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  • Maxwell J.

Best Horror Films of 2022

Updated: Jan 8

2022 Year in Review Posts:

Best Missed of 2021

End of the Year Awards (TBD)

Personal Year in Review


2022 has been a phenomenal year for horror, which is pretty in line with the last decade of releases. Between a steady stream of releases in burgeoning film markets across the world, a rising number of films led by women and/or people of color, increased interest in original features from streaming services, high profile indie releases hitting hard, strong showings from major releases in theaters, and a constant reminder that genre cinema has kept movie theaters alive since the pandemic began, there is much to celebrate. The quality of the films remains exceptionally high with several high-profile releases and performers getting awards buzz for their efforts. They’ll inevitably fall short as they always do with the big guys, but that uphill battle is nothing new for the genre. I’ve identified my personal top 10 of the year along with 40 other entries that I believe equally worthy of praise that I cannot forget.


So, what’s left? Let’s find out! Scroll down to see what made my top 10 list for 2022, along with plenty of honorable mentions, out of the 159 horror films I watched, and which films I included that make you either celebrate, question, or discount my taste in horror!


Guidelines:

1) Film genres are fluid. Movies can fall into multiple genres. Individuals can have different interpretations. That is okay!

2) Official film release dates are difficult to pinpoint due to rising popularity in movie festivals. A film’s release date will be considered its first wide release in any country.

3) This list will be updated for longevity and consistency purposes moving forward should films viewed after the fact qualify in the writer’s eyes.



10. Flowing (Director: Paolo Strippoli; Italy/Belgium)

Trauma has a tricky way of infecting everyday life for everyday people. That’s what happens to one family. Thomas’ wife Cristina dies in a car accident thanks to a poor decision from their careless son Enrico. Additionally, his daughter Barbara is left paralyzed from the fallout adding to the lingering pain of the incident. Their family is still reeling from the accident when a mysterious gas starts rising from the city’s sewers. Its properties are unknown and by the time it’s discovered to elicit feelings of primal aggression prompting people to murder, maim, and self-destruct, it’s far too late. Starting off strong with a film that no one in the United States has seen outside of Fantastic Fest, this Italian gem premiered in its home country in November, so it just qualified for this list. And, it’s an incredible second feature from up-and-coming Italian director Paolo Strippoli. Quite possibly the most moving experience of the year for this reviewer (it brought me to tears in the theater twice), Flowing has plenty to say about the human condition that typically gets overlooked or glossed over in most similarly themed horror films. With the hallucinations causing people to act in manic/zombie like manners, Flowing takes on a distinctly apocalyptic view on the human condition before giving audiences hope for a better tomorrow. Beautifully shot, acted, and written, this Italian gem needs to be on everyone’s radar once it officially hits the States in the hopefully near future.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here



9. Project Wolf Hunting (Director: Hong-seon Kim; South Korea)

After an unsuccessful suicide bomb attempt threatens to kill them before they are imprisoned, a group of 57 prisoners are taken to a cargo ship for transport from the Philippines to South Korea, their home country. Onboard is the ship’s crew and over 20 police officers. All seems to be going well until they hit international waters. Due to his own ingenuity, one of the prisoners manages to escape, and, with the help of some friends in on the job, starts a riot onboard. The prisoners begin slaughtering everyone that stands in their way of freedom. Their excitement fades when they realize they are not alone on the vessel. Quite possibly the goriest horror film this reviewer has seen in theaters, Project Wolf Hunting is a balls-to-the-wall action sci-fi horror film that will make even the most veteran of horror hounds flinch. Light on plot and character development, this South Korean import is heavy on suspense and terror. Admittedly, it is hard to make two hours of non-stop carnage consistently scary, but director Hong-seon Kim executes this feat flawlessly. If extreme horror is your jam, Project Wolf Hunting will crunch, break, and explode all your expectations in the best of ways.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here



8. Prey (Director: Dan Trachtenberg; United States)

Something is hunting the Comanche Nation tribe in the upper Midwest in the 1700s. Naru is determined to prove herself the warrior she knows herself to be despite her brother Taabe’s insistence otherwise. While stalking what her tribe believes to be a mountain lion, Naru makes the startling discovery that something much worse is out there. She must contend with the elements, fur trappers, and her own people in her quest to rid her land of the predator determined to vanquish all those that get in its way. This is how you reboot a franchise. Prey takes a small-scale story and applies its main scale baddie in a convincing manner that is not only fresh idea but serves to empower Native stories. Naru is a knockout character played ferociously by the incredibly talented Amber Midhunter. Without her fierce portrayal, Prey would only be half as good. Thankfully, the rest of the cast holds their own too, especially emerging talent Dakota Beavers. Fantastic special effects, beautiful cinematography, and riveting fight sequences make this entry in the Predator franchise one of the best. The only truly troubling issue one can truly have with Prey is asking why wasn’t this given the theatrical release it deserves?


Full Review: See Here

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7. Mad God (Director: Phil Tippett; United States)

An Assassin lands a transport shuttle in a desolate, crumbling city on with mission to destroy it from the inside. Once landed, he encounters a menagerie of twisted creatures and tortured souls fighting to survive in the cruel landscape. Unencumbered by his sights, the Assassin presses onward into the city to realize his quest. As the cityscape shows more of its secrets, the deadlier it becomes to the one person attempting to annihilate it. Mad God is a terrifying experiment in Claymation decades in the making. Director Phil Tippett painstakingly labored over this beautiful abomination for years to bring this dark kaleidoscope of horrors to audiences that would appreciate it. The sheer craftmanship of the film is impressive. From the design of the film’s many monsters to the jaw dropping cinematography and art design. It’s a beautiful world and Phil Tippett is responsible for crafting such a bizarre and wonderful vision. All this and Mad God captivates with barely any dialogue. Not only is this the most innovative film of the year, it is easily one of the scariest. Due to its stylistic choices, Mad God boasts some of the most terrifying and surreal moments of horror in 2022. It isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but for those wanting to venture in worlds unknown will find so much to savor in this devlish creation.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here



6. Hatching (Director: Hanna Bergholm; Finland, Sweden)

Tinja, a young gymnast, lives a cozy life in her quaint Finnish suburb. Her mother is a mommy blogger and influencer who exerts quite a high amount of pressure on her daughter to be perfect. Her father is absent and her brother Matias is a menace. One day, after a crow gets in the house and breaks quite a bit of their valuables, Tinja has a nightmare where she kills a bird but takes her egg to protect it. She awakens to find that this was more than a dream, as the egg she brought home is underneath her pillow. Her picture-perfect life is turned upside down once the egg hatches and Alli is born. Perhaps one of the most harrowing and heartbreaking horror films of the year, Hatching balances its unique concept with some of the most poignant questions of motherhood, coming-of-age, and family dynamics in horror. This doesn’t even touch on the oodles of social commentary on influencer culture and social media. Hatching plays out monstrously in the most captivating of ways, letting poor Tinja toil with the decisions made for her by her ignorant parents and paying for the destruction caused by her doppelgänger. While the aberration itself is horrifying, there is something more human in watching a young girl’s life get torn to pieces by those who claim to care about her wellbeing. Director Hanna Bergholm’s first feature film is an outstanding introduction to what will hopefully be one of the hottest new voices in horror.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here


5. Violent Night (Director: Tommy Wirkola; United States/Canada)

Santa Claus is on his annual mission to deliver presents to all good children around the world, even though he is losing faith in kids these days. Meanwhile, a group of mercenaries descend on a secluded mansion to extort money from an extremely wealthy family. At the center of this is Trudy, a bright and exceptionally good little girl whose parents Jason and Linda are on the brink of divorce. Thanks to the magic of a walkie talkie, Trudy communicates with Santa right when he enters their home with a plea to save her family and save Christmas. Despite his pessimism, Old Saint Nick is up for the challenge of punishing all the naughty people trying to ruin the holiday. Violent Night is an exceptionally rambunctious holiday treat that plays on the conventions of action films made before it. Light in horror but not entirely without it, this gleefully bloody Christmas movie features some outstanding kills and chest tightening tension. While its story may be basic, Violent Night skates by with its talented ensemble cast, led by a powerfully versatile David Harbour, and impressive production designs in terms of set, special effects, and camerawork. If you’ve been good this year, make sure you unwrap your present in Violent Night as soon as possible.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here



4. Scream (Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett; United States)

Sam rushes home to Woodsboro after a five-year absence when she learns her sister has been attacked by someone in a Ghostface costume. Determined to get to the bottom of this, Sam recruits her boyfriend Richie to investigate. She’s re-introduced to Jenna’s friends and not long after her arrival, the killer strikes again. She finds her way to Dewey Riley, former sheriff of Woodsboro and famous survivor of four iterations of Ghostface. Eventually he enlists the help of news reporter Gale Weathers and the final girl herself, Sidney Prescott. What more can be said about one of the greatest slasher franchises in horror history? Expectations were high when continuing Wes Cravens legacy and The Radio Silence team knocks them all out of the park. Featuring a stunning cast and a fresh story that is appropriate for the modern day, Scream updates the slasher formula with commentary on the recent rash of requels popping up in Hollywood. Fun new characters, battle-worn regulars, and a new Ghostface face off and no one is safe. What makes this fifth installment so exciting is its commitment to honoring the films and people that came before while setting up a new cast and story up for success. No one wants to re-watch the same film with different actors, and Scream goes to extraordinary lengths to assuage those fears while inciting others. Slashing expectations and cementing a new path forward, Scream carves itself a worthy place in one of the greatest slasher franchises.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here



3. The Black Phone (Director: Scott Derrickson; United States)

A rash of kidnappings has been sweeping the primarily working-class community of North Denver in 1978. Finney is cautious and a little scared of the predator known as The Grabber which his sister Gwen teases him for before consoling him about his missing friends. Not long afterwards Finney is abducted by The Grabber and locked in a spartan basement with only a few necessities and a disconnected black rotary phone. In his terror and shock, Finney is understandably confused when the phone starts ringing and he hears the ghosts of the killer’s previous victims share warnings and advice from the other side. A nostalgic supernatural chiller with heart, this heart stopping child abduction horror gets everything right about its unique setup. From the phenomenal cast the delicious mystery, and the enticing story progression, The Black Phone checks all the boxes of a well-made horror film. The Grabber works as a fascinating villain in his own right without needless exposition or backstory to justify his existence. On top of this, it is downright scary! Channeling the best of 80s nostalgia while carving out its own path in the current horror market, you will not be let down if you answer The Black Phone.


Full Review: See Here

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2. The Menu (Director: Mark Mylod; United States)

Margot is invited to an exclusive and expensive dinner on a remote island by Tyler, a food lover. Among the VIPs are food critics, celebrities, and other wealthy regulars who enjoy the fine dining experience mixed with experimental cuisines. They arrive to the island and are introduced to the disciplined crew and their illustrious head chef. This dinner, however, is no ordinary dinner. As the evening progresses, the dinner guests find themselves at the mercy of the increasingly disturbing courses and the staff that is determined to execute the best dinner ever. Hands down the most hilarious horror comedy of the year, The Menu is a deeply satirical take on the elite food scene where every type of person is served up a fresh helping of in-your-face karma. Not only does it have some deeply satisfying commentary on the commodification of art that makes it easy to savor long after the film ends. Featuring a stacked cast Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes, and Nicholas Hoult take the lead but the ensemble cast ties the whole meal together in the best way. By the end, this reviewer was not only satisfied with the experience, he was transfixed. It came and went with little fanfare, but The Menu is a visual feast worth remembering for years to come.


Full Review: See Here

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1. Barbarian (Director: Zach Cregger; United States)

Tess drives all night to Detroit for a job interview the following morning. Just when she makes it to her Airbnb, she finds that the home is already occupied by Keith. Initially, Tess doesn’t trust Keith, given that mistakes like this don’t happen often, but after searching for last minute hotel arrangements and refusing to wait outside in the rough neighborhood while it is pouring rain, Keith offers to sleep on the couch and give Tess the bedroom with a locked door. An act of kindness turns into horror when Tess discovers the true terror lurking within the home. Forget every remake, sequel, and gimmick film of the year, Barbarian was THE horror event of 2022. Featuring a stellar marketing campaign that hid the best parts, Barbarian appeared to be a forgettable foray into vacation home horror. Thankfully, for audiences that trusted in good word of mouth, they were met with the biggest surprise of the year. Without spoiling it for all those lucky enough to go in with virgin ears, Barbarian is not what you expect it will be, in the best way possible. Relying on a twisty and original script, a phenomenal cast, and a truly bonkers execution, this horror film manages to be the most terrifying and, at times, hilarious event film of the year. Not only that, it delivers excellent social commentary on gender in horror scenarios. It may seem all over the place, but trust this reviewer, it’ll all make sense once you get onto HBO Max and watch Barbarian immediately.


Full Review: See Here

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HONORABLE MENTIONS (in Alphabetical Order)


Bitch Ass (Director: Bill Posley; United States)

Q is struggling to find a way to pay for college and support his mother, Marsia. Unbeknownst to his mother, Q has decided to gain membership into the Sixth Street Gang. His final test is robbing the home of a recently deceased elderly woman along with fellow initiates Tuck, Moo, and Cricket. The leader of the gang, Spade impresses upon Q the importance of following through and being better for himself and his mother. All goes according to plan until the crew breaks into the house. They find themselves playing a series of games with deadly consequences against the elderly woman’s son, the first Black serial killer to don a mask: Bitch Ass. There is a special place in this reviewer’s heart for silly, low-budget slashers that don’t take themselves too seriously. Bitch Ass is exactly this type of film: entertaining, creative, and passionate. Audiences come for the ridiculous back story and over-the-top kills and stay for the solid performances and great sense of humor coursing through the production. For horror lovers seeking to support Black creatives, Bitch Ass is an excellent smaller film to support as it not only is good but is ripe for sequels if the demand is high enough.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here



Blood Relatives (Director: Noah Segan; United States)

Francis has lived most of his life on the road after being turned into a vampire by the Nazis in World War II. After leaving behind his family and old life, he makes his way to America where he meanders through existence from one town to the next. Along the way he runs into Jane at a run-down motel in Oklahoma. She confides in him that he got her mother pregnant after sleeping with her sixteen years ago. The revelations of father-dom don’t shake him, but Francis feels compelled to drop Jane off at her last remaining relative’s home in Nebraska. It also helps that she can walk during the day, a convenience that saves his skin a few times. Will they get closer together after decades apart or will they let their relationship die before it has a chance to blossom? Easily the cutest horror movie to be released this year, Blood Relatives is a quirky vampire road trip comedy that ironically reminds audiences of what it means to be human. Great chemistry between leads Noah Segan and Victoria Moroles make the squabbling between the two feel genuine and hilarious. Light on scares, it still manages to gore it up every now and then to keep the audience in check. There are few horror comedies out there like Blood Relatives, and it is one to check out if you need a pick-me-up or aren’t in the best state of mind.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here



Bodies Bodies Bodies (Director: Halina Reijn; United States)

Bee is nervous to meet her girlfriend Sophie’s friend group at a hurricane lock-in party. Once there, it’s evident that the group is stitched together by strained relationships and their shared loved of party drugs. Once the storm kicks up and the group is sheltered inside, their antics get more structured with a rousing game of Bodies Bodies Bodies, a party game where one of the group is chosen as the killer with the goal of killing their friends off through the night. The others must determine who is behind their deaths in order to win the game. When the first body hits the floor, it is revealed that someone might have taken the game too seriously. Ensemble cast driven murder mystery Bodies Bodies Bodies is this year’s Gen Z slasher extravaganza. Sharp witted and fast-paced, this sleek A24 production knows exactly what how to get under the skin of its image obsessed protagonists as they navigate paranoia and distrust during a hurricane lock down. While the script makes for a good foundation, it shines brightest with its cast. Everyone is on fire here. None reach Rachel Sennott’s unhinged portrayal of Alice, however, who is a true standout character from the film and of horror for the year.


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Bones and All (Director: Luca Guadagnino; Italy/United States)

A disastrous sleepover leads Maren to go on the run again. Her father abandons her with a cassette tape explaining all he knows about her condition, a drive to consume the flesh of other humans. As she makes her way around the country in search of her birth mother, Maren runs into other eaters like Lee, a charming drifter just like herself. She also meets people like Sully, eaters that take their condition to terrifying extremes. Cannibalistic coming-of-age romance is a tough sell for most but this dazzling arthouse horror gem is one of the most effective and heartbreaking films of the year. While the cannibalism aspect may be shocking or uncomfortable, it truly adds another layer to the film. At the crux of the story is a longing for acceptance felt by those on the margins of society. Each major player in the film years for a sense of belonging and make peace with their life of difference in their own ways. Timothée Chalamet’s confident performance vacillates between chilling and swoon-worthy but Taylor Russell steals the show in a mesmerizing tour de force. It won’t be for everyone, but if you can appreciate the beauty in smaller things and are searching for something more unique in the horror-sphere, you’ll love this movie, Bones and All.


Full Review: See Here

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Deadstream (Director: Joseph Winter, Vanessa Winter; United States)

Returning from his hiatus after getting cancelled for previous videos infamous streamer, Shawn Ruddy is back at his antics again when he decides to livestream himself breaking into a haunted house. The rules are simple: he must stay in the house through the night and must investigate every noise he hears. All his preparation is for nothing when he discovers that Chrissy has found him shortly after he arrives. He reluctantly agrees to let her accompany him on the stream at the request of his audience. Things go south when he disturbs the very spirit he is seeking out in the crumbling house. A biting take on influencer culture, Deadstream is an uproarious horror comedy that never takes itself too seriously. While many may find issue with main character Shawn’s terrible behavior and inability to redeem himself, it’s arguable that is the point of the film. Instead of prioritizing a redemption arc, Deadstream focuses on peeling back the layers to Shawn’s character that drove him to do something so ill-advised in a last-ditch effort to regain favor with the internet. It’s timely, grounded in reality, and compelling. It doesn’t hurt that Joseph Winter and Melanie Stone play off each other in the best ways to really the sell the film. If you can handle Shawn’s grating personality after the first ten minutes, you are in for the livestream horror event of the year.


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Deep Fear (Director: Grégory Beghin; France)

It’s 1991 in the city of Paris and former classmates Sonia, Henry, and Max are looking for something to do for the boy’s final days in the city. Sonia enlists the help of a fling, Ramy, for something truly exciting. He takes the group on a secret tour of the Catacombs. Their simple trip is intruded upon by a small gang of skinheads which diverts the group away from their planned exit. They meet up with some other adventurers who have finally broken through to an unexplored section of the tunnels, to which the frazzled students reluctantly join them in exploring. There isn’t much to Deep Fear, and that is why it is so effective. Claustrophobic and tense, this Nazisploitation flick manages to bring chaos to the underground in a way that feels grounded in reality yet also entirely batshit crazy. Despite its paper-thin plot and characters, there is a raw sense of vulnerability and dread emanating from the screen at all times. The danger morphs as the characters run into one bad thing after another, which makes it hard to root against them in their quest for survival. Survival horror without much pretense, Deep Fear is a good time if you aren’t looking for something too deep.


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Evil Eye (Director: Isaac Ezban; Mexico)

Nala travels with her family to her grandmother Josefa’s house deep in the forest to search for a cure for her younger sister Luna’s debilitating health condition. Once there, her mother and father leave their daughters to seek out more answers. Their absence allows Josefa’s true colors to show which forces Nala to believe that the stories about witches Josefa’s assistant Abigail tells them are true. Nala is dead set on her grandmother being a witch, and she knows that she has to do everything she can to protect herself and her sister. Equal parts beautiful and dark, this tragic fairy tale blends together the coming-of-age and folk horror genres together so well. A powerful leading performance by Paola Miguel emphasizes how dire her situation is and how much strength she has to persevere. In the end, Evil Eye sticks the landing with a decidedly sinister conclusion that fits perfectly within the themes and progression of the film. Directed with a clear vision of fantastic terror, the cinematography is another highlight in this Mexican horror gem that keeps the action fresh and engaging. If you ever hear the story of the three sisters from a small village, beware the consequences of getting too close, even if you find Evil Eye pulling you in deeper.


Full Review: See Here

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Fall (Director: Scott Mann; United Kingdom/United States)

Becky, Hunter, and Becky’s husband are enjoying their assent of the face of a mountain when one wrong move leaves Becky a widow. Nearly one year later, Becky is depressed, drinking herself into a stupor every day. Hunter returns to ask Becky to accompany her on a bucket list trip to scale a secluded radio tower in the middle of the desert. She posits that if Becky can face her fears of climbing, she’ll be able to move on and celebrate her husband’s life instead of constantly mourning his death. She reluctantly agrees and it’s not long before the duo scale the peak. One wrong move, however, leads to disaster, trapping them 2,000 feet in the sky without any hope of reaching the Earth in one piece. Quite possibly the most terrifying film experience of the year, Fall taps into the very human fear of heights in palm sweat inducing ways. Incredible camerawork helps make the reality of Becky and Hunter’s situation all the more grim, as a simple tilt or pan reveals more than their words can. Despite taking some logical leaps in its plot progression and an irritating third act reveal, the team behind Fall find plenty of ways to keep the action tight and stakes high. Watch it and find yourself falling in love with survival horror again.


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Fresh (Director: Mimi Cave; United States)

Noa hates dating but that doesn’t stop her from taking a chance on Steve, a charming man who swept her off her feet in a grocery store. Soon after, all of the horrible first dates and unwanted dick pics seem worth it to Noa as she shares the good news with her best friend Mollie. She extolls on how Steve is not only great sex but an excellent listener, the opposite of what she has endured so far. Unfortunately for Noa, there’s more to Steve than she knows and his appetite for the unusual may be a dealbreaker. A searing satire of the modern dating world, this Fox Searchlight picture brings the energy to this romantic comedy that takes a dark turn to horror one third of the way into the film. Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones give fantastic performances as the plot unfurls in wonderfully weird ways. Innovative editing and cinematography keep the film dynamic throughout its near two-hour runtime. Make no mistake, there is little fat to trim here thanks to the sharp script. Full of hilarious moments of dark comedy and inspired character work, Fresh ends up being a cut above the rest of direct to streaming films.


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Gatlopp (Director: Alberto Belli; United States)

Wanting to support their long-time friend Paul after a breakup, Cliff, Dominic, and Sam decide to spend the night drinking in an effort to recreate the magic of their youth. Amongst the reminiscing, the group decide to enjoy a rousing game of Gatlopp, a mysterious game that Cliff found in a piece of furniture he bought from a pawn shop. What starts as a cheeky card game morphs into something deadly, as the prompts get more personal and the consequences for not complying increase. Goofy indie horror films are a dime a dozen, but some come along with Gatlopp showing just how much heart they can have for the genre. Taking its simple concept, Gatlopp makes its horrific game something highly relatable and hilarious without lowering the stakes of the game. Although it doesn’t take nearly enough time with the terror, it does a fantastic job of making the audience care about this group of former best friends. This game of chance won’t be for everyone, but it works as a stellar gateway horror for those wanting to dip their toes in the genre without getting too deep. So, take a chance, roll the dice, and break out some pizza for this cute horror riff on Jumanji.


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Glorious (Director: Rebekah McKendry; United States)

Distraught and acting on pure instinct to put distance between him and his problems, Wes finds his way to a secluded rest stop after driving for hours. He decides the best way to forget about Brenda is to drink his woes away. His debauchery leads to him burning many of his possessions and waking up the next morning needing to vomit in the disgusting roadside bathroom. Once inside and emptied of his stomach, he is greeted by a disembodied voice from the stall next-door. Their strange but polite conversation turns sinister when Wes learns there is now no way out of the restroom until he acquiesces to the voice’s demands. One of the biggest surprises of the year came in the form of Shudder’s Lovecraftian glory hole contained horror film Glorious. What starts out as an unassuming indie film becomes one of the strangest and most poignant cosmic horrors of the year. Ryan Kwanten gives yet another excellent performance but J.K. Simmons stands out with his voice acting as the powerful demigod operating out of a roadside bathroom. High concept existential horror at its finest, Glorious is the perfect little low budget film to shock and delight for those seeking out more obscure gems.


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Hellbender (Director: John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser; United States)

Izzy lives with her mother on a mountain in the middle of the woods. All Izzy wants to do is meet other kids her age and get some distance between her and her mother. Her mother is fearful that Izzy’s contact with others may harm her and that it is dangerous. Eventually, Izzy learns the truth as to why she cannot interact with other people and begins experimenting with her newfound knowledge and understanding of the world with deadly consequences. This film truly surprised me out of the 2021 Fantastic Film festival. Remarkably well made on a tight budget, Hellbender surprises with dark imagery and an impending sense of gloom. Moody in atmosphere, Hellbender focuses on the power between mothers and daughters and the complexities of those relationships. Helmed by the Adams family themselves, this indie film thrives off the intimacy of its small cast. Hellbender also rocks an impressive soundtrack composed by the Adams as well, which adds another layer to the solid production. Above all, Hellbender is an impressive film anchored by raw performances, potent metaphors, and inspired direction. It’s not your average film about witchcraft and magic, but that’s what makes Hellbender so interesting and dangerous for the average film buff.


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Holy Spider (Director: Ali Abbasi; Denmark, Germany, Sweden, France)

Journeying to the holy city of Mashhad, Rahimi, hopes to uncover the reason why so many sex workers end up missing or dead at the hands of a serial killer. She meets with reporters and police but has trouble finding anyone to take her seriously. Thankfully, she finds an ally in the reluctant Sharifi, who is in contact with a man who claims to be the Spider Killer. The pair follow the clues to apprehend the killer when it is clear that the police find the entire process as waste of time and resources. This leads Rahimi to face against the killer alone. Holy Spider is frustrating to watch for all the right reasons. Extremely topical in light of the recent news out of Iran, this serial killer thriller uncovers the institutional rot in religious society that emboldens the worst people to become vigilantes. While the scenes involving death are harrowing, what is truly unnerving comes from the reaction of religious fanatics upon learning the killer’s motives. Zar Amir-Ebrahimi’s fearless performance and Mehdi Bajestani’s terrifyingly realistic take on an extremely misogynistic serial killer elevate Holy Spider even further. Holy Spider may not make you feel good, but its outcry for justice make it an excellent choice to support when giving out recommendations.


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Hypochondriac (Director: Addison Heimann; United States)

Gifted potter Will spends his days working at a swanky boutique in Los Angeles when his calm but fulfilling life is interrupted by intrusive reminders of his mother. Growing up, Will was subjected to her schizophrenic episodes that left deep impressions on his psyche. Thinking he had long moved past this, the revelation that his mother is out there trying to contact him shakes him to his core. Will refuses to let anyone in or even admit to what is happening with him. His boyfriend Luke attempts to console him but finds his efforts unsuccessful. Will must confront the demons of his past to thwart the demons threatening his present. Clearly, a passion project from director Addison Heimann, Hypochondriac is a captivating horror drama that explores the painful realities of mental illness in a thoughtful and engaging manner. Viewers will find Will to be an equally challenging and sympathetic protagonist given his long-term battle with healing from his mother’s abuse while beginning to understand his own demons. The straining of Will’s relationships as the hallucinations gradually intrude into his life wears him down to the point of a breakdown. His support system crumbles and he pushes the remaining few away out of fear he will destroy them too. The pain inside him and his final acts of love show the kind of person Will is which makes Hypochondriac so heartbreaking. His story isn’t over and thankfully Hypochondriac isn’t sick enough to leave things completely ambiguous, although this reviewer is in an attempt to convince you to check it out now.


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Masking Threshold (Director: Johannes Grenzfurthner; Austria)

A man struggles with his unshakable affliction of tinnitus. After seeking out answers from every doctor, lab, and online forum possible, he decides to work out the answer to his ailment himself. Using his background knowledge of science from his recently abandoned doctorate in physics, he attempts to discern what causes the unceasing noise and if there is a way to stop it. The farther he descends, the more volatile his behavior and the further reaching his conclusions become. Once he makes a breakthrough, however, he becomes unstoppable. Masking Threshold is easily one of the most uncomfortable watches of the year. Playing out like a DIY Youtube channel playlist from Hell, viewers are forced to watch a man descend into the depths of his own insanity. A fascinating character study on the effects of online social behavior and mental illness, Masking Threshold forces viewers to confront the grim reality of mental healthcare in the United States and the cruel emptiness and false promises of connection the internet provides. Ethan Haslam’s voice acting adds an extra layer of unhinged terror to the strong script and disorienting visuals. Patient viewers will be rewarded with a true 0-60 miles per hour finale that will leave them breathless.


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Men (Director: Alex Garland; United Kingdom)

In hopes of healing after a traumatic event, Harper retreats to a beautiful rental home in the countryside of England. As she settles in and explores her surroundings, she finds herself on edge with the belief that someone is watching her. Her suspicions are confirmed when she catches a man trespassing on the property. Things escalate when other townsmen begin following, confronting, and attacking her. Quite possibly the most misunderstood film of the year, Men tackles the origin of toxic masculinity in the form of English folklore. What many detractors oversimplified to a message of “all men are bad” is one that isn’t just untrue but fundamentally missing the point writer/director Alex Garland is making. Harper’s terror is collectively induced by the various male presences that interact with her during her stay in the countryside. The ambiguity of her dilemma is highlighted by the fact that Men refuses to answer whether it happens. This would typically be an irritation, but it boosts the film’s thesis on how women see and face violence from men in different ways. Couple this with the film’s dizzying finale that determines the source of both women’s and men’s plights, Men gets serious backlash for being too literary. Jessie Buckley gives a fantastic lead performance while Rory Kinnear takes on the insidious nature of multiple characters to highlight the film’s extended metaphor. Believe me when I say that Men will be remembered fondly after it gets a re-evaluation years down the road.


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No Exit (Director: Damien Power; United States)

Confined to a rehabilitation facility, Darby is notified by a friend that her mother is dying. She appeals to her sister to convince the facility to temporarily release her so she can see her mother in her final moments. Her sister refuses. This leads Darby to breaking out herself, stealing an orderly’s car, and braving a winter storm to get from Sacramento to Salt Lake City in time to see her mother. Unfortunately, the roads get too inundated with snow, and she must take shelter in a visitor’s center with four other stranded motorists. Once there she discovers that a child, Jay has been kidnapped and is hidden away in a van. Everyone is a suspect and Darby must figure out how to save the kid, and herself, from certain death. There isn’t anything new to No Exit but there is something charming about a contained who-dunnit being as straightforward and no-nonsense as this one. Havana Rose Liu leads a strong cast of worthy actors to add some heat to the chilly snow-covered lodge. Her performance as Darby is steady and leans into the quiet desperation, she must prove herself to be worthy of forgiveness and a one last second chance. Take a chance on this Hulu original and you’ll find there is no need to exit once you hit play.


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Nope (Director: Jordan Peele; United States)

After a bizarre accident took the life of his father, OJ struggles to maintain his father’s legacy: the family’s ranch. His sister Emerald makes matters worse with her unserious attitude and thirst for stardom. They survive now by selling their horses to the ranch theme park next door operated by former child star Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park. It’s not until OJ follows one of his horses out at night that he discovers a sinister presence preying on their stable late at night. Hidden by cloud cover, the siblings decide that they could make serious money by capturing the presence on film. Jordan Peele is three for three with his latest genre effort. Nope is dripping with captivating sequences, layered characters, and rich social commentary. Unraveling as a true science fiction horror adventure film, Peele elevates the scope of his film to something that truly captures the mystique and dangers of Hollywood in an inventive manner. Its star-studded cast including Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott, and Brandon Perea, brings their A game to the epic, elevating the material even higher. It does let its ambitions get the best of it in the end, but the attempts are well-intentioned and still land it far beyond most horror releases of the year.


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Old People (Director: Andy Fetscher; Germany

Recently divorced Ella travels to her childhood home for her sister’s wedding. Her teenage daughter Laura is excited to catch up with her crush Alex and her son Noah is excited to see his grandfather. She dreads running into her ex-husband, Lukas and his girlfriend Kim who works as an orderly at the local retirement home where she must pick up her father. The wedding goes off without a hitch and the crew celebrates accordingly. All is calm until the elderly are beset with an unquenchable thirst for violence. A surprisingly fun and gleefully vicious film, this German Netflix horror is a true dark horse for the streamer. Featuring some intense chase sequences along with some interesting commentary on aging. While most horror films tend to use the elderly as cheap jump scares, Old People thoughtfully twists the narrative to show them as capable killers. This leads to the motivation of the killers that can be dissected in one of two ways: 1) tired of the neglect they face in their twilight years, the elderly push back on the abuse and isolation they experience, or 2) after years of taking with the understanding they will leave future generations with nothing, the dying generation will steal the last thing from their children and grandchildren, their lives. Regardless, Old People is a nice riff on Night of the Living Dead that does exactly what it needs to do to be fun and scary.


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Pearl (Director: Ti West; United States)

Pearl transports viewers back sixty years to 1918 Texas, where Pearl’s story really begins with her day-dreaming about one day becoming a real star. With her husband Howard off fighting in the war, Pearl is left to support her strict mother in tending to their farm and her sick father. When a church group comes into town spreading news of a travelling dancing group, Pearl’s sister-in-law Mitsy convinces her to sneak out and audition with her. Unknown to everyone else, Pearl finds more support in a bohemian film projectionist at a local movie theater, which leads to a one-night stand. As Pearl’s desperation to leave the family farm increases, her self-control to hide her innermost desires decreases. A rare wide-released horror character study, Pearl breaks down the madness within its star, the antagonist of the recently released A24 slasher, X, in glamorous technicolor. Beautiful commentary on the obsession of stardom, the lust for a better life, oppressive family dynamics, and the rot of narcissism makes Pearl not only a fascinating character but an important one in the golden age of social media, where anyone can be famous for anything. Ti West nails the tonal and narrative shift to deliver one of the most provocative prequels released in the last decade while Mia Goth gives the performance of the year culminating in a 10-minute-long monologue that proves her star power and potential. Pearl is a gem of a film, full stop.


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Resurrection (Director: Andrew Semans; United States)

Years after escaping an abusive relationship, Margaret has done well for herself as a confident businesswoman and loving mother to her daughter Abbie. When a chance encounter with the man who ruined her young adulthood, Rebecca must confront David for the horrors he subjected her to for so long ago. His unexpected obtrusion carries a twist, however, with news regarding her late son, the child she was convinced David killed. Rebecca’s world comes crashing down and she must choose to fight back against David or submit to his cruel desires. Psychologically one of the most grounded horror films to be released in 2022, Resurrection is a tough watch. Witnessing the breakdown of a powerful, kind, and successful woman to the cruel desires of an abusive ex is difficult to say the least. Rebecca Hall imbues a steely toughness in Margaret that gradually erodes to the mental warfare of David. The added layer of the story asking the audience if David, and mentions of her deceased child, are real makes it even more intense. Few films capture the terror behind mental abuse in a realistic way, but Resurrection does so beautifully. Regardless, Rebecca Hall’s performance alone is enough to warrant this as an addition to your Shudder streaming queue pronto.


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Revealer (Director: Luke Boyce; United States)

Angie signed up for another shift at the Revealers Peep Show Booth in an effort to make some extra cash for a pair of sneakers. Before she even gets into the door she is harassed yet again by the judgmental Christian activist Sally who protests outside her work every day. Musing on the fact that her boss Ray struggles to get anything fixed inside, Angie prepares for another boring but hopefully lucrative shift. Her hopes of fast cash are erased when the apocalypse ensues outside trapping Angie inside her booth and forcing Sally, of all people, into the one next to her. They must work together if they want to survive the end of days. Indie horror films are often hit or miss, typically succumbing to the pressures of their low budget. Revealer surprises with its heartfelt and intimate take on the apocalypse, using its few locations to the best of its advantages. A few moments are rough but there’s a charm to something so ballsy just going for it. And Revealer goes for it in terms of its terrifying demon creatures wreaking havoc on Earth and chasing our protagonists deeper and deeper into chaos. High concept horror with low budget charm, Revealer is a pretty little Shudder gem that is worth a peep.


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Run Sweetheart Run (Director: Shana Feste; United States)

Pre-law student and single mother Cherie is forced to take on a client dinner for her boss after double booking him. Suspicious that she didn’t make the mistake yet afraid to correct her boss for the fear that he will rescind his recommendation for her law school application, she agrees to meet with the client. When she meets Ethan, she realizes she is in for a truly special night after he charms her instantly. As their night wraps up, she takes him up on the offer to stay the night not realizing that she’s about to spend the rest of her night fighting for her life being chased across Los Angeles. After watching Run Sweetheart Run, it is mind-boggling that Amazon Studios sat on it for two years before fully releasing it. Right out the gate, Run Sweetheart Run gets going with its high-octane promise of running across Los Angeles for an entire night. Our heroine Cherie hardly has time to breathe as she escapes from Ethan’s clutches time after time. While it heavily relies on conveniences and wears its message proudly on its sleeves, Run Sweetheart Run is a lively and fun horror film that gives you a fantastic final girl to root for. Run, don’t walk, to watching it as soon as possible.


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Saloum (Director: Jean Luc Herbulot; Senegal)

A trio of mercenaries flee Buinea-Bissau via plane with a druglord in tow when they find themselves in need of an emergency landing in the Saloum region of Senegal. Chaka the group, Rafa is the muscle, and Minuit offers more restraint through his spiritual and shrewd role in the group. After a day’s journey they end up at a camp hotel where they must trade chores for a place to stay. The atmosphere is already tense given how far they strayed from their plans, but it gets much worse when a police officer arrives and one of the other guests threatens to out them if they don’t take her with them. One of the most daring additions to the horror genre hails out of Senegal: Saloum, a film dripping in intrigue, fire power, and mysticism. Between its captivating lore and incredible on-screen talent, this genre mashup manages to tell a story that takes many sharp turns in what could have been an otherwise straightforward thriller. Thematically focused on the merits of revenge and the sinking power of guilt, Saloum creates something truly special for the year. African horror is not given the respect it deserves, but with talent like Jean Luc Herbulot, it’s clear that Senegal has a bright future in horror should movies like Saloum continue to be made.


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Satan’s Slaves: Communion (Director: Joko Anwar; Indonesia)

Rebuilding their tumultuous lives after their youngest brother was kidnapped by the death cult their late mother joined, a family attempts to regain some sense of normalcy at home in a cramped apartment complex. Even three years later, they still feel the effects of that terrible night in the woods. Nevertheless, Rini plans on returning to university, Toni finds himself fawning over a new neighbor, and Bondi befriends several kids in the building. All seems well until the power goes out during a powerful storm and their personal demons finally catch up to them. Another sequel that improves on its predecessor’s formula, Satan’s Slaves: Communion is a twisted supernatural horror film with plenty of tricks up its sleeve to torment its characters and viewers alike. Despite being set in an apartment complex, this sequel somehow feels even further away from civilization, and hope. The surge of the storm and squalor of the tenement building provide realistic explanations for why this family cannot escape the past they so desperately try to evade. Joko Anwar’s knack for horror direction results in some of the scariest moments of horror in 2022. If Southeast Asian horror is your poison of choice, one cannot go better than this continuation of Satan’s Slaves.


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See For Me (Director: Randall Okita; Canada)

Blinded by an accident, former pre-Olympic skier, Sophie, makes the long journey to a huge mansion in the middle of the woods for her job as a cat sitter. She dodges plenty of irritating encounters from her well-intentioned yet persistent mother who worries about her taking these jobs by herself. Sophie is determined to be self-sufficient and disregards her mother’s anxieties. Thanks to an accidental lockout, Sophie downloads an app called ‘See For Me’ where she meets Kelly, a helpful gamer currently working as an admin in the army. The pair bond quickly after resolving one issue but will learn to rely on each other even more when a trio of robbers break into the mansion that night. The first great horror film of the year, See For Me adds a twist to the traditional home invasion subgenre. Beyond the surface of its plot calling for a blind protagonist, See For Me casted Skylar Davenport for the role who goes on to deliver a refreshingly nuanced performance as an actual blind person. Furthermore, Sophie’s character arc goes against the grain of cookie-cutter final girls. Sophie is stubbornly self-reliant and rightfully bitter after her skiing career was cut short. Her reaction to her predicament is shocking in a good way, allowing for some nuance to peak through in what could have been a more morally black and white film. See what the fuss is for yourself and check it out today.


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She Will (Director: Charlotte Colbert; United Kingdom)

After a successful double mastectomy, Veronica takes to a remote countryside estate to participate in a retreat. Along the ride is her recently hired nurse, Desi, who Veronica warms up to as they are confronted with the reality that her solo venture is a actually group retreat when they finally make it to the forest villa. Begrudgingly, Veronica stays and participates but finds herself experiencing bewildering dreams and strong psychic connections to the elements around the woods. The duo learns that the deluxe mindfulness sanctuary is built over property that saw the execution of witches centuries ago. Visually rich and bold in its vision, She Will is a methodical witch revenge horror that favors a constant state of dread to traditional in-your-face scares. A hallucinogenic trip in the Scottish countryside, this film does not take the journey viewers expect. Deeply metaphorical and steeped in relevant issues, She Will is a solid feminist horror film that gets under the skin in the most intoxicating of ways. Alice Krige and Kota Eberhardt complement each other well while leading very different aspects of the film. If carefully crafted supernatural horror films are up your alley, She Will is not one to sleep on.


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Sissy (Director: Hannah Barlow, Kane Senes; Australia)

Childhood best friends that drifted apart are reunited in a chance encounter at a drug store. Cecelia is a wellness influencer who has used her platform to spread messages of kindness and self-forgiveness. So, when Emma invites her to a bachelorette party in the woods, Cecelia is taken aback but accepts out of politeness and the idea of truly reconnecting. It isn’t until they arrive that Cecelia learns that her childhood bully Alex will be hosting, and that Alex still has not forgiven Cecelia for a childhood accident that left her scarred after all these years. Social media focused horror tends to be hit-or-miss, with the vast majority of projects missing spectacularly. Australian revenge slasher Sissy is a notable exception out of this year’s crop. Unexpectedly unhinged, the root of the story in Sissy has more to do with the fakeness of influencer culture and the power behind creating a narrative. Beyond its thought-provoking commentary, Sissy is just a hell of a good ride. Between its laugh-out-loud comedy and eye-popping kills, this slasher never forgets the foundation of what it is meant to be. Follow, like, share, subscribe, do whatever you need to do to get Sissy playing on a screen near you.


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Soft & Quiet (Director: Beth de Araújo; United States)

It must be said before this review continues that this film depicts deeply upsetting scenes of racialized violence, bigotry, and sentiments that may be upsetting to People of Color, Jewish people, and other racialized or marginalized groups. Proceed accordingly and know that it is easily skippable should this be a non-starter for you.


Well-liked school teacher Emily leads an inaugural meeting of like-minded women in the upstairs of a church. There, she and these other women share food and stories while lamenting on the state of the world. After the meeting ends prematurely, a few of the women go to a grocery store to pick up some wine before encountering a woman from Emily’s past. From there, a volatile chain of events occurs changing the lives of all the women forever. Easily the most stomach-churning film of the year, Soft & Quiet sets out to unnerve while asking deeply painful questions to its audience. Shot in one continuous take, this production takes viewers on a journey where they will not have the luxury to avert their eyes. Although deeply purposeful, its circuitous dialogue and one-note take on its horror may be frustrating to some. For those that are willing to subject themselves to the reality of human cruelty, the message of Soft & Quiet will be anything but soft and quiet.


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Speak No Evil (Director: Christian Tafdrup; Denmark, Netherlands)

While on holiday in Italy, a Danish family, Bjørn, Louise, and Agnes make friends with a Dutch family, Patrick, Karin, and Abel. After they return home, the Danish family receives an invitation from their new friends asking them to stay for the weekend at their countryside home. Musing it would be impolite to decline, the family heads out to the Netherlands. Their visit starts pleasant enough before devolving into an unexpected weekend of survival. The feel bad horror film of the year, Speak No Evil is not for all viewers. Dark, heartbreaking, and challenging, this horror film will have you screaming at the screen more than screaming in fear. A subversive take on the lengths people will go to avoid confrontation and remain polite in the company of others, the horrors the Danish family experience are not only terrifying but grounded in a sense of reality. While many will tisk tisk at the realism of compliance and how they “would never do something like that,” Speak No Evil is much more common response to terror than people like to believe. Fight, flight, freeze, or fawn, Speak No Evil shows the dangers, or rather, the inevitabilities of not standing up for yourself and your loved ones, which is possibly one of the scariest things one can imagine.


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Terrifier 2 (Director: Damien Leone; United States)

Resurrected shortly after his original killing spree, Art the Clown takes no time before seeking out new victims. He does, however, take a year long hiatus shortly thereafter. In his return, he has become hellbent on stalking Sienna, a young woman whose father’s death affected her greatly and may reveal some clues towards her recent nightmares involving Art. At least her troubled younger brother Jonathan believes there is some connection between their family and Art. Sienna disregards him and decides to attend a Halloween party with her friends, while Jonathan stays at home with their mother. This makes both of them easy targets for Art as he starts slicing his way through the town. Horror sensation, Art the Clown, is at it again with this viral horror sequel. The Terrifier series has become a quick cult classic thanks to its fantastic special effects and iconic villain. This year’s sequel manages to do what few have done and surpass the original. Everything is elevated in Terrifier 2 from its basic structure, plot, and special effects highlights but also the aspects that made the first weak, namely acting, cinematography, and production values. Truly unhinged direction, thanks to writer and director Damien Leone allows Art to go on his killing spree in wild and imaginative ways while giving his final girl, Sienna, room to breathe, grow, and kick ass. Make sure you check out Terrifier 2 soon, or Art might just have to pay you a visit.


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The Exorcism of God (Director: Alejandro Hidalgo; Mexico/Venezuela/United States)

Eighteen years after his exorcism of Magali, Father Peter must face off against the demon Balban once more in the small Mexican town he serves. This time, he has possessed the young Esperanza and is using his powers to choke out the lifeforce of children and prisoners across the village. He enlists the help of longtime mentor Father Michael and together they get to work on saving Esperanza’s soul. As he prepares for battle, however, he finds himself unable to shake the unforgivable sin he committed years ago during his initial fight with the demon. Typically, Christian based possession films hit the same the points to where the entire concept feels worn thin. The Exorcism of God posits new ideas that make the demonic possession subgenre feel fresh and alight with new possibilities. Interweaving the narrative of unreliable narrator and vessel of sin Father Peter, this exorcism film asks the question: what if the priest isn’t pure and good? Mixing in some terrifying, and likely scandalous, iconography and riveting chase scenes, and The Exorcism of God is also effective at truly scaring its audience. Earning a bad reputation for its themes, this is one religious horror film that deserve your attention and respect for daring to go where few refuse to venture.


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The Last Thing Mary Saw (Director: Edoardo Vitaletti; United States)

In the winter of 1843, the secret relationship between Mary and Eleanor is discovered by Mary’s strictly religious family. A course correction is implemented to guide both young women down the paths that the family desires. Eleanor receives the brunt of the abuse since she is the family’s maid. The girls hatch a plan to free themselves of their torment, but supernatural forces come into play which may alter their destiny. When the family matriarch dies under mysterious circumstances, the stakes get raised even higher, and the consequences even deadlier. Quiet and unforgiving, this period horror pieces together the real-life fears of LGBT people living in fundamentalist society with the supernatural forces that follow the family. These lingering ghosts act as manifestations of the generational trauma inflicted upon family members over the years of dogmatic religious views. The Last Thing Mary Saw frames its narrative with Mary sharing the last few weeks of the family living together. Consistent feelings of dread and anguish permeate the film, which leans heavy on the trauma brought upon by il-informed Christians. Purposeful pacing, strong performances, and compelling characters make The Last Thing Mary Saw a must-see indie film for those that appreciate a good slow burn.


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V/H/S/99 (Director: Maggie Levin, Johannes Roberts, Flying Lotus, Tyler MacIntyre, Vanessa Winter, Joseph Winter; United States)

Five more entries in the V/H/S series are pulled from the archives of 1999. Four teens sneak into an abandoned concert venue where a stampede of music lovers stampeded an all-girl punk band to escape from a fire. Cruel sorority sisters force a prospective new member to partake in a terrifying hazing experience. The vindictive family of a former reality tv show contestant take their pain out on the host. Teenage boys get more than they bargained for when the woman they are peeping on catches them in the act. Two documentarians tasked with recording a Y2K sacrifice on New Year’s Eve are put through hell. Another solid entry into the V/H/S franchise, this found-footage anthology brings another great group of shorts to unsuspecting horror audiences. Admittedly, one rotten short of the bunch does bring the whole feature down a tad, making it a step down from last year’s V/H/S/94, but V/H/S/99 remains the standard for this specific collection of goodies. V/H/S/99 is at its best when it is left to do something completely unexpected. Third segment “Ozzy’s Dungeon” and final entry “To Hell and Back” do just that. Both are comic yet ultimately terrifying punches to the gut that give viewers that distinct ‘WTF’ feeling while unfurling. Perhaps the biggest win of V/H/S/99 is its ability to take the franchise in a lighter direction while still maintaining authenticity to its purpose. Pop the video cassette in on Shudder whenever you have the courage to go to hell.


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Virus: 32 (Director: Gustavo Hernández; Argentina/Uruguay)

The day starts like any other day in Montevideo for Iris. After smoking a blunt and before rushing to work, she is greeted by her husband Javier and her daughter Tata. Annoyed initially at the last-minute intrusion on her work, Iris does her best to make Tata feel excited about the abandoned sports club she oversees as a security guard. Unfortunately for them, they split up in the building at the worst time, as a raging virus has infected the population, which turns them into bloodthirsty menaces capable of wielding unbridled rage and fury on their victims. Thankfully, while Iris searches for Tata she discovers a weak spot in her opponent’s biology: a 32 second window of stasis that initiates only after the attacker has just killed. The general concept behind most zombie films have been done to death, so it takes a special creative team to use the subgenre to its advantage. Virus: 32 does just that. Aside from the gimmick of momentarily, and arbitrarily, frozen flesh eaters, this Uruguayan-Argentinean collaboration cares more about the character development of its star, Iris. It’s clear that she is kind of a lousy mom. She cares more about her own vices than the family she has in front of her. It isn’t until her world is upside down that her priorities realign. It’s a rush to watch her develop through the chaos and unlock her true love for family within it. It’s a redemption arc of the sweetest nature while still acting as a vehicle for fast-paced zombie carnage that is perfect for any aficionado of the undead.


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Watcher (Director: Chloe Okuno; United States)

Former actress Julia uproots her life to move across the world with her husband Francis for his latest promotion. Now, Julia spends her days alternating between wandering Bucharest and learning Romanian in her spacious apartment while Francis goes to work at his marketing firm. As the days go on, Julia can’t help the feeling that she is being watched, particularly by a man in an apartment window across from theirs. Her fears only heighten when she hears about the serial killer tormenting the city dubbed “the Spider.” On edge and being made to feel like she is imagining everything, Julia must determine if the silhouette means her harm or if someone else is after her. Another entry in the women-in-peril subgenre of horror films, this modern day almost slasher, almost giallo horror film hits all the right notes. Watcher is a heavily stylized exercise in pure dread. Simultaneously acting as a suffocating agent while depicting the vast loneliness that is living in a country where you can barely speak to anyone. Maika Monroe gives a flawless performance as Julia who turns out to be one of the most resilient and resourceful leads of the year. If you somehow missed out on Watcher do yourself a favor and watch now.


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X (Director: Ti West; United States)

Wannabe adult filmmakers journey from the sprawl of late 70s Houston to an isolated farmhouse to film their inaugural “dirty movie.” Each has their own reasons for pursuing the industry. Bobby-Lynne and Jackson know that they look good on film, Wayne wants to get rich quick, RJ believes he can make the first artistic porn film, and his girlfriend Lorraine wants to be supportive. Maxine, on the other hand, knows she is worth so much more than the life she currently lives and believes this is her ticket out of there. Unfortunately, the owners of their film set may give them trouble in completing their quest for stardom. Ti West’s return to horror is as momentous as cinephiles could have hoped for. X is the arthouse version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre that we didn’t know we needed. It has it all: fully realized and memorable characters, choice dark comedy, brutal kill scenes, and high-tension scares. Beyond that, it is simply a well-crafted film from story to screen. West’s direction favors the slow-burn scares audiences have grown to love from him and X is no exception. Allowing the characters to squirm for just long enough before succumbing to the horrors waiting for them in the night. Beyond this, there is some delightfully poignant commentary on aging and beauty that clamors to be heard. Don’t write off this slice of slasher goodness unless you want to avoid a damn good time.


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Year of the Shark (Director: Ludovic Boukherma, Zoran Boukherma; France)

Maja is days away from retiring after a long yet boring career as a small beach town police officer. Right as she signs the paperwork to get everything in order, she experiences something that alters her course. After assisting two German tourists with their boat problems, Maja realizes that there is a shark in La Pointe. She not only faces local opposition to the idea of closing down the beaches, namely due to the recent devastation COVID-19 had on the economy the year prior, she also faces internal pressure from her boss and husband to retire. Maja is steadfast in her decision to prioritize the safety of her city, even if it’s the last thing she’ll do. Finally, a good shark movie. The Bourkhermas have made their second horror comedy feature and showcase their knack for balancing comedy and horror. Year of the Shark plays out as a modern retelling of Jaws. Instead of harrowing adventure, the film employs the hapless antics of the local police force and instead of merely lampooning small town greed, the film interweaves thoughtful commentary on COVID-19 into the mix. It won’t work for everyone, but as soon as it gets a wide release stateside, you best believe I’ll be encouraging everyone to take a dip in this French treasure.


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You Are Not My Mother (Director: Kate Dolan; Ireland)

Life has been rough for Char. Scarred from birth due to the superstitions of her grandmother, Rita, and the carelessness of her mother, Angela, she must contend with bullies at school like Kelly alone due to her unsteady home life. When her mother goes missing during a depressive episode, things escalate as Char loses any sense of control she once had. Her mother’s return, however, upends things even more as she begins to display a variety of behaviors foreign to her. Char must muster the courage to stand up to her mother, if she wants to save her. Another fantastic slow burn horror film, You Are Not My Mother brings a new spin to the changeling myth with fantastic results. Featuring one of the most dread-inducing finales, this eerie Irish offering is filled with dark imagery and understated moments of horror. Anchored by two great leads, You Are Not My Mother acts as an extended metaphor for the horrors of mental health and the breakdowns families experience when they cannot get the help they need to support their loved ones. Beautifully shot and boasting some gnarly special effects, it is also a visually enriching feast for the eyes. Not as flashy as other releases, You Are Not My Mother will be remembered as a gem years from now when more cinephiles discover it.


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Zalava (Director: Arsalan Amiri; Iran)

With the apex of the Iranian Revolution imminent, Massoud is finishing his post in Kurdistan where residents of a nearby town practice rituals he deems superstitious. Believing their city is constantly at threat to demons, the locals adhere to rituals of bloodletting and rely on exorcists to save their loved ones from demonic forces. In an effort to curtail this, Massoud confiscated the town’s firearms before relenting to a court order to return them. These tensions come to a broil when an exorcist named Amardan claims to have secured a demon within a jar when answering his latest call. A fascinating horror drama that balances important sociopolitical commentary on religious fanaticism, obsequiousness to authority, and social isolation, Zalava is a unique fixture in modern horror. Without the need for fancy cgi or grandiose setpieces, Zalava accomplishes white knuckle tension entirely through human drama surrounding the demons. As townsfolk turn on each other and seek answers from leaders, they fall deeper and deeper down a path they cannot return from easily. For horror fans seeking out non-Christian centered possession films or just wanting something incredibly tense will find much to appreciate in Zalava.


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