written by William Earl, Variety
With all of the horrors Americans are facing daily — a gun crisis, attacks on women’s rights, a supreme court hell-bent on legislating back to the olden days — it can be a difficult to engage with the artificial terror of scary movies.
Fittingly, many of the year’s best titles tapped into this anger and fear. Themes of environmental decay (“Crimes of the Future”), the oppression of women (“Men”), toxic internet culture (“Scream”), surveillance (“Watcher”) and sexual repression (“X”) loomed large, linking fantastical scares to very real fright.
The rest of the year is packed with many more high-profile titles, including a “Predator” prequel (“Prey”), Jordan Peele’s latest film (“Nope”), Michael Myers’ return (“Halloween Ends”) and a standout Sundance title (the Rebecca Hall thriller “Resurrection”). But until then, Variety has ranked the best horror of the year so far.
Before the countdown, some honorable mentions:
*Mariama Diallo’s “Master” doesn’t deliver the scares, but it’s a compelling haunting tale which explores big ideas, held together by a strong lead performance from Regina Hall.
*Toby Meakins’ “Choose or Die” has some compelling imagery and a charming throwback premise, but the killer video game script can’t sustain a feature-length runtime.
*Though overlong and in need of a script doctor to punch up the jokes, “Studio 666” is a fun romp for rock fans — and a charming showcase for the Foo Fighters’ late drummer Taylor Hawkins.
*David Blue Garcia’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was a disappointment, but featured one of the year’s best gore scenes, courtesy of Leatherface invading a party bus.
A perfectly-cast Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan star in this rom-com-turned-cannibal nightmare, which brilliantly builds a budding romance for 33 minutes before unleashing a sharp twist and a darkly comedic opening credit sequence. Stan goes wonderfully off-the-rails as a illicit salesman who is falling a bit too hard for his latest source of human meat. Edgar-Jones is scrappy as the woman trying to lead an escape, and Lauryn Kahn’s script dodges choices that would make her lead seem too gullible. “Fresh” never loses steam, even through a violent climax that doles out justice with a bitter aftertaste.
#7: The Cursed
Criminally overlooked due to a theatrical release opposite milquetoast hits such as “Dog” and “Uncharted,” this early-1900s werewolf tale remixes classical mythology with some frightening new visions. “Yellowstone” scene-stealer Kelly Reilly shifts into a different gear as the mother of a cursed son, and Boyd Holbrook is solid as a werewolf hunter with a dark past. Directed with a steady hand by Sean Ellis and taking advantage of beautiful, foggy France shot on 35mm, “The Cursed” is sure to gain an audience when it hits a key streaming service.
Alex Garland’s latest nightmare is an all-too-timely fable about men controlling and gaslighting women. Effectively a two-hander, “Men” stars the brilliant Jessie Buckley as a woman vacationing in the British countryside after the suicide of her husband. Unfortunately, she’s surrounded by dozens of men who resemble a sinister Rory Kinnear, who gamely portrays nearly all of the other characters with wavering levels of hostility toward her. Although the film offers very little insight into gender dynamics, there are several indelible scenes which crank the tension up to 11. And with an incredibly divisive and disgusting final act, it’s a film designed to spur more discussion with each new audience.
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, the directing duo who helmed 2019’s clever horror mystery “Ready or Not,” revived the “Scream” franchise with a better-than-expected new chapter. Legacy characters (Courteney Cox, David Arquette, and Neve Campbell) share screen time with a sharp young cast (including Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega and Jack Quaid), with plenty of twists and red herrings along the way. By revisiting some of the franchise’s best notes without being overly beholden to the past, the meta-by-design “Scream” is able to keep things fresh and avoid potential pitfalls along the way.
One of modern horror’s most compelling auteurs, Ti West roared back to the big screen with his first frightening feature since 2013’s “The Sacrament,” and it was worth the wait. A “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remix featuring a van full of ponographers (including Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow and Scott Mescudi) clandestinely shooting their next film at the guest house of a conservative old couple, the blood and surprises comes quickly. Goth is a standout in a sneaky dual role, and West’s control of his material and ability to manipulate the audiences’ exceptions creates one of the year’s most fun rides. Editing by David Kashevaroff.
Eight years after her breakout in “It Follows,” Maika Monroe stars in another film where she’s constantly looking over her shoulder, in the best stalker movie since 2020’s “The Invisible Man.” Monroe stars as Julia, a lonely expat living in Bucharest, aimless while supporting her career-focused husband. She’s convinced that someone across the street is watching her and becoming increasingly bold in pursing her around the neighborhood…might it be the murderer she keeps seeing on the evening news? “Watcher” muddies the colors of a post-“Rear Window” story by writer and director Chloe Okuno and showcases the vulnerabilities of a woman living in the city. Yet Julia is no pushover, and she’s an excellent cypher for an audience destined to spend the following days peering in on their neighbors and checking around every corner.
David Cronenberg’s latest foray into body horror was, strangely, less disgusting than advertised, but far more tied to the legend’s other inhuman quirks than could have been predicted. The lightly-sketched plot involves Viggo Mortensen as a man who grows extra organs in a ruined-Earth future, where his partner (Léa Seydoux) surgically removes them for captive audiences. Things become complicated once the government starts to get involved, and we’re introduced to a world of superfans (including a wacky Kristen Stewart), assassins and children who eat plastic trash cans. Cronenberg keeps the proceedings as cold and clinical as his characters, with long stretches of dialogue accentuating the gloss of artificiality that is as fascinating as it is alienating. Those who can dip into Cronenberg’s wavelength will be richly rewarded.