It feels like every year I have a more difficult time trying to narrow my favourite films of the year to a reasonable number. I’m lucky to see a vast number of horror films, so as you might expect, they dominate this list. With so many movies in production, it often feels like some are left underappreciated and even not picked up for big enough releases that they find their audiences. The time between festival screenings and wider releases also makes it difficult to truly narrow down what is a 2022 film. Some on my list were at festivals in 2021 and others may not be widely available until 2023 in some locations. To keep things relatively simple – if I saw it in 2022, it has been included. In addition, some of these films I’ve already reviewed and as I’ve looked over the titles from this year, even some of the films I’ve given higher star ratings to haven’t stayed in my mind as I thought they would so the list may have some surprises.
Before the list and to ensure I mention as many films for people to check out as possible, there are a few honourable mentions. The crowd-pleasing found-footage Deadstream which found a pleasingly aggravating screen presence in Shawn Ruddy (played to perfection by co-writer and director Joseph Winter). Tense drug-trafficking horror Swallowed and lot-lizard slasher Candy Land both pushed boundaries and buttons in their physicality. Pandemic project Lexi showcased indie horror’s ability to create compelling narratives even when isolated. The intense and dreamlike New Religion took the study of grief in a new, somewhat slippery but completely absorbing direction.
Huesera: The Bone Woman managed to deftly handle bodily autonomy and produce at least one scare that I felt rattle an entire audience at Celluloid Screams. Master brought a hypnotic quality to a story of two black women struggling with their experiences at a prestigious University. True-crime biopic Nitram managed to be both deeply unsettling, but respectful of the tragedy it is based on. The film on every horror fan’s lips this year was the dread-filled study of politeness gone too far, Speak No Evil. Although I wanted a sharper offering, Bodies Bodies Bodies proved a fun watch, with Lee Pace, Rachel Sennott and Pete Davidson delivering some excellent one-liners. Lastly, Piggy should see Laura Galán’s star continue to rise after her incredible performance in a murky morality tale about a bullied teenager reckoning with a shocking event in her community.
With all those covered (because yes, I’m cheating by including a pretty large number of mentions), on with the list! At the end of each section, you’ll find a link to JustWatch so you can see how to watch it. These will be UK by default but you can switch to your location on the site. If I have reviewed a film, you’ll be able to click the title and be taken to that review in a new window.
From the first glimpse of Mia Goth’s blue eyeshadow X‘s visual stamp was clear. The resulting film is fascinating and made even more interesting by surprise prequel, Pearl being released almost immediately afterwards (although not for UK viewers until March 2023) and sequel MaXXXine already in the works. Mia Goth is obviously doing outstanding work in the dual roles of Maxine and Pearl, but the supporting cast of Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi, Martin Henderson and Owen Campbell round out the group of would-be porn crew members incredibly well. Some have argued that the presentation of Pearl and age in general within the film falls into some older, even damaging tropes. However, I’d argue that there’s more nuance involved and many people’s perceptions of what the film may actually be saying has perhaps been tainted by the kind of nervous laughter mainstream audiences sometimes produce in the face of nudity and sexuality.
X on JustWatch
Sometimes one scene can be enough to really let a film embed itself into your memory. You Are Not My Mother has one of those scenes in which Char’s (Hazel Doupe) mother Angela (Carolyn Bracken) instigates a dance that soon turns into one of the year’s most intense sequences. The rest of the film is just as powerful, taking underutilized mythology and placing it in modern Ireland in the centre of a struggling family unit.
You Are Not My Mother on JustWatch
Almost a Greatest Hits of Cronenberg’s dominant concerns over the decades of his career but one that also finds humour and humanity among the darkness. By leaning into the absurdity of the concept of an ‘Inner Beauty Pageant’ the film is perfectly placed to extend its commentary to the wider ecological situation. Kristen Stewart’s twitchy performance is a real highlight but as usual, Cronenberg’s world and body-building is second-to-none.
Crimes of the Future on JustWatch
22. Torn Hearts
Brea Grant’s 12 Hour Shift is a firm favourite of mine so I was really excited to hear about Torn Hearts. I watched it earlier in the year and loved it – strong performances and a darkly comic streak punctuate what becomes a really potent comment on the way media treats female artists. Seeing the film again at FrightFest with a full audience really brought out the fun of it with each line drawing the perfect response. Such a great girls night in movie!
Torn Hearts on JustWatch
21. Halloween Ends
Following the outright disappointment of Halloween Kills I went into this with low expectations. Obviously, I was always going to see the final (although we already know it is unlikely to be the actual final because of the way these things work) and was basically expecting an almost paint-by-numbers Michael vs Laurie final showdown. Which, to be totally honest, I’d have probably enjoyed. However, that explosive opening and the entire shift in direction made this one of my most enjoyable cinema experiences. I can totally understand that the big swings would not work for other people but any film that has Jamie Lee Curtis uttering the line, ‘show grief your tits’, to her granddaughter who has *clearly* developed a bit of a kink for violence over the course of the series is absolutely fine with me. Each line of wild dialogue, borderline terrible editing and even a Real Housewives meme made it something to remember.
Halloween Ends on JustWatch
In keeping with returns to franchises and taking them in fun directions, Orphan: First Kill had to make this list. Isabelle Fuhrman has always clearly had a fondness for her role as Esther, but returning to a role that requires her to play a child in a prequel to a film she made 13 years ago seemed like it had the potential to fail. A host of technical and practical effects worked like magic, but the real strength of this is in Fuhrman and Julia Stiles’ performances, bouncing off one another excellently. This is wildly entertaining, campy horror that feels like a suitable companion to the original.
Orphan: First Kill on JustWatch
19. Next Exit
Regular readers will know that I really do love the potential for horror (and horror-adjacent genre works) to explore huge emotional depth and that I also enjoy a bloody good cry. Next Exit delivers on both counts, presenting a story in which a scientific advancement has seemingly proven the existence of life after death, upending the way the many feel about their mortality. Cue Rose (Katie Parker) and Teddy (Rahul Kohli) heading on a last road trip to be part of a study. Their easy chemistry makes this a film to fall in love with, even though it also explores some dark material. If your seat mate at a film festival needs to ask you and your friend if you’re alright at the end of the film, you know it has done the job!
Next Exit on JustWatch
18. The Banshees of Inisherin
This brilliant, achingly sad but incredibly funny drama has such a specific kind of charm. Kerry Condon is a highlight for me, but honestly, there isn’t a weak link in the whole cast who perform their roles seemingly effortlessly in the face of such precise writing. So many excellent one-liners mean the true sadness of it kind of creeps up on you, offering a greater impact.
The Banshees of Inisherin on JustWatch
Sometimes a film still does more to sum up what I love about a film than if I wrote 10,000 words. Hatching‘s middle-class setting with a quest for perfection and pressure it places on young gymnast Tinja (Siiri Solalinna). After she finds a mysterious egg in the woods near her home, she decides to take it home and look after it. There is a perfect kind of weirdness to this, the grisliness clashing with the beautiful surroundings. Unlike many, this ends at an absolutely ideal, if abrupt moment that furthers the overall mood of the film.
Hatching on JustWatch
Even though this is probably my least favourite of Jordan Peele’s output so far there is no denying that Nope made for an incredible cinematic experience. Using the medium of the Hollywood spectacle to make comments on the nature of exploitation and the desire to witness incredibly traumatic moments to turn them into commodities is such a bold, inventive move. The film uses its cast to their full potential, allowing an incredible Steven Yeun monologue the space to truly hit home, utilising the infectious energy of Keke Palmer and placing Daniel Kaluuya centre stage of the imagery he truly deserves.
Nope on JustWatch
It would be easy for Sissy to get lost in the shuffle of other ‘influencer’ horror entries, but this film really does stand out over them. The poking fun at the culture around toxic wellness is excellently pitched and laces neatly with the core story about reconnecting with a friendship likely best left in the past. The design of this is really striking and a core cast headed by the brilliant Aisha Dee as Cecilia bring everything to frequently uncomfortable life. I’ve said this before, but any horror movie that manages a Kath and Kim reference is always going to go down well with me.
Sissy on JustWatch
14. Breathing Happy
Being emotionally devastating is not a guaranteed way to get on my list of favourite films, but it does help. Shane Brady’s Christmas Carol-like tale of addiction, sobriety and the way we think about our pasts is powerful and immersive but also retains a kind of feverish weirdness and offbeat humour that keeps you engaged. Far from being an all-out misery fest, Breathing Happy‘s characters are drawn with a sense of resilience. All this, however, did not stop me from absolutely sobbing several times throughout this film on the two occasions I’ve seen it. A powerful indie film selected by the Soho Horror Film Festival that will hopefully pick up many fans on a wider release.
Breathing Happy does not have a JustWatch entry at the time of writing
Keeping it indie for the lucky 13th entry. Avalon Fast’s Honeycomb is such an achievement and even though the style won’t appeal to everyone, the film is as much an ode to making films with friends and the closeness that collaboration brings. The narrative itself surrounds a group of young girls who head off to make their own society with their own rules that soon sours. It would be too easy (and largely inaccurate) to compare to a DIY Yellowjackets, although that this kind of narrative is so compelling is a good sign that ensemble female casts with flawed characters is here to stay, which can only be a good thing.
Honeycomb does not have a JustWatch entry at the time of writing
Legacy sequels are tricky, as already covered in the Halloween Ends entry on this list, but the Radio Silence team really held the weight of taking on the first new Scream entry for 10 years *and* the first with no involvement from beloved creator Wes Craven. That they were able to tempt back performers to bring those characters to life (and death) once again and provided numerous loving homages to the first four entries is nothing short of incredible. As well as providing a hit of nostalgia, the introduction of new characters means we’ve got far more to look forward to in 2023’s Scream 6.
Scream on JustWatch
11. The Bob’s Burgers Movie
I don’t think I’ve watched any film as much as this one this year. Big-screen outings for TV series are always a risk but this managed to upscale both the visuals and narrative elements. Funny, great songs and immensely quotable dialogue make this just so easy to throw on no matter what else is happening in your day.
The Bob’s Burger’s Movie on JustWatch
A deeply disconcerting soundscape and beautiful photography of the decaying space that the central sibling pair inhabit make this a film to be drawn into, even when the content is not for everyone. This has the spirit of some New French Extremity films without ever really tipping into that level of transgression. That doesn’t make it an easy watch, however, with Eline Schumacher’s performance as Martha never anything other than uncomfortable.
Megalomaniac does not have a JustWatch entry at the time of writing
Another emotional entry from Soho Horror Film Festival in the queer-focused, rather more gentle horror The Jessica Cabin. The cast chemistry is excellent and clever writing makes the most of limited settings and effects to create an emotive take on remembrance, eternity and longing. It is so refreshing to see a film that is so upfront about its queer content without needing to be a story about queer pain. Yes, there are undercurrents, but there’s something so beautiful about just witnessing these characters as they are. Writer and director Daniel Montgomery wrote this in a cabin while listening to Taylor Swift’s folklore, which after you see the film, you’ll agree should become a more standard practice.
The Jessica Cabin does not have a JustWatch entry at the time of writing.
Tropic is another of those films that utilises genre elements quite sparingly but to unnerving effect and to enhance the rather more grounded message they are trying to convey. I’ve heard so little about this film since it was shown at Fantastic Fest that it feels like the most beautiful secret that I’m keen to share with people. This tale of two brothers caught up in a relentless march for progress due to greed and damage is utterly compelling.
Tropic does not have a JustWatch entry at the time of writing.
7. The Harbinger
I cannot overstate how utterly terrifying I found The Harbinger. Director Andy Mitton’s absolute mastery of offbeat jump scares that deliver on pure terror has long been proven but this nightmarish pandemic vision feels like it significantly raises the stakes. Among the horror is an emotional thread about memory and dealing with crises. It is also the first pandemic horror I can recall that places a focus on the desire to protect people throughout it, the measures taken to contain it and the ultimate horror of failing at that. If Andy Mitton wants to lead any future attempt at The Nightmare on Elm Street he’d be a perfect fit, although I’m just as content to see him craft his uniquely brilliant original ideas too.
The Harbinger does not have a JustWatch entry at the time of writing but will be released in the UK on January 23rd by Signature Entertainment and FrightFest Presents.
6. Bones and All
A very late addition to this list, but one that quickly made an impression. Bones and All is a beautifully shot story in which the central romance that is made such a feature of in advertising becomes secondary to a world in which other (and easily read as queer) people find themselves negotiating their space in a world that views their differences as horrific. The horror cuts through normality and initially pleasant conversations turn dark as Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timothée Chalamet) navigate their way through their identities. Mark Rylance’s turn as Sully is breathtaking, again initially benign but soon unearthing a series of transgressions. I initially questioned the 2+-hour run time but it unfolds at exactly the right pace to tell this story.
Bones and All on JustWatch
I can’t help but feel much of the reception to this film rests on both the title seemingly promising some an all-encompassing thesis on male toxicity that the film could never deliver and also the perception that this is from a male creator and therefore cannot (and more worryingly, should not) tackle this material. What Alex Garland has done is centre Harper (a brilliantly stoic Jessie Buckley) as a woman recovering and reckoning with the way the world has treated her. Her retreat from her modern home space into the rural one, full of the weight of tradition and isolation is brilliantly absorbing and delivers on such memorable folk-horror imagery that it has hardly left my mind since first-watch.
Men on JustWatch
An utterly charming performance from Zach Villa as Will, a young man battling his own demons after his mentally ill mother begins to communicate with him. It isn’t often that you get a disclaimer ahead of a film that it is ‘based on a real breakdown’ but that is exactly what you have here. Director and writer Addison Heimann delivers the kind of jumps and jolts you’d expect from any mainstream horror while also providing a deeply moving emotional core, centred around identity, agency and human perseverance. A truly impressive achievement and I don’t think there’s been a single other character this year I’ve fallen in love with as quickly as Will.
Hypochondriac does not have a JustWatch entry at the time of writing.
3. A Wounded Fawn
Despite absolutely loving this I’ve found it difficult to write anything concrete about it that really explores that love (maybe something to do in 2023?). Travis Steven’s previous work has explored the threat of male violence and the female desperation to claw back against restrictive images in both The Girl on the Third Floor and Jakob’s Wife. In A Wounded Fawn he finds perhaps the least conventional narrative so far with a shift into the operatic and stylistically confrontational story of a serial killer bringing his latest would-be victim to a cabin. Wherever you think this is going from the opening, sumptuously-shot scenes, you’re probably wrong. Utilising a host of visual and aural techniques with absolutely incredible performances from both Josh Ruben and Sarah Lind, this is such an audacious piece of work that demands attention.
A Wounded Fawn on JustWatch
2. The Leech
If you have been in my company at any point this year following the screening of The Leech at FrightFest in August, odds are, I’ve brought it up. The horny Christmas movie with a seethingly angry social and cultural critique at heart that I didn’t know I needed. Eric Pennycoff’s Sadistic Intentions proves an excellent starting point for this mostly three-person masterclass in discomfort and shifting allegiances. As highlighted in my Ghouls review, each performer finds an easy space in which to anchor the film’s more decadent and transgressive excesses.
The Leech on JustWatch
I think I could probably watch this every single week and still find new things to love (and go mildly insane trying to crack clues) about it. The way that Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson have managed to create something that is both intimate and expansive is just further evidence of the magic that these creatives bring to their films. Full of references to their previous work, but not essential to know to follow, this truly walks a line of rewarding older fans while also welcoming new ones. The film allows us only a slippery grasp of what *actually* happens, allowing the viewer’s imagination to run as wild as John and Levi’s. A beautiful film, full of their trademark sparky dialogue and sci-fi-infused philosophy.
Something in the Dirt on JustWatch
Let me know your favourites of 2022 and be sure to look out for these releases in the New Year.