D-Rock's Top 23 Horror Movies of 2023
As amazing a year as 2022 was for horror movies, 2023 might have been even better--or at least on the same level. So let's ring in the new years by celebrating some of the best horror movies of the year...
dir. Michael Chaves
I don't know how they did it but this movie rocks even fucking harder than the first one. Great story, amazing gothic vibes, a perfect score, some clever and creative scares and situations setting up scares, the magazine scene is DOPE, and the creature design and effects are, as always, top notch. And yet what carries this movie more than anything are the characters and their relationships. Taissa Farmiga and Jonas Bloquet absolutely shine once again and more than anything this movie works because of their work not only in this movie but in the first one, making us care about the characters and their relationships to each other as well as to other characters. I also really love the theme of faith and belief making manifest the things we believe as that is a big part of my own personal theology. My only real complaint is them going out of their way to say Saint Lucy was "killed by PAGANS" and never does anything to address the colonialized and genocidal way pagans are spoken of in the bible but even that can't stop me from giving this 5 stars.
dir. Lee Cronin
Had the pleasure of seeing this one in theaters and it was such a bloody good time. Hit all the notes that any great Evil Dead movie should with some delicious gore, rivers of blood, and one of the most cartoonishly disgusting moments in any Evil Dead movie. Plus at least one character who is implicitly canonically trans (Danny, who is played by real life trans man Morgan Davies) and another pretty heavily coded as queer and/or genderqueer.
dir. Gerard Johnstone
Pure, delicious campy fun. And also a pretty scathing commentary on the age of AI and the problems of letting devices raise our children. My favorite part of all of this might have been the Robocop homage in that final battle.
dir. Brian Duffield
I had so much fun with this! A distinctly classic alien invasion movie with a ton of modern style and flair. This almost felt like a modern extended episode of The Twilight Zone or The X-Files. And when that ending hits and it becomes about forgiving yourself and understanding those who are different from you and learning to coexist...chef kiss...
dir. Jon Wright
I liked this well enough for the first 2/3 and then at the end of act two and into act three this thing just spins out of control in the best way possible. It was like modern classical music just relentless beautiful chaos, I was absolutely enthralled. Bravo.
dir. Young Min Kim
Beautifully expressionistic film about family trauma, mental health, and grief. For such a short movie I love the way it really takes its time with its characters. Horror purists might not appreciate it but I love how the horror is used as a means rather than the ends to tell a dark, depressing story full of heart and humanity.
dir. Kenneth Brannagh
(United Kingdom, US)
Man, Kenneth Branagh sure directed the hell out of this one. Incredible production design (and beautiful use of the stunning location of Venice), delicious cinematography and editing, dripping with lush gothic vibes, and Kenneth Branagh FEASTS.
dir. Chris McKay
If you didn't have the time of your life watching this movie there's really nothing I can do for you. Truly the role Nicolas Cage was born to play and he absolutely crushes it. Nicholas Hoult is great too but my other low key favorite part of this movie is Ben Schwartz, who is always undeniably entertaining and who never once appeared in any of the trailers I saw--which also failed at marketing this as what it actually was: a direct sequel to Dracula (1931). Those opening shots from Tod Browning's classic film totally popped me.
dir. Robbie Banfitch
This one really didn't land for me the first time but I rewatched it because I had a hunch that a second pass would dramatically improve my opinion and it certainly did. Part of me still feels like the extreme lack of visibility makes the audience spend a little too much time deciphering and making sense of what they're seeing rather than being scared by it but the second time around, understanding what I was getting into, I was really able to appreciate the intended effect created by that confusion, especially in such a twisted, violent vision of cosmic horror. In fact, I think the realization that this is a cosmic horror film is what made it click for me--otherwise it kinda seems like aimless nonsense. It's definitely the scariest cosmic horror film I've seen and one of the scariest found footage movies--two of my favorite genres. It's such a big swing and the chaos it creates is so mesmerizing that I just had to let go of my need to understand anything that was going on and surrender to the reality-annihilating journey I was being taken on as time and space shattered all around me.
dir. Joe Lynch
A deliciously stylish, vibe-drenched, Lovecraftian homage to the erotic thrillers of the 90s with two stunning performances by Heather Graham and Judah Lewis.
dir. Tyler MacIntyre
I love this movie so much I don't fucking care. Not without its flaws but I don't give one single fuck about any of them because this movie is oozing with charm and sweetness and love. Michael Kennedy's script shines with a great story and characterizations and some truly delightful humor--also a lot of credit goes to a terrific cast--and just really smart when it needs to be and deliciously dumb when it's called for, plus so many loving little homages to the many influences the film draws from. Definitely a new Christmas classic for me.
dir. Anna Zlokovic
Hulu said "let's make an elevated Troma film" and they fucking nailed it. Delectable changeling horror with some great performances, creepy creatures, and great atmosphere.
dir. Lukas Rinker
How the fuck was this movie this good? It's tight and suspenseful, it's absurd (even delving into expressionism at times), it's disgusting and ridiculous yet very grounded in reality, it's funny as hell and chock full of stupid "shit" puns. And still maybe the best part of all of this are all the times Frank attempts to solve his predicament using ARCHITECT POWER!!! This is everything you could ever possibly want it to be and more!
dir. Andrew Bowser
I know cinema is subjective and everything but I am convinced that people who hate this movie are violently allergic to fun. Unfunny? Fuck me sideways I laughed my ass off at this. The commitment to these deliciously caricaturesque cartoon characters and the nonsensically whimsical story is an absolute joy to watch and the production design and creature effects are incredible. The people making this movie clearly had the time of their lives making this and it eludes me that anyone could not have the time of their life watching it as well but I was completely swept off my feet by its oodles of charm and earnestness. Their loss, I suppose. And my gain!
Also I understand a lot of people can't stand Onyx and I have...feelings about that, not just because I think he's an absolute delight but also his character reads as pretty clearly neurodivergent to me. In fact, I think the flashback with his dad sort of low key confirms that he's like this because that moment kinda broke his brain a little bit. Right down to the explanation of the "I dunno" tic which is amazing and heartbreaking.
dir. Danny & Michael Phillipou
(Australia, United Kingdom)
A simple concept used with ruthless inventiveness and brutality to chilling effect. Ghastly creature design and makeup effects, rich characters brought to life with fantastic performances, gorgeous cinematography, some of the most original scares I've seen in a while, all in service of a delicately woven tapestry of story and themes that come together beautifully in a breathtaking ending that's sure to leave you thinking and talking about it long after the credits roll.
dir. Michelle Garza Cervera
Very strong, beautiful slow horror film about deep anxieties about motherhood and the importance of choosing yourself and being true to yourself. My only complaint is the lack of explanation of the supernatural elements of the film and their motivations but otherwise excellent all around.
dir. Brandon Cronenberg
(Canada, France, Hungary, US)
Starts as sort of a utilitarian philosophical meditation and metamorphoses into a psychedelic, psychosexual exploration of becoming intoxicated on power until it turns you into an animalistic barbarian whose only concern is the constant gratuitous satiation of your every whim and desire, a sociopath who fancies yourself a living god and acts accordingly until you wake up one day and realize you don't know who you are anymore except that you're not you.
dir. Kyle Edward Ball
Ah, Skinamarink. The most divisive horror movie of 2023. Sorry haters, I love this movie. A lot of people have talked about the cinematography emphasizing liminal spaces, with good reason, but for me, thematically, the cinematography is more about putting you in the perspective of a child where you only understand a small fraction of whatever is happening to you at any given moment. So the movie is giving you as little of what is happening with as much distance between the viewer and the film as possible and I think it's incredibly effective and I love the vibe and the weirdness of this. If nothing else, everyone should be celebrating that such a big risky swing of a movie made such a splash.
dir. John Adams, Zelda Adams, & Toby Poser
This was a strange experience. This was probably my most anticipated movie of 2023 but this was not at all what I was expecting and I was having a hard time sinking into it so about 50 minutes into it I started over. Rewatching the first 50 minutes, going into it knowing that this was far more experimental than what I was expecting, I was able to sink in much easier. I could see how some of the seemingly disjointed or incoherent elements eventually started to come together. There's some stuff that probably could have stayed on the cutting room floor but even its inclusion adds to this overall feeling the movie slowly cultivates in numerous different ways that everything seems a little off. For a while there isn't much of a linear narrative to speak of but the naturalistic, seemingly aimless storytelling further adds to this very strange vibe. And just when you're wondering what the point of all this is, all the seemingly disjointed elements come together gloriously and build to a beautifully grotesque and starkly chilling finale. For all its imperfections, I came away absolutely loving this weirdly ambitious, stylistically rigorous, experimental art house schlock--and eager to watch it another 15 times just like I have with Hellbender.
dir. Mark Jenkin
2023 may very well go down as one of the best years ever for experimental horror. I can't think of another year with as many great experimental horror movies that made as much of a splash as they did and this might be my favorite of the bunch (depending on whether I'm including Beau is Afraid which feels like it should be in a whole other category and is definitely a totally different kind of experimental horror than Skinamarink, The Outwaters, or Enys Men). Equal parts Skinamarink, The Lighthouse, and Jeanne Dielman, this mindbender hypnotizes with monotony and ever so slowly builds the tension to a reality-splitting fever pitch of time loops and warps, giving you no easy answers but instead invoking a primordial sense of existential dread as well as the visual and audio qualities of 1970s weird folk horror.
dir. Demián Rugna
What an uncompromising vision of evil from one of the most visionary directors in horror! It's actually weirdly old school in its simplicity--the evil is never explained AT ALL, except that it's an omnipresent force that manifests our deepest fears by invading everything and everyone and showing no mercy. So many indelible nightmare fuel images that will be burned into your memory. Also I have to say I love Rugna for subverting two of my least favorite horror tropes in the best ways possible: 1. instead of the Evil killing a beloved, adorable pet, the evil uses the pet for one of the most gruesome, upsetting kills of the film; 2. instead of the horribly ableist trope of a disabled person's disability being caused by the Evil, the Evil actually makes Jair appear to be "healed" (i.e. makes him verbal) when it possesses him.
dir. Laura Moss
DAMN I loved this supremely fucked up morality fable. Mary Shelley would be proud. Marin Ireland and Judy Reyes are incredible, the story is simple and phenomenal, piling problems and obstacles that build a rising anxiety of ethical bankruptcy, the moments of horror (especially body horror) are deeply disturbing...
...but all of that pales in comparison to that moment when you realize that Rose has created a monster...and it's not Lila.
dir. Ari Aster
If there was any doubt after Hereditary and Midsommar that Ari Aster is a fucking visionary, I'd say we can pretty well put that to rest. An expressionist dystopian fever dream meditation on mother-child relationships. In a weird way this feels like Ari Aster's "Songs From the Second Floor"--a twisted, disturbing comedy that no one else thinks is funny (figuratively speaking, of course, some of this movie is fucking hilarious). In any case, Ari really poured every ounce of juice he had into this one. I didn't think I would ever call a movie "relentlessly visionary" but here we are. Another staggering achievement by one of the pillars of contemporary American horror.
Honorable Mentions: Totally Killer (dir. Nahnatchka Khan), Blood Flower (dir. Dain Said), Bayi Ajaib (dir. Rako Prijanto), Kids vs. Aliens (dir. Jason Eisener), The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster (dir. Bomani J. Story), Night of the Hunted (dir. Franck Khalfoun), Horror in the High Desert 2: Minerva (dir. Dutch Marich), Visitors (dir. Ken'ichi Ugana), Attachment (dir. Gabriel Bier Gislason), Subject (dir. Tristan Barr)