In print and visual media, this was a banner year for horror. These were my favorites.
5. Bones and All (d. Luca Guadagnino): A coming-of-age story, with cannibals. This may be too much of a slow burn for some and it's surprising less grisly than the synopsis suggest. Great performances by Timothee Chalamet and Taylor Russell, and Guadagnino's directorial eye is even better here than in his masterful Suspiria (2018).
4. The Black Phone (d. Scott Derrickson): Trapped in a killer's basement with the spirits of the dead, who speak through a disconnected phone. Based on Joe Hill's story. Derrickson knows how to build tension and dread, and perfectly places period details.
3. Brightwood (d. Dane Elcar): A couple traverses a trail surrounding a lake, and finds themselves incapable of escape. A powerfully crafted movie about how love turns to hate and, curiously, back again. Seen at Other Worlds Austin.
2. X/Pearl (d. Ti West): Mia Goth takes on the role of a woman trapped by her dreams in two outstanding movies, one an homage to 1970s exploitation, one a tour de force Technicolor character story. I probably prefer X for its visceral thrills, but Pearl is the better movie. See both.
1. Barbarian (d. Zach Cragger): I get why people dislike this movie. I do. But for me it was the most unpredictable picture of the year. I was sold based on the trailer, but it's so much more to the story than that. And it blends humor without overpowering it.
Others: Nope (d. Jordan Peele); Crimes of the Future (d. David Cronenberg); Resurrection (d. Andrew Semans).
Sorry, but I liked Alex Garland's Men.
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Derek Austin Johnson has lived most of his life in the Lone Star State. His work has appeared in The Horror Zine, Rayguns Over Texas!, Horror U.S.A.: Texas, Campfire Macabre, The Dread Machine, and Generation X-ed.
He lives in Central Texas.