Genre films had a heck of a year the box office, and in fact, may have very well saved the box office post-COVID. While franchise staples like Scream and Halloween Ends made a pretty buck, it was the breakout films and movies unattached to franchises that really deserve accolades this year, films like Barbarian, The Black Phone, Smile, and Pearl (Mia Goth for an Oscar nomination, anyone?). I have no doubt these films will be re-watched in the years to come, and because this was such a strong year for horror, I sometimes wonder if people will look back on 2022 the way that they look back on 1984, 1978, and other benchmark years for the genre, wishing they could have seen some of these films in the theater for the first time.
Without further ado, here are my top horror films of 2022.
Speak No Evil
This film premiered at Sundance 2022’s Midnight section, and for me, it was the breakout. Director Christian Tafdrup’s feature has a nasty and bleak ending, one that haunts you long after the credits roll. The story follows a Danish family that visits a Dutch family they met on holiday. It should be an idyllic weekend, but something seems off. To say much more would spoil this one, especially its shocking ending. Sometimes, the world is simply evil without much of a reason for it. For many, I suspect this film will be a one-time viewing, and that’s just fine. I almost feel bad for recommending it…almost.
Read my initial review from Sundance here.
Here’s another that debuted at Sundance 2022, and it’s a good chaser for Speak No Evil. Director Mimi Cave’s horror-comedy is a warning to women: be careful about the men you meet. Fresh follows Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), who meets handsome and charming Steve (Sebastian Stan) at a grocery store. Frustrated with dating apps, she gives him her digits. Immediately, Noa is smitten and accepts Steve’s offer for a romantic weekend getaway. Bad idea! Let’s just say that Steve has some very, VERY peculiar appetites.
Jordan Peele returned this year with his third feature, the sci-fi/horror spectacle Nope. This may be Peele’s most polarizing film to date, but it’s also his most direct film about Hollywood, specifically the way it uses people, swallows them, and spits them out. There are SO many scenes to talk about in this film, especially those sequences with Gordy. Likewise, there are so many praise-worthy performances here, especially Keke Palmer as Emerald Haywood, Steven Yeun as Ricky Park, and Daniel Kaluuya as OJ Haywood. This contains so much Spielberg influence that it really should be seen on the big screen. I have no doubt academics will be writing about this film for years to come. I highly suggest reading Richard Newby’s take.
Prior to this year, it’s been a hot minute since Ti West directed a horror film. Well, he returned and gifted us with not one, but TWO genre films this year, all part of a brand-new trilogy. X has serious Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibes, meaning it feels gritty, grainy, and even a little bit dangerous. Set in the 1970s, X follows a film crew shooting a porno. Suddenly, they’re terrorized by an elderly couple, including Pearl (Mia Goth), who once wanted to be a Hollywood starlet. We’ll get to her more in a minute. Goth also stars as Maxine, who just may have the X factor to make it in Hollywood. Yes, she pulls double duty here as both Pearl, under a lot of make-up, and Maxine, and she excels. She’s the new scream queen in my book, along with her X co-star, Jenna Ortega. I can’t wait to see what these women do next.
Read my SXSW review of X here.
Just months after releasing X, Ti West dropped his second film in the trilogy, Pearl, a technicolor throwback and prequel. Set during the Great Depression, this time we learn Pearl’s story, and boy, does Mia Goth give it her all. There’s one specific monologue in the last act that clocks in at nearly eight minutes long. Somehow, it’s spellbinding. How many other films of late can pull that off? There are also some nasty kills here, and a maniacal, yet pained grin that Goth sports during the end credits that you just won’t forget. This is my favorite Ti West film to date, a story about stardom and what happens when dreams don’t materialize. Oh, and after seeing this, you’ll never look at the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz quite the same away again.
A Wounded Fawn
After seeing Jakob’s Wife a few years ago, I was convinced that Travis Stevens is an indie horror director to watch. His third feature, A Wounded Fawn, only confirmed that feeling for me. Like Fresh, this is another feature about a bad, bad dude, Bruce (Josh Ruben), who charms an art lover, Meredith (Sarah Lind), to go away with him for a weekend. Once again, bad idea! Bruce is a psycho who murders women and makes them into his personal trophies/art. However, this time, he gets more than he bargained for when past victims return as the Furies. Yes, the second half of this movie feels like a Greek tragedy/drama, complete with the masks, togas, and all. This is surreal arthouse horror and my favorite feature by Stevens to date.
Director Chloe Okuno’s film has crazy Hitchcock vibes, especially Rear Window. However, this time we feel the effects of such grotesque voyeurism and stay in the female’s perspective, specifically Julia’s (Maika Monroe). Julia just moved to Bucharest with her husband and suspects that a stranger who watches her from the apartment building across the street just may be a serial killer who decapitates women. Watcher moves at the perfect pace and builds to an ending that you won’t soon forget.
Barbarian is another film that borrows a heck of a lot from Hitchcock, specifically Psycho and the way the narrative and POV shift about halfway from Marion Crane to Norman Bates. Initially, director Zach Cregger’s film follows Tess (Georginia Campbell), who stays at a super sketchy Airbnb in a less than savory Detroit neighborhood. She soon finds out that someone else is staying there, Keith, played by Bill Skarsgard. Can Tess trust him? Before all of these questions are answered, the narrative suddenly shifts to AJ’s (Justin Long) story. He’s an LA actor facing a #MeToo-type scandal about to bring down his career. He also owns the house in Detroit, and in time, all of the characters find out that the house hides a hell of a lot of secrets. For me, Barbarian was the surprise horror movie of 2022, the one that really came out of nowhere and stunned at the box office.
Hatching is one of the best creature features that I’ve seen in years. It’s far more than that, though. Director Hanna Bergholm’s film follows a young gymnast, Tinja (Siiri Solalinna), who tries desperately to please her demanding mother. Tinja then discovers a strange egg, hides it, and keeps it warm until it well, hatches. This Finnish film has a lot of layers to unpack. It’s a psychological creature feature/body horror ride that contains a metaphorical gut punch and stellar set designs.
Read my initial review of Hatching here.
In short, Mad God is a stop-motion animation masterpiece that was about 30 years in the making, created over time by SFX guru Phil Tippett, who has worked on everything from Jurassic Park to Return of the Jedi. There’s no real plot here, so just sit back and enjoy the visuals, as Steampunk-looking miners descend the layers of hell and encounter all types of gnarly monsters. Enough said. Just go watch this on Shudder right now.
Runner-ups and Honorable Mentions
A few that came close, but ultimately, didn’t make the list: The Sadness, Prey, The Black Phone, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Crimes of the Future, and Master.
Here’s to 2022, quite a year for horror. We’ll see what 2023 brings. Just months into the new year, we’ll be treated to Brandon Cronenberg’s third feature, Infinity Pool, starring Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgard, and the sixth, yes sixth film in the Scream franchise. This time, Ghostface is taking over NYC. Let’s hope he’s actually there longer than Jason in Jason Takes Manhattan. Whatever 2023 brings, I’m here for it!