Screen Time Screams: 2022's Best New Horror Films for Spooky Season

This year's best scary movies include 'Barbarian,' Jordan Peele's latest epic, and a double dose of Ti West

BY Laura Di GirolamoPublished Oct 13, 2022

This year has been an embarrassment of riches for horror fans, with an impressive crop of releases from the first half of 2022 and even more on the way this spooky season. The year's best horror films combine chills with both overt and subtle social messaging on toxic masculinity, isolation, female anxiety and friendship, sexual empowerment, and the power of spectacle and the moving image. From big-budget popcorn films to slow-burn thrillers, there's something for ever horror fan this year. 

Here are some of 2022's best scary, funny, weird, creepy and disturbing movies to catch up on this October. 

Directed by Zach Cregger
Where to watch: In theatres now, Disney+ (October 26)

Barbarian ups the ante on every solo traveling woman's worst fears, and then keeps upping them until we're staring at the screen through our fingers and wondering what else could possibly go wrong. Refusing to adhere to genre conventions, Barbarian continuously switches gears and bounces between characters and timelines in a way that asks us to consider: who is the real "barbarian" here? Darkly funny, with a genuinely terrifying labyrinthian setting that keeps getting more disturbing as the film goes on, Barbarian also offers a subtle, yet impressively effective commentary on gentrification spurned on by greedy landlords and the sharing economy, and Detroit's economic and cultural collapse.

Directed by Mimi Cave
Where to watch: Disney+

Impeccably written as a sweet, quirky rom-com for the first twenty minutes, Fresh performs the ultimate bait and switch. The film so deeply commits to the bit that it almost tricks us into thinking we're watching the wrong movie, before descending into a dark comedy about what men think they are entitled to have from women, the horrors of modern dating, the twisted rationale of consumer capitalism that stops at nothing to possess and acquire, and the power of female friendship. Thanks to the moody cinematography by frequent Ari Aster collaborator Pawel Pogorzelski, and Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan's fantastic chemistry that smoulders even as we look on in horror at their bizarre captor-captee relationship, Fresh ends up kind of being a biting rom-com after all.

No Exit
Directed by Damien Power
Where to watch: Disney+

No Exit makes the most of a unique premise set in a pressure cooker environment:  a recovering addict busts out of rehab to visit her mother in the hospital during a blizzard and eventually seeks shelter in a rest stop, only to discover that one of her fellow stranded motorists is harbouring a kidnapped child in the backseat of their car.  This isn't quite a whodunit thriller, since we learn about the perpetrator fairly early on in the film, but myriad plot twists and a strong performance from lead Havana Rose Liu keeps the audience guessing and on edge. An excellent scene in particular, where the trapped motorists play a game of cards and casually ask each other about their lives (some more cagey than the rest), slowly amps up the tension and keeps the audience continuously guessing who's hiding what.

Directed by Jordan Peele
Where to watch: VOD

Bigger in scale than Jordan Peele's last two films but with just as many thematically rich (if a little disconnected) metaphors to mull over while admiring the grandiose cinematography. Nope takes a unique, self-aware twist on tired UFO tropes and tired Western tropes, weaving together these two evidently unrelated genres to tell a story about spectacle, the moving image and who gets to take credit for what. Steven Yeun gets to play against type as a slimy former child star looking to turn tragedy into profit, and frequent Peele collaborator Daniel Kaluuya makes a fantastic lead, galloping across the California desert on horseback like a Western hero of old. But it's Keke Palmer as Em who emerges as the breakout star of Nope, and its emotional and comedic core. Aside from having easily the best title of any of this year's crop of horror films, Nope also features one of this year's scariest scenes: a television studio full of people who learn the hard way that making a chimp star in a sitcom is a bad idea. 

Directed by Nyla Innuksuk
Where to watch: VOD, digital TIFF Bell Lightbox, Shudder (October 21)

Nyla Innuksuk's debut feature, shot entirely on location in the stunningly otherworldly landscape of Pangnirtung, NU, might not reinvent the creature feature, but it's certainly unlike any we've seen before. Slash/Back's lead heroines, a group of preteen Inuit girls who encounter a shapeshifting creature intent on taking over their sleepy hamlet during the endless daylight of an Arctic summer, are immensely likeable and real. Their chemistry powers Slash/Back alongside the unique setting, a fantastic score with contributions from the Halluci Nation and Tanya Tagaq, and impressively creepy special effects that makes the most of a tight budget. Best of all, these cliché-free Indigenous characters are the heroes of their own stories.

Directed by Parker Finn
Where to watch: In theatres now

While it borrows from a whole host of familiar "contagious curse" story beats from films like The Ring and It FollowsSmile (and its fantastic marketing campaign) stands out from the crowd thanks to its uniquely creepy imagery and a great lead performance from a hollow-eyed Sosie Bacon as a psychiatrist who witnesses a shocking act. Smile piles on the jump scares in such an over-the-top way, it tricks the viewer into taking them for granted, before slowly, eerily introducing the real horrors. It may not be the most eloquent critique of the mental healthcare system ever made (although it does, admirably, draw some tension from the fact that mental health patients are continuously stigmatized), but Smile is still relentlessly intense, grim and frightening. 

Directed by Chloe Okuno
Where to watch: Shudder

While the specific beats of Watcher (a young woman in an unfamiliar environment who suspects someone is stalking her) are familiar, there's enough nuance and style in Chloe Okuno's directorial feature debut to present a chilling story of isolation and gaslighting. Horror fan favourite Maika Monroe (of It Follows and The Guest) elicits immediate sympathy as Julia, the shy wife of a Romanian-American marketing executive who moves with her husband to Bucharest. Lonely and growing increasingly anxious about a man she believes is following her, Julia gradually starts unraveling when no one listens to her urgent warnings. Watcher cleverly chooses to go without English subtitles for the many scenes in which people speak Romanian around the uncomprehending Julia, heightening the audience's sense of isolation as well. 

Directed by Ti West
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

Ti West returns to the 1970s with X, a period he's clearly very comfortable in after House of the Devil and The Sacrament. A love letter to Southern grindhouse slashers à la The Texas Chainsaw Massacre featuring a surprisingly progressive take on porn culture, X manages to make a point about voyeurism and what it really means to be an object of sexual desire while still being impressively gory. Sexy, messy, violent, funny, and beautifully shot and edited as per West's usual attention to period details, X is a bloody good time. This will presumably continue in the surprise '80s-set sequel, Maxxxine, coming next year. And speaking of X spinoffs...

Directed by Ti West
Where to watch: In theatres now

The prequel to X was released just six months after its predecessor and the two were shot back-to-back during lockdown in New Zealand. Pearl builds and improves upon X's pulpy exploration of sex, repression, and loving homages of period aesthetic and tone. Mia Goth, as the youthful, starry-eyed 1930s version of X's psycho-biddy Pearl, knocks it out of the park with a mesmerizing lead performance that's equal parts heartbreaking and deeply unsettling, culminating in a haunting six-minute monologue that would make a worthy Oscar clip should the Academy ever give horror the credit it's due. Part Wizard of Oz and part The Red Shoes with a sprinkling of pandemic anxiety, Pearl is a promising entry in the emerging West/Goth Cinematic Universe. 

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