As I was perusing the list of films released in 2022 on Letterboxd (as I do quite often this time of year to round out the edges for what I still need to see), I noticed one particular detail of the ones I need to still get my hands on: none of them are horror films. Now that Halloween season has passed, I can begin to wind down on the horror viewings I frequently have each year and begin to compile a list of my favorites, just like I do with all 2022 releases in general.
As always, horror stays strong. Despite struggling numbers at the box office (the term “struggling” almost seems to playfully suggest it may be a momentary issue instead of a severe and alarming industry decline), the sheer amount of horror films released both in auditoriums and on streaming services at home implies there’s still a large audience for those schlocky, brain-busting and gnarly affairs – and they have one such fan right here.
Like the list I’ll release later this month for the totality of 2022, I watched so many horror films. This is in large part because of October, in which I watched a record amount of horror films for that particular holiday, whether they were positively received or not. I hypothesize that this may also be because horror films were some of the few films that were able to endure the Top Gun: Maverick craze and still bring in profitable dollar amounts.
And maybe it’s because horror is one of the true few genres that still produce beyond the typical superhero fare that dominates each season at the box office. Needless to say, horror is still profitable in 2022 even if many of the independent film studios are struggling in this era of streaming (again, “struggling” is putting it mildly).
There’s also Shudder, which releases and promotes their own films quite frequently throughout the year, and you’ll see a couple of their entries on this list too. There’s so much to consume each year that there’s still a chance I’ll see something at the end of December that makes me rethink what I’m about to list, but maybe it’ll have to be saved for the year-end bests then. Let’s just start listing some honorable mentions and what felt right at the time (did I mention this is a Top 10….? It’s a Top 10):
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
Alex Garland films deserve a designation of their own. The visionary filmmaker behind Ex Machina and Annihilation returned in 2022 with a film that’s much more brutal and unforgiving than his previous works. Combined with a wonderfully harrowing lead performance by Jessie Buckley, Men picks at toxic masculinity as violently as anything released this year. With an ending that is sure to enrage and confuse audiences, Alex Garland has put together his most daring effort yet. Men review
9. The Sadness
Built on a premise that offers countless opportunities for pure mayhem, The Sadness explores the crumbling infrastructure of society. This Taiwanese Shudder film continuously upped its own stakes and violence with every instance of unrelenting gore. Perhaps the craziest film of 2022, The Sadness serves as a major steppingstone for the stylistic mind of filmmaker Rob Jabbaz.
Independent filmmaker Ti West had quite the year in 2022. His second release of the year Pearl is an engulfing interpretation of family and ambition. Mia Goth gives a purposefully insane performance for the ages – all leading up to a monologue that’s sure to win viewers over. A love letter to the golden age of cinema, Ti West continues to pay homage to those that pushed the craft further before him while still carving out his own niche. Needless to say, West’s third film in the trilogy MaXXXine will certainly do the same.
7. Crimes of the Future
David Cronenberg made his return in 2022. Not only did the veteran filmmaker release his first film since Maps to the Stars in 2014, he made his long-awaited return to the body horror microgenre. Crimes of the Future is “classic Cronenberg” – filled with eerily idiosyncratic vision and set design, and wholly unique to his own cannon. Cronenberg’s latest is sure to turn viewers away, as Cronenberg himself predicted before the film’s release during the festival season. Crimes of the Future is perfectly blunt and torturous in its ideas of art and legacy.
The first of Ti West’s two 2022 release, X serves as an ode to the foundational building blocks of the horror genre. Hints of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and brutalist Southern slashers are littered throughout this tightly packed throwback hit. With an ensemble cast that rules from top to bottom, Ti West built horror’s 2022 darling – a film that’s already amassed a contemporary cult status. Nobody is making ‘em like Ti West right now.
My personal Sundance pick, Watcher stays slick throughout its runtime. Never overstaying its welcome and never being short on disturbing set pieces, Chloe Okuno’s debut Shudder release feels like the work of a seasoned veteran. With major splashes of David Fincher, every shot and scene feels precise and meticulous. Combined with a haunting performance by Maika Monroe, Watcher outclassed much of the Sundance fare for its unnerving energy and pure draining energy.
4. Bodies Bodies Bodies
I’m not sure if I’ve seen a film that feels more current in 2022 than Bodies Bodies Bodies. A24’s entry into the rising whodunnit craze of the last few years comes at the hands of talented director Halina Reijn. With a darkly comedic and satirical tone, Bodies Bodies Bodies expertly explores the “fakeness” of social media culture and the pressures of living in our current era. With an ensemble cast of great, mostly young actresses and actors, Bodies Bodies Bodies excels with vibrance and a lean runtime. One of A24’s better horror dishes in recent memory. Bodies Bodies Bodies review
3. Mad God
Phil Tippett deserves his praise, and he’s getting it here. The legendary effects artist and stop-motion animator behind the likes of Jurassic Park and Return of the Jedi had secretly been working on his own passion project for the better part of 30 years, and the result is a film oozing at the seams with bloody imagery, ghouls and goblins littering each shot, and a film destined to be cared for by his fans for decades to come. Narratively, the film is highly experimental and ambiguous, but it gives way for what Tippett does best: animate the hell out of every scene (literally). A truly singular vision, if you have the stomach for Mad God, go seek it out on Shudder. But that’s a big “if.”
The success story of 2022, Barbarian hit the zeitgeist like few others are able to do. Zach Cregger delivered his own singular and brutal horror vision that keeps you on your toes from opening shot to the end of the credits. I’ll leave this quick snippet of my review back when it came out for some context:
“Barbarian is an extremely winking film. Its casting of Bill Skarsgard as the possibly innocent/possibly sadistic murderer co-inhabitant of a sketchy Airbnb is enough to drive even the casual horror fans up a wall after his notorious and career-making work as Pennywise the Clown in the recent It franchise. He manages to successfully balance these different character beats in a performance that teeters on predictability, but never fully goes there.” Barbarian review
But nobody tops the king. Few films have made me return and think quite as much as Nope has in 2022, and isn’t that the point with film? Jordan Peele delivers what quite possibly is his best work and one that surely was the apex of this summer’s moviegoing experience. Here is a quick snippet of the review I wrote a while back:
“Every shot oozes with detail. The haunting and dreadful images send chills down your spine and the comedy sticks in almost every instance. The terrifying set pieces, from Gordie’s birthday party to the bloody storm over Haywood ranch, are some of the best this year has had to offer.” Nope review