Maybe it’s the pandemic, or maybe the selection’s just been really good lately, but horror is so hot right now. From blockbusters like Jordan Peele’s Nope to surprise stunners like Smile and Terrifier 2, the little genre that could has once again been overperforming at the box office. This year, however, it feels like the trend has gotten even more pronounced. Ti West sprang the existence of two secret X sequels on us (the first of which has already debuted), and we got a new David Cronenberg movie on top of all that? 2022 might just be the year that horror went from being the surprisingly popular weirdo at school to actually stealing the prom queen crown.
Nope and Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future were both expected hits for this year, and both found their directors in peak form; in the former, Jordan Peele embraces his inner Steven Spielberg, and the latter is both Cronenberg’s first film in eight years and an elegiac return to form. Both seem bound to stand the test of time (especially if Gordy has anything to say about it), but even more gratifying have been the pulpy surprises.
Even though James Wan debuted Malignant last fall, and even though it technically flopped at the box office, the film, in retrospect, set the tone for our year in horror to come. Given its director, Malignant was never going to be an underdog. But the unabashed silliness of its final act—which would be criminal to spoil but involves a secret evil twin and an extremely hilarious fight scene—was evidently too much for some folks to stomach. And yet, look at what’s dominated the conversation this year: films like Barbarian, a deliciously preposterous AirBnb horror that ends with one of the most shameless needle drops of the century. Whatever you thought of Alex Garland’s Men, its show-stopping ending will sear itself into your mind. We also got Orphan: First Kill, a genuinely bananas film that dares to ask, “Can a 30-year-old woman credibly pass as her child self?” (The answer is “definitely not,” but the results are too entertaining to deny.)
Yes, some of this year’s entries were a little more basic. Scream did not exactly reinvent the wheel—although it did usher in the era of Jenna Ortega with a splendid performance—and The Black Phone was mostly a retread of tropes we’ve all seen in some Stephen King adaptation or another. (We’re just not going to talk about the embarrassment that was Halloween Ends.) And some projects, ambitious as they might have been, simply fell flat on their faces—like They/Them, which, as Daily Beast horror aficionado Coleman Spilde noted upon its release, managed to stumble on the worst scene of the year featuring a Pink song.
Still, for every one of those, there was a creative marvel like We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, a coming-of-age horror based around a haunting viral video challenge. It captures, perhaps better than any film before it, the unmooring isolation one can feel while living so thoroughly online. Or take Mad God—an experimental and technical marvel executed entirely through stop-motion. (For the kiddos, stop-motion genius Henry Selick also delivered Wendell and Wild.)
Film festivals have also been rife with a diverse array of horrifying options. At Sundance, Goran Stolveski’s You Won’t Be Alone—a sensitive, bloody fable about a body-snatching witch—was among the most poetic entries. On the other end of the spectrum, there was Fresh, a loudly stylized cannibal horror starring Sebastian Stan. Part psychological thriller and part horror, Resurrection—starring Rebecca Hall—is a traumatizing tale about the aftereffects of emotional abuse. And Hatching, another Sundance pick, a gorgeous and gruesome psychological horror from Hanna Bergholm, distills the bile of adolescent fury into an excellently executed creature feature. Carlota Pereda made the brutality of bullying viscerally undeniable in Piggy, and with Watcher, from director Chloe Okuno, star Maika Monroe solidified her reputation as one of this generation’s foremost scream queens.
Then came South by Southwest, where horror entries like Ti West’s X and Halina Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies seemed to dominate (or at least came in second to the stunning Everything Everywhere All at Once). And let us not forget Luca Guadagnino’s cannibal romance, Bones and All, which made its premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
More exciting than the array of options, however, has been seeing which of these movies actually took off. In many cases, it was the smaller productions that generated the most conversation—films like Smile, a low-budget production that seemed to come out of nowhere and became one of the year’s highest grossing horror films. Terrifier 2, shot on a micro-budget of $250,000, has grossed more than $12 million worldwide. And X, which came preloaded with two planned sequels, has managed to stay in the conversation seemingly in perpetuity, thanks in part to its ambitious sequel, Pearl—shot simultaneously with the original.
With M3GAN on the horizon, and fresh on the heels of an instantly viral trailer (and reportedly already sparking sequel conversations at Universal), it looks like 2023 might just keep us all screaming.