film’s monsters then Cold Skin should work for you.
Directed by Robin Aubert; (Quebec) Canada
Ravenous manages to do the seemingly impossible and finds a way to make a new zombie film that feels different and challenging. Zombies are such an overdone genre that have been pushed in every extreme at this point, but the film’s intimate story of a small Quebec village that’s attacked by zombies is an immensely thrilling experience. The film doesn’t try to weave an overly complicated plot and instead falls back on sympathetic characters and the juxtaposition of peace and silence with mayhem. The film carries a relaxed attitude at times, but terror can strike at any moment and it’s this balance that makes Ravenous feel so unique, even if it’s built off of old ideas. It’s easy to see why Netflix jumped on this film for international distribution.
House of Sweat and Tears
Directed by Sonia Escolano; Spain
House of Sweat and Tears focuses on “She,” the leader of a twisted cult, however, the film notably takes place at a point where “She” begins to lose control of her followers. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure plagues the dreams of the cult members and it looks like this unseen force may gain favor and push “She” out of control. More than anything, House of Sweat and Tears really speaks to the horrors and brainwashing ability of cults that will completely erase a person’s identity. There’s one scene in the film that involves slapping that’s no different than anything seen in The Master. There’s also a devastating act of penance that involves glass in shoes that’s extremely hard to watch. It’s a testament to the powers of the film’s sound design, but it also really boils down what this film is about – commitment and sacrifice. A character also gets freaking crucified in this movie, so there is no shortage of disturbing images here, even if it does operate with a quiet intensity for the most part.
Honorable Mentions: Pascal Laugier’s Incident In A Ghost Land, Tower. A Bright Day, Possum, Ghost Stories, as well as Veronica and Cold Hell, which we included on last year’s list, but have now finally seen wider releases