Another year done, another great year for horror. As movies slowly made their way back into theatres after two years of the COVID pandemic, the box office had a sluggish recovery. While movies like Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water smashed box office records, other expected hits severely underperformed. But if there was one constant at the box office it was horror. The Black Phone, Terrifier 2, Barbarian, and Smile (among others) slayed box office expectations. Some sequels disappointed (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween Ends). Other reboots or re-quels (Hellraiser, Scream) reinvigorated stagnant franchises. Despite unexpected layoffs, Slasher also continued to deliver a diverse range of original movies. While it’s not an easy task, below are the ten best horror movies of 2022.
Every ‘best of’ list is unavoidably subjective. And when the genre produces so many good entries in a given calendar year, there will inevitably be some very good movies that miss some lists. Shudder originals What Josiah Saw, Glorious, Saloum, and Speak No Evil will (and should) likely find their way on some ‘best of’ lists for the year. Both Terrifier 2 and The Sadness pushed the boundaries of what horror can put on the screen. Watcher delivered terse suspense, while Amazon Prime’s Nanny weaved African mythology with a haunting tale of an immigrant woman’s bid to experience the American Dream. Any of these movies belongs on a ‘best of’ list for the year.
10 – Smile (D: P Finn)
In spite of what looked like a one-note gimmick, Smile can count itself among one of the better horror movies of the year. Yes, it’s a popcorn horror that’s subtext around trauma lacks the depth of other recent movies dealing with similar themes. But Smile is an absolutely terrifying movie featuring an excellent lead performance and chilling sound design and score. Director Parker Finn orchestrates several impressive jump scares along with a few surprises as well. And a big part of Smile’s ability to make the premise work as a movie owes to Sosie Bacon’s performance.
9 – The Black Phone (D: S. 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.
8 – Bodies Bodies Bodies (D: H. Reijn)
Like Scream was in the 1990s, Bodies Bodies Bodies is a hip and sharply written update on the slasher formula. Though she doesn’t lean quite as heavily into the horror elements, Reijn certainly crafts some suspenseful moments, effectively using the storm to create a feeling of isolation. But it’s the ‘storm’, mystery, and biting satire inside the film’s mansion-setting that makes Bodies Bodies Bodies such a standout slasher. DeLappe’s adaptation of Kristen Roupenian’s story has plenty to say about Gen-Z culture. Each character feels fully realized and the performances are uniformly excellent. Yet if there’s a breakout performance it has to be Rachel Sennott who steals every scene in which she has dialogue. Her line delivery is rapid-fire and hilariously flippant while perfectly encapsulating the heart of the thriller’s satire. The result is one of the freshest feeling slashers in recent memory.
7 – Scream (D: M. Bettinelli-Olpin and T. 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.
6 – Bones and All (D: L. Guadagnino)
Leave it to Luca Guadaginino to craft a movie almost wholly indescribable. Somehow Bones and All weaves several different emotions into a premise that could not be more off-putting on paper. Yet Bones and All manages to be disturbing and haunting while also heartbreaking and, yes, a deeply tender tale of love. In fact, it was initially difficult to place it in the ‘Best Horror Movies’ of the years in part due to the effortless blending of multiple genres. Both Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell deliver immersive and stunning performances. And Mark Rylance gives us what may be the scariest movie villain in recent memory. Whether the upcoming awards season recognizes the brilliance of what’s on screen will be interesting. Nevertheless, Guadaginnino has crafted a movie that’s beautiful to watch and experience in spite of its premise.
5 – Fresh (D: M. 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.
4 – Nope (D: J. Peele)
Maybe Nope doesn’t quite reach the heights of Get Out or Us. But that’s nitpicking at little details. Regardless Jordan Peele has once again created a thoughtful, riveting movie experience for audiences that thrills and chills in equal measures. Like his previous effort, Peele capably balances scares, tension, humour, and heart without missing a beat. Unlike Get Out – and arguably more like Us – Nope brims with a lot of ideas. Not all of them feel fully developed. Nonetheless, Nope is a visual spectacle on par with Spielberg – Peele’s grasp of filmmaking magic consistently impresses. Even if not everything Peele wants to say sinks in, audiences will walk away feeling blown away and satisfied but what’s on the screen. Bottom line, Nope continues Peele’s winning streak as a filmmaker.
3 – Prey (D: D. Trachtenberg)
It took 35 years, but we finally have an indisputably great entry to the Predator franchise. Simply put, Prey scores on all fronts, exceeding expectations. Whether it’s Amber Midthunder’s star-making performance, the action-thriller’s expansive vista, Trachtenberg’s skillful handling of the action and suspense, or the thoughtful character arc, Prey breathes new life into the series. Director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) commands the screen with a patient approach that’s also well-paced. In what’s very much an R-rated action-thriller, Prey includes several impressively filmed action moments. In addition to skillful action and taut suspense, Prey is a gorgeously filmed movie making full use of its wide-open plains and misty forests. The only question about the prequel is why 20th Century Studios didn’t give the prequel the theatrical release it deserved. Fortunately, the prequel leaves plenty of room for future installments.
2 – X/Pearl (D: T. West)
Early in 2022, Ti West made and released one of the best slasher movies made in decades. Approximately six months later, West surprised audiences with Pearl, a prequel that avoided most problems associated an origin story. Whereas X was an intensely frightening horror movie with its share of jump scares, Pearl is more psychological horror int With X, West has crafted a meticulously paced slasher that balances the requisite gore with a clever re-imagining of the Final Girl. In terms of style, West juxtaposes old technicolor visual style with shocking and contemporary graphic horror setting Pearl apart from anything you’ve seen in recent memory.
1 – Barbarian (D: Z. Cregger)
Like James Wan’s Malignant last year, Barbarian is a genuinely off-the-wall horror entry that defies expectations. Going into this one cold will be an absolutely rewarding experience. Writer and director Zach Cregger’s story constantly twists, with a helping of dark humor, defying the audience any comfort. There’s a rare unpredictability to the movie – its storytelling is unconventional. What’s masterful about its promotional material is that it covers about the first 15 minutes or so of the movie. Everything else that follows twists in unexpected directions. Running beneath the surface are themes about toxic masculinity and misogyny that are all too timely. Above all else, Barbarian is a terrifying movie that milks its slow burn hitting multiple crescendos of scares. For most of its third act, Barbarian slow burns as it teases you with you think you’re watching. Simply put, it’s the best horror movie released in 2022.