Somehow we’re already halfway through the year. Yes, it’s already the end of June, and that means it’s time to count down the best horror movies in the 2022 edition of Halfway to Hell. And it’s already been a packed year for the horror genre. We’ve already had a legacy sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a new Scream movie, and David Cronenberg’s return to body horror. Amidst the horror releases so far, we may already have a candidate for the best horror movie of the year. Like past editions of Halfway to Hell, this ranking is based on what movies I’ve been able to watch. This is an independently run site – but I think the site is pretty up to date.
10 – Tie: Watcher (D: Claire Okuno); The Innocents (D: Eskil Vogt)
Following up on her well-received V/H/S/94 segment, Claire Okuno re-imagined the Hitchcock classic, Rear Window for her feature-length debut, Watcher. Starring Maika Monroe, Watcher finds a married woman whisked away to Bucharest where her husband is starting a new job. Soon thereafter she sees a neighbour watching her from an adjacent apartment window. Could he be the same man stalking and decapitating young women? Though it’s not entirely original and the abrupt ending belies the thriller’s slow burn. But Okuno crafts a handful of suspenseful moments and the climax remains intense. Many filmmakers have borrowed Rear Window’s premise; Watcher is one of the better ones.
Imagine the early 2010s found-footage thriller Chronicle but with children. And in Norwegian. Even the idea has been done before, The Innocents is a quiet, understated horror movie that’s no less disturbing. In fact, Vogt’s decision to set the narrative entirely in the world of children makes the sparse violence all the more shocking. Still The Innocents is one of those movies that will divide critics and audiences. On one hand, The Innocents is thoughtful, complex, and refuses to spoon feed audiences. Yet its deliberate pacing may lose some viewers. Moreover, Vogt’s subtly often underwhelms, particularly by the finale. Nonetheless, Vogt skillfully balances challenging moral questions with genre expectations in one of the more chilling thrillers in recent memory.
9 – Virus-32 (D: Gustavo Hernandez)
Just when it looked like the zombie genre had rigor mortis two international horror movies reanimated the subgenre. The first of those movies, Virus-32, finds a virus running rampant through an Argentinian city turning infected into rabid hunters left immobilized for 32 seconds after each attack. If your initial impulse is to skip over Virus-32 because you’re worn out on the zombie genre, do yourself a favor – watch this movie. In addition to being one of the better zombie movies in recent memory, Virus-32 is one of the better horror movies of the year so far. Hernandez gets the most out of his simple premise as he delivers several white-knuckle moments alongside an emotionally-driven story. This isn’t just a good zombie movie, it’s a great horror movie.
8 – Men (D: Alex Garland)
For his third feature length effort, Alex Garland remains undaunted in his efforts to make challenging movies. Garland’s Men is a beautifully filmed, complex, and haunting entry in the folk horror subgenre. Yet it’s also a psychological horror movie that will prove inaccessible to most audiences. Just the sheer amount of symbolism Garland weaves into his narrative becomes overwhelming. Film studies classes salivate over Men, but anyone just looking for an intelligent, unnerving horror movie may walk away feeling detached from the finale. There’s no denying that this is an unnerving piece of horror. Garland grabs your attention and holds it to the closing frame. Still it’s hard not to feel like this is a movie that would have benefitted from a bit more thematic focus.
7 – The Cursed (D: Sean Ellis)
Werewolves haven’t enjoyed the mainstream popularity of vampires and werewolves. Even on this list zombies once again fare better than their feral counterparts. At Number 7 on the Halfway to Hell 2022 edition, The Cursed finds a pathologist arriving in a small French village where a wild animal stalking the townspeople may be linked to a supernatural curse. Though it may not always have the bite horror fans expect of a werewolf movie, The Cursed illustrates the genre at its absolute peak. From the cinematography to the performances, The Cursed is every bit a prestige movie. Moreover, Ellis demonstrates that even some of the oldest horror monsters are ripe for re-invention.
6 – The Black Phone (D: Scott Derrickson)
Maybe getting booted from a Marvel project isn’t such a bad thing. After Sinister gained a reputation as one of the scariest movies ever made, director Scott Derrickson joined the MCU to make the first Doctor Strange. He would depart Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness prior to filming landed on The Black Phone. No, The Black Phone doesn’t have quite the volume of expected scares. And yes, Derrickson takes his time putting those scares up on the screen. This isn’t so much a step down from Sinister – just a different approach to the genre. But Ethan Hawke’s performance is the stuff of which nightmares are made. Just the scenario itself is unsettling and Derrickson ratchets up the suspense accordingly. Throw in two strong performances from the movie’s child actors and an effective incorporation of music and The Black Phone ultimately delivers on what it promises.
5 – Scream (D: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett)
Twenty-five years after the original Woodsboro massacre, Ghostface is back targeting people with connections to Billy Loomis and Stu Macher. Another late entry to a franchise on life support and – surprise, surprise – the studio has another follow-up in production. Aside from an over-stuffed plot, Scream 3 really had no reason to exist. But Scream 4 found new targets in the horror remake craze and Millennial obsession with fame. Now Scream 2022 re-invigorates Ghostface with some biting criticism of toxic fandom and legacy sequels. Oh, and Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett bring the expected dark humor alongside some decent scares and vicious kills. And as nice as it was to see legacy characters return, the new faces ensure the franchise is in good hands.
4 – Hatching (D: Hanna Bergholm)
In a world of sequels, prequels, and remakes, Hatching feels like a disturbing breath of fresh air. A young girl under tremendous pressure to live up to her mother’s expectations nests and hatches a strange egg she finds in the woods. To say much else about this Finnish blend of horror and fairy tale would be a crime. First-time director Hanna Bergholm demonstrates remarkable confidence working from Rautsi’s nuanced story. On one hand, Hatching works as a frightening bit of body horror that scares and shocks in equal measures. But it’s also a horror movie filled with ideas that keeps you thinking beyond its conclusion. At once Hatching is about the complicated relationship between mothers and daughters and the difficult transition into adolescence while also offering a commentary on our cultural obsession with image and perfection.
3 – Fresh (D: Mimi Cave)
Mixing horror and dark comedy isn’t easy. In her feature length directorial debut, Mimi Cave aptly juggles dark humor and horror with taboo subject matter. Like its title, Fresh feels like a surprisingly different take on a premise that initially sounds familiar. Even with its official synopsis – and a clear feeling that something isn’t right with online date Steve – Cave sells the sheer shock of the movie’s turning point at the 30-minute mark. And when the title card just appears then you know Cave isn’t afraid to play with genre and film-making conventions. Simply put, Fresh effortlessly blends grotesque horror and dark humor alongside alongside a clever commentary on modern dating and toxic masculinity. Both Sebastian Shaw and Daisy Edgar-Jones excel in their roles. Wider audiences may find the subject matter too off-putting. But horror fans clamoring for something different, Fresh lives up to its title.
2 – The Sadness (D: Rob Jabbaz)
And now for the second zombie movie on this list – The Sadness. When a viral pandemic turns people into homicidal maniacs, a separated couple must brave the dangers across a urban nightmare to reunite. If its story is threadbare and characters underdeveloped, you’re not likely to notice all that much. For horror fans able to stomach the gore, The Sadness is an undeniably visceral horror movie. Somehow Jabbaz finds a way to re-animate zombies in a way that’s equal parts familiar but fresh. Not everyone will be able to sit through it. The sexual violence in the movie will certainly be off-putting for many viewers. But The Sadness is no less thrilling, terrifying, and it remembers that horror is rooted in transgression.
1 – X (D: Ti West)
Early in 2022, Ti West made and released one of the best slasher movies made in decades. With X, West has crafted a meticulously paced slasher that balances the requisite gore with a clever re-imagining of the Final Girl. Like his past work, West methodically ratchets up the tension to a wild payoff in the third act. In addition to genuine scares and gory death scenes, X also feels refreshing – it’s not clear where West is going with the story. Another reason X finds itself at the top of the Halfway to Hell 2022 list is that it’s the most recent example of how clever filmmakers can continue to adapt the slasher formula and maintain some relevancy. Simply put, West subverts the slasher’s sexual politics. Instead, X casts a light on conservative sexual mores and its hypocrisy.