Ah, “genre film.” Like “world music,” this vague catchall means a little less with every passing year, as the arbitrary walls of taste continue to fall. At its conception, it was exactly what it sounds like, referring to any picture that clearly lumped itself into a genre, so that they could be distinct from the more dignified umbrella of “drama.” In the present day, there’s plenty of disagreement among critics and academics about what this pair of words should actually means, many hoping to do away with the notion entirely and let movies be movies. But for the purposes of this list, the operating definition covers thrillers, sci-fi, and horror.

The following roundup of ten movies representing the cream of the genre crop has been assembled to convey the lushness and variety of this year’s offerings. In 2018, we got not one but two good Nic Cage movies (and ready your buns for a scorching 2019), a surge of new grotesquerie fueled by women and the feminine, a pair of love triangles ending in surreal violence, and just for flavoring, a generous helping of fake blood. Those among us looking for the outré need look no further:

1. Revenge

It’s a tale as old as time, or at least as old as the exploitation boom of the ‘60s and ‘70s: Some brute violates our heroine and leaves her to die, only for her to return and wreak her unholy vengeance. France’s Coralie Fargeat revitalizes these beats with a new, aggressively feminist edge, preferring to characterize her protagonist Jen (Matilda Lutz) as a breakable, recognizably human survivor rather than a victim-turned-avenging-angel.

2. Mom and Dad

One day, for no particular reason, parents nationwide start killing their kids. There’s not much more to this psychotic aria of violence from Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance co-director Brian Taylor (which, as we all now know, is a good movie) than that, and his strength as a filmmaker lies in proving that there doesn’t really need to be. Godard said all a film needs is a girl and a gun; I’d revise that to “80 solid minutes of unyielding beatdowns courtesy of Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair.”

3. Mandy

Re-enter the Cage with this hallucinatory mutant offspring of Hellraiser, in which the master thespian plays demon-slayer after a Manson-ish cult and gnarled gang of biker hellions jointly kill his lover (Andrea Riseborough). The path of his rampage guides us through frightening psychedelic interludes freely divorced from narrative and aesthetic reason — surely the year’s only work of cinematic Expressionism containing a chainsaw duel.

4. Let the Corpses Tan

Keep the oneiric high-art vibe going with the latest from Belgian husband-and-wife duo Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet, a sun-baked orgy of bullets and black leather against the vivid backdrop of the sapphire Mediterranean. A motley crew of robbers boosts some gold and head back to their hideout, unwittingly leading a pair of cops right to them for a bitter daylong shootout. But that’s just the hook on which the directors hang their mind-scrambling experiments with sound, color, repetition, and non-diegetic imagery.

5. Suspiria

Dario Argento’s 1977 original is like Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By,” an unimpeachable classic that gets in and gets out before wearing out its welcome. Luca Guadagnino’s take on the tale of an American ballerina tormented by witches at a German dance academy is more like Isaac Hayes’ cover of “Walk On By”: A super-sized amplification of themes to dizzying new highs, going so ornate and maximalist that the earlier work feels more like a jumping-off point than inspiration. Plus, Dakota Johnson crumples a human being into a little ball like a piece of scrap paper!

6. Annihilation

The female body also commanded a fearsome power in Alex Garland’s high-concept sophomore film, whether breaking down or morphing into unfamiliar new forms. Biology jumbles itself up within the iridescent dome of The Shimmer, an enigmatic zone into which a star-studded squadron (Natalie Portman and Tess Thompson being the clear standouts) must venture. The find no shortage of faunal horrors — the bear won’t leave your nightmares any time soon — but the gravest danger starts within their own cells.

7. The Endless

Nothing is as it seems in this confounding hybrid of sci-fi and horror from Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, the duo behind 2014’s under-seen Spring. A pair of brothers (played by Moorhead and Benson) return to a significant space from their past, but is it really the UFO death cult that one of them remembers it as? Figuring out just what the hell may be going on at any given moment is a puzzle game unto itself.

8. Superfly

Director X’s high-polish remake of the blaxploitation staple came and went with nary a peep, but I was a fan of its rap-video excesses and pent-up rage. My generation’s Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jackson) has a polyamorous relationship with two girlfriends, learns karate from sensei Michael K. Williams, and holds cops in the same contempt as dishonorable rival dealers. His quest to conquer the dope game so that he might one day escape it offered some of the purest hits of formal pleasure to be found at multiplexes this year.

9. Unsane

Lots of horror movies are based on true stories, but Soderbergh’s iPhone-shot terror is the rarity that seems like it could really happen to any of us. The amazingly-named Sawyer Valentini thinks she’s having a normal appointment with a counselor — little does she know she’s going to be tricked into signing a release and remanded against her will to a mental asylum until her insurance dries up. Oh, and her stalker just so happens to work there. Her tooth-and-nail fight to keep her head yields passages of sweat-breaking intensity.

10. Double Lover

From the French, something a little indulgent and a little kinky. Chloé (Marine Vacth) has a forbidden flirtation simmering with her therapist (Jérémie Renier), but only after they decide to give it a go and move in together does she discover he’s got an identical twin. He’s also a therapist, and so she goes to him for “sessions” that quickly slide into erotic mind games. Their twisted pas de trois does textbook Hitchcock, only without the restraint about skin.
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