THE BEST HORROR OF 2022
2022 has been another stellar year for the horror genre. But rather than do the usual 'top 10 best horror movies' list, we thought we'd change it up a little. So here are YGROY choice awards (and runner ups) for a variety of subjects. From best scene, lead performance to the scariest.
The best horror of the year
Director: Parker Finn
It's rare that an original horror film fulfils a perfect trifecta at the cinema. Namely that it is well-reviewed by critics, well-received by the audience, and well-performing at the box office. Smile managed to do all of those whilst delivering a top-notch scary experience to boot. Sure, some of the ideas were borrowed from classic genre fare such as Ringu and Final Destination, but it owned them all in an assured narrative that was genuinely unsettling and frightening. Sosie Bacon grounds the tale with a winning performance, the frights are superbly timed, and the pacing is perfect. Proof that carefully crafted studio horror can still deliver the goods for horror fans and assorted cinemagoers when they're treated like adults.
Director: Ti West
Ti West's triumphant return to the genre scared up a great deal of interest and success on both sides of the Atlantic. Managing to be somehow exploitation-friendly and also mature in tone, this tale of frustrated psychosexuality and a surprisingly wholesome group of dirty filmmakers was a nostalgic slasher treat at the beginning of the year. Mia Goth deserves the gathered praise for her performance and a tiara for being a worthy scream queen. This made the surprise announcement of an X trilogy with Goth (Pearl & Maxxxine) all the more welcome. Oh, and for frustrated UK fans, Pearl is currently due in March 2023 on these shores… No, we don't know why either.
Director: Parker Finn
It was the good word of mouth and the excellent-if-spoiler-prone trailers that assured the success of Smile. And that's simply because it was scary in an old-fashioned way. Like the best versions of J and K-horror, it had unsettling imagery which it incorporated into everyday situations and likeable characters being put in peril through no fault of their own. Couple this with some superb reactional acting from Sosie Bacon and the rest of the cast, some nicely creepy sonics, eerily realistic FX, and well-timed jump-scares, and you've got the total package.
Director: Zach Cregger
Cinemagoers are good at keeping secrets if they want to be and Barbarian is a hugely enjoyable example of that. The fact that you're on your toes for 70% of the film without knowing what the "big bad" is all about and that the narrative perfectly drip-feeds you with the required information makes it unsettling and a great way to build up tension. Is it a slasher, a revenge thriller, a supernatural horror, or something else? By the time we get to THAT scene with the feeding bottle, you're totally engrossed and yet still unprepared for what's coming next. Smart and scary stuff.
WINNER: HALLOWEEN ENDS
Director: David Gordon Green
There was never going to be any other contender for this award. Disappointment is too weak a term for how horror fans felt after seeing the climax of this reboot trilogy. Quite possibly the worst entry in the franchise, with the possible exception of Halloween: Resurrection. It's made all the more annoying by the fact that 2018's Halloween was so good. It should have stopped there. Kills was goofy, but this was just "ugh". This was compounded by the fact that Michael Myers is actually side-lined for the majority of the running time and that the plot seems to be based on Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, of all things! The introduction of the proto-disciple Jeremy is misconceived, mishandled, and unwanted. Let MM rest now, although we still think that the final scene of H20 was the perfect place to stop.
RUNNER UP: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: NEXT OF KIN
Director: William Eubank
It had such a low-key release on streaming and VOD that many horror fans are still unaware it's out there! This "reboot" of the PA franchise really shouldn't have the "P" and "A" words in the title. It only has a tenuous connection in that it is insinuated that the "Tobi" demon is connected with the strange events affecting an Amish community. Other than that, and the fact that it is (of course) a found-footage film from a documentary crew, it has none of the style, tone, or content from the earlier films. It's depressingly predictable, wholly unoriginal, and totally non-scary, with the usual on-the-periphery-of-the-film-frame scare tropes being marched out. So unsuccessful, another reboot was announced for 2023 (Paranormal Activity: The Other Side), which is set in the 1990s and will return to one of the previous franchise locations.
BEST LEAD PERFORMANCE
WINNER: SOSIE BACON (SMILE)
Kevin's daughter gives a spirited and relatable performance as the dedicated therapist Rose Cotter. With fractured relationships and a now-cursed existence, the plot parallels the emotional breakdown of someone who is strong-yet-flawed and is failed by the people around her. Hugely successful on both an emotional and character-level, it's a great turn that grounds the film and makes the final arc much more heartbreaking.
RUNNER-UP: GEORGINA CAMPBELL (BARBARIAN)
We don't know what's happening half the time, and it's the same for poor old blameless Tess Marshall in the film. Campbell imbues the character with believable traits and acts realistically to every bizarre twist in the plot. You can see the gears turning as she tries to figure out if Keith Toshko (Bill Skarsgård) is a friend or a psycho and what she should do when the shite hits the fan. The UK Black Mirror actor creates such a relatable character that when she makes selfless decisions to save others, you mentally try and restrain her.
BEST YOUNG ACTOR
WINNER: Madelaine McGraw & Mason Thames (THE BLACK PHONE)
It would be churlish to separate the stylings of McGraw and Thames in the cinematic success of The Black Phone. Thames has the "showier" role as the captive youngster communing with the dead victims of "The Grabber" via the titular device, and he absolutely nails it at every stride. However, McGraw is equally brilliant as his wonderfully feisty and psychically gifted sister, who is hellbent on getting back home. People praised Ethan Hawke's presence, but these two actors surely have some great performances ahead of them, genre-related or not.
RUNNER-UP: LEAH BRADY (VIOLENT NIGHT)
How many times have you watched a family-friendly movie and rolled your eyes at the corny performance of the young lead as they stage-school act their heart out? Well, young Brady is the opposite of that in this recent action-comedy. Cute as a button, wonderfully innocent, and yet still fully capable of gorily dispatching one mercenary goon whilst incapacitating another so that Santa can finish them off. Less annoying than Kevin in Home Alone but twice as tough as him, Brady's Trudy is the emotional heart of the film, which lets Tommy Wirkola get away with all the schmaltz, whilst still snapping bodies in two and gouging eyes out.
BEST FEATURE DIRECTORIAL DEBUT
WINNER: CHLOE OKUNO (WATCHER)
American Director Chloe Okuno may have impressed with her horror short film Slut back in 2014, but has had to be patient when it comes to fully introducing audiences to her film-making talent. Last year, fresh from filming a segment of horror anthology V/H/S/94, Okuno flew out to Romania to begin filming on Watcher. Although shot on a relatively small budget, the inclusion of Maika Monroe as the lead certainly helped gain the film a bit of attention pre-release. Monroe is excellent, but she’s not the only reason the film is one of the year’s best. You’ll do well to see a more accomplished debut feature. Okuno’s V/H/S/94 segment may have been frantic and fast, but Watcher is the complete opposite. It’s got a pensive, moody Polanski vibe and the decision to set it amongst the brutalist Bucharest backdrop (in the screenplay it was originally set in New York) is a masterstroke. We’re eagerly awaiting Okuno’s next project – fingers crossed it’s horror.
RUNNER-UP: Joseph & Vanessa Winter (DEADSTREAM)
Joseph Winter shares a couple of similarities with Chloe Okuno. They have both directed V/H/S anthology segments (that franchise really is useful for helping film-makers kick-on) and neither had helmed anything for a few years after a flurry of short films. Deadstream (written and directed by Joseph and his wife Vanessa) may be an entirely different kettle of fish to Watcher in terms of style and content. It’s an over-the-top, shrill, frenzied blend of comedy and horror. Think Evil Dead meets Grave Encounters. It’s just so much fun. Like the former, it’s a testament to what can be done on a micro-budget. Sure, some of the effects are a bit home-spun but it’s all part of its charm. Deadstream is probably the best horror comedy of 2022 and has cult classic written all over it.
Winner: TERRIFIER 2
Director: Damien Leone
Terrifier 2 surprised mainstream critics and die-hard horror fans this year with its impact. Along with the predictably misleading "puking-in-the-aisles" headlines that the media press went with, it also earned a shit-ton of money and easily surpassed expectations on streaming and commercial box office levels. It's one of those sequels that goes well beyond what is expected of a good sequel. Whilst expanding ever-so-slightly on the mythology of Art the Clown (a splendidly grotesque return by David Howard Thornton), the miming maniac is let loose for over 2 hours of retch-inducing carnage that outdid every other gory opus this year. It was also helped by the addition of "Battle Angel" Sienna Shaw, who was marvellously brought to life by actor Lauren Lavera and gave some well-deserved oestrogen-based smackdowns to the creepy jester. Obviously more to come, and we won't complain about that … apart from WTF was that final scene about in the asylum?!!
RUNNER-UP: ORPHAN: FIRST KILL
Director: William Brent Bell
I’m not sure that a lot of people expected a follow-up to Jaume Collet-Serra’s underrated 2009 horror Orphan. The story seemed to have been wrapped up quite nicely by the end and there certainly wasn’t much of an opening for a sequel. But hey, that’s what prequels are here for! Whilst we may have been racking our brains to figure out how they were going to get a now adult Isabelle Fuhrman back to play the villainous lead, we needn’t have worried thanks to some smart direction and decent practical FX. The tone is a bit more playful this time around and for the first half it’s rather standard prequel fare. But a great twist at the midpoint sends First Kill into an action-packed and unpredictable third act and stops it becoming another pointless re-tread. Did we need this movie? Not really. Fuhrman is fantastic and it’s just a whole lot of fun!
Director: Zach Cregger
People who haven't seen Barbarian yet, still don't know what it's about, except that it's a horror and everyone thinks it's great. The first horror feature from a one-time member of a comedy troupe (Zach Cregger), the movie slid under the radar and blew everyone away with its playful and innovative storyline. So much so that word-of-mouth has kept the film's reputation strong and that it's strong enough to hold up under repeated viewings, even when you know where it's going. Strong performances and a wicked knowledge of horror tropes mean that this will go down as one of the horror success stories of the year.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
A lot of people have been burned by horror franchises, and The Predator, which was a semi-reboot of the Yautja's escapades on Earth, didn't go down too well. So expectations for this new entry were not particularly high, especially as it went straight to "Disney Plus" in the UK. However, director Dan Trachtenberg returned to the past for this highly engaging tale of a gnarly Predator picking on the Comanche nation in the old West. Really good, and with a sterling performance by Amber Midthunder as the badass warrior Naru, this was a decent call-back to the feral original and laid the groundwork for much more satisfying future sequels.
best of british
Director: Alex Garland
Carrying on from the glorious weirdness of Annihilation and Ex Machina, Alex Garland presented this weird British folk horror that can be interpreted in a dozen different ways. Mostly centred around the negative aspects of male behaviour and the blindsiding expectations placed on some women, it harkens back to Wicker Man and other unsettling tales of the English Countryside. Jessie Buckley shines in the lead role, and Rory Kinnear scores with multiple portrayals over the course of the story. It may be baffling to some people, but it's still fascinating and really good.
Director: Russell Owen
Another weird folk horror, which is a sub-genre that seems to have exploded again this year. Shepherd sees a farmer take a job on a remote island following the death of his wife and inadvertently becoming involved in a battle for his own sanity. It's atmospheric and has some great central performances from Tom Hughes, Kate Dickie, and Greta Scacchi. Managing to be gothic in tone and yet basking in stunning natural settings, it's an unusual and satisfying film, even if some may be a little put-off by some of the ambiguity. Really strong and earthily engaging otherwise.
best tv series
WINNER: STRANGER THINGS SEASON 4
The long awaited fourth series of Netflix’s science-fiction horror behemoth didn’t disappoint. Most viewers agree that whilst the first was a masterclass. A thoroughly entertaining pastiche of 1980s pop culture. The second and third seasons were a little bit patchier (although still generally decent) but it seems to have finally rediscovered it’s groove again. The kids are no longer really kids but the show manages to adapt to the burgeoning youth as well as the ever growing ensemble cast and delivers a sprawling, time bending plot that packs an emotional punch by the end. It’s also a bit darker and more intense than any of the previous series, with big baddie Vecna successfully conjuring up some Freddie Kruger vibes. The budget is bigger and although the run-time is a bit of a challenge at times (the season finale was over 2 hours long!), we’re just gutted that we’re going to have to wait until 2024 to return to Hawkins once again…
Shaking off the links to the often (and mostly unfairly) maligned Lost, thanks to the involvement of some of the same creative team, From manages to be a mystery box that manages to largely satisfy audiences but still leave enough questions hanging to warrant a second season (which has thankfully been confirmed). For those not familiar with the show, it focuses on a small American town that once you’re there, you can’t leave. Think something along the lines of Under the Dome or Wayward Pines. However, any attempts to escape are further complicated by the nocturnal creatures that inhabit the town and the surrounding woods and you know…the fact that they kill people. Although the horror and science-fiction elements are strong, the real strength of From lies in its human characters. They’re well cast, well-written and have enough baggage and intrigue about them to keep your interest piqued. If you like stuff with a Twilight Zone sort of vie, you’ll dig this.
best FOREIGN LANGUAGE
WINNER: SPEAK NO EVIL
Director: Christian Tafdrup
A Danish/Dutch film that broke some hearts and turned some stomachs when it screened at Sundance and streamed on Shudder. It feels like a comedy of errors or an uncomfortable satire of social mannerisms until it ramps up the tension in the later stages. As two couples spend time with each other, it becomes unclear as to whether there is evil afoot or just unfortunate assumptions. Similar in tone to The Strangers, this is probably a film that you'll only want to watch once, as good as it is. "Why are you doing this?" "Because you let us." Nothing. More. Chilling.
RUNNER-UP: THE SADNESS
Director: Rob Jabazz
Some have suggested that zombie films are in the doldrums at the moment, but as long as we keep getting imaginative efforts like this, they're not going to disappear anytime soon. Although Canadian filmmaker Rob Jabbaz directed it, this is a Taiwanese body horror film that hit home with its pandemic theme. Similar to 28 Days Later or Rabid, apart from the fact that the infected mostly keep their intelligence and lose all sense of conscience, becoming bestial maniacs driven by homicidal or sexual lusts. The title comes from the intriguing notion that victims weep because they still know their actions are wrong. It's no Train to Busan, but it is gory and thoughtful in equal measures.
WINNER: ETHAN HAWKE (THE BLACK PHONE)
Hawke has had some notable genre successes in the past, not least of which with Sinister. But his nuanced and powerful turn as the (mostly) masked "Grabber" is one of his best recent performances. Mostly wearing Tom Savini half-masks, his emotions come from his eyes and theatrical gestures, with a calm tone that belies the violence and danger that he represents to boys. Whilst the plot skirts over some of the more troubling aspects of his demeanour, it is an excellent representation of evil that Hawke gives to the character and one which provides a good foundation for its success at the box office.
RUNNER-UP: THE PREDATOR (PREY)
The Yautja in Prey doesn't mess around. He picks up a bear, raises it above his head, and showers in its blood, for Chrissake!! He also massacres dozens of human warriors with ease, whether they are Comanche fighters or armed fur trappers. You could argue that, like in Predator, his downfall comes from underestimating his prey, in this case, the inventive Naru. And her dog, of course. With a different visage and slightly more "primitive" devices, this is a Yautja to reckon with and a worthy adversary for the first nation.
best scene (spoilers!)
WINNER: the climax of smile
We don't actually get a lot of horror imagery or gore in Smile, as most of the fear comes from unsettling moments and creepy characters. However, the climax is horrific on a visual and emotional level and is extremely effective. The "Smile Entity" gradually reveals its true nature as an enormous skinless creature with multiple mouths. It exerts its influence over a character and starts to force itself into their submissive body. Wrong and disturbing on so many levels and can also be read in a number of different ways in terms of the plot.
RUNNER-UP: THE rebirth scene in men
Quite possibly the most WTAF?!! Scene of horror in 2022. Confronted by the male entity that has been pursuing her for most of the film, Harper Marlowe slowly backs away from it as it suddenly starts to gestate in front of her. It gives birth to another full-grown character as it mutilates its body beyond repair. Then the birthed character does the same thing again, and again, and again. It's a masterful piece of disturbing body horror that ultimately leads to a final revelation that forces the lead character to re-evaluate her recent past.