M.L. Miller here! Welcome horror fans to my Annual countdown of the Best of the Best in Horror! The countdown is going to be running every day through October, culminating to the best horror film of the year announced on October 31st. Some of these films can be found in theaters—others have unfortunately only seen the light of day On Demand, DVD, BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews how you can watch and enjoy these films yourselves.

How did I compile this list? There’s no real method to my special brand of madness. I simply looked through films released between October 1st 2017 and September 30, 2018 and worked and reworked the list until I had 31. This countdown is not for the elitists or festival goers, so if the film hasn’t been released to the masses, it won’t be on the list. Also anything released in October will most likely be on next year’s list—so sorry, no films like HALLOWEEN or SUSPIRIA just yet. I hope you’ll join me daily and don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web. I’ll also provide a second film suggestion in a separate post that is worth noting this year or missed being on the list by a skosh for those who can’t get enough horror.

So let’s get to it! Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, and most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!

#3 HOLD THE DARK

Why is HOLD THE DARK #3? Eeking into #3 at the last minute is HOLD THE DARK, Jeremy Saulnier’s third and best film to date. His last two films, BLUE RUIN and THE GREEN ROOM, appeared high on my countdown even though neither of them are cut and dry horror films. And while HOLD THE DARK might be fluid in what genre it adheres to, I try to make the argument below as to why I think it showed up on this list and why so high on the list. Simply put, it’s an amazing film. So even if it doesn’t have all of horror’s tropes, it still fills you with fear, dread, horror, bad feelings, thrills, and chills—both physical and psychological. And if that isn’t what a horror movie does to you, I don’t know what does. HOLD THE DARK is available exclusively on Netflix!

HOLD THE DARK (2018)

Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Written by Macon Blair (screenplay by), William Giraldi (based on the book by)
Starring Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgård, Riley Keough, James Badge Dale, Julian Black Antelope, Beckam Crawford, Tantoo Cardinal, onathan Whitesell, Savonna Spracklin, Peter McRobbie, Macon Blair, Bobbi Jaye

While HOLD THE DARK could be seen as a hard edged drama, an soulful action adventure, a crime laden thriller, or a savage man vs. nature style film, I can’t help but see it as a heady horror film. I hope this review can somehow explain why I feel this way, so walk with me, even if you disagree on what genre this film truly falls into. In the end, it’s a marvelous achievement signifying Saulnier as a treasure true cinemaphiles will find priceless. For me, though, HOLD THE DARK can be categorized as an existential werewolf film and maybe one of the best werewolf films you’re ever going to see.


Now don’t start doubting you saw some other film than I did. There are no transformation sequences or pentagrams on the wrist. There are no hairy palms or connected eyebrows or even mention of a silver bullet. None of the werewolf lore is present. Still, this is more about that old chestnut about the two wolves at war within us all. HOLD THE DARK’s main theme is the animal in all of us and how it is so easy for that animal to tear through that façade society makes us wear in order for us to get along in polite company. For the life of me, I couldn’t stop likening this one to another thinking-man’s werewolf film WOLFEN—mainly because if you look at this as a symbolic tale of man’s struggle to war with the wolf within, you might just see where I’m going with this one.

The story goes like this. In a dreary Alaskan town, the scant populace knows not to venture too far out into the woods as a vicious pack of wolves seem to be on the hunt. With two abductions already occurring with no bodies to be found, a woman named Medora Sloane (Riley Keough) believes her son Bailey to be the pack’s next victim as he has disappeared. With her husband Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard) overseas in the military, Medora sends a letter to Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) asking for help. Russell wrote a book about how he hunted down a wolf and killed it, so Medora believes that he can find the wolves that ate her son and do the same. Events bring Vernon back home as Russell makes a disturbing discovery putting everyone on the hunt for each other. What proceeds involves wolf masks, machine guns, bows and arrows, wolves, and much, much carnage.


HOLD THE DARK is not a movie I want to spoil, but I do want to talk about it, so it might be best to just know at this point that it’s a fantastic movie with stellar performances, grueling scenes of wartime carnage as well as more horror and blood back home in the cold north, and some of the most beautiful scenery you’re going to see. Saulnier takes his time in this film soaking in the atmosphere, leaving long moments for us to soak in the cold and really feel that shiver Jefffrey Wright is feeling through this whole film. Not only is it freezing outside, but there is an almost supernatural or alien coldness that makes everything inhuman and without emotion. Saulnier communicates this expertly throughout, be it with the cold stares of the cast, the slow pacing of the dialog, or just shots of the icy snow that covers everything.

Now, I know folks might get annoyed because of a few things going on with this film. The characters all speak in the Lynchian slow speak, making every word count and sink in. This is no Tarantino film where folks babble for five minutes before the plot decides to proceed. This film relies on everything but the dialog to propel the story, but when the words are spoken, you know they are important because it feels all of the characters involved measure them closely. This film also is very broad. Sure, you can follow it through the vicious actions, the blood and the wolves, and rooting for your favorite stars to survive. But it is a film that isn’t an easy digestion. It makes you think. It doesn’t explain everything by the end. Hell, it doesn’t explain much in the end. But it does give clues and those clues are fascinating. So while this is film has some scenes that are absolutely riveting (the farmhouse machine gun shootout is one of the most tension laden sequences I’ve endured since Michael Mann’s HEAT), it’s the subtle hints in the dialog and the actions of the characters that reveal another level to this film to enjoy if you want to do the work.


As I wrap this review up, there will be SPOILERS, as it has to do with the werewolf analogy. Throughout the film, everyone is coping with their own wolves inside of them. Wright’s Russell is in the latter years of his life, regretful of his wilder days keeping him away from his daughter. THE DEPARTED’s James Badge Dale is a sheriff coping with his duty to two packs—his wife and unborn child and his squad of rookie deputies who are ill equipped to deal with the hell Vernon is unleashing on this small town. And then there are the Sloanes, both wolves themselves, acting out horrific behaviors only seen in the wildest of wolves. This point is driven home when Vernon dons the wolf mask when he is on the trail of Medora, who has acted pretty savagely herself, it turns out. All of these monsters—banging around each other howling at the moon and bearing their teeth. It makes for one hell of a monster mash, by the end. END SPOILER

So while this isn’t your typical horror film, it does show how horrific man can truly be to one another. Wright offers up another sympathetic performance. Keough again gives off that alien vibe she seems to emanate in every role she plays. Dale is fantastic and you root for him to succeed, even though the odds are stacked tall against him as the noble, yet beleaguered sheriff. And Skarsgard is a force of nature in this film with his cool demeanor and ever threatening glare. Saulnier has offered up some pretty palpable swan-dives into the abyss of despair and does so again with a much bigger budget, proving that there is nothing to go but up for this immensely talented filmmaker (props also have to go to Mason Blair, who has been with him all the way and whose script is resonant here). Saulnier was already a filmmaker I paid close attention to. HOLD THE DARK elevates him up to the master class. However you categorize this film, HOLD THE DARK is excellence in moviemaking and should not be missed.


THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR…


#31 – Sam Patton’s DESOLATION
#30 – CULT OF CHUCKY
#29 – 1922
#28 – PSYCHOPATHS
#27 – GHOST STORIES
#26 – PYEWACKET
#25 – DOWNRANGE
#24 – MAYHEM
#23 – COLD SKIN
#22 – THELMA
#21 – THE BABYSITTER
#20 – TONIGHT SHE COMES
#19 – THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD
#18 – THE RITUAL
#17 – FAKE BLOOD
#16 – BETTER WATCH OUT
#15 – MARROWBONE
#14 – MOM AND DAD
#13 – THE ENDLESS
#12 – BLACK HOLLOW CAGE
#11 – FOUND FOOTAGE 3D
#10 – LET HER OUT
#9 – MON MON MON MONSTERS
#8 – ANNIHILATION
#7 – HEREDITARY
#6 – CREEP 2
#5 – INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND
#4 – REVENGE
#3 – HOLD THE DARK


Best of lists from previous years;
2016-17 #1 – RAW
2015-16 #1 – THE VVITCH
2014-15 #1 – THE CANAL
2013-14 #1 – PROXY
2012-13 #1 – MANIAC
2012 #1 – THE WOMAN
2011 #1 – THE LAST CIRCUS

Happy Halloween!


M. L. Miller is an original AICN @$$Hole formerly known as Ambush Bug/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.

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Don’t forget to share and like and finally, Happy Horror Holiday Month to Everyone!