2022 was an incredible year for horror films from across the world that deserve just as much attention as any domestic genre hit.
2022 has proven itself to be a banner year for horror and genre fans have never had more exciting and terrifying options at their disposal. Whether in the security of one’s own home or a dark movie theater, horror has been a comforting constant for audiences this year.
2022 hasn’t struggled when it comes to original horror blockbusters, with Nope, Barbarian, The Black Phone, Smile, Bodies Bodies Bodies, and Ti West’s X and Pearl being some of the year’s biggest releases. However, 2022 has had just as much to offer for sequel and franchise fans between Hellraiser, Prey, Scream, Terrifier 2, and Halloween Ends.
It’s easy for horror fans to get tunnel vision when it comes to mainstream movies, but some of the year’s scariest releases are obscure titles from outside of North America. There’s nothing wrong with putting on Orphan: First Kill or Something in the Dirt for the umpteenth rewatch, but be sure to also make some time for these 2022 horror films from across the world.
Directed by Hanna Bergholm; Finland
Hatching is born out of a very simple concept, but one that quickly takes flight and soars to terrifying heights. This Finnish horror film from Hanna Bergholm becomes a haunting parable on motherhood. Tinja comes from an affluent family who appear to have everything, but her absentee and distracted mother leaves her vulnerable and in need of love. Tinja discovers an egg in the woods and her meticulous care for it births a bird-like beast.
The spectacle of this creature is reason alone to check out Hatching, but there’s an important message underneath it all that makes sure that Hatching has substance beneath its shell. There are absolutely incredible practical effects and animatronic work used to bring the bird monster to life, but what’s even more impressive is how Siiri Solalinna does double duty as both Tinja and her rapidly growing “child,” Alli.
Sick Of Myself
Directed by Kristoffer Borgli; Norway, Sweden
Kristoffer Borgli’s Sick of Myself is the darkest of comedies, but one that has its audience cringing in horror more than awkwardly laughing at the destructive narcissism on display. Kristine Kujath Thorp and Eirik Sætherv play Signe and Thomas, a reputation-hungry power couple who don’t just thrive on attention, but actively need it in their lives. Signe’s insecurities and loneliness grow so intense that she willingly infects herself with a flesh-eating virus so that she can once again become the center of attention and overshadow her partner. Signe’s rash behavior is difficult to watch and Sick of Myself slowly descends into gruesome body horror that makes the movie feel like if David Cronenberg directed Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Some may view the film’s thin plot as a distraction or that it doesn’t fully stick the landing with some of its social commentary, but it’s still a bizarrely harrowing piece of cinema that doesn’t hold back and is better off for it. Sick of Myself is like if Phantom Thread and The Fly had an egotistical baby that punches every other baby in the face and then plays the victim. In a time where social media and parasocial relationships reign supreme, Sick of Myself highlights the horrors of this unhealthy and endless cycle.
Directed by Shinzô Katayama; Japan, South Korea
Shinzô Katayama, a Japanese filmmaker who previously subverted serial killer expectations with his emotionally draining 2009 film, Mother, is in the same league as Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook when it comes to meticulous mysteries with dark undertones. Missing doesn’t feature supernatural entities or ancient curses and the horrors that it explores are much more entrenched in the inherent darkness that permeates through the world. A young girl, Kaeda (Aoi Ito), tries to locate her missing father (Jirô Satô), who’s become increasingly unreliable following the death of his wife. Missing begins with Kaeda’s pursuit of her father, but the movie effectively plays with chronology as it jumps between Kaeda and her father’s story.
Missing expertly parses out clues and makes sure that the audience only knows as much as they need to at the given moment. The film digs into a conflicted serial killer and his unlikely accomplice, but Missing consistently highlights how these killers are in just as much pain as their victims. The “humane” nature of death and how this release can sometimes be a blessing gets deconstructed from many perspectives and culminates in an excellent final act. Missing doesn’t terrify its audience through jump scares or graphic executions, but it leaves them in a bleak haze that reflects how lonely life can be.
Satan’s Slaves 2
Directed by Joko Anwar; Indonesia
Joko Anwar is one of Indonesia’s most promising horror directors after his dark, moody films, Satan’s Slaves and Impetigore. Satan’s Slaves 2: Communion, Anwar’s sequel to his 2017 haunted house story, leaves the cozy comfort of its predecessor’s rural setting and escalates this violent ghost story to a crowded apartment complex. The evolution of Satan’s Slaves to Satan’s Slaves 2 is akin to what’s accomplished in the first two [REC] films.
Some may miss the intimacy of the original, but a higher body count and seemingly infinite ghosts create an overwhelming experience of fear. The ghosts in Satan’s Slaves 2 are brutal and there are some truly disturbing executions, including a vicious bloodbath upon an elevator that will have audiences taking the stairs for all of 2023. Satan’s Slaves 2: Communion is already the third highest-grossing Indonesian film of all time and the sequel’s cryptic conclusion indicates that Anwar has plans to turn this into a trilogy with one hell of a final installment.
Directed by Carlota Pereda; Spain, France
The horror genre repeatedly warns audiences over the dangers of punching down and horror movies have always been a goldmine when it comes to retributive narratives where the bullied gain dominion over their aggressors. Carlota Pereda’s Piggy, based upon her short film of the same name, is an incredibly prescient tale of image, identity, and self-esteem. Laura Galán stars as Sara, an anxious, overweight girl who finds herself in the ultimate test of morality after she watches her petty bullies get kidnapped by a murderer. Galán is a revelation and every micro-gesture she conveys speaks volumes.
Piggy excels through Sara’s visceral pain, which doesn’t even give her a reprieve at home. Sara’s situation grows so bleak that it’s almost understandable when she watches her tormentors get abducted and fails to act. In a film that’s ripe with serial slayings and torture, Piggy makes sure that Sara’s verbal abuse and bullying is the most terrifying act of all.
Directed by Eskil Vogt; Norway
Creepy kids with supernatural powers are one of the horror genre’s most reliable tropes and it’s an idea that can be taken in so many different directions. Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents, a Norwegian film, follows a group of children who all begin to discover that they possess telekinetic powers. A film of this nature lives or dies on the success of its child actors and The Innocents assembles an exceptional cast where everyone, especially Rakel Lenora Fløttum’s performance as Ida, feels both realistic and complex. It’s simultaneously terrifying and heartbreaking every time that a relationship fractures between these confused children or the guardians who are responsible for them.
The Innocents treads through heavy territory that presents children as both monsters and victims. The film doesn’t shy away from graphic abuse and the stark, sterile way in which The Innocents progressively distances the audience from its characters is intentional and effective. Anyone who was severely disappointed in 2022’s Firestarter remake is likely to find some satisfaction and scares out of The Innocents’ and its superior supernatural storytelling. If nothing else, Vogt would have been a great choice to helm the upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s The Institute.
Directed by Jean Luc Herbulot; Senegal, France
A co-production between Senegal and France, Saloum is a fascinating examination of the corruptive nature of revenge and how crime and greed can completely drain away innocence and humanity. Saloum begins as a taught crime thriller where a group of mercenaries from Dakar, Senegal are trusted to extract a Mexican drug lord back home, only for complications to ground their plane. The Bangui’s Hyenas mercenaries hide their stolen cartel bounty and attempt to repair their plane while they keep a low profile in the holiday camp of Sine-Saloum. A dark secret from one of these mercenaries’ past casts their rest stop in a dangerous new light and it’s not long until supernatural threats become more of a concern than a working plane.
Saloum is a tight ride that clocks in at under 90 minutes and there’s not a second that’s wasted. Saloum cleverly leans into western staples and thriller tropes before it descends into full-on horror. It’s a contemplative horror film that pushes the audience to think and question the ways of the world just as much as it delights in visceral fears. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn routinely gets singled out for how it naturally transforms from a crime caper into a horror film, but Saloum handles this genre metamorphosis more naturally and sets a new standard in the area.
Directed by Lorcan Finnegan; Ireland, Philippines
Lorcan Finnegan is an Irish filmmaker who’s responsible for movies like Without Name and Vivarium, but 2022’s Nocebo is a unique collaboration between Ireland and the Philippines that pulls from real-life tragedies to craft a powerful story that’s an effective indictment of token mysticism and unfounded fears of “the other.” Eva Green stars as Christine, a self-interested fashion designer, who turns to the help of a mysterious Filipino caregiver, Diana (Chai Fonacier), after she begins to feel ill and erratically acts out.
A thrilling power struggle and role reversal between Christine and Diana plays out, which reveals a haunting history between these two. Surreal visuals compliment a challenging emotional backbone where both Green and Fonacier give nuanced performances. Lorcan Finnegan’s direction gives Nocebo much of its strength, but a careful, intentional script from Garret Shanley and Ara Chawdhury might be the psychological horror film’s secret weapon.
Speak No Evil
Directed by Christian Tafdrup; Denmark, Netherlands
Speak No Evil is an extended exercise in etiquette that’s the closest that any of these movies get to feeling like an I Think You Should Leave sketch. Manners and a reliable internal compass are vital tools and it’s remarkable how many horror movies could be completely avoided if a character just spoke their mind and didn’t get so concerned over manners. A Danish couple befriends a Dutch duo while on vacation and their electric time together results in an innocent invite to stay with them for a weekend.
Out of their element and unsure of any ulterior motives, the Danish couple grow increasingly concerned over their hosts’ behavior and evaporating kindness. This claustrophobic character study eerily examines the nature of evil and the chilling realization that there doesn’t always need to be a reason for wickedness. Speak No Evil feels like the twisted Danish cousin to Barbarian and every tense moment of silence feels like it could evolve into a totally different type of horror.
Directed by Kevin Ko; Taiwan
Kevin Ko’s Incantation from Taiwan is one of the best international horror acquisitions from Netflix this year. Presented as a found footage film that tries to get to the bottom of an evil curse, Incantation plays with non-linear storytelling and a circuitous structure that maximizes fears and anxiety. Li Ronan worries that a curse has been transferred to her daughter, Dodo, and has become even stronger in the process.
Streaming audiences have certainly had their fill of found-footage films that trade in curses and possessions, but Incantation breaks from the herd and proves that there’s still new things to do with these genre staples. Incantation ramps up to some big swings and a thrilling finale, all of which hit harder when they’re complete surprises. Much like the curse that torments Li Ronan and Dodo, Incantation is at its strongest when its wicked whims take over and the audience is helpless to what’s next.
You Won’t Be Alone
Directed by Goran Stolevski; Australia, Serbia, United Kingdom
You Won’t Be Alone is Australian director Goran Stolevski’s feature film debut and it’s such a powerful burst of passion from someone who truly has something different to say in horror. You Won’t Be Alone can be distilled down to a period piece about a witch, but it’s so unlike any other horror movie about wiccan threats. An emotional and curious story about a young witch’s fascination with a seemingly normal life as a human results in a compelling case of how “the grass is always greener.” This powerful spellcaster takes on the form of one of her recent victims and attempts to masquerade as this lowly human. So many comparable horror movies examine the temptations that surround magic and the supernatural, yet You Won’t Be Alone takes the reverse approach that’s as emotionally resonant as it is grim.
There are definitely artistic flourishes throughout You Won’t Be Alone that may wear some audience’s patience and feel gratuitous, but these concessions are to be expected in a debut feature film. While not perfect or for everyone, You Won’t Be Alone is an impressive showcase of Stolevski’s confidence as a horror director and proof that he has original things to say in this well trodden space. You Won’t Be Alone leaves the viewer excited to see what comes next from this unique storyteller.
Decision To Leave
Directed by Park Chan-wook; South Korea
Park Chan-wook is one of this generation’s greatest visual storytellers and he’s a director who rarely misses despite the diverse nature of projects like his Vengeance Trilogy, Thirst, I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK, and The Handmaiden. Decision to Leave is some of Park’s best work and a satisfying return to form for anyone who’s yearned for a sophisticated detective story and murder mystery. Decision to Leave is far from a frightening experience and classifying it as a horror movie might even be a stretch. However, Decision to Leave is a technical masterpiece and it just wouldn’t seem right to leave it off a list of 2022’s best international genre offerings.
A detective gets wrapped up in a strange murder, only to develop a severe obsession and infatuation with the case’s main suspect. Decision to Leave is as much an unconventional love story as it is a foreboding psychological thriller. Decision to Leave tells this painful story of loneliness and connection in a manner that could only be accomplished by Park Chan-wook. It’s also one of the best examples of how to use iPhones and modern technology to help tell a story. A sumptuous delight of visuals with a gut punch ending, Decision to Leave is the type of movie that the viewer wants to watch again as soon as the credits roll. It’s already made the short list for 2022’s Oscars and it’s entirely possible that it becomes this year’s Parasite.
Note: 2022 also included the wide releases of The Sadness, Earwig, and After Blue (Dirty Paradise), all of which were featured on last year’s highlight of the best international horror.