2022 has been an excellent year for horror films. Independent horror has been thriving thanks to support from platforms like Shudder, and mainstream audiences have flocked to cinemas in their masses to get scared in the dark. With so many horror movies on the market it felt only fair to create a separate end of year list made entirely of genre movies. All of those listed have premiered either in cinemas or on streaming platforms in the UK during 2022.
10. A Wounded Fawn
Another marvel from Travis Stevens, A Wounded Fawn is a tantalising collision of gender roles, genre subversion’s, and the elegant world of high-art. The final chapter in his unconnected trilogy exploring masculinity and femininity, A Wounded Fawn follows Meredith (Sarah Lind) as she enters back into the dating pool. Unluckily for Meredith, her suitor of choice, Bruce (Josh Ruben), happens to be a serial killer. As the pair disappear to Bruce’s country home for the weekend, the fun and games begin, though Bruce finds himself at an unexpected disadvantage.
Lind and Ruben have been perfectly cast, each getting their own half of the film to tell their story. The third entry into what has become Travis Stevens’ cinematic study of gender politics and toxic masculinity, A Wounded Fawn is a sophisticated film about duality. It explores good and bad as well as masculinity and femininity within the framework of two very different acts. The first act of A Wounded Fawn drew comparisons to Mimi Cave’s Fresh, the second act to Evil Dead. However, A Wounded Fawn is an entirely unique creation.
Shot on film, the look of A Wounded Fawn reflects that elegant beauty of the art world in which it unfolds. The visuals are wonderfully sumptuous and filled with vibrant reds that catch your attention. Just like fine art, every colour and item on screen has a deeper meaning and significance. With so much to see and experience, A Wounded Fawn encourages repeat viewings.
I caught Hatching at Sundance and the Finnish creation instantly captured my attention. Director Hanna Bergholm has crafted something that is both beautiful and bizarre – a pastel-hued fairy tale full of quirk and danger. After Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) stumbles across an orphaned egg in a forest, she decides to take it home to look after. What follows is an enchanting journey through broken families and self-discovery in a film that isn’t easily forgotten.
Delicately constructed, Hatching is dazzling to behold. From its first image to its last, Hatching captures the audience’s imagination, transporting them to a world that seems to exist just outside of our own. There are acknowledgements that the story unfolds within a modern setting, but the visuals are so lush, and the characters so removed from general society, that the piece takes on an otherworldly and almost ethereal tone. The sensation is akin to watching an early era Burton, Edward Scissorhands being an especially close point of reference. Hatching takes on that fairy-tale persona to explore some dark and disturbing issues. Proof that scary doesn’t just come through the use of spooky looking houses and darkness, the pastel hues here will induce an equal amount of restless nights as it weaves a delicately balanced tale of horror.
With a core story that straddles dysfunctional families, the drive for perfection alongside familiar fairy-tale beats, Hatching dazzles with its visuals, disturbs with its content, and chills with it’s excellent creature work, weaving together a delicately balanced cotton-candy coated nightmare.
8. Orphan: First Kill
When I heard that Isabelle Fuhrman would be returning for an Orphan prequel, I had my doubts. Her character of Esther was born with a genetic condition which saw her unable to visibly age beyond childhood. With thirteen years having passed, and Fuhrman now in her twenties, it seemed like an impossible task. However, only a few moments into watching Orphan: First Kill, I wholeheartedly believed that somehow Fuhrman was just ten again.
Esther may look the same, but the story doesn’t remain so. Horror sequels and prequels are notorious for simply repeating what worked the first time, but here thought has been put into switching things up. Set in 2007, the film opens in the Saarne Institute, an Estonian psychiatric facility in which Leena has been living. After staging a bloody escape, one which demonstrates the depth of her powers of manipulation and calculation, Leena poses as missing child, Esther Albright. Her family races to collect her, but once home, problems immediately arise. This time though, Esther may have gotten herself in over her head as her new family is hiding some secrets of their own.
Deceptively wicked and deeply twisted, Orphan: First Kill builds into the story of the original effortlessly. Equally strong, this is one prequel that hits the mark, thanks in no small part to the hard work of the team in their creation of the illusion of de-aging Fuhrman. With enough new elements to keep things fresh without jettisoning what worked so well last time around, Orphan: First Kill is a thrilling and chilling entry that confirms that Esther is back to slay.
One of the biggest horror successes of the year was Parker Finn’s Smile. After debuting at Fantastic Fest the film went on to scare up a worldwide box-office of $216 million. An expansion and re-working of Finn’s short, Laura Hasn’t Slept, Smile is a darkly twisted tale that is set to unnerve all who watch it. The premise of the film is simple: people are stalked by a malevolent entity that torments its victims for days before finally moving in for the kill. During their suffering, the target is subjected to wicked hallucinations, terrible tricks, and a barrage of faces eerily beaming at them. This fate is exactly that which the viewer experiences, Finn placing them firmly into the point of view of the latest target, Doctor Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon).
The classic chain letter horror story gets a fresh lease of life in Smile. Taking the best of The Ring, and It Follows, Finn works in some real world levity. Smile explores the power of trauma and how, once inside of you, it clings to you. Trauma never leaves, the host instead learning coping mechanisms to keep it under control. This is represented perfectly via Finn’s monster. It forever stalks its prey and once inside of them, turns their world upside down. With that in mind, there are times when Smile is rather mean-spirited and that is a positive. Studio horror films are often cleansed of malice, but not this one. The constant disquiet and apprehension leads to intense bouts of anxiety, and even once Smile has finished, these feelings are not fully resolved.
Featuring stellar support from the talents of Kyle Gallner, Kal Penn, Gillian Zinser, and Jessie T. Usher, this horror is a cut above the rest. Made complete thanks to its intensity and constant threat of terror, Smile has an excellently executed WTF moment, and at least one heart-stopping scare, making it everything a horror fan could wish for.
Ti West returned to making movies this year with not one, but two new gems: X and Pearl. Whilst Pearl is still awaiting a UK release (arriving in March 2023), X arrived in March 2022 and proved that West has lost none of his talent. Set in the state of Texas in the year 1979, X introduces Maxine (Mia Goth) and her troupe of filmmaker friends – Warren (Martin Henderson), RJ (Owen Campbell), Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), and Jackson (Scott Mescudi). The group are on their way to a farmhouse to film their new take on a porn film; RJ is determined to make a classy dirty movie that’s pure cinema. Their arrival at the property instantly causes friction with their host, Howard (Stephen Ure), but after agreeing to keep to the boarding house, an uneasy truce is formed. As night falls however, all Hell breaks loose.
X is a Ti West movie to its core. The filmmaker has kept a firm hand on the production and, in addition to directing, he also writes, produces, and edits the piece. The result is a movie of a singular and distinctive voice, which undoubtedly belongs to Ti West. X fits neatly alongside other movies in West’s back catalogue whilst remaining its own unique entry. Whereas other films by West have analysed the occult and found footage, this time around his attention turns to the classic slasher sub-genre. His approach is substantially more quiet and considered than the genre’s traditional loud and occasionally farcical nature. X is a slasher film that manages to be sinister, strange, and genuinely creepy, thanks in part to West allowing the audience into the space of the hunters as well as the hunted.
The slasher film is having a rightful resurgence at the moment and Ti West’s entry proves that they can be scary as well as entertaining. For too long audiences have become accustomed to films like Scream that poke fun at its history, and X is a fresh addition that takes the concept back to its more serious roots. There’s still plenty of fun to be had, but with the onus on unease and tension, the approach ensures a more nail-biting viewing experience that will see X yet another future ‘best of’ lists entry for West. Exquisitely enjoyable thanks to some dynamic plot and stylistic decisions, with X Ti West puts the sexy and serious back into a long abused sub-genre.
5. The Innocents
Easily the toughest movie I’ve watched over the last several years, there was a point during The Innocents at which I had to pause it for a break. Creepy children and horror have been bedfellows for almost as long as films have existed. There’s always something unnerving about seeing the young interact with scary environments and situations, but new Eskil Vogt film, The Innocents, pushes the intensity to extreme levels. Not content to have the children be the sinister element in the background, Vogt thrusts young children into the spotlight and rather than presenting them as perfect little angels, highlights the devils hiding within.
There’s no adult to lead us into the world of The Innocents, instead the conduit is the young Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum). Ida and her older, non-verbal, autistic sister, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), move into a new tower block. There they meet two other young residents, Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) and Ben (Sam Ashraf). As the group begins to play together they engage previously dormant abilities, which although fun at first, quickly distort into something evil.
Set during a Scandinavian summer, the visuals in The Innocents are gorgeously sunny. The film captures that nostalgic feeling of being a child, when the days were all sunshine and fun. But Vogt juxtaposes these whimsically enchanting summerscapes with the brutal actions of the youngsters. Horror is more often reserved for the night, but here, given the ages of those involved, it has to play out primarily during the day. If anything, this shift in time works to make The Innocents a more uncomfortable watch. Daytime is meant to be safe. The children’s parents are nearby, so nothing bad should be happening, and yet it is, almost to the complete obliviousness of the adults around them. Vogt does such a commendable job at making the sunny scenes so unsettling that, even when nothing extreme or troubling is happening, the air is thick with dread and malice. This sensation is almost suffocating. Vogt marinates every frame in palpable tension and creating an atmosphere that is so oppressive, it’s almost hard to get to the end. Worse still, this feeling gradually increases and intensifies as the narrative moves forward. By the time the credits roll, the viewer is exhausted from being held in a constant state of terror.
Unflinchingly savage, The Innocents explores the loss of innocence and the formation of both a conscience and morals through the veil of the often overlooked malice held by the young. It’s a confronting film, one that doesn’t shirk away from its viciousness and by being so unafraid, creates an emotional and affecting tale of the perils of childhood and gives a whole new meaning to the term growing pains.
4. The Leech
Christmas horror films typically go super camp, but sometimes a filmmaker deviates from tradition and in doing so creates an instant festive classic. This is exactly what Eric Pennycoff has achieved with the devilish The Leech.
In The Leech Graham Skipper plays Catholic Priest, Father David. Unfazed by his dwindling parishioners, David remains certain that come Christmas Eve, his church will be heaving. One day he finds Terry (Jeremy Gardner) sleeping in the pews. Feeling sorry for the wayward soul, David sees an opportunity to do good and invites him to stay at his house. It doesn’t take long however, for him to regret that decision. Terry alone is trouble enough for the Priest. His dependence on drugs and love of loud heavy metal music is a stark contrast to the quiet contemplative disposition of the man of God. Then, Terry invites his girlfriend Lexi (Taylor Gardner) to stay. Not wanting to be rude, David agrees. This is when the real fun begins.
The perfect gift for Horror Christmas, The Leech brings the fun, fright, and festivities. A reconstruction of the home invasion tale, The Leech tells the ultimate odd throuple tale, one that will last for the ages. A perfect storm of darkly comic material, spellbinding technical elements, and expertly crafted performances ensure that The Leech is a wild, unruly, and entertaining time.
After impressing with The Deeper You Dig, the Adams Family returned to last year’s festival circuit with Hellbender. The film made my picks of 2021’s festival films, and with a February arrival on Shudder, it also makes this year’s genre list. Izzy (Zelda Adams) and her mother (Toby Poser) live a simple existence in their house in the middle of the forest, living off of foraged foods and spending their time creating music with their two-woman (one bass and one drum) band, H6llb6nd6r. As happy as Izzy is with her lot in life, she is terribly lonely and isolated. This changes after a chance encounter with fellow teen, Amber (Lulu Adams). As Izzy starts to become more independent, she uncovers a connection between her family and witchcraft Thereafter a power battle between mother and daughter begins to unfold.
Hellbender moves along at a punchier pace than Deeper You Dig, but this does not detract from the amount of atmosphere and emotion that the Adams family infuses into their latest piece of art. From the opening moments, which take place centuries ago during the climax of a hanging, to the disturbing end, Hellbender is steeped in feelings and awash with sensory delights. This group of filmmakers really have honed their craft and have created a film that is a technical marvel, whilst not misplacing any of its soul.
The attention to detail is apparent in every fibre of Hellbender’s DNA, and the most captivating is the work they have done creating the lore for their Hellbender beings. Their race is a riff on witches, vampires, and demons; their magical power comes from blood and the fear contained within it. It’s a super interesting blend of all the nightmare creatures, one that is backed up by a vast amount of lore, the trio birthing their own cinematic Occult “monster” for future generations to lose sleep over.
There is literally no end to this family’s talents. They act, write, direct, shoot, and even sing together with not a bum note between them. Every aspect and element of Hellbender oozes style. Whether it’s the catchy music, the breathtaking imagery, compelling narrative, or phenomenal sound design, there is something to enrapture and enthral all who dare to glance upon it. A strong contender for creepiest film of the year, Hellbender chews you up and feeds on your fears before spitting you out again forever changed.
2. Bones & All
I didn’t necessarily expect an adaptation of a book telling the coming-of-age tale of girl with a hunger for human flesh to feature this high on my list, but here we are. The premise of Bones and All intrigued me, but I have to admit that I’m yet to delve into the films of director Luca Guadagnino and so didn’t know what to expect. Just a small way through watching however, I quickly realised that Bones & All was something super special and I was smitten.
A new girl at school, Maren (Taylor Russell) is facing more than the usual problems of making friends, she also, on occasion, enjoys the taste of human flesh. After a troubling incident at a sleepover, Maren and her father flee town. The next day, Maren discovers she is alone. The only sign that her father existed is a cassette tape. Armed with this tape, and new knowledge about a mother that she has never known, Maren sets out on a cross country journey to discover the truth about herself. Along the way she encounters others like her for the first-time and with it an entirely new set of problems…
The pairing of Russell and Chalamet is intoxicating. Their performances match one another breath for breath. It also helps that the camera loves them. As much as the pre-release hype for Bones and All has focused on Chalamet, it is Taylor Russell who owns the film. Maren is a complicated cacophony of emotions; Russell separates and highlights each of them. Thrust into the world alone, Maren has to navigate the terrain as she seeks out her place in it. Russell’s performance is calm and collected, every nuance meticulously agonised over to produce a compelling and utterly absorbing lead character. It is paramount that Russell possesses this ability as the star-power of her co-star would otherwise drown her out.
The romance subplot of Bones and All is captivating, but it never overshadows the main narrative. Guadagnino is careful to not get too swept away in the burgeoning romance between Maren and Lee. Whilst the pair may be maddeningly infatuated with one another, this takes the backseat on several occasions. In these moments, Bones and All embraces its darker urges, and it is in these sequences that the film ascends to greatness. An early finger scene to rival Raw opens the door to horror. This is later followed by a creepy encounter with fellow ‘eaters’ and an excellent dalliance with a carnival worker. Guadagnino uses these moments to showcase a panache for skin crawling tension. One of them is nail-bitingly terrifying and it is just a simple exchange of dialogue. It is the unhinged nature of its delivery that gets the pulse racing. Another is a cyclone of sensuality and violence that teases and tantalises.
Visually gorgeous, Bones and All captures the grimy arid air of mid-western American. The narrative plays out within the framework of a road movie meaning plenty of opportunity for sundrenched landscapes. Guadagnino captures all the majesty that the heartland states have to offer. The scenery is startling, its natural beauty juxtaposing with the bloody facades of Maren and Lee. Cannibals and sun-scorched asphalt immediately conjure comparisons to Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark. It is a valid likening, but Bones and All errs more on the ethereal side.
Despite its horror trappings, this story is as affecting as any traditional coming-of-age drama. A gateway horror for the arthouse award-following, Bones and All is an affecting and mesmerising road movie cannibal rom nom-nom.
Choosing a number one spot for this year has been incredibly tough. In all honesty, any of the top three could have interchanged, but Barbarian just edged out the other two. After missing Barbarian at FrightFest due to media wall commitments, I was thrilled when the film was revealed as Celluloid Screams’ secret film. Watching it for the first time with a genre festival audience was the perfect setting.
Barbarian is a story about an AirBnB and those that stay within it. Opening on a rainy night, Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives at her booked accommodation. Unable to find the key, she discovers someone else, Keith (Bill Skarsgård), is already inside. The property has been double-booked due to an oversight of the host. With no other options, Tess and Keith agree to share the establishment for the night. This inconvenience is the least of concerns however, as Barbarian quickly falls down a warren of intrigue, suspense, and all-out horror.
Barbarian shifts focus between multiple characters during its run time and in doing so allows writer and director Zach Cregger to tease the audience. This is a film that has two distinct tonal shifts; Cregger keeps the viewer on the edge of their seats. The opening sequence is kept strictly tense, Tess and Keith circling each other. Their story and interaction is one portrayed onscreen plenty of times before, but even the most savvy horror viewer won’t be able to predict where Barbarbian goes. An ever tightening corkscrew of intensity, the audience are placed firmly in Tess’ world. The viewer experiences everything through her jaded female eyes. Cregger does an excellent job at conveying just how prepared for danger the modern woman has had to be. Women in the audience will share an immediate kinship with the character and sit nodding their heads as she does (almost) all the right things.
This focus later shifts to Justin Long’s AJ who is the epitome of toxic masculinity. He is self-involved and constantly wants to belittle or ignore the women around him. Were his character to be played as strict and as seriously as the opening, Barbarian would be nerve-shredding for its entire duration. Instead, AJ is played for laughs. Helped immensely by Long’s natural talent for comedy, AJ’s introduction is a tonal jar from what the audience have just experienced. He offers an effective ice-breaker and opportunity for your heart-rate to return to normal. But before long, AJ is on the same path as has been seen before. This time the viewer knows what to expect, but instead of diluting the power or the scare, it makes it all the more terrifying.
Whereas Tess is constantly on the lookout for danger, AJ isn’t. He demonstrates the obliviousness that most men have to the dangers around them. Cregger uses both characters to highlight the very different way in which men and women exist in our modern society. It’s an excellent and important nugget of social commentary to include, one that may open a few eyes or two. As events start to collide, the mystery at the heart of Barbarian is revealed. It is dark in tone and nature, and proves that sometimes knowing more is far worse, counterpointing that the age old adage of less is more. Every reveal is carefully orchestrated. Cregger peels back layer upon layer of onion skins under which rest increasingly more bleak moments. Barbarian is a true funfair ride of horror, the Ghost Train experience brought to life. Strap in for the fright of your life.
Zach Cregger repeatedly yanks the rug from under even the most savvy horror fan’s feet in this electric slice of horror perfection. A superbly executed masterclass in misdirection, Barbarian is a late contender for horror movie of the year.
All films mentioned in this are available to watch on a variety of digital platforms now.
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