As horror’s trends ebb and flow, reflecting the reality from which it crawls out of the shadows, you notice moments of intersection—of flux. Horror that bends the “sub” part of “subtext” past the breaking point crashes headlong into horror that cuts you open and tongues your insides. Slippery slopes of chaos, isolated journeys of dread and confined sentences of madness all feel particularly apropos despite their ostensible dissonance. That’s just how the past few years have been: Locking us down, dismantling our trust in ourselves and each other, then letting us loose back out into an unfamiliar and unfriendlier world. Our fears and how they’re expressed have morphed in kind. Self-reference abounds after a long time stuck with little to look at besides the mirror; spectacle returns as we remember the beauty and potential of the big screen; throwbacks to simpler times—whether that’s a Texas Chain Saw riff or a Ring spin—weaponize rather than rely upon nostalgia. Horror in 2022 has meant so many things, but what it’s represented is the hopeful bursting variety of growth in the face of so much pain. It’s something horror has always thrived on, but with the blockbuster return of Jordan Peele, the ambitious double-whammy from Ti West, and the showstoppers from indie voices like Chloe Okuno, Phil Tippett and Jane Schoenbrun, 2022’s sordid assortment is as much a bag of Halloween candy as it is a snapshot of a society in transition.
Here are our picks for the 20 best horror movies of the year:
Among many things that ended up winning me over about Radio Silence directing group members Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Scream, the main one was that—like its predecessors—it understood how we were going to feel about it before we even got to see it. It knew that I would be torn about its existence. And that, folks, just scratches the surface on why the new Scream, in all its meta-for-a-modern-time goodness, is the best installment since the Wes Craven original. The fifth installment—which takes place 25 years after the original—doesn’t hold back when it comes to analyzing the inner workings of a classic reboot down to the bones. Scream has always been a franchise for film lovers—and it’s never been afraid to be meta as hell, as meta as it needed to be to get its point across. Big questions are raised and left in the air to hang: Are we really just the monsters we create? Are we the monsters that created us, and do we have to be? What is so toxic about loving something with everything you have and wanting it to stay good? Like you’d expect from the franchise, it doesn’t necessarily offer answers to those questions, but the fact that it poses them at all feels right. It is a welcomed dimension to the films that highlights the larger themes that have come into play as the Woodsboro legacy has aged. Sure, the gags about elevated horror and getting back to the roots of slashers, the film trivia, the dedication to the craft of movies—it’s all part of the show. But it’s the fifth movie, and really, why make it if not to send a love letter to the fans?—Lex Briscuso
Co-written with Nathan Faudree, Stevens’ third feature as a director is a complex, beautiful, wonderfully imaginative serial killer story that’s as metaphysical as it is psychosexual. Its setup is familiar, so much so that the tools at Stevens’ disposal can verge on the predictable. But as the film takes a turn into what it’s really about, A Wounded Fawn reveals that there’s something much darker and stranger than a by-the-numbers killer-in-the-house tale at work here, and what starts as familiar quickly becomes one of the most memorable horror films of the year. Meredith (Sarah Lind) is a museum curator who’s finally starting to embrace dating again, and she thinks she may have found the right guy in Bruce (Josh Ruben), a fellow art-lover who also happens to have a secluded cabin perfect for a weekend getaway in the woods. It has all the makings of a romantic re-awakening for Meredith, and she’s particularly impressed when she sees the cabin and Bruce’s art collection, which features a legendary Grecian bronze that may or may not be a replica. What the audience already knows that Meredith does not, though, is that Bruce is a serial killer, a man driven to maul women to death by a strange presence only he can see. It’s clear that Meredith is falling into a trap, but as the struggle between predator and prey begins, Bruce finds that the night is going to be much more complicated than he thought. The intimate setup of A Wounded Fawn means that much of the film unfolds in a single location, with two major characters and an assortment of strange, mythological figures who may be real and may be entirely in Bruce’s addled mind. That gives Stevens the unenviable task of having to maintain a sense of dynamism and visual depth over the course of a film with only a few things to look like. He proved he can do that kind of storytelling with Girl on the Third Floor, and his skills have clearly matured even further into the realm of expressive, endlessly unnerving psychological terror. The film is shot in 16mm, which gives it a grain and texture that few other films in recent years have achieved, but Stevens goes beyond the simple appeal with his aesthetic design. The color temperatures feel like something that could have easily been found in a cinema in the 1970s or on a rack at the video store in the 1980s. The reds are really red, the faces rich with contrast, the balance of cool and warm twisted just so to enhance the crimson hues of both the violence and the strange visions haunting Bruce throughout the film. And those visions are ferocious, chilling and endlessly evolving to great effect. Production designer Sonia Foltarz and costume designer Erik Bergrin have clearly embraced Stevens’ willingness to get weird as the night wears on and both Bruce and Meredith are wounded, struggling to make it to sunrise. From masks to animal heads to one especially strange sequence that can best be described as “metaphysical surgery,” it all sticks in your head like an urge you’d rather ignore, sending chills up your spine even after the credits roll. If you’re willing to take this dark, weird ride and go all-in on Stevens’ descent into mythological terror, you’ll be thinking about what you just saw for weeks.—Matthew Jackson
Over the course of their eight-year collective filmmaking practice, the Adams family have continuously honed their aesthetic and narrative interests as artists. With Hellbender, the sixth feature from the nuclear family of filmmakers, confidence and creativity converge to produce something that feels like an alchemic breakthrough. Particularly following their 2020 supernatural thriller The Deeper You Dig, it appears the Adams have acquired a penchant for horror—a perfect complement to their signature low-budget, home-grown style. Though Hellbender utilizes many recurring motifs present in the Adams family’s work—such as dysfunctional family dynamics and nods to John Adams’ former career as a punk musician—it is certainly the most (literally) fleshed-out project the family has undertaken to date. 16-year-old Izzy (Zelda Adams, the youngest daughter and fellow co-director of John Adams and Toby Poser) has been warned from a young age by her mother (Poser) that the outside world will cause her nothing but harm due to her rare autoimmune disease. As such, Izzy spends her days frustrated and friendless, with only the vast landscape surrounding her mother’s reclusive mountain home providing her with any semblance of personal enrichment. Despite being forbidden to leave the property, Zelda’s relationship with her mother is far from acrimonious—they are playfully affectionate with one another, cradling each other’s faces in their hands and venturing into the verdant forest for rainy day hikes. They even perform in a drum and bass punk rock band, appropriately named Hellbender, donning audacious face make-up and practicing tight, catchy songs for the sole benefit of themselves. Every facet of Hellbender has the intrinsically magical quality of being hand-helmed by a small faction of creatives that execute every stage necessary for the film’s production. The cinematography by Zelda and John is just as impressive as the laid-back yet quirky costume design by Poser. The end result is completely stunning in its scope, tandemly laser-focused on two individuals and their insular livelihood while exploring the vast terror of supernatural possession. By the time the film come to a gory, gloomy conclusion, the viewer walks away feeling thoroughly put through the wringer—inherited traumas, overbearing impositions and brooding bloodlust are never presented in a completely straightforward fashion, providing ample twists to accompany any revelation the film wishes to divulge. Tethered closely to the emotions and artistic sensibilities of the tight-knit family that created it, Hellbender is a can’t-miss foray into folk horror. Unabashedly creepy yet perplexingly comforting, it will inevitably remind audiences of the most eccentric aspects of our upbringings. At the same time, it will evoke deeply-concealed memories of the anguish of undergoing growing pains—a veritable hell on Earth if there ever was one.—Natalia Keogan
Pubescent pressures are compounded by the presence of a horrifying mutant doppelganger in Hatching, Finnish director Hanna Bergholm’s debut feature. Written by Ilja Rautsi, the film is a domestic drama at its core, detailing the toxicity inherent to a controlling mother-daughter dynamic. However, what elevates Hatching to the upper echelons of the familial horror-drama is its inspired use of practical effects and puppeteering, resulting in a genuinely unsettling movie monster that appears all the more uncanny in its originality. While the finer plot details might not feel as fresh as its central doppelganger entity, Hatching hits the right emotional cues nonetheless—instilling its fair share of thrilling scares while stirring adolescent pathos. In an idyllic Finnish suburb, a seemingly perfect family lives a seemingly perfect life. At least, that’s the image that the family matriarch (Sophia Heikkilä) carefully curates via regular vlog posts. Her videos capture their home’s polished decor, making sure to highlight elegant floral details and crystal chandeliers. Just as aesthetically congruent as the home’s interior is the family that resides inside it: The father (Jani Volanen) is well-dressed and mild-mannered, their bespectacled young son Matthias (Oiva Ollila) endearingly precocious and their 12-year-old daughter Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) a rising local gymnast. As the anxiety surrounding an upcoming competition threatens to unravel her, Tinja finds a mysterious object in the woods surrounding her family’s home: A speckled egg, solitary in the world without a mother to brood it. Just a short time later, the egg grows ten times in size—and the being germinating within begins to emerge. A gangly, gnarly bird-like creature bursts into the world, viewing Tinja as its proper mother. In keeping its plot uncomplicated, and without nodding too heavily to its cinematic inspirations, Hatching is given the space to actually come into its own. By singularly focusing on the monster’s unique appearance and qualities, the film evades easy comparison—even if it does boast a handful of predictable narrative beats.—Natalia Keogan
Perry Blackshear’s new film When I Consume You would’ve been a splendid title for a Shudder cooking show: Creatures of the night gorily prepare expired ingredients using eldritch techniques perfected by the old gods themselves. But it suits the film nicely, too, adopting multifaceted malice as Blackshear judiciously doles out new plot bulletins minute by minute. “When I consume you” is a macabre declaration, then a threat, then a promise that carries the weight of inevitability. Your consumption is guaranteed—an assurance of doom rather than a possibility. The “you” are the Shaw siblings, Daphne (Libby Ewing) and Will (Evan Dumouchel), survivors of a hardscrabble childhood now making their way as adults. Will, a scruffy, laconic wreck, leans on Daphne for constant support. Daphne, meanwhile, is sober going on five years, and while stability is a struggle, she’s on track toward getting her house in order. When Will finds her dead of an apparent suicide, he helplessly flails like a man drowning at sea, until, limb by limb, Daphne returns from the other side with a fuzzy memory and a desperate plea to her brother: Don’t confront her killer. Of course, he does, against her advice. That’s all within When I Consume You’s first half-hour, structured carefully for atmosphere and to maximize spookiness. Blackshear gently eases the movie into full-on frightening territory, his highest priorities being character development and chilling foreshadowing. That delicate craftsmanship makes the smallest gestures toward genre, like Daphne directing Will from beyond the grave toward a stashed box of her personal effects, feel colossal. Working with microbudgets breeds creativity—demands it, really. Blackshear has a clear gift for making a lot out of a little. In horror, that gift goes a long way. When I Consume You has as many pleasures in its low-key moments before the movie’s true horror is revealed, before Will encounters an eccentric detective (MacLeod Andrews), who may or may not be who says he is, and before Blackshear, acting as his own cinematographer, props Daphne’s corpse against a wall—an honest shock rather than an abrupt twist. There is, in fact, so much to relish in Blackshear’s rich, spartan filmmaking that unpacking his aesthetic on paper risks giving away too much. When I Consume You packs an emotional wallop and looks stunning while spending peanuts compared to the average studio horror product.—Andy Crump
The sprawling, mountainous landscape of nineteenth century Macedonia envelops every frame of You Won’t Be Alone, writer-director Goran Stolevski’s feature debut. A meandering portrait of shape-shifting sorceresses who live on (and off of) the peripheral terrain of a pastoral village, the film is particularly interested in the shifting state of power and peril that comes with practicing witchcraft. Though its leisurely pace and sinuous storyline might test the audience’s patience, the Macedonian-Australian filmmaker packs his folk horror breakthrough with enough guts and gore to keep eyes fixed on the screen. When a mute baby girl is left by her mother in a cave to evade a seemingly inevitable indoctrination into witchcraft, she gradually grows into a feral young woman (Sara Klimoska). When a beldam “wolf-eatress” (Anamaria Marinca) eventually arrives to court her into the occult, the girl follows, cautiously curious about life outside of the cavern that sheltered her for the past 16 years. After being ritualistically branded with the witch’s mark, the girl realizes she possesses the ability to take on the form of any living creature she kills—coupled with a newfound appetite for hot blood and entrails. However, the girl’s swelling affinity for a world she had previously been cut off from clashes with the misanthropic outlook of her mother superior, resulting in the young witch going off on her own. In attempting to forge her own livelihood, the girl crosses paths with a young peasant woman (Noomi Rapace) and her newborn baby. Thinking the girl will do harm to her child, the mother lunges at her and is mortally wounded by the young witch’s talon-like nails. Arrested by fright and intrigue, the girl resolves to take this woman’s form for herself—a decision that sets forth a journey in understanding the intricacies of human life she might never have experienced otherwise. Though You Won’t Be Alone is entrenched in a hearty humanism that embraces the ordinary toil of staying alive, it is also steeped in observations of gendered strife as it has historically affected women. Before the young witch encounters Rapace’s peasant, the camera cuts to the woman clutching onto the wooden beams of a fence on her farm’s edge, crouching and caterwauling mid-labor. As soon as the baby is delivered, the midwife ushers the child away—and the blood-flecked woman waddles back to the working fields. Stolevski’s debut is enthralling and thoughtful, cutting through the clichés of similar recent releases of the same vein. Despite its under-interrogated premise, You Won’t Be Alone is an intriguing, unsettling feature debut with an incisive bite—a strength that the filmmaker will surely sharpen over time. The result is an enticing witch’s brew you can’t stop sipping, even if there’s a slightly sour aftertaste.—Natalia Keogan
Smile may not impress true students of the horror genre, adherents to the dark tradition, but for novices and the easily scared or sensitive, it’s a gruesome and macabre thrill ride that tries to talk about trauma as its characters struggle to unpack it. The movie cycles between and draws on the traditions of recent “elevated” horror as well as sensational exploitation films of the later 20th century. Its main thrust is as a curse movie, reminiscent of mid-00s to 2010s films such as The Grudge and It Follows, while also sharing some of its vibe and structure with psychological-supernatural horror like Daniel Isn’t Real, another movie about trauma activating a supernatural violent streak. Smile is largely a movie about dread, hopelessness and the inability to escape the inevitable. It succeeds in building those feelings while thriving on jump scares, of which there are many. Of course, to build maximum tension, the camera and music sometimes lead us to think one is coming that doesn’t. For some viewers, this might wear out its welcome, but Smile had me on the ropes throughout. Some silliness notwithstanding, Smile successfully builds and reproduces dread. While it uses trauma as a narrative theme, it doesn’t feel completely exploitative or shallow. Because the haunting is unambiguously happening, the trauma discussion doesn’t feel like a red herring but rather a parallel conversation. While genre veterans may effectively point at what and where it borrows, Smile will positively terrify casual fans of horror. It’s creepy, dreadful and jumpy.—Kevin Fox, Jr.
William Brent Bell, the director of Orphan: First Kill (and not the first movie), knows a thing or two about wriggling out of a tight spot in order to bravely forge ahead with a horror sequel: He followed up his own The Boy, another well-twisted horror movie, with a sequel that attempted to take a newly minted gimmick-slasher in a different, franchise-preserving direction. What Bell gains is a neo-scream queen in Isabelle Fuhrman, who in between Orphan movies plumbed psychological depths in The Novice and got cut out of an Escape Room 2 subplot (restored on a home video extended version). She returns for a look at Esther’s early years; the movie opens with her imprisoned in an asylum in Eastern Europe before she escapes and poses as the long-missing daughter of Tricia (Julia Stiles) and Allen (Rossif Sutherland). This means that where a 12-year-old Fuhrman once played a secret 33-year-old, here she’s attempting to pass as a 10-year-old at her real-life age of 25. This is not exactly a plot twist, but it does provide a bold new definition for the circle of life, and an acting challenge as audaciously boldfaced, in its own way, as the original movie’s twist. Maybe more, given that it must be dealt with at the outset, rather than in a ratcheted-up climax. Bell and screenwriter David Coggeshall, working from a story by original Orphan screenwriters David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Alex Mace, build on the first movie’s gothic aggression. They wring knowing laughs out of the bizarre sense of routine while taking clever advantage of the fact that while the family may look familiar, it’s Esther who the audience now knows better. Fuhrman has great fun incorporating her Novice determination into a less conflicted character, and Stiles is nearly as delightful, performing a different sort of time warp: Known for her seeming sophistication as a teen star, her obligatory buttoned-up horror-mom role turns out to be kind of a hoot. The whole movie is, really, as it distorts a decidedly modern franchise extension through a hall of spookhouse mirrors, refracting its silliness across decades. Accordingly, Orphan: First Kill isn’t an especially scary movie, nor is its class-war commentary especially subtle or insightful. Through sheer force of personality, though, these elements are rendered immaterial. Like Esther, the movie has a keen sense of how to weaponize its own audacity.—Jesse Hassenger
Early on, Wendell & Wild feels like it might not be for kids so much as inebriated adults. Over the course of its runtime, that is revealed to be a reductive appraisal—it’s a spooky coming-of-age comedy made of sad and dramatic moments which demonstrate the importance of community resistance to corporate control of the government. The plot has enough going on that it could have been a TV series or a two-parter, but for whatever its flaws or limitations, it flows coherently for 106 minutes to a satisfactory conclusion. All the while, it’s a marvel of artistry and artisanship, with a soundtrack full of Black-fronted rock bands to boot. Kat (Lyric Ross), a young green-haired Black girl, loses her parents—pillars of their community—in a car accident and is roughed up over the years by the juvenile justice system as the film visually summarizes through shadow-puppet illustrations of memories. It’s a nice added layer, artistically and didactically. A grant-funded reintegration program brings Kat back to her now largely-deserted hometown, Rust Bank, and its eponymous private Catholic school. There, Kat discovers her supernatural connection to the underworld through Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Jordan Peele). Wendell & Wild reminded me of Beetlejuice and Nightmare Before Christmas, but it isn’t cribbing from what has come before. It’s building on it, and kids and parents everywhere are lucky to have this film. Selick hasn’t directed a lot of movies, but his films have a lasting impact, etching themselves in the memories of their audiences for decades. —Kevin Fox, Jr.
An Aussie influencer slasher—think Ingrid Goes West but with way, way more blood—Sissy spins the notion of a serial killer’s obsession on its head for a world where obsession is monetized and encouraged at the end of every online video. Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes’ film focuses on the social fallout that ensues when childhood friends Cecilia (Aisha Dee) and Emma (Barlow) rekindle their relationship. How does one try to replicate the purity and love of young BFFs? Does that kind of bond ever grow into anything productive, or is trying to translate that into an adult relationship inherently dangerous? When Cecilia joins Emma’s friends (she shares a violent history with one) for a pre-wedding weekend, these questions hit the fan like a trash bag full of shit. Dreamy production places us in Cecilia’s mind while some of the more gruesome details are so icky-realistic that you can’t help but laugh. They draw us back down to the physical world, the kind you remember to see when your phone is as dead as the friends around you. Readings based around bullying, queerness, anti-Blackness and self-help culture abound, adding rich layers to a movie otherwise content to be a nasty fun time. With more to say about Gen Z than Bodies Bodies Bodies and grisly practical kills hat would delight Sam Raimi, Sissy is a stunner.—Jacob Oller
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair isn’t straightforwardly a “horror” movie—even if the title reads like an invocation chanted by hypnotized cultists doomed to whatever fate awaits them at the fairgrounds. That, of course, is more or less exactly what it is, as evinced in the opening sequence, where young Casey (Anna Cobb) recites the phrase three times while staring wide-eyed at her computer monitor. Innocent enough, if firmly eerie. Then she pricks her finger with a button’s pin about two dozen times in rapid succession and streaks her blood on the screen (though just out of the audience’s line of sight) to conclude the ritual. All that’s left is to wait and see how joining in this online “game” changes her, as if undergoing a Cronenbergian rite of passage. What writer/director Jane Schoenbrun wants viewers to wonder is whether those changes are in earnest, and whether changes documented by other participants in the “World’s Fair challenge” are legit or staged. They’re unreliable narrators. To an extent, so is Casey—insomuch as teens stepping into the world solo for the first time can be relied on for anything resembling objectivity. There’s also the question of exactly where Casey draws the line between truth and macabre make-believe, and of course whether that belief is made up. Maybe there really is a ghost in the machine. Or maybe a life predominantly lived in a virtual space—because physical space is dominated by isolation and bad paternal relationships—naturally inclines people toward delusion at worst and an unerring sensation of disembodiment at best. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair concludes with ambiguity and atmospheric loss, as if we’re meant to consider leaving childhood behind as a form of tragedy. Spoken in Schoenbrun’s language, that process is painful, transformative and—first and foremost—an internal experience regardless of the movie’s stripped-down visual pleasures. Outside forces influence Casey, but Casey ultimately controls the direction those forces take her. In a way, that’s empowering. But Schoenbrun belies the collective dynamic implied in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair’s title with Casey’s lonesome reality.—Andy Crump
Early in The Menu, director Mark Mylod’s beautiful, intricate dark comedy set amid the trappings of exclusive restaurant culture, a character explains that, for him, art doesn’t matter. Films aren’t important. Neither are books, paintings or music. Food, he tells us, is the purest and best art form, because a great chef’s medium is “the raw materials of life and death.” Like just about every piece of dialogue in the film, written with fiendish joy by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, it’s both funny in the moment and unexpectedly profound in the larger context of The Menu’s dark game. Yes, the enigmatic master chef at the heart of film is playing with the raw materials of life and death on his plates—seafood, fungi, roast chicken, flash-frozen microgreens and plenty of artful foam—but the menu he’s developed, and the film that depicts it, is also dealing with the raw materials of human human life and death. The list of ingredients is long, the techniques complex, but everything is whipped like egg whites into something so light and airy you barely notice the bitterness until it smacks you in the teeth. The restaurant at the heart of this heady recipe is Hawthorne, a fabulously expensive establishment run by the demanding, precise Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes, sharp as carbon steel) from a private island where all the ingredients are local and a seat at the table will set you back more than a grand. Hawthorne serves just 12 diners per service, and on the night we journey to the island, they include everyone from a couple of regulars (Judith Light, Reed Birney) to a renowned and famously hard-to-please food critic (Janet McTeer) to a fading movie star trying to build a second career as a travel show host (John Leguizamo). The film is interested in each of these personalities to varying degrees, but turns particularly sharp focus on Margo (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), a mismatched couple with very different views of what they’re about to experience. Yes, all the ingredients are treated with care, and the film’s early developments are placed with the precision of a single sprig of chives tweezed onto a plating, but the film’s dark secret is that it’s not here to be subtle. Its true strength is not in tweezers, or carefully engineered molecular gastronomy, but in the furious swipes of a cleaver coming at your head. The complexity, both tonally and visually, is there to tease out the film’s black genre heart, and it’s that heart that makes The Menu a delicious and deeply filling experience that will make you beg for a second helping.—Matthew Jackson
A thriller based around the embodiment and repurposing of patriarchal trauma, Resurrection is far more seething and straightforward in its B-movie ambitions than other films that seek to ostentatiously elevate their horrors. Almost all of that is due to Rebecca Hall’s intense rigidity in performance. As a woman who once escaped her abusive partner, Hall unfurls the blueprints of her altered architecture. Where once we could imagine the give and flexibility that betrays our humanity, there is now inhuman structure. If Kafka’s Gregor unexpectedly awoke metamorphosed into a beetle, Hall’s Margaret painstakingly forged her own protective carapace. Writer/director Andrew Semans’ sophomore feature pulses with black-hearted humor and cruelties so odd as to be undeniably believable, but it’s Hall’s expressive transformation that drives the film’s blood into its final manic fever. Margaret is driven there thanks to the gaslighting return of David (Tim Roth), a slippery creep made entirely of need. His calculated demands sadistically dehumanized Margaret as deeply as she defensively dehumanized herself in the aftermath. And that’s not even mentioning their infant son that David claims to have eaten alive. Right. There’s a strange undercurrent to the film’s familiar outline, a dark magic that gives us a peek at the nearly supernatural power David once wielded over Margaret. He threatens to wield it again as he blows back into Margaret’s life. The prediction inherent in her daily, Terminator-like, arm-pumping runs comes true: He came for her. She’s been preparing for this moment, this man, since she made her eventful escape. And don’t worry, we hear all about it. That expository scene, like the best of them, is bundled in such bravura filmmaking (a tight, long take on Hall, capped with a bleak and gasping punchline), that you hardly recognize it for what it is. Much of Resurrection is like that, tastefully hiding its seams and scars behind stylish performances and toe-curling stress. Margaret’s warped perspective empowers Resurrection: Its minor conflicts and dire premise need logical justification as little as its balls-out bold finale; its themes work as well as they do because they’re enhanced by a nightmarish tone, one verging on the mythical.—Jacob Oller
The boldness of Ti West and Mia Goth to script Pearl in a mere days-long quarantine window is a commendable, gobsmacking feat. The film wears its technicolor dreamcoat spiritedly well, and Goth conjures an origin performance—both on paper and screen—that’s comfortably lived-in. The problem is, there are stretches where Pearl feels like it was conceptualized on the fly so as not to waste New Zealand’s production transformation into Texas for X. While West’s sleazy ‘70s slasher remains one of my champion horror titles of 2022, Pearl is more like giddily deranged add-on downloadable content that makes for an unexpected bite-sized treat. Kudos to the accomplishment, and it’s an ax-swinging slice of bad-vibes hoedown kookiness, but there’s a particular substance missing that X oozes. Pearl is a bizarre descent into the title character’s self-obsessed fantasy world. Cinematographer Eliot Rockett reframes the opening of X by swinging open barn doors to frame our expectations—only there’s no police crime scene this time. Showtune orchestras swell, and a Crayola box of vibrant colors makes Pearl’s imagination pop against the yellowest hay bails, greenest pastures and richest crimson bloodstains. West wants you to believe cartoon birds will fly through Pearl’s window and dress her like a Disney princess, ready to be whisked away by either her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) after his return from WWI or a tempting local theater projectionist (a studly Bohemian played by David Corenswet). Pearl is visualized through the delusional girl’s fixation on 1918’s media highlights, allowing old-school Hollywood homages to wash away X’s sweltering slasher grime. Enter Goth, whose range spans Dorothy to Dahmer as disillusioned by neon marquee lights that might one day spell her name. She deserves mention alongside Toni Collette (Hereditary) and Jane Levy (Evil Dead) when ranking standout contemporary horror performances. Pearl is a fever dream of choreographed dancing, decapitations and Mia Goth carrying the weight of all 100+ minutes. West’s current muse is stark raving brilliant in an experimental slasher that’s a bit less meaty and fulfilling than X. That’s less a condemnation, more a note of comparison—which might be moot for some, because the films are so markedly different. Pearl’s successes will instigate proper horror-themed watercooler talk with good reason because it’s plenty buzzworthy and bonkers, all thanks to Goth’s crazed presence. You’re here for Pearl, and she’s ready to entertain—in a diversion like this, that’s worthwhile enough.—Matt Donato
Sharing a title with Cronenberg’s second film, the latest from the body horror auteur is a return to (de)form after two decades of more dialed-back drama. Digging into the art world’s juicy guts and suturing it up as a compelling, ambitious sci-fi noir, Crimes of the Future thrills, even if it leaves a few stray narrative implements sewn into its scarred cavities. The dreamy and experimental Crimes of the Future (1970) sees creative cancers develop in a womanless world ravaged by viruses. New organs are created (and sometimes worshiped) in a broken society now run by fetishists and hurtling towards a dire, damnable biological response. While Cronenberg’s 2022 do-over on the subject of organic novelty in a collapsing society isn’t a remake by any stretch of the new flesh, it addresses the same pet interests that’ve filled his films since the beginning. Thankfully, it does so with new subtextual success and a far more straightforward and accessible text (despite the full-frontal nudity and graphic autopsies). Unlike Cronenberg’s early work, this movie has color, diegetic sound and movie stars. It embraces traditional dramatic pacing and supplements its perversion with cutting-edge effects. And at least now the characters speak to each other—in that detached, psychology-textbook-meets-FM-2030-essay style—while the camera dives deep into the guts that fascinate us. Specifically, the guts of Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen). He and Caprice (Lea Seydoux) are performance artists whose medium is the generation and removal of neo-organs. Saul builds them up, Caprice slices them out. Our destruction of the world, filling its oceans with plastic and its air with pollution, allowed this to happen. Humanity is now literally numb. People slice each other with knives at clubs, or in the street. Recreational surgery is commonplace. Many can only feel real pain while asleep. This unconscious suffering is just one of many sharpened sides of Crimes’ metaphor. Art is evolving to meet this nerve-deadened world on its terms. Humans are too, literally. That’s why Saul’s able to squeeze out nasty new lumps of viscera and why National Organ Registry investigators Wippet (Don McKellar) and Timlin (Kristen Stewart), as well as radical transhumanist Lang (Scott Speedman), find him fascinating. The trio help narratively blend the dystopian bureaucracy and thriving, subversive multimedia generated by Cronenberg’s nihilistic predictions. When we eventually ruin things, there will just as surely be new cogs in old machines as there will be new rebels in old resistances. Erudite and exploitative, gory yet gentle, Crimes of the Future shows the new kids on the chopping block that an old master can still dissect with the best. But Crimes of the Future’s more meaningful impact is in its representation of a trailblazer finally seeing the horizon. Cronenberg’s view of the future understands that the true death of an artist and the death of society at large result from the same tragic failure to evolve—even if that innovation is simply renovation.—Jacob Oller
Though it begins by quoting the 26th chapter of Leviticus—“I will lay your cities in ruin and make your sanctuaries desolate and I will not savor your pleasing odors”—Mad God plays out like the Book of Revelation. Punishment and apocalypse are writ large and brown in feces and industrial run-off. Medical malpractice means more than negligence, it means quacks and ghouls elbow-deep in your guts. All is grist, everything is decay, human bodies little more than rag dolls made of shit. A so-called “She-it,” a screeching, walking tumor of hair and bared teeth, defends her beaked young against the mania of Mad God’s wasteland, wielding a cleaver. (All while I crammed so-called “Cheez-Its” down my gullet, watching and ceaselessly consuming.) Your pleasing odors escape un-savored into the ether. And just when you think you’ve reached the bottom of Hell, convinced there are no more realms of the beyond left to unveil, you see there is always more bottom, always more beyond. You see whole universes of innocent creatures suffering behind heavy vault-like doors, within the memories of one disposable martyr after another, in the spaces yet to be born. In a series of ever-obliterating visions, Mad God reduces the human experience to cosmic chum. It’s deeply upsetting, and often just as stirring. It would be a pretty clearly nihilistic piece of work, too, were it not such a careful, frequently astounding achievement. A stop-motion film 30 years in the making—beginning with an idea sparked during a lull in shooting Robocop 2—Mad God is mostly the work of one man, legendary animator Phil Tippett, every elaborately nauseating set hand-fashioned over the course of decades. In Mad God, life seems meaningless. Stories don’t end when protagonists die because there are only antagonists running reality. And yet, as punishing as the film can get, it’s also clearly, fully realized, as pure a translation of a remarkable man’s bodily prowess—action, reaction, sinew and muscle and bone in tandem, the heartrending inertia of all things moving toward obliteration and the patience to let that happen—as we’re privileged enough to get from someone who’s already given us so much of himself. For all the grossness, all the bodily fluids and misery and Dan Wool’s charmingly contratonal music, for all the cynicism about the nature of the human race, Mad God is ultimately hopeful. It’s an absolution, for Tippett and maybe for us too. Nothing that’s taken 30 years, and so much health and sanity, could be anything but.—Dom Sinacola
The deceptively simple premise of Barbarian, the horror debut from writer/director Zach Cregger, is enough to induce genuine goosebumps. However, Cregger takes a creepy idea and concocts a breakneck tale of unyielding terror, giving audiences whiplash with each unpredictable revelation. When Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives at her Detroit Airbnb on a forcefully stormy night, she finds that there’s no key in the encrypted lockbox to let herself in. After calling the host proves fruitless, she suddenly sees a light turn on through a front window. Tess frantically rings the doorbell, and the recently roused Keith (Bill Skarsgård) awkwardly answers the door. Realizing they accidentally double-booked the same rental for the next few days, Keith immediately insists that Tess get out of the rain and take the bedroom for the night (of course, he’s totally content with taking the couch). Surprisingly, she agrees. Though few viewers would likely make the same decision as the film’s protagonist, Barbarian wastes no time creating a thick sense of dread that clings until the credits roll. To divulge any further details of the film’s plot would thwart the winding, increasingly shocking narrative crafted by Cregger. With each terrifying reveal feeling fresher and freakier than the last, it’s encouraged to go into Barbarian with as little background and context as possible. Even citing Cregger’s horror references would serve to unnecessarily hint at jarring shifts in the film’s story, though comparisons to the work of fellow horror filmmakers James Wan, Tobe Hooper and George Romero are particularly apt. Barbarian offers up plenty of food for thought in its rancid banquet from hell. It’s got a biting socially-conscious undercurrent that addresses the bleak reality of existing as a woman in the U.S.—both past and present, whether residing in manicured suburbs or “shady” inner-city neighborhoods—even successfully weaving in a #MeToo subplot that doesn’t feel one-note or cursory. Even more impressive, Cregger incorporates this throughline with a heavy dose of humor, no doubt aided by his tenure as a member of IFC sketch comedy show The Whitest Kids U’ Know. Barbarian offers a fascinating take on the oft-unspoken claim men have long believed they have over women’s bodies. It does an excellent job at juxtaposing banal excuses for gendered violence with ghoulish, heinous ploys to strip women of their bodily autonomy (and their very humanity), exposing the malevolent nature of this deeply ingrained cultural misogyny. With the wounds still raw from the recent repeal of Roe v. Wade, Barbarian’s fixation on the omnipresent threat of rape in our society hits as hard as it (hopefully) ever could. Never relishing in the very brutality that it denounces, the film has its heart in the right place. It refuses to depict sexual violation on screen, cleverly illustrating the pervasiveness of this miserable reality without exploiting it for shallow shock value. Yet, even with the best of intentions, Barbarian will mercilessly run you through the wringer, letting these fucked-up facets of America absolutely ravage the screen—and your sanity—for 102 remarkably tense minutes.—Natalia Keogan
Maika Monroe knows better than almost any actor working today how to turn her head or widen her eyes in mounting horror. The control she has over her body, the ability she has to convey realistic fear and her 2014 double-header of The Guest and It Follows made her an instant household name for genre fans. Perhaps one of those was director Chloe Okuno, who knows exactly what to do with her star in her paranoid debut feature (which follows her V/H/S/94 segment from last year), Watcher. A straightforward little B-treat, Monroe’s furtive glances out her Rear Window morph Watcher into a moody thriller elevated by its acting. Monroe plays Julia, a beautiful young housewife cooped up in an empty apartment and cooped up in an intimidating and isolating Bucharest after moving there with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) for his work. Francis speaks Romanian. He entertains clients, makes friends, grabs drinks, chastises fresh cab drivers and translates day-to-day interactions with neighbors and landlords. Julia has none of that. No job, no friends, no real way to communicate with the world aside from her baser senses. She has her taped language lessons, which soundtrack her wistful wanderings around her lovely pale apartment and its massive window. Through that window, she sees those marking the building across the way. One of them contains a figure that also stands at the glass, looking right back. As Okuno twists the screws on the plot—Francis and Julia take a late-night stroll past police, conducting what they later learn to be a serial murder investigation—her characters unravel exactly how we want them to. Watcher flourishes as it complicates its premise beyond the unknowable and faceless desires of a shadowy silhouette. When do finally meet said suspicious neighbor (Burn Gorman), the resulting scenes are the film’s best. Monroe is fantastic alone—reacting both to intense fears and to indignation at Glusman’s fed-up patronizing—but with the always-nuanced Gorman, Watcher taps into something sharper, creepier and enjoyably ‘90s in its psychological execution.—Jacob Oller
X is a remarkable and unexpected return to form for director Ti West, a decade removed from an earlier life as an “up and coming,” would-be horror auteur who has primarily worked as a mercenary TV director for the last 10 years. To return in such a splashy way, via an A24 reenvisioning of the classic slasher film, intended as the first film of a new trilogy or even more, is about the most impressive resurrection we’ve seen in the horror genre in recent memory. X is a scintillating combination of the comfortably familiar and the grossly exotic, instantly recognizable in structure but deeper in theme, richness and satisfaction than almost all of its peers. How many attempts at throwback slasher stylings have we seen in the last five years? The answer would be “countless,” but few scratch the surface of the tension, suspense or even pathos that X crams into any one of a dozen or more scenes. It’s a film that unexpectedly makes us yearn alongside its characters, exposes us (graphically) to their vulnerabilities, and even establishes deeply sympathetic “villains,” for reasons that steadily become clear as we realize this is just the first chapter of a broader story of horror films offering a wry commentary on how society is shaped by cinema. Featuring engrossing cinematography, excellent sound design and characters deeper than the broad archetypes they initially register as to an inured horror audience, X offers a modern meditation on the bloody savagery of Mario Bava or Lucio Fulci, making old hits feel fresh, timely and gross once again. In 2022, this film is quite a gift to the concept of slasher cinema. —Jim Vorel
Among his most amusing directorial quirks, Jordan Peele appreciates the melodrama of a good biblical citation: 2019’s killer doppelgänger vehicle Us tirelessly invokes Jeremiah 11:11 and his latest effort Nope opens with Nahum 3:6: “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle.” It’s that last clause which perfuses Nope, a shrewd, tactile yarn about a brother-sister rancher duo in pursuit of video evidence of a UFO circling their home. Though Peele routinely prods at the Hollywood machine and its spectacles, here he unlades it all: Image-making as brutality, catharsis, posterity, surveillance, homage, indulgence. Six months after a freak accident killed their father, siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) have taken over “Haywood’s Hollywood Horses,” Agua Dulce’s intergenerational horse-wrangling business which specializes in equine showbiz. Working in beautiful contradistinction, Kaluuya plays OJ as stoic and reticent—the true older brother type—and Palmer’s Emerald is prodigiously magnetic and full of puckish chatter. After a series of strange happenings—blackouts, agitated horses, pained noises emanating from the canyons—OJ observes what appears to be a flying saucer gliding through the inky night sky. The next day he spots a cloud that doesn’t move an inch. Suspecting a connection between the saucer and their father’s death, OJ and Emerald enlist the help of gawky, unstable techie Angel (Brandon Perea) and renowned documentarian Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott, excellent rasp) to obtain proof of the UFO, with intent to profit off of the footage. In a sense, the Haywoods want to make a movie. This is Peele rescripting the American film canon, asking what it means to engage with such an exclusionary medium. Shot in IMAX by Dutch cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema—a Christopher Nolan regular, responsible for the slick, beautified landscapes of Interstellar, Dunkirk and Tenet—Nope configures a world of sweeping, dusty landscapes and bloodied dwellings. Steven Spielberg is less a point of reference here than he is the emotional roadmap. The Close Encounters of the Third Kind comparisons write themselves, but notionally, Nope is more like Jaws in the sky. Parts neo-Western, family drama, sci-fi and cosmic horror, Nope sees Peele balance more throughlines here than ever before: Aliens, Muybridge revisionism, undigested grief, chimpanzee carnage, a punctilious documentarian chasing the impossible. Nope is indisputably one for Peele—a spectacle in the least derogatory sense; a palimpsest of nostalgic blockbusters and Peele’s deservedly self-assured vision of Hollywood’s future; but mostly, a solution to and an undertaking of modernity.—Saffron Maeve