From Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Scream, 2022 was a startlingly strong year for blockbuster scares. However, as is always the case with horror, the true gems are the transgressive masterpieces that live in the underground.
These are the cannibal comedies, body horrors and satirical slashers so twisted that the mainstream was afraid to embrace them.
Bodies Bodies Bodies
Bodies Bodies Bodies is Dutch director Halina Reijn's first English-language film and her first horror, too. It's also the funniest send-up of the slasher subgenre since Tucker And Dale Vs Evil came out in 2010. The screenplay contemplates Gen Z's sometimes deathly level of infatuation with social media, before building up to a hilarious conclusion so obvious that it boggles the mind that it hasn't been done. Add in a faultless cast, and you have the paragon of what is fast becoming this subgenre’s third wave.
Neatly summarised by The Guardian as “a Gen Z version of The Blair Witch Project”, Deadstream reboots the long-floundering found footage subgenre by tethering it to the livestream phenomenon. In it, a disgraced internet celebrity seeks to rebuild his audience by spending a night in a haunted house and chronicling the whole thing on a Twitch style app. Star and co-director Joseph Winter – who made the film with his wife, Vanessa – matches the charisma of a full-time influencer, while the lampooning of YouTuber apology videos is both cathartic and funny.
What is it about cannibalism these days? In the same year that Timothée Chalamet starred in Bones And All, Fresh cast fellow A-lister Sebastian Stan as a serial killer who seduces and eats women to sate his desire for human flesh – and satisfy some shadowy clients. The horror-comedy, directed by newcomer Mimi Cave, is a scathing assessment of dating in the modern world, where 'Tinder swindlers' are infuriatingly common. Stan and the lead, Daisy Edgar-Jones, share impeccable chemistry as they go from lovers to tormentor and victim, then maybe even back again…
On the surface, this directorial debut by Finland’s Hanna Bergholm is about a girl in a “perfect” family caring for an impossibly big egg, only for it to hatch into her eventual doppelgänger. However, deeper down, Hatching is a rumination on the disastrous effects of parents taking their own drama and regrets out on their children. Anchored around an incredible lead turn by the 13-year-old Siiri Solalinna, this is one of the most chilling coming-of-age stories you’ll ever see, riding the line between elevated horror and monster movie thrills.
As much as Phil Tippett is known for his visual effects wizardry on Star Wars and Robocop – and yes, dinosaur supervisor on the set of Jurassic Park – Mad God is his masterpiece. The director/writer/producer toiled away at this passion project for upwards of three decades and created a stunning, yet claustrophobic opus of stop-motion. Thanks to an absence of dialogue, the narrative is as ambiguous as they come, but what the film lacks in story it more than compensates for in its technical craft and vivid, nightmarish scenery. In a world of incessant CGI, Mad God is hypnotically high art.
After reaping torrents of critical acclaim and a wave of “What the fuck?!” from cinema audiences with Ex Machina and Annihilation, horror auteur Alex Garland hit his hat trick with Men. However, for the first time since he started directing in 2015, it wasn’t his contributions that were his film’s most talked-about feature; this time, the roses were tossed at Rory Kinnear, who plays an entire village of men terrorising a recent widow on holiday, and his co-star Jessie Buckley. Even if the scares and narrative are… odd, the twin leads will see you through nicely.
Speak No Evil (Gæsterne)
The first horror feature directed by Denmark’s Christian Tafdrup is a misanthropic meditation on what people put up with in the name of good manners. It tells the story of Bjørn and Louise, and their daughter Agnes, as they’re invited to stay with a Dutch couple in their countryside home. Any plot detail beyond that is a spoiler, but rest assured that Speak No Evil is tense from the word go. It’s a domestic thriller that turns the audience’s scrutiny inwards – how much discomfort would you tolerate from a host before declaring enough is enough?
While other rock forays into cinema may have earned lukewarm reviews and disappointing box office returns – Metallica: Through the Never, cough – Foo Fighters’ Studio 666 is no cynical cash-grab. For this faux-autobiographical tale of the band renting a haunted studio to make their next album, Dave Grohl wrote his own thrash metal soundtrack, while the film itself is crammed with odes to vintage slashers. John Carpenter even shows up. The story quickly devolves into nonsense, sure, but the special effects and killer soundtrack make this a hellride worth taking.
Wendell & Wild
Stop-motion mastermind Henry Seleck returned to directing for the first time in 13 years to make this family-friendly horror, which he co-wrote with Get Out and Nope auteur Jordan Peele. Admittedly, Wendell & Wild is nowhere near the scariest film of 2022, and its juggling of subplots quickly makes for a messy story. At the same time, though, Seleck’s animation still dazzles, even 30 years after The Nightmare Before Christmas. He also tackles grief in a mature and tactful way for children, while the punk soundtrack is as apt as it is unique.
You Won’t Be Alone
An existential and outright bizarre debut feature from writer/director Goran Stolevski, You Won’t Be Alone is less an out-and-out horror than it is a rumination on human nature, interspersed with blood-soaked kills. It subversively follows a witch in 19th-century Macedonia as she shape-shifts her way through the world, learning about how people work while stalked by her abductor. The end result is an art piece with poetic dialogue and stunning cinematography. The acting’s subtle and real, even when everyone onscreen’s drenched in viscera. You’ll be confused but hooked – just don’t expect lashings of jumpscares.
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