As Halloween season comes into full swing, it's only appropriate that we highlight some of the best horror films of 2023.
Isaac P. Ale: Is this really one of the best horror films of the year?? Likely not. But the sheer numbers this film achieved for how campy awful it is, was outrageous. It became cemented in the culture of 2023 film and was a huge win for production companies taking massive swings. Not to mention it was an original idea with so many meme-able moments it never really scared you in a traditional sense, but made you feel uneasy as M3GAN TikTok danced her way to crack some skulls. For the achievement of having fun in a theater with friends and watching this batshit weird movie with zero expectations, M3GAN: Unrated gets a spot in the ranking for the year.
Full review here
Isaac P. Ale: The latest M. Night Shyamalan film was a technical feast, featuring some of his best frame compositions to date. Starring a fantastic duo in Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge along with a morally confusing Dave Bautista, the central characters of the film sink deep within your heart. The idea of having to make an impossible choice of living alone at the end of the world or losing a loved one to save the world is something I hope nobody ever has to encounter. Add in the thematic elements of a gay couple already having to live double lives to try and avoid homophobia only to have to sacrifice their happiness to save those who scorned them is heartbreaking. Certainly, the film is not without its flaws but it's simultaneously thrilling and terrifying, putting it at 9 on this list!
Full review here
Isaac P. Ale: I'm way too big of a sucker for these movies. The original trilogy of Saw, Saw II and Saw III is better than most franchise pieces out there today and certifiably has more substance than whatever the hell Marvel is doing anymore. The argument could be made that you can reach a saturation point of these Saw traps and can only stomach so much human torture, but somehow someway Saw X manages to stay fresh. There are new ideas, new twists and turns along with Tobin Bell doing what he does best as Jigsaw – being creepy as hell. That little puppet still creeps the shit out of me.
Hopster: By my estimation, a well-made home invasion film can be just as effective and frightening as any run-of-the-mill haunted house or slasher flick. But what if the menacing intruder wasn't just someone in a mask with sociopathic tendencies? What if, instead, the intruder was an alien? No One Will Save You is a sci-fi horror film directed by Brian Duffield that received a rather under-the-radar release on Hulu last month. Seriously, I can't believe this didn't receive a good and proper theatrical release. The blending of two tentpole horror subgenres is a stroke of brilliance: 'a home invasion meets monster movie' – I mean c'mon, what is more cinematic than that?! Duffield's film is thrilling but astutely never compromises its story for scares. The center of gravity for the movie is Kaitlyn Dever, whose scaled-back and near dialogue-less performance does the most while also doing the least. The Walt Disney Company should be ashamed that they decided to dump and bury this 90-minute gem on a streaming service a month before Halloween with no fervor or fanfare.
Hopster: Other than M3GAN: Unrated, which is mostly on this list for no good reason other than shits and gigs, this is likely the most divisive film on this list. But unlike M3GAN, Skinamarink is actually a good movie... wait, is Skinamarink good? If you peruse Letterboxd or any of the composite film critics sites, you'll see a pretty wide range of opinions. Some of its supporters commend the film's unconventionality and formal experimentation; others applaud its anxiety-inducing atmosphere that preys on childhood experiences of fear and employs 'wait-and-see terror,' where the waiting is the hardest part. Its detractors are skeptical that this brand of quiet horror is even remotely scary (if you want a few good laughs, filter the reviews on Letterboxd and sort by the lowest ratings first). The jury will forever be out on whether this is a great horror movie or not, and nothing I say is going to change that fact. It is revered by a strong few and what earns it a spot on this list is its exemplary micro-budget filmmaking. Is it an art flick in disguise? It is pointless and nonsensical? Is it worth seeing? Yes, yes, and yes.
Isaac P. Ale: While the latest installment of the Evil Dead franchise left me wanting more, it was still a bloody good time. Alyssa Sutherland's performance was monumental and the family-centric agony elevated the stakes to another dimension. A claustrophobic setting within an apartment building, and especially the apartment itself, let the creepy crawlies sink into your stomach and give you unrelenting anxiety. The sound design was a little over the top but there's no doubt that when those dissonant strings come to slap you in the face there's something batshit crazy going down. I liked the 2013 rendition better but this one takes a page out of its book, and the original, with don't look at the screen right now images. In the end, this movie teaches a lesson of don't let your kid become an aspiring DJ who finds Vatican-banned records and thinks "I can scratch this like hell."
Hopster: Brandon is indeed his father's son. For some, that may feel like a failure of child protective services; for others, it may be the highest possible compliment. Like so very many of David Cronenberg's best films, Infinity Pool is a downright depraved and upsetting exercise in fever-dream horror that picks at the intertwining seams that string together our darkest psychological, physical, and technological vulnerabilities. Though often gratuitous, this film is in many ways more audacious than Cronenberg's previous film, Possessor (which you should also go watch by the way because it absolutely rips). With a pair of all-in performances from our beloved Mia Goth and the always-fun-to-see-what-he's-up-to Alexander Skarsgård, this film packs a wicked punch to the gut ten times over and heckles you as you try to catch your breath. It's surreal, perverse, and unforgiving of its characters and audience alike – how Cronenbergian!
Hopster: Shot on grainy 16 mm and off a dreary Cornish coastline, Enys Men is an experimental folk horror film shot, composed, written, AND directed by Mark Jenkin, who should be the recipient of some kind of 'jack-of-all-trades' horror award, don't you think? Enys Men is elegant in its design and flawless in its execution. I'm not going to pretend like this will be up everyone's proverbial alley, but for those who are willing to go along for the ride, they will be greatly rewarded. Some might just see a woman walking in the countryside by birds, while others will see this as a boring, fruitless slog. As you know, some people feel the rain while others get wet.
Hopster: It's been six months since Ari Aster's surrealist tragicomedy horror film hit theaters. It starred Joaquin Phoenix in a completely gonzo performance. It was a box office bomb. Many people hated it. Martin Scorsese loved it. It's about anxiety, guilt, and depression. It's straight cringe. It's hilarious. It's stressful. It's thought-provoking but hard to digest. Put simply, it's a lot. Most importantly, it's the mark of a true auteur taking his shot and trying something new while still wrestling with his past. I absolutely loved it. And someone please give Ari a hug the next time you see him.
Full review here
Isaac P. Ale: Downright, no questions asked, the best horror film of the year. As a debut film from the Philippou Brothers it really has no business being this good. But yet it is. Sophie Wilde is a revelation who better have a steep upward trajectory in her career after this film. Not to mention the lack of CGI and focus on practical effects makes the brain splitting moment of peril that much heavier. Characters such as Riley (Joe Bird) are the perfect horror vehicle for empathy and he's quickly established with excellent writing and acting. Firmly planting him deep within your heart for the film, which is what really makes horror, horror. Characters you care about facing awful dilemmas that test their morality or judgement, or they just flat out have horrible things happen to them. You should feel awful walking out of a good horror movie and Talk To Me should've put me in therapy. But you know what they say? Men will literally do anything but go to therapy, like rank all the movies that fucked me up over the year.
P.S. Amazing to see Miranda Otto kicking ass. Lord of the Rings fans rejoice because she's not only another amazing empathy vehicle but also incredibly funny. If no man can stop these demons, well, then she is no man.
Full review here
Now that we've rung up our top ten horror films of the year it's time to begin, and retroactively add, our new tradition! It only makes sense that we establish a hierarchy of horror films like this and then nominate one film each for our Film & Froth Horror Hall of Fame.
Isaac P. Ale: I can't help but put up Talk to Me! You may be sick of me writing about it but if you're a fan of horror then is simply a can't-miss. Sure it has some issues losing steam in the third act, but the first two acts buoy it accordingly. Something that not every horror movie can account for!
Hopster: Most horror films follow certain conventions and tricks that are commonplace within the genre at large. It's how we know when to be scared while watching a movie. But true horror can come from the unknown, the uncommon, the inexplicable. Beau Is Afraid is the weirdest film of the year. Maybe of the decade so far. But it is also bold, unapologetic, wickedly dour, and full of perverse guilt. Though in many ways it's a strange entry into the cannon, it feels right at home.
Hopster: With all respect to Speak No Evil, which still might be the best pure horrific film experience I had in 2022, I am proud to induct Zach Cregger's directorial debut, Barbarian, into the Film & Froth Horror Hall of Fame! With a great word-of-mouth buzz and some wild mid-movie shocks and surprises, Barbarian quickly rose the ranks in my 21st-century horror movie lexicon. You can rarely have this much fun with a horror movie while still getting legitimately spooked.
Isaac P. Ale: I would be remiss if I didn't bring up my favorite horror performance of 2022 in Mia Goth's Pearl. Ti West has the formula and he is cooking with it. Atmospheric, artsy, and thematically sound, Pearl is as thrilling as West's prior film X but with more depth to Pearl's character.
Isaac P. Ale: I'm all aboard for the wtf moments of horror. Nothing really captured that quite like James Wan's Malignant. Its excessive investigative horror style gives it an artistic edge that completely explodes in the third act into something so much more. The twist is something that left my jaw on the floor and Wan's direction is perfection. This is the Wan that made the Saw franchise simply exist and good god does he do it again.
Hopster: Having been originally released in 2019, maybe this is a little bit of category fraud, but I am going to induct Saint Maud (I know but technically its limited theatrical release was in 2021, so we're all gravy, baby). Centered around a note-perfect performance from Morfydd Clark, this is an example of psychological horror done so well that it zooms past a lesser film full of jump scares. Rose Glass' film has rib-sticking dread, and part of me still hasn't recovered from the overwhelming loneliness or answered the questions posed in the film's last third.