Saturday, December 31

Favorite Horror FIlms 2022 (Monte’s Take)

Monte's Favorite Horror Films 2022

Every month during 2022, I had a new film competing for my favorite horror film of the year. Significant theatrical experiences like "Barbarian" and "Nope" surprised me with ingenious storytelling. The small screen independent movie experiences with films like "Terrifier 2" and "Bones and All" broke free of my expectations. Even the wide selection of straight-to-streaming movies on my many apps like "Hellraiser," "Prey," and "Fresh" challenged in every way their theatrical counterparts. 2022 was one hell of a year for horror films. We had movies to celebrate, discover, grow reacquainted with, and travel to new territories. It was amazing to see such a variety of genre filmmaking on so many different levels. Here are my favorite horror films of 2022. 

13. Watcher 

Director Chloe Okuno's "Watcher," a story about a young actress who moves to a foreign country and believes someone is watching her from the apartments across the street, was a fantastic genre surprise from the Sundance Film Festival. The film deftly handles a familiar setup by consistently shifting the narrative with clever twists and maintaining a steady grasp of the anxiety and fear of isolation. Add Maika Monroe's confident lead performance and "Watcher" is an early highlight of 2022. 

12. Pearl

It was an exceptional year for director Ti West who composed two of the better horror films in 2022. "Pearl," the sequel to West's first film this year, "X," is a gift of performance from the wonderful Mia Goth, who wholly owns this film from start to stunning finish, and psychological storytelling that, in many ways, completes the world crafted by West. And the exciting thing about the writer/director's saga is that it still needs to be completed. The third installment, "Maxxxine," is set for a 2023 release. 

11. The Sadness 

A film like writer/director Rob Jabbaz's "The Sadness" rarely comes along. It's a film about a virus that erupts through Taipei, which compulsively drives ordinary people to commit heinous acts of violence against one another. What begins with gory violence quickly turns into sadistic acts of depravity, not for the faint of heart. Its grim, bleak, and unflinchingly brutal storyline, along with Jabbaz's cinematic style and flair for action composition, makes "The Sadness" a unique horror film unlike many you will find in the genre today. 

10. You Are Not My Mother 

The exciting feature directorial debut from Kate Dolan is a moody, chilling story of trauma and abandonment. The film centers on a young girl named Char, who is neglected by her depressive mother and nearly disabled grandmother. One day Char's mother disappears and returns with a completely different personality, one that is suspiciously loving but also prone to turns of anger. Dolan does a fine job of building a claustrophobic atmosphere for the characters while also composing a few wonderfully designed scares. "You Are Not My Mother" is restrained storytelling supported by an exceptional use of genre attributes.

9. Terrifier 2

My favorite movie-going experience of 2022 happened in Denver, Colorado, during a snowstorm in a theater all by myself. Damien Leone's horror sequel "Terrifier 2" was the late showing; with a whole bucket of popcorn and low expectations, I prepared for the 2-hour and 18-minute horror show. The demented Art the Clown, some spectacular practical effects, and the addition of a completely confident, tough-as-nails performance from Lauren LaVera, and "Terrifier 2" did not disappoint. It excelled far above its predecessor with its brutal cinematic scope, exceptional performances throughout the film, and storytelling that finally gave Art the Clown a suitable final girl. 

8. Resurrection

One of the best psychological thrillers this year was also one of the most strange. Writer/director Andrew Semans crafts a tight psychodrama that infuses horror influences with "Resurrection." The film centers on Margaret, a wonderfully poised performance from Rebecca Hall, whose past comes back to haunt her in the form of an acquaintance named David, played with sinister menace by Tim Roth. Semans layers elements of tension and foreboding motives through every encounter between Margaret and David, building towards a monologue that reveals the horrible, ludicrous scenario that feels utterly genuine because of Rebecca Hall's sympathetic performance. "Resurrection" is an absorbing treat of storytelling supported by two impressive performances.

7. Prey

The iconic Predator has found hunting season in jungle, city, suburban, and off-planet settings against humans, aliens, and even hybrid Predator/Alien crossovers. Where do you go from here? "Prey," the prequel to the Predator series, takes hunting season back 300 years to pre-colonized North America in the Great Plains with a Comanche tribal community. Naru, played with fierce prowess by Amber Midthunder, sets out to protect her people from a violent animal but encounters a technologically advanced alien hunter. "Prey" displays a necessary awareness of cultural representation for tribal nations. Watch the film with Comanche dubbing if you can. It also composes some impressive horror imagery along with stunning action setups. "Prey" is the best Predator film since the original. 

6. Nope

Jordan Peele has composed three genre films in the past five years, and each will be remembered decades from now for subverting genre storytelling in uniquely original ways. "Nope," Peele's third film, is another densely layered story that discusses numerous elements associated with societal fears, historical manipulations, and racial inequalities. The film takes place on the ranch of OJ, a subdued and stern Daniel Kaluuya, and Emerald, an energetic and assured Keke Palmer. Strange events convince the siblings that they are being watched by an unknown presence lurking within a cloud. Peele's scope is grande, pulling horror scare tactics and implementing science fiction structures in unorthodox though effective ways. It also functions as a western in places, a delicate family drama in other areas, and a creature feature in the finale. Peele is one of the best artists in the genre today.  

5. Smile

In horror movies, the scariest monster often has the biggest grin. And there was much to smile about with writer/director Parker Finn's horror film "Smile," a creepy and fun head trip of genre filmmaking. Utilizing characters with evil gazes and unnaturally forced, ear-to-ear grins, Finn crafts a horror film that startles, shocks, and scares its way through a story that utilizes trauma and mental health as a narrative vessel. "Smile" takes a creepy setup, retools some familiar elements from other films, and crafts a scary movie focusing on unresolved trauma and mental health concerns. 

4. Piggy

"Piggy" is part coming-of-age drama, part teen romance, and part psychological horror. The debut feature from Spanish filmmaker Carlota Pereda paints a fascinating portrait of feminism, a complicated romance, and intense horror imagery. The film excels on the shoulders of actress Laura Galán whose honest and bold portrayal of a teen bullied because of her weight and conflicted with feelings towards a man committing brutal crimes on her behalf is remarkably constructed. "Piggy" also implements attractive visual designs that further add detail to the mindset of the lead character. "Piggy" is sharp social commentary twisted together with engaging horror thrills. 

3. X

West positions adult pornography movies and slasher horror films in the same avenue of examination regarding the gratuitous nature of writhing bodies in states of pleasure with sex and pain with violence with the throwback homage, "X.". West pokes fun and plays ingeniously with genre archetypes throughout the film. Mia Goth, who is excellent in the lead role, plays an unorthodox final girl who uses drugs, proudly owns her sexual freedom, and cares mostly about her singular well-being. Goth is the shining star of this film. The film feels like it was shot from the same lens as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Ti West makes horror fans remember the days when genre films could simultaneously be exploitative, evocative, and entertaining. 

2. Bones and All

Director Luca Guadagnino beat all expectations by re-envisioning 2018's "Suspiria." "Bones and All," the simple explanation, is a road trip coming-of-age love story about two cannibals searching for meaning across Midwest America. But underneath the sheen of young love in peril and surrounded by horrors at every pit stop is a story using genre characteristics to delve into concerns surrounding seclusion, abandonment, and inherited trauma. At times it feels like a commentary on the opioid epidemic in America, the socio-economic imbalance felt during a crisis, and the changing, ravaged, yet still mystical and majestic landscape found on quiet roads across small-town America. The performances are deeply layered. Mark Rylance is unnervingly odd, while Taylor Russell is formidable with her conflicted emotions for her newfound urges. "Bones and All" can be brutal and beautiful in equal parts. 

1. Barbarian 

The element of surprise is a rare treat to find in a film these days. For writer/director Zach Cregger and the horror thriller "Barbarian," the secretive plot intentions of the film are part of the enjoyment of the experience. Assisted by a well-crafted trailer, the film provides just enough information to keep the suspense brewing until it shifts firmly beyond expectations. Tess, a solid leading performance from Georgina Campbell, arrives amid a rainstorm at an already occupied Airbnb. With no place else to go, Tess decides to share the residence with the other guest, a creepy Bill Skarsgård in a perfect role for his smirking grin. What happens beyond this simple setup is shocking, funny, and utterly unexpected in the best way possible. "Barbarian" is a horror film that has excellent balance with how it utilizes its tropes while also allowing the characters time to be intelligent and foolish with their decisions. "Barbarian" is a crowd pleaser, a smartly composed horror film full of fun surprises.

Honorable Mentions:

14. Glorious

15. A Wounded Fawn

16. Fresh

17. The Cursed

18. We're All Going to the World's Fair

19. Hellraiser

20. You Won't Be Alone

21. Black Phone

22. Guillermo Del Toro's Cabinets of Curiosities 

23. Mad God

24. Christmas Bloody Christmas

25. Deadstream 

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