2022: Year in Horror
2022 was a great year for independent and mainstream horror. Early in the year, we had the fantastic fifth installment in the Scream franchise. “Scream,” was directed by “Ready or Not” creators Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. The fifth Scream movie breathed new life into the series, far outpacing the funny but not remotely scary “Scream 4.” Moving into March, Ti West stepped back into the horror scene with his slasher “X.” Surprisingly great on a small budget, “X” brought Mia Goth into the spotlight, cementing her status as a modern-day scream queen. The film was immensely profitable, making $14.5 million on a $1 million budget.
We now turn to something atrocious. Sony Pictures decided to try its hand at a horror superhero flick in April with “Morbius,” a film about a dying man choosing to combine himself with a vampire bat to stay alive. Starring Jared Leto and “Doctor Who” alum Matt Smith, the film deservedly received perhaps the worst reviews of 2022. As it should, the movie bombed at the box office, making a paltry $164 million off an $83 million dollar budget. Given that films need to double their budget to break even, the film barely generated a profit. Marvel Studios also decided to put a horror spin on its conventional film style with “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.” This film was not as bad as “Morbius” by any stretch of the imagination. Kevin Feige, the lead director of Marvel Studios, hired acclaimed horror auteur Sam Raimi for this production, which saw middling results. The horror in this movie, while well constructed, was not as frequent as it probably should have been. Perhaps Marvel constrained what Raimi could do, but regardless, the result was a very mediocre film. It was maybe the most violent and scary Marvel film in the last decade, but it just needed more. The box office results, however, were not nearly as bad as “Morbius.” It made almost a billion dollars on a $200 million budget, proving the Marvel formula for success true once again. The dearth of good horror films from March to June continued with the Stephen King adaptation “Firestarter.” Just as bad as the original film, “Firestarter” flopped at the box office, got terrible reviews, and overall made for a weak remake of an already weak story.
After the train-wreck that was “Firestarter,” independent horror went on an unblemished streak of success that continues today. Alex Garland, a British director and writer behind the critically acclaimed films “Ex Machina,” “Annihilation,” “28 Days Later,” and “Devs” released his new horror-thriller “Men’’ in mid-May. The film centers around a woman named Jessie Buckley who is harassed by strange men in the village she travels to for her vacation. All the men are played by British actor Rory Kinnear, who gives a career-best performance. June gives us the wonderful Scott Derrickson adaptation of Joe Hill’s novel “The Black Phone.” The film follows an abducted teenager, named Mason Thames, and his struggles against The Grabber played by Ethan Hawke. With strong performances coupled with a satisfying ending, “The Black Phone” was highly successful among critics and popular with audiences, garnering high reviews while multiplying its budget almost nine times at the box office.
Jordan Peele’s new film “Nope” exploded onto the scene. His new film was very strong, driven by powerful performances from Keke Palmer, Daniel Kaluuya, and Steven Yeun, but the film was not nearly as good as his previous two entries “Get Out” and “Us.” He veered more toward a Steven-Spielberg horror/sci-fi style with this film, abandoning much of the horror elements along the way. This is not to say the film was not plenty scary, it just was less focused on scaring the audience as it was on delivering an eerie mood. “Nope” was moderately successful at the box office, making $170.8 million on a $68 million budget.
This September brought some real thrills to the film world. Zach Cregger’s “Barbarian” generated intense critical buzz and made a tidy sum at the box office. My review of that film can be found on the Justice website. Following “Barbarian,” Ti West released his second film of 2022, “Pearl,” which also showcased lead actress Mia Goth. A prequel for “X,” the film was just as good, if not better, than its predecessor. While both films were very violent slashers, “Pearl” definitely outpaced “X” by every measure, with the second film being perhaps the most violent of the year. Mia Goth’s performance was fantastic and Ti West’s direction was similarly strong.
I will finish my year in horror discussion with “Smile,” Parker Finn’s directorial debut. “Smile” was a robust end to September. It had strong jumpscares, an intriguing plot, and a deeply unsettling depiction of the combination of mental illness and the supernatural. Actress Sosie Bacon gave a great performance as the protagonist, a therapist under the grips of a murderous ghostly force intent on destroying her life and her personal relationships. It was well-crafted and a nice addition to the 2022 horror collection. Given what horror fans have received this year, we can only hope that 2023 matches up.
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