In horror, 2022 was one long Season of the Witch… with a wide variety of wise women, variously wicked, manifesting across multiple sub-genres. Kate Dolan’s You Are Not My Mother, Lynne Davison’s Mandrake and – perhaps unsurprisingly – Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin all feature Irish witches, who may just be neglected, shunned, troubled older women but still display a fine streak of dangerous malice.
Against competition from the returnees in the limp, late comedy sequel Hocus Pocus 2 and Elizabeth Olsen’s long-in-the-works transformation from superheroine Wanda Maximoff to Scarlet Witch in Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Sheila Flitton’s Mrs McCormick – who only has to stagger along a lonely road to make people hide behind walls to avoid her prophecies of doom – from Banshees stands and spellcasts as nastiest witch of the year. Flitton is also in Robert Eggers’ The Northman, which casts Eggers’ former ‘vvitch’ Anya Taylor-Joy as another supernaturally-empowered woman.
Other witches of the year – the volkojatka (‘wolf eateress’) of Goran Stolevski’s You Won’t Be Alone, who experiments with human identities… the baby-eating, evil-eye-casting, screeching-from-the-shadows menaces of Pierre Tsigaridis’ Two Witches… the vengeful Filipina nanny (Chai Fonacier) visiting wrath on culpable fashionista Eva Green in Lorcan Finnegan’s Nocebo… the village high priestess (Kate Dickie) out to take the life of her daughter in Ben Steiner’s Matriarch… the patient descendants of dispossessed women who reclaim an ancestral farm from the last of their persecutors in Elise Finnerty’s The Ones You Didn’t Burn… the Erinyes who manifest to harry a misogynist serial killer in Travis Stevens’ A Wounded Fawn… the ancestral spectre arising from ashes in an urn to possess or warp off-the-grid Sandra Oh in Iris K. Shim’s Umma… the monster superheroines of Park Hoon-jung’s The Witch Part 2 – The Other One. Even Pearl (Mia Goth), backwoodswoman who murders the makers of a 1970s porno film shot on her property in Ti West’s X, is a witch of sorts. Like the witches of You Are Not My Mother, Umma and Matriarch, Pearl is set against a younger version of herself (not a daughter, but another woman played by Goth). This theme even carries through to Marvel, where the Scarlet Witch isn’t defeated by Dr Strange but a multiversal doppelganger who hasn’t ruined her own life.
Mainstream franchise horror hasn’t exactly had a glowing year with add-ons to franchises ranging from the smart Scream and Prey to dispiriting dog-ends like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Firestarter, Halloween Ends and Hellraiser, plus the who-asked-for-them? likes of Jeepers Creepers Reborn and Rob Zombie’s The Munsters. The brightest spark in the franchise field is William Brent Bell’s Orphan First Kill, a prequel to the 2009 Orphan which pulls off a coup by recasting Isabelle Fuhrman – using CGI, doubling and some clever camera angles – as Esther, a thirty-year-old serial killer with an arrested growth condition that allows her to pass as a child. Not content to tell the same joke again, Orphan First Kill cannily withholds its twists then delivers an unexpected, subversive sequel which could easily cement Esther as a franchise fiend in an era when the likes of the Chainsaw family, the Hellraiser Cenobites and Michaal Myers all seem diminished by each revival.
The most of-the-moment horror of the year is Halina Reijn’s scurrilous Bodies Bodies Bodies, a one-stormy-night-in-an-old-dark-house slasher charade for the TikTok/podcast generation, presenting contemporary icons of entertaining awfulness and visiting doom upon them. In many films, podcasters/vloggers/Youtubers/influencers/Airbnb renters come to grief in the way that archaeologists used to in mummy movies – witness the gruesome, satirical excesses of Dashcam, Sissy, Deadstream, Mean Spirited, Follow Her, Barbarian, etc. A rare horror film taking all this internet paranoia stuff seriously is Jane Schoenbrun’s found footage – more accurately, computer desktop – item we’re all going to the world’s fair, which follows a shut-in teen (Anna Cobb) pursuing an internet meme to transcendence and perhaps doom. Shut-ins also feature, for obvious reasons, in many films conceived, shot or set during the pandemic – most notably Andy Mitton’s terror-by-plague doctor piece The Harbinger, which addresses the comparatively recent fear of being so isolated from society that one ends up subtracted from reality.
Failed vampire superhero Morbius led a bat pack of bloodsuckers (The Invitation, House of Darkness, Night Shift) of which Noah Segan’s low-key father-daughter road movie Blood Relatives is the most interesting. Bones and All and Fresh cover flesh-eating, while The Menu doesn’t take that obvious route even as it satirises epicurean greed; and Men delivers a yes-all-men take on sex wars (a #MeToo element features also in Barbarian and House of Darkness, typecasting Justin Long as Mr Toxic Male 2022). Otherwise, modest yet genuine chills are delivered by Slash/Back, Smile, The Black Phone and Troll – and the year’s most terrifying slow burn came in the holiday nightmare Speak No Evil.
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