I think 2022 has been the year of genre breakouts. Often pushed to the outskirts of fanfare and reserved for die hard lovers of the macabre, this year has seen a mainstream resurgence of horror unlike any other. Everything from brutal slashers to psychological thrillers to high minded outings have all had their time in the spotlight this year, and there were so many great entries I felt compelled to give them their own top 10. I’m not even a fan of the genre (something I’ve said over and over again with every new horror film) but 2022 made a strong case to make me one!
As with every one of these, the usual disclaimer of the list can only include films I’ve seen, lists are subjective, and your favorites may not actually make my own personal top 10. It’s all in good fun, and nothing more than a way to highlight some favorite movie going experiences. In this case, horror. It is also important to note here that “Nope” is missing from this list. While it absolutely qualifies as a horror film, and may be one of the best of its genre, that film in particular is in the running for the best films of 2022 overall, and I didn’t think it fair to let it land on two lists. Also, I’ve eliminated a lot of films billed as horror but don’t really fit the genre in conventional ways. Films like “Bones and All,” “Something in the Dirt,” even “Nanny” all feel just outside of the horror genre as we expect, so while they’re great films I’m not including them here.
Here are the 10 best horror movies we watched this year!
1 10. Deadstream
A SXSW gem, “Deadstream” combines internet culture with “Evil Dead,“and it works insanely well. Its clever use of camera technology and streaming capabilities allow for the small scale, single location film to feel larger than life, and really drives the comedy and horror blending expertly well. I’m always a sucker for filmmakers who are in tune with their own creation, those who fully understand the kind of film they’re making and execute accordingly. “Deadstream” knows exactly what it wants to be and what it should be, and never tries to go too far outside of its own constraints. This is a compliment, because “Deadstream” sets out to deliver a satire of influencer culture with deadites in a haunted house, and revels in precisely those two things. I really dug this one, and almost skipped it in my screenings at the festival. So glad I didn’t, because “Deadstream” is an absolute blast. Full review here.
2 9. Christmas Bloody Christmas
I debated a lot as to whether or not this one deserved to be on the list, seeing as how “Christmas Bloody Christmas” is such a late release and it had some pretty big competition that preceded it. but “Bloody Christmas” is just a helluva good time at the movies, one that his acutely aware of the kind of film it wants to be and embodies the throwback b-movie horror flick really well. It’s violent, vulgar, over the top and downright nonsensical, and somehow manages to make all of it work. There aren’t many films where a child’s dead body gets launched into the living room after being sliced and diced by a murderous robot Santa. If that doesn’t tickle your horror fancy, I don’t know what will. What really sells “Christmas Bloody Christmas” is the films leads, Riley Dandy and Sam Delich, who have such incredible chemistry you could watch an entire Romcom about them. This was a surprise for me, but I enjoyed the hell out of it and feel confident it deserves to be on the list.
3 8. A Wounded Fawn
One of those horror entries that seems too high minded for its own good, “A Wounded Fawn” is a head trip to be sure. And admittedly it’s probably not for everyone seeing as how primarily uses art and mythology to deliver most of its horror elements. But as off putting as “A Wounded Fawn” is, I simply couldn’t get it out of my head after seeing it, and I haven’t been able to forget it since viewing it. Everything about it just worked for me, and as confused as I was at some parts, I still found myself deeply engaged in this psychological, mind bending horror/thriller. It works best if you’re already vested in the educational aspects and devices it uses to get its themes across, but “A Wounded Fawn” draws you in rather quickly and keeps you hooked until its final, twisted moments.
4 7. Sissy
I know “Sissy” was rather polarizing and somewhat frustrating for a lot of critics, and even myself gave it a middling score. But I enjoyed the hell out of this one, and I was picking up everything it was laying down. Darkly funny, deeply relevant, and cleverly violent, “Sissy” sports some scathing social commentary while also delivering some pretty clever kills. The film works in large part because of Aisha Dee, who turns in a star making performance as Cecilia, the aptly nicknamed “Sissy.” Dee’s performance elevates the film beyond its basic framework, and turns in a charming, likable performance even when it becomes clear that she’s not always the good person she keeps telling everyone that she believes herself to be. “Sissy” isn’t a perfect film, but I really dug it and could easily look past its flaws to get a rather enjoyable horror flick. Full review here.
5 6. Fresh
Another horror flick elevated by its performances, “Fresh” works in large part to the stellar work by Daisy Edgar Jones and Sebastian Stan. Another subversive horror film, it works best when you go in blind. The less you know, the more effective “Fresh” becomes, and I found myself being completely enthralled and on the edge of your seat for whatever comes next. It is a bit overlong and can be a little messy, and I’m not 100% sure the film’s conclusion works as well as it things it does, but “Fresh” was one of the big hits from Sundance and managed to have some pretty strong legs upon its streaming release. Stan is probably having the most fun he’s ever had on screen, and I hope he tackles more out of the box projects like “Fresh” more. You can read my full review here.
6 5. Smile
I assure you, I don’t have a thing for trauma. I actually tend to go after trauma porn style filmmaking pretty harshly, but “Smile” is so much better than it ever should be and deals with the subject of trauma and mental health is such a clever way, it never feels exploitative. “Smile” is like “The Ring” meets “It Follows,” and because it knows its influences, it relishes in playing on the strengths of both to add a new layer to supernatural hauntings. What I really enjoyed about “Smile” is just how it is both predictable yet still shocking at the same time. Loaded with jump scares, even when you can telegraph them they still manage to get you in places. Sure, there’s a little too much “gotcha,” but overall I found this one to be truly terrifying in the best of ways and one of the most surprisingly enjoyable horror films of the year. Also Sosie Bacon is phenomenal. Full review here.
7 4. Bodies Bodies Bodies
Any film that can make Pete Davidson tolerable to me is an automatic win my book. “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is a Gen Z horror classic, one that perfectly embodies the young generation its satirizing without ever feelings like its created by filmmakers who don’t understand it, so they have to poke fun at it. There’s a deep understanding of social media and internet culture, down the language that feels natural to the age as well as functionings and flaws of social media relationships and friendships. “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is a slasher, whodunnit horror film with a lot on its mind and a lot to say, and is powered by a stellar cast and solid craft behind the camera. This one works for me, and it has lived rent free in my head since I saw it in August. Full review here.
8 3. Barbarian
Hands down on of the most shockingly good horror films of the year, no one was truly ready for “Barbarian.” I sure as hell was not, and was not prepared for the wild, bonkers journey Zach Cregger takes us on. The twists and turns are so sudden and constant its hard to even pinpoint what the hell is going on until it all comes together near the third act. But “Barbarian” is just wildly effective, one that uses all of its tools and set ups at it disposal, and despite being outlandish and grotesque in some parts, largely delivers on its deeper themes and purposes behind its characters and story. Justin Long is the MVP of “Barbarian,” and he might have one of the best introductions to a character in any movie this year. My only gripe with the film is that works best once, and then loses a lot of its charm upon a rewatch. “Barbarian” doesn’t really have the rewatch value other films on the list have, but I will truly never forget my first time watching it in a packed theater. It was a true movie going experience, and “Barbarian” gets high marks for being that effective right out of the gate. Full review here.
9 2. X/Pearl
I’m cheating here, but “X” and “Pearl” are so deeply intertwined with each other I found it impossible to rank them separately. They are essentially two parts of the same film, one serving as a prequel to the other, but also both influencing the other with connective tissue so intricate it can almost be a filmmaking accomplishment in and of itself. Ti West seems to truly understand his story and what he wants to achieve, and both films simply can’t be watched individually even if you enjoy one more than the other. It is rare that two films can be so unique to each other but also so reliant equally, and “X” and “Pearl” manage to pull this off expertly. To get the most out of these two films I recommend the following watch order: watch “X,” then “Pearl,” then watch “X” again. The easter eggs are endless, and West is in complete control of his characters and narrative. And then there’s the bazooka of Mia Goth, who is just damn near unmatched in her performances. She’s a fucking star, and you cant’ tell her or her characters otherwise. If she did what she does in “X/Pearl” in any other film genre instead of horror, Goth would be all over the Best Actress race. She is a treasure, and I can’t wait to see more of her next year with “Infinity Pool” and “MaXXXine,” the third film in the surprise trilogy. You can read my “X” review here and “Pearl” review here.
10 1. Speak No Evil
Easily one of the most disturbing films of the year, “Speak No Evil” has never once sat right with me in the best of ways, the way horror should stick with you. The sense of uneasiness and subtle tension permeates all throughout the film, and explodes in one of the most disturbing, unsettling endings of any film this year. “Speak No Evil” isn’t necessarily clever in trying to hide its ending, and you know from the jump that something isn’t right with this whole scenario. But what makes it so effecting is that even if you telegraph what is happening early, you find yourself hoping against hope that it isn’t true, and then the longer it goes on and the more the film confirms your prediction, it actually makes you WISH that you were wrong. And then when you aren’t, “Speak No Evil” assaults you with brutality in its last 30 minutes, and just does not allow itself to be forgotten. This is what horror is made of, disguised in the seemingly nothingness of strange relationships powered by awkward moments of politeness. Full review here.
“Resurrection,” “Piggy,” “Soft & Quiet,” “Scream,” “Crimes of the Future,” “Soft & Quiet,” and “The Black Phone.”