Horror continues to dominate both the box office and the conversation, and genre films are once again at the forefront of social change.
2022 was a killer year for horror — from the return of genre classics, such as the new Scream movie and the long-anticipated end to Blumhouse’s Halloween trilogy, to Ti West releasing two knockout films back-t0-back, to the success of horror hits like Smile and Nope, to the surprise juggernaut that was the ultra-gory midnight movie sequel Terrifier 2.
This year of fear can also be credited with a rich contribution from the transgender community, from pensive coming-of-age pieces to horror comedies. With all these wonderfully diverse and entertaining films now available to stream, it’s a great time to add one or more of these gems to your next movie night.
1. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (HBO Max)
While it enjoyed a successful festival run in 2021, most horror fans had to wait until 2022 to see We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, when it finally hit streaming platforms.
The film follows a lonely teenager named Casey (Anna Cobb), who participates in “The World Fair Challenge” — a riff on digital urban legends. The challenge is supposed to change her in some unknown, substantial way. Thus, the film chronicles these changes (real or imagined) along with Casey’s increasingly worrying relationship with a new online friend.
Screen capture/found footage horror has become a stellar experimental medium for low-budget horror, and it’s used exceedingly well in this case. However, while films like Unfriended and Host use technology for jumpscares and immersive viewing, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair takes a very different approach. Instead of purely a vehicle for terror, the technology of recording, releasing, and watching footage on the Internet becomes a theme and terrifying force unto itself.
There aren’t any digital ghosts in this one; the chilling terror of the film comes from the melancholic and haunting solitude of being a teenager on the Internet.
Inspired by the real-life experiences of the director Jane Schoenbrun, the film captures with disturbing realism how young people can easily be consumed by their online lives. Yet, it masterfully avoids moralizing and creating a condescending “kids these days” narrative.
That being said, it is not a movie for everyone. It is pretty bleak in execution, and, like many found footage movies, it can seem like nothing much happens in it. It is more of a meditative experience than a straight-up standard horror movie.
But if you are ready for it to take you on its unique ride, you will not regret visiting the World’s Fair.
2. Hellraiser 2022 (Hulu)
The bad movies in the Hellraiser franchise far outnumber the good ones, so it is a welcome surprise to see that this year’s offering belongs squarely in the good camp.
This reboot/adaptation of the franchise smartly steps away from the continuity and sexual themes of the original to create a very different monster, borrowing fistfuls of lore and visual language from the source material and bringing it all to a new level.
Revolving around Riley (Odessa A’zion), an addict who struggles to keep her life together when she comes into possession of a certain familiar puzzle box, the film uses the vehicle of the Cenobites’ and Leviathan’s Hell to tell the story of addiction and loss.
The Cenobites are still tricksters and delightfully cruel. Their design is something truly hellish. In 2022, we were no longer impressed or shocked by leather gear and piercings, so the cenobites’ design is far more focused on body mutilation. The special effects makeup department did a hell of a job bringing to life the genuinely horrifying ways a human body can be opened up, transformed, and mutilated — all while retaining horrifying beauty.
Led by Jamie Clayton’s Pinhead (with gorgeous pearl-ended pins all over), the Cenobites are such magnificent sights to be shown.
3. Bodies Bodies Bodies (Amazon Prime/Apple TV)
During a hurricane party in a lavish mansion, a group of early-twenties friends ends up playing the titular murder mystery game in the dark game, only to end up with very real corpses piling up and tensions rising.
With sharp dialogue and intense pacing, Bodies Bodies Bodies has been praised as an insightful satire that critiques class, addiction to technology, and the Gen Z kids who can’t live without their cellphones.
The quippy writing would be nothing without some great performances. While the central character heading for her final girl status is Amandla Stenberg’s Sophie, the zany character of the film which most perfectly encapsulates the film’s wit and resonance is Rachel Sennott’s Alice. Snappy and annoying, she is the perfect synecdoche for the film’s satire.
While it does feel at times that Bodies Bodies Bodies is playing judge to those damn kids with their damn cell phones, the film does offer pleasant pokes at privileged people who yearn to compete in oppression Olympics as soon as it is convenient to do so.
The movie offers audiences one of those great viewing experiences: observing how a group falls apart under pressure.
Witty and humorous, it’s more Clue than And Then There Were None — but look for plenty of nods to both those sources of inspiration.
4. Wendell & Wild (Netflix)
One of the most welcome surprises of 2022 was Netflix’s stop-motion animation offerings, from the excellent Pinocchio to the close competitor Wendell & Wild.
The first mainstream stop-motion work to focus on a black character follows Kat (Lyric Ross), a rebellious teenager who lost her parents in childhood. She makes friends and frenemies when she ends up in a resocialization program. Ultimately, she ends up in a contract with the titular demon brothers Wendell and Wild (Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele) to bring her parents back from the dead.
But hellish conflicts are not the only trouble Kat must deal with, as she and her new friend Raul end up mixed up with a scheme to build a private prison.
While the film sometimes struggles with an overabundance of characters and the marrying of two plots, it is an impressive feat of animation and storytelling that perfectly shows that complex social and political issues have a place in stories for children. Its animation is gorgeous and creative — a given with Henry Selick responsible for Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline behind the helm.
There’s also a bitchin’ soundtrack of Black rock and punk that makes a great treat for fans of animated horror.
While the film’s primary focus is on Kat and her trauma of growing up a black orphan within a foster system, the film does not shy away from complicating other characters. Kat’s first friend in the program is Raul, a transgender student passionate about art. Raul is an excellent example of representation, with his identity never tokenized and feeling genuinely organic in the story.
This added diversity is just one more element that enriches the enchanting world of Wendell & Wild.
5. They/Them (Peacock)
They/Them is certainly divisive, but most would agree that it is not a great movie. So why is it on this list? Despite its flaws, it’s great to see the genre embracing diversity in such a big way and at least attempting to engage in a meaningful conversation. In my book, a swing-and-a-miss is better than refusing to pick up the bat.
Set at a teenage gay conversion camp, They/Them film follows a group of queer teenagers dealing with the very real terrors of conversion therapy. At the same time, a slasher is on the prowl in the camp.
The film attempts to be two very different beasts simultaneously — a classical slasher and a gritty psychological thriller. Unfortunately, that combination’s result is rather disappointing. Still, it does try, and you could argue it gets brownie points for that.
The slasher narrative is underdeveloped and easy to forget half of the time without a real sense of danger coming for the main characters. If the film would commit a bit more to it, it could become a sort of revenge narrative, with the queer teens eventually standing up for themselves against the counselors. As it is, the slasher elements fall flat and bland.
The parts when the film portrays the panoptical and authoritarian atmosphere of a conversion camp are rather well executed, with an uncomfortable feel akin to a cult movie. Sadly, it cannot successfully marry its thrillerness with its slasher finale and lukewarm conclusion.
For a cis/hetero viewer, there may be value in educating yourself about the horrors of a conversion camp (though you’re probably better off watching a documentary or reading actual accounts of those places).
They/Them isn’t a home run, but it’s not a bad choice to put on with a bunch of queer friends. There’s fun to be had if you keep your expectations low. Better yet, it may be a great way to jumpstart a discussion about the merits of this type of representation. At a minimum, supporting these kinds of films helps ensure we get more exciting and diverse stories.
Bonus: Chucky Season 2 (Amazon Prime)
While the first season of Chucky was very much an experiment, with the camp and brutality being a bit toned down (at least at first), season two pulls no punches.
Going into meta territory and bloody vulgar humor, this season was a beauty to behold. Among the style and murder, Lachlan Watson shines in a double role as the Glen and Glenda twins. They drive a pink car with pronouns for their registration number and savvy to boot.
They provide a fresh addition to the series and to the canon of trans characters with a killer sense of fashion.