Yes, we’re already halfway through 2023. To date, it’s been another successful year for horror. Just in the first month alone, M3gan dispelled the notion that January serves as a dumping ground for movies that studios would rather forget. In February, the micro-budged Skinamarink became a genuine viral hit while Knock at the Cabin continued M. Night Shyalaman’s roller coaster Hollywood ride. Horror franchises continued to thrive as both the Scream and Evil Dead series earned successful new entries. Despite Nicolas Cage and Russell Crowe soaring, their respective horror movies Renfield and The Pope’s Exorcist failed to impress. And another Stephen King adaptation landed somewhere in the middle. Below is our Halfway to Hell 2023 – the best horror movies of the year so far.
NOTE: This is an independent site so not all movies were available for review at the time of preparing this list. By all accounts, Sick and The Blackening are two of the genre’s better offerings this year. But Sick is only available on Peacock, which isn’t accessible in Canada. And The Blackening hasn’t made its way to local theaters yet. And The Wrath of Becky and The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster only recently became available.
10 – Skinamarink/The Outwaters (D: K. Edward Ball) (D: R. Banfitch)
Ranking Skinamarink and The Outwaters in the Top 10 for Halfway to Hell 2023 was a tough choice. Neither movie makes for an easy recommendation to wider audiences. Yet at the same time, there’s no denying that both movies are successful experimental genre efforts. And horror should be transgressive. That is, the genre should push boundaries. Both Skinamarink and The Outwaters are experimental horror efforts that play with format expectations. Each of these movies almost perfectly re-creates the aesthetics of real nightmares. And Skinamarink was an early viral sensation for what’s basically a $15, 000 home movie. Maybe neither of these movies will hold up on repeat viewings. But they moved the dial in the genre this year and deserve some placement on this list just for that reason alone.
9 – Malum (D: A. DiBlasi)
No one was really asking for a remake of Last Shift. While it was a good piece of indie horror, it was just fine on its own. But the original writer and director Anthony DiBlasi thought otherwise and we have Malum, a remake of DiBlasi’s own movie. What DiBlasi has done here is tell the same story with many of the same scenes or concepts intact albeit with an expanded vision. There’s arguably a bit more mythology built around the sinister cult that deepens the reservoir of scares. And that opening scene genuinely shocks. But Last Shift benefited from ambiguity and its small scale. Regardless of its necessity Malum still proves to be a relentlessly creepy nightmare that shocks and chills in equal doses. Clearly, the premise brings out the best in DiBlasi who crafts consistently haunting imagery as the thriller spirals into more surrealist territory.
8 – Infinity Pool (D: B. Cronenberg)
Forget about nepotism. Brandon Cronenberg has earned his critical acclaim. For those that make it to the end of Infinity Pool, you’ll be rewarded with a challenging satire that mixes science-fiction with grotesque imagery. Like his father, Brandon Cronenberg dabbles in body horror and technology, but he certainly has found his own voice. There’s a bigger scope to the setting and story here in Infinity Pool. Most importantly, the target of Cronenberg’s satire never gets lost in the wilder visual or narrative elements. This is a biting take on the wealthy class. At its core, Infinity Pool explores the extent to which money ensures a lack of any sort of accountability. As a result, its relevance isn’t likely to diminish any any time soon.
7 – Brooklyn 45 (D: T. Geoghegan)
Equal parts period piece horror and chamber play, Brooklyn 45 very quietly earns a place in the Top 10 for Halfway Way to Hell 2023. For at least a third of its runtime, Brooklyn 45’s story of WWII veterans gathering at a Brooklyn apartment to support a colleagues feels like set-up. But writer and director Ted Geoghegan’s (Mohawk, We Are Still Here) setup leads to an extremely satisfying ghost story. Yes, there’s actual ghosts and supernatural horror. But Geoghegan juxtaposes literal ghosts with a character study more interested in the ghosts that haunt people who have had to do horrible things in service of their country. The second half is compelling stuff that’s a testament to commitment to character and story.
6 – Influencer (D: K. David Harder)
Yes, another social media horror movie. But Influencer hits all the right notes and then some. Though it’s less explicit in its messaging about social media culture, Influencer may be the smartest thriller in recent memory to target the subject. Director Kurtis David Harder and co-writer Tesh Guttikonda have something more to say than just the self-absorption of ‘clicks’ and ‘likes-based’ personalities. Instead, Influencer offers a much more opaque social commentary. That is, Harder uses the psychological thriller subgenre to explore the often hollow and superficial nature of our connections – on and off social media. With a subversive storytelling structure and haunting performance from Cassandra Naud, Shudder has delivered another solid thriller.
5 – M3gan (D: G. Johnstone)
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea that January was a dumping ground for bad movies was being dispelled by movies like Escape Room and Underwater. And then M3gan exceeded expectation in no small part due to its viral dancing bit. Despite a somewhat formulaic plot structure, M3gan avoids feeling derivative and is, ultimately, one of the most fun horror movies in recent memory. There’s an abundance of dark humor and winking at the audience here. Director Gerard Johnstone and company are in on the joke and everyone involved in this movie clearly is having a blast. Though it’s never really scary the jolts are fun and the unrated home media version offers a much wilder ride. Ultimately, M3gan is the first big horror hit of 2023 and likely the next big genre franchise.
4 – Attachment (D: G. Bier Gislason)
One of two standout Jewish-themed horror movies in 2023, Attachment succeeds as an impressive blending of traditional horror elements and indie romance. Though its first act often feels like anything but a horror movie, writer and director Gabriel Brier Gislason expertly builds in mystery and suspense. When the scares finally ratchet up, there’s a sense of urgency to the story aided by the emotional core and performances of the three principal characters. The subversion of the ‘overbearing mother’ horror trope works so well here. And in terms of its emotional impact, the final act is heartbreaking – Attachment chills and elicits an overwhelming emotional response in equal parts. Attachment is yet another reminder that good horror doesn’t need loud noises and big effects to be effective.
3 – Huesera: The Bone Woman
Almost immediately, Huesera: The Bone Woman is several things all at once. Yet writer and director Michelle Garza Cervera – along with co-writer Abia Castillo – seamlessly blend these different elements into a powerful horror movie and character study. On one hand, much of Huesera: The Bone Woman feels like a supernatural horror that could simply check off familiar horror tropes. This is a supremely confident outing that boasts rich, haunting atmosphere and layered storytelling. What elevates Huesera: The Bone Woman above most horror movies is the complex nature of its storytelling. This is a familiar haunting story – albeit very well told – that recalls classics like Rosemary’s Baby. Its inclusion of body horror elements serves to distinguish it from similar fare. But it’s Cervera and Castillo’s subtext centering around the pressure on women to emulate motherhood that sets this thriller apart.
2 – Scream VI (D: M. Bettinelli-Olpin and T. Gillett)
Consider the Scream franchise to be the Fast & Furious of the horror genre. Following Wes Craven’s under-appreciated Scream IV, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not) revived the franchise with a surprisingly good Scream V. And the horror filmmakers were in fine form for their next sequel. Catching lighting in bottle isn’t easy. But Scream VI gives franchise fans a core character base with Jenna Ortega, Melissa Barrera, Jasmin Savoy Brown, and Mason Gooding that’s so damn likable. Giving audiences characters with whom you can identify and care about adds so much to suspense. Maybe Scream VI outpaces the franchise’s meta-horror themes. But it’s such a tight, thrilling entry that you’d be happy to just let the series continue given how good this entry ranks. This is another example of popcorn horror at its best.
1 – Evil Dead Rise (D: L. Cronin)
Not every horror movie needs to have subversive subtext to be a classic. What Evil Dead Rise delivers is exactly what franchise fans wanted. Director Lee Cronin (The Hole in the Ground) delivers a ‘pedal to metal’ entry that wastes little time getting to where you want things to go. Don’t expect any fat that needs to be trimmed. This is brutal, lean Evil Dead movie that spares no one. Think children should be safe, even in horror movies. Think again. Cronin delivers what may be one of the best opening credit scenes in recent horror movie history. And Evil Dead Rise spills plenty of blood. Throw in Lily Sullivan as yet another compelling franchise protagonist and the only question is how long do we have to wait for the next Evil Dead movie.