Shhh! Justin Long and Georgina Campbell in Barbarian (2022)
Horror movies are back in a big way. New great original content from the big studios and the indies. It really feels like the genre has hit full stride after being a little off-balance and unsteady since the pandemic began. Good reboots of respected franchises. New original ideas and concepts. True jump scare-inducing moments and the sheer quantity of quality material this year have really impressed us.
True, there have been some misses. But I saw a whopping 62 horror films that were released in 2022, and I would be able to recommend two-thirds of what I saw. Paring down my list was hard to do… but unlike my colleagues (jab… jab) I stuck to a true list of TEN!
Without further ado… here goes!
1. Barbarian. Directed by Zach Cregger
★★★★★ out of ★★★★★
For those of you old enough to remember Jim Nabor’s Gomer Pyle: “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”
That is the quickest summary of Barbarian. It actually feels like two terrific thrillers wrapped into one presentation. It sets you up for one story, as you explore the relationship of two people who have double-booked an Airbnb house in a really rough neighborhood in Detroit. It really nurses that story of trust and creepy vibes, and then does a sharp right turn and steps on the gas. To give away the twist would be punishable by ten years of hard labor. The movie is bolstered by terrific performances by all the leads, Georgina Campbell, Justin Long, Richard Brake, Matthew Patrick Davis, and Bill Skarsgård.
Anyone who claims to have been able to predict the plot is lying to you! The ride is so much fun, I dare not spoil anything. Just go see it. You’ll thank me later. One of the most entertaining horror films I have seen in a long while. It had me smiling, cheering, and curling up into a ball throughout. Justin Long is a horror movie treasure trove. Just has to be said.
2. Watcher. Directed by
★★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Cold. Intense. Thrilling. Watcher delivers a deep dive into paranoia as we follow Julia’s (Maika Monroe) lonely isolation in a Romanian Apartment (hats off to the set designer!) while her husband is away on diplomatic business. She has plenty of time to surmise the intent of the creepy neighbor (Burn Gorman) who seems always to be staring at her from an apartment across the street. The shadow of a serial killer loose in the city has Julia on high alert, but is she worried about the wrong man? The movie has the perfect build to a hair-raising climax, and it provides the best mood-setting movie of the year.
We are lucky to have an actress like Maika Monroe sticking in the genre, and stretching her acting chops as a more mature actress.
3. Prey. Directed by
★★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Did you see this coming? Like many, my reaction was somewhat dismissive. The Predator franchise has been a bit of a moribund enterprise, with the 2018 film The Predator disappointing, despite having a star-packed show, it got bogged down because it just felt like it was going through the same motions again. Too familiar. Too much of the same thing.
Prey is completely fresh. It resets the power dynamics. So used are we to the machinegun-toting badasses going toe-to-toe with the Predators, that by setting the timeline in the 1600s, in Comanche territory, and focusing on a young huntress, you get the horror back. The disparity between the monster and Amber Midthunder’s Naru is immense, and the predator becomes scary again. The astounding Canadian backdrops are breathtaking, and getting this indigenous point of view was a real treat.
4. The Black Phone. Directed by Scott Derrickson.
★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Making a horror movie that leans on a large cast of children is a really risky proposition. When loading up a banging Joe Hill-penned story, with great actors like Ethan Hawke and Jermy Davies on board, it all can come to a screeching halt with the wrong kid actor in a key role. The Black Phone leaned on its kid actors, and they were awesome.
Mason Thames and Madeline McGraw are transcendent in their roles as brother and sister Finney and Gwen. Finney gets grabbed by The Grabber (Hawke) and is imprisoned in a basement, haunted by the ghosts of a number of kids who died in this basement before him. Gwen sets out to rescue her brother, but it is a team effort as the kids who perished were fighters before, and they are ghosts fighting back to help Finney out. Pure magic, and chock full of really scary moments.
If Universal continues to bring out really original work like The Black Phone, it’s proof that the big studios are understanding that in this age, story and character matter between the bloodshed moments.
5. The Cursed. Directed by Sean Ellis
★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Cast in a foggy shroud in the fens and moors of Northern France, a manor lord, Seamus (Alastair Petrie) is troubled by a wandering group of Romani who are camping in the meadows of his property. He gathers a posse of angry townsmen and sets upon the unexpecting travelers. Things get out of hand, and the Romani are rounded up, scattered, and killed, crucifying one of the young men as a warning, but not before the matriarch of the caravan unleashes an ancient family curse upon Seamus, his family, and the townsfolk.
Boyd Holbrook is John McBride, a pathologist brought to town to investigate a missing child. The curse has taken root, and it is transforming some of the townies into feral beasts. Remember… the werewolf stories are almost always tied to a curse, and it’s no different here. These monsters are not exactly werewolves, but they are lycanthropic for sure.
The Cursed captures the gloom and dread so long missing from contemporary lycanthrope movies, and this feels like it pays back the classic The Wolfman, delivering a suitably gothic and brooding atmosphere. This is another movie with kids in major roles, and their pacts of secrecy threaten to jeopardize the safety of the whole community. The story allows multiple points of view and makes the entire film feel more textured and nuanced as a result.
6. The Menu. Directed by Mark Mylod
★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
This movie exists on the edge of a kitchen knife between horror or not. I tip it in favor of horror as Chef Slowick (Ralph Fiennes) has gone a bit mad (The geniuses always do, don’t they?) and has turned his restaurant and his kitchen staff into a suicide death cult. Fun!
This is dark, dark satire, where the colorful cast of patrons has been unknowingly summoned to the infamous Hawthorne restaurant to be served a meal they will never forget… probably because it will be the last meal they will ever have. Mylod’s first feature shows off his ability to craft a cunning indictment on foodie culture, service jobs, and celebrity chef worship.
The cast is top-shelf, with A-list talent like Anya Taylor Joy, Nicholas Hoult, and John Leguizamo all featured in prominent and memorable roles. When the movie goes for funny it hits the mark. It works your emotions. It excites the senses. Terrific editing, (mostly) tight logistics, and punch dialogue elevate this up from the rest of the offerings this year. This food horror offering shows again, that with the right writers and performers, you can serve up some really good original stories.
7. Nope. Directed by Jordan Peele
★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Jordan Poole has, for me, proving that he has ascended to the top ranks of the genre. Hugely ambitious. Cinematically breathtaking. Jaw-dropping surprise. Witty banter. And effortlessly cool. Peele also is showing his tendency to want to explore several avenues at once.
While most of the film is about the brother (Daniel Kaluuya’s OJ) and sister (Keke Palmer’s Emerald) horse-wrangling duo and their encounter with a strange entity in the California desert, there is also a B story involving Steven Yeun’s Jupiter “Jupe” Park’s history as a child actor and his traumatic experience with a renegade chimp.
Does it all work together? Well, mostly. Narratively, maybe not. But thematically and tonally, it’s terrific. It also has impeccably written characters, with OJ’s stoicism played off of Emerald’s impulsiveness, it is a really fun character dynamic.
Most important is, however, the entity that hides in the shadows of a stationary cloud. When you find out what is going on with that thing it is WILD, unfettered imagination. I loved it, and I loved the action around it and how it was shot. Jordan Peele has been shrugging off the plaudits by insisting that John Carpenter is still the gold standard, but if you wanted to compare Peele to anybody, Carpenter would be a good comp.
8. Nati Morti (Born Dead), Directed by Alex Visani
★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Brutal. Absolutely brutal. This desaturated Italian contemporary Giallo taxidermy tale will make you squirm. Borrowing heavily from the Joe D’Amato 1979 film Buio Omega (Beyond the Darkness), Nati Morti takes an almost clinical look at the nature of death.
Luna (Ingrid Monacelli) is a reclusive taxidermist who is obsessed with the process of death, dying and preservation. She is the heir to a lovely villa in Umbria, Italy, where she lovingly restores dead creatures to frozen memory. One fateful day, she travels out to scavenge for creature carcasses, and she discovers two bodies lying in a field: one, a corpse of a young woman, and the other a badly wounded man, Tony (Lorenzo Lepori), who is barely alive.
Rather than reporting her discoveries to the local authorities, she packs the two bodies back into her studio. Her morbid curiosity has taken over, unleashing a treasure trove of possibilities and a descent into wicked schemes and horrific violence.
This film will be highly satisfying to a pretty select audience. You will need patience, as this is first and foremost a character study of the sociopathology of Luna. You will also need a very strong stomach for visceral violence. More than just gory, it is mean, explicit, and painful to watch in ways that most gory moments are not. Even the violence to corpses, long dead, is highly disturbing.
It’s good… but you’ve been warned!
9. Fall. Directed by Scott Mann
★★★★ out of ★★★★★
I won’t say that this is a particularly complex or transcendent film. But as an emotional impact, perhaps no film affected me as much as this one. My palms quite literally got sweaty. I had to pause the film out of anxiety. This is the pure embodiment of acrophobia on film.
I am a gym climber. I know the physical sensation of what Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) and Shiloh (Virginia Garner) were going through. The two young women are recovering from a climbing tragedy where Becky’s husband Dan fell to his death. Becky has succumbed to depression and is convinced by Shiloh to shake off the tragedy by climbing the 2000-foot B67 TV Tower. Not really a spoiler… but they get stuck at the top. Worst. Case. Scenario.
There are flaws in the film’s logic. They disregard obvious warning signs out of the exhilaration and the thrill of the adventure, and simple precautions are disregarded. The attitude of “Don’t give up! Don’t let fear win!” overcomes any self-preservation instincts they may have had.
The editing of this scenario is really impressive. There is no green screen here. They crafted a mock tower and utilized careful angles to heighten the acrophobia, so the actresses really were high (but not 2000 feet high) off the ground. It is entirely convincing, and, once trapped, the women do make the best decisions they can given their circumstances, so the plotholes largely disappear after the first act, leaving a riveting survival tale at the top of the world.
10. X, Directed by Ti West
★★★★ out of ★★★★★
He’s back! Ti West is back! The master of the period horror piece has transported the audience back to the 1970s grindhouse era. The sweaty and sleazy feel of 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is prominent in X. Sprinkle in the dawn of pornography as we now know it, and pack the story with colorful characters and you have a potent concoction.
West has perfected the art of turning back the clock and elevating the source material. This is in almost every way an improvement on the movies that inspired it. It actually has something to say about sexual freedom, aging, independent filmmaking, and the concept of what’s really taboo.
I feel that the villains got lucky, in a way, catching the film crew unawares, as they really should not have been able to execute their wicked plans as they did, and their motivations, while a bit crazy wasn’t quite terrifying. Hat’s off to Mia Goth for pulling off a double acting job that totally got past me and to the makeup crew doing some amazing age-up prosthetics for the old couple Howard and Pearl.
The movie does deliver some top-notch scares though, and if you follow Eric’s rule #1 of horror movies, you really do care for the protagonists. Sleazy, yes, but lovably so. They are people with dreams, about to get cut short due to bad circumstances.
Ranking all 60 of the Horror Films I saw in 2022
- Barbarian ★★★★★
- Watcher ★★★★★
- Prey ★★★★★
- The Black Phone ★★★★.5
- The Cursed ★★★★.5
- The Menu ★★★★.5
- Nope ★★★★.5
- Nati Morti ★★★★
- Fall ★★★★
- X ★★★★
- Swallowed ★★★★
- Stag ★★★★
- Something in the Dirt ★★★★
- Werewolf by Night ★★★★
- Who Invited Them? ★★★★
- Zalava ★★★★
- It Hatched ★★★★
- Glorious ★★★★
- Smile ★★★★
- Woodland Grey ★★★★
- Mad God ★★★★
- Zero Budget Horror ★★★★
- Mike Mignola: Drawing Monsters ★★★★
- When the Screaming Starts ★★★★
- The Essex Serpent ★★★★
- You’ll Never Be Alone ★★★★
- Hellraiser ★★★★
- Agatha ★★★.5
- The Cellar ★★★.5
- Torn Hearts ★★★.5
- Slash/Back ★★★.5
- Saloum ★★★.5
- Resurrection ★★★.5
- Freeze ★★★.5
- The Eyes Below ★★★.5
- Brightwood ★★★.5
- Flux Gourmet ★★★.5
- Hellbender ★★★.5
- Distress Signals ★★★
- Sissy ★★★
- V/H/S/99 ★★★
- The Summoned ★★★
- Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon ★★★
- What is Buried Must Remain ★★★
- Beast ★★.5
- Night of the Bastard ★★.5
- Deadstream ★★.5
- She Will ★★.5
- Studio 666 ★★.5
- The Parker Sessions ★★.5
- Whistle and I’ll Come to You ★★.5
- Ghost of the Ozarks ★★.5
- Crimes of the Future ★★.5
- Behemoth ★★.5
- The Lair ★★
- Scream ★★
- Morbius ★★
- Revealer ★.5
- Shanky Shivers ★.5
- Unhuman ★