If I had to sum up horror in 2022 I might narrow it to down to two basic observations- an interest in telling women’s stories featuring compelling women characters and strong leads, and second an examination of parental/generational relationships.
We can see this in early releases like Alex Garlands Men, a film that grapples with a woman, played to perfection by Jessie Buckley, who is striving to find healing from a past relationship within a world still governed by a long standing patriarchy. Equally so in the excellent Resurrection, which features a woman (Rebecca Hall) wrestling with the patriarchy in light of pieces from her past. Or the character of Nevena, played with a rough hued empathy by Sara Kilmoska in the brooding You Won’t Be Alone, finding her way in a foreign world that has seemingly rejected her for who she is (a witch). This is a film that works to see the world from Nevenas perspective, who herself is learning to see the world from the perspective of the others that surround her. You Are Not My Mother features Hazel Doupe as the lead in a memorable film about familial secrets and mother-daugher relationships, Nanny explores familial dynamics from the perspective of an illegal immigrant from Senegal, separated from her son and facing the horrors of the present, Bones and All paints a hard hitting character study of a young woman coming of age uncovering the mystery of her own relationship with her estranged mother, while The Innocents sees a world of distanced and distracted adults from the child’s point of view, Smile features Doctor Rose Carter ( Sosie Bacon) confronting her own storied past, and Lullaby is a striking story about mothers and children. Hellbender features a coming of age story centered around mother and daughter relationships.
And then of course we have memorable turns from Mia Goth in Pearl, Georgina Campbell in Barbarian, closure for Jamie Lee Curtis’ iconic Laurie Strode in Halloween Ends, a stunning portrait of a mother-daughter relationship in Joanna Hoggs The Eternal Daughter, Anya Taylor-Joy stealing the ensemble cast in The Menu, and perhaps the most triggering film of 2022 for parents with children Speak No Evil.
What I figured I would do is offer 5 outliers- films that did not make my ranked list but which I feel deserve attention, and then offer my top 10 ranked list of 2022 in decending order:
Nanny (Directed by Nikyatu Jusu)
Captures the struggles of immigrants, and in this case immigrant mothers with the broad brush strokes of an intimately drawn horror. The performances, the vibe, the visuals, it’s all decidedly effective here, especially where it uses this to form a well crafted immersive and emotional experience.
The Domestic (Directed by Bradley Katzen)
A strong script helps steady a sprawling story about the horror that emerges from within social economic divide after a wealthy couple hires the daughter of a deceased housekeeper. It’s atmospheric and is really good at building a gradual sense of dread. A good choice for exploring horror from South Africa
No Exit (Directed by Damien Power)
I thought about including Barbarian (spoiler alert) here as an example of a tight, taught entertaining thriller. I went with No Exit because it released early and I think it’s worth a watch. It is extremely accessible while also being a nice choice for the early January days of winter. Good tension, a little bit of mystery and a fair amount of fun
All Eyes (Directed by Todd Greenlee)
A hidden gem that presents a decidedly astute character study fleshed out between two strangers hidden with a fusion of monster film meets home alone with adults.
What Josiah Saw (Directed by Vincent Grashaw)
A decidedly fresh take on family stories set in an isolated farmhouse. It’s all about dysfunctional families and past sins emerging, but where that feels familiar it fleshes it out here in some unexpected ways when it comes to the characters and its commitment to the slow build mystery.
Top Ten Ranked (Decending Order)
Smile (Directed by Parker Finn)
A stellar debut. I don’t rattle easy when it comes to horror, but dang, this film did exactly what it set out to do and genuinely got in to my head. It earned every jump scare, featuring strong performances and interesting thematic ideas. A well executed and entertaining horror film that deserves to be experienced with a crowd, as it is bound to generate discussion.
Lullaby (Directed by Alauda Ruiz de Azua)
A late addition to the 2022 horror line up given that it just released before Christmas. It’s rare that a film hits on such a level that I feel compelled to rewatch it almost immediately. That’s precisely what happened The premise, which revolves around the legend and lore of Lilith, uncovers a well crafted horror, one of the best of 2022 to be sure, which manages to play around with a few familiar tropes in ways that are bound to unsettle (warning for any with newborns, this will be a difficult watch).
You Won’t Be Alone (Directed By Goran Stolevski)
“It’s a burning, breaking thing, this world. A biting, wretching thing.”
It’s only once the fullness of this story comes to fruition, conflicted as it is by the great tension of what it means to be human in a largely uncaring and unconscious universe, that the horrific and the holy (to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite podcasts, the Fear of God) seem to finally come together in a way that gives rise to something rather profound and quite beautiful. In following the character of a young witch named Nevena who, after being isolated from the world as a child finally emerges looking to both understand it and find her place in it, we find the horror and the beauty present in this world set in tension. Its a slow burn, and I’m not sure everyone will appreciate the meditative quality in the same way, especially in its more brutal moments. And yet for those willing to see the world from the perspective of the outsider I do think there is something powerful to experience here, something that can teach us important truths about our world and our place in it.
I Was a Simple Man/The Eternal Daughter (Directed by Christopher Makoto Yogi/Joanna Hogg
I paired these two films together because they both qualify as unconventional horror. They are both ghost stories, but of the dramatic type.
I Was A Simple Man tells a haunting ghost story that, as it follows the sobering process of a man facing declining health and an inevitable death, we find him facing the ghosts of his past while the film also explores the larger cultural history of Hawaii. It’s quiet, patient and quite powerful in terms of the visuals, which ebb and flow with the dark framing of the night sky and the surreal beauty of the day. Somehow it feels both grounded and transcendent.
The Eternal Daughter is the most recent film from the Director of Souvenir and Souvenir 2, continuing to prove that Hogg is one of the most interesting Directors working today. Here she paints a compelling portrait, supposedly part autobiographical, of a daughter returning to her family home (now a hotel) in order to come to grips with pieces of her past, including her relationship with her mother. Its brilliantly structured making good use of its setting, both which play into an astute character study built on the strengths of Swinton in a dual role,
The Menu (Directed by Mark Mylod)
Difficult to speak of this film without spoilers, but suffice to say it’s a delicious concoction of a brilliant idea, strong themes and memorable performances. There is lots here, thematically speaking, and it manages to establish a compelling metaphor that speaks in a meaningful way to questions of legacy, art and story amidst social divide and realities of class. One of the more intelligently drawn horror features of 2022
Resurrection (Directed by Andrew Semans)
So many thoughts, and so little I can say without spoiling the full force of the films daring and audacious ending. Yet another film about a woman trapped in a mans world and given to its abuses and patriarchal demands. And yet I wouldn’t exactly call this Men 2.0. The metaphorical force of that film is much more aggressive and on the nose. Resurrection is definitely not subtle, especially once we hit the back half of the films runtime, but it does have a subtle commitment to the headspace of its titular characters that frames this more as an introspective character study as opposed to the parable like story that informs Men’s go for broke linear approach. And Hall gives one of the most memorable monologues of the year.
Bones and All (Directed by Luca Guadagnino)
You’d be forgiven for thinking this might be just another run of the mill YA vampire film, an overly dramatic love story and all the rest. But this is both not that and so much more than that at the same time. Its a coming of age film about growing up into an uncertain world. It’s about learning how to face the parts of ourselves we don’t like without allowing the world to define us as one who cannot be otherwise. And it explores this through some well defined portraits of family and community
You can’t speak about horror in 2022 without inevitably being forced to engage Jordan Peele’s Nope. One of the big questions on the table going into this one was whether or not he had the ability to reinvent and push the boundaries of his well known tendencies and style. There is little doubt that he succeeds, creating a story that juggles multiple themes and ideas whike leaving them all up for interpretation. Here he plays with everything from the history of cinema to the human-creature relationship to the human penchant for cannibalizing itself when it comes to culture. It’s brilliant, even if certain themes do remain somewhat veiled.
Pearl (Directed by Ti West)
You also can’t speak of horror in 2022 without mentioning the jaw dropping performance of Mia Goth. It’s equally awe inspiring to consider that both X and this prequel released this year. I loved X. I’m pretty sure I loved this more. Completely different kind of film. Pure aesthetic and straight up nostalgia piece. It’s as if they threw together Pleasantville, Wizard of Oz and X.
The Northman (Directed by Robert Eggers)
I’ve written quite a bit regarding my affection for this film elsewhere, but suffice to say it landed for me in a big way. There is powerful clarity here lingering underneath the surface that points to a natural beauty, the power of new life, the inner longings for peace and restoration, the pain of injustice leading to deeper relationship with one another. But it also leaves no question about a world still enslaved to the same cycles of eye for an eye means of justice that we find embedded in Eggers real commitment to mythic history, something we as viewers today would do well not to relegate to some relic of unenlightened history or fantastical superstions. It’s this dedication, not just to recreating the history but in affording the mythic qualities of this history a degree of humility, that makes this film so powerful. It challenges our perceptions of reality and grounds the human experience in both a common struggle and a shared need for the transcendent, for something redemptive.
A brilliantly crafted and mesmerizing story told from the perspective of this diverse collection of children with super human powers (with incredible child performances empowering the characters). This film challenges our ability to boil things down to simple black and white terms. These children are unique, something that plays into their relationship to the adults in their lives. The adults failure to see these kids and to be present with them forces the children to have to navigate the complicated reality of the world they see and the world they know in a world the adults don’t and cannot share. And yet their worlds and perspectives still overlap and the children’s actions have real world consequences both good and bad.
This is the kind of film that lets the questions it raises linger in the recesses of our mind. It’s a slow burn drama about kids with powers, and it’s also a horror, but both of these aspects play a role in telling a deeply committed human story about what it means to be a child in a world where being a child means also being misunderstood and not always seen by the adults in our lives. It is the strength of community that emerges within this group of children then, amidst their diversity, that might embody the films most profound revelation. This provides the context for the moral tension that arises in the films complex arc and its unsettling conclusion.