No way the year’s half over! Just you shut up with that nonsense!
To cheer ourselves up we decided to walk back through the best this half of the year had to offer us in terms of horror movies. And you know what? It’s already been one hell of a year. Listed in alphabetical order, here are our 10 favorite horror flicks of the first half of 2022.
The Black Phone
Ethan Hawke plays the Grabber in Scott Derrikson’s take on the Joe Hill short story. With his top hat, black balloons and big black van, Grabber’s managed to lure and snatch a number of young boys from a small Colorado town. Finney (Mason Thames) is his latest victim, and for most of the film, Finney waits for his punishment down a locked cement basement.
Time period detail sets a spooky mood and Derrickson has fun with soundtrack choices. But the film’s success—its creepy, affecting success—is Hawke. The actor weaves in and out of different postures, tones of voice, movements. He’s about eight different kinds of creepy, every one of them aided immeasurably by its variation on that mask.
Derrickson hasn’t reinvented the genre. But, with solid source material and one inspired performance, he’s crafted a gem of a horror movie.
Crimes of the Future
On Prime Video
In a dreary world where “surgery is the new sex,” two performance artists (Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux) turn one’s mutant organs into art.
If that doesn’t sound like a David Cronenberg movie, nothing does.
The film references, directly or indirectly, The Brood, Dead Ringers, The Fly, Naked Lunch, Crash, and most frequently and obviously, Videodrome. Like his main character, Cronenberg has long been an “artist of the inner landscape.” And after several decades of excising that tendency from his work, Cronenberg has come full circle to accept what was inside him all along.
Phil Tippett’s demons take center stage in his stop motion head trip 30 years in the making, Mad God. It’s like a Bosch painting and a Tool video accusing each other of being too lighthearted.
Mad God delivers a nightmare vision like little else, overwhelming in its detail and scope. Tippett plumbs cycles of mindless cruelty.
Mad World revels in Tippett’s vulgar, potent fantasy without belaboring a clear plotline. The world itself resembles hell itself. Tippett peoples this landscape with figures and images that also feel reminiscent: a doll’s befouled face, a fiendish surgeon, a cloaked figure.
On Prime Video
Jessie Buckley (flawless, as always) plays Harper, a woman in need of some time alone. She rents a gorgeous English manor from proper country gentleman Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) and plans to recuperate from, well, a lot.
Filmmaker Alex Garland unveils Harper’s backstory little by little, each time slightly altering our perception of the film. The more about Harper we learn, the more village folk we meet: vicar, surly teen, pub owner, police officer, and a naked man in the woods. Each is played by Kinnear—or by actors sporting Kinnear’s CGI face—although Harper never mentions this, or even seems to notice.
Is she seeing what we’re seeing?
Garland’s bold visuals—so precise in Ex Machina, so surreal in Annihilation—create a sumptuous environment just bordering on overripe. The verdant greens and audacious reds cast a spell perfectly suited to the biblical and primal symbolism littering the picture.
Rather than clarifying or summing up, the film’s ending offers more questions than answers. But if you can make peace with ambiguity, Men is a film you will not likely forget.
In 1996, Martin Bryant murdered 35 people, injuring another 23 in Port Arthur, Tasmania. The horror led to immediate gun reform in the nation, but director Justin Kurtzel is more interested in what came before than after.
Playing the unnamed central figure (Nitram is Martin spelled backward), Caleb Landry Jones has never been better, and that’s saying something. He is one of the most versatile actors working today, effortlessly moving from comedy to drama, from terrifying to charming to awkward to ethereal. There is an aching tenderness central to every performance. (OK, maybe not Get Out, but that would have been weird.)
Nitram looks at how nature and nurture are to blame. Socialization plus parenting plus bad wiring is exacerbated by the isolation and loneliness they demand. Everyone is to blame. It’s a conundrum the film nails.
But it’s Landry Jones you’ll remember. He’s terrifying but endlessly sympathetic in a bleak film that’s a tough but rewarding watch.
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not) return us to Woodsboro for the franchise’s fifth installment. This go-round comments blisteringly (and entertainingly) not just on horror, but on the post-internet realities of cinema in general.
They really have a good time with that.
The filmmakers, along with writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, fill scenes with nostalgia too cheeky to be simple fan service. Their clear affection for the franchise (a surprisingly strong set of films, as horror series go) is evident and infectious.
You do not have to know the 1996 original or any of its sequels to enjoy Scream. It’s a standalone blast. But if you grew up on these movies, this film is like a bloody message of love for you.
In theaters and on VOD
If you’re a fan at all of genre films, chances are good Watcher will look plenty familiar. But in her feature debut, writer/director Chloe Okuno wields that familiarity with a cunning that leaves you feeling unnerved in urgent and important ways.
Maika Monroe is sensational as Julia, an actress who has left New York behind to follow husband Francis (Karl Glusman) and begin a new life in Bucharest.
Monroe emits an effectively fragile resolve. The absence of subtitles helps us relate to Julia immediately, and Monroe never squanders that sympathy, grounding the film at even the most questionably formulaic moments.
Mounting indignities create a subtle yet unmistakable nod to a culture that expects women to ignore their better judgment for the sake of being polite. Okuno envelopes Julia in male gazes that carry threats of varying degrees, all building to a bloody and damn satisfying crescendo.
Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched
Every so often you come across a movie and think it must have been made specifically for you. In our case, that film is Kier-La Janisse’s 3-hour documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror.
Yes, that does seem like a very big time commitment to folk horror, but Janisse’s film repays your undertaking with not only an incredibly informative documentary but an engaging, creepy and beautifully made film.
Janisse presents an intriguing global history that unveils universal primal preoccupations from England to Argentina, the US to Lapland and beyond.
Dry as that may sound, between the snippets of the movies themselves and the fluid, often creepy presentation, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched becomes as transfixing a film as those it dissects. And it digs deep, into obscure titles new and old. Border! White Reindeer! Onibaba! Viy! Prevenge!
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre meets Boogie Nights?
Filmmaker Ti West delivers an utterly unexpected and absolutely inspired horror show like nothing he’s made before. A group of good-natured pornographers descends upon an out-of-the-way ranch to shoot a movie, unbeknownst to the owners. Mia Goth leads a thoroughly entertaining cast, each actor making the most of the humor crackling throughout West’s script.
West explores some common themes, upending every one without ever betraying his clear love of this genre. Blending homages of plenty of Tobe Hooper films with a remarkable aesthetic instinct, West fills the screen with ghastly beauty.
You Won’t Be Alone
To suppose that filmmaker Goran Stolevski is a fan of Terrence Malick seems fair. His tale of 19th century Macedonian witchery offers the same type of visual aesthetic, whispery voiceover and absence of dialog in much of Malick’s work, especially 2018’s A Hidden Life.
You Won’t Be Alone follows Neneva (Sara Klimoska), a teenager raised in isolation, hidden from the Wolf-eatress (Anamaria Marinca) who’s claimed her. Freed from hiding, the teen shapeshifter takes on different forms (Noomi Rapace, Felix Maritaud, Alice Englert) and learns of life.
Klimoska’s physical performance reflects the primal beginnings of Neneva’s explorations. Rapace brings an awkward adolescence feel to the character’s early interpretations of normal human behavior. Englert carries the character into adulthood with quiet curiosity, never losing that animalistic inquisitiveness carried throughout the earlier performances.