2022 has been a gift on the international horror front. It’s not to say that international horror is innately better, though it is a profound opportunity to experience culturally distinct scares, to break free from the homogenized genre framework of the west, and experience the deep roots of fear beyond our borders. Transnational horror writ large explores the cultural and economic constraints on the globalization of film. It enriches the genre. It expands it. Transnational horror foundationally serves to better augment the entirety of the genre, making horror what horror is.
While 2022 has been a stellar year, these ten are the best international horror films to have come out. There are a few caveats before I dive in. Principally, every title listed here is currently or soon to be available for viewing. That is to say, there are no festival releases here. Additionally, narrowing down to ten meant some noteworthy titles didn’t quite make the cut, though the likes of both The Long Walk and You Won’t Be Alone are especially worth a watch. More than honorable mentions, they’re premier examples of the genre in different forms and absolutely merit consideration. Now, let’s begin.
10. The Sadness
Rob Jabbaz’s directorial debut is no less an achievement than Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s Inside. This is a brutal, uncompromising first feature. A Taiwanese couple attempts to reconnect as the world around them collapses amidst a pandemic that is targeting peoples’ limbic systems, rendering them uncontrollably violent. The Sadness won’t work for everyone, and at times, it could be argued Jabbaz takes the depravity just a smidge too far (a particular scene involving an eye socket comes to mind). Still, as a capsule of repressed pandemic rage, The Sadness more effectively than most conceptualizes just how infuriating these past several years have been. It doesn’t quite reinvent the zombie subgenre (which, truth be told, is the subgenre it most accurately occupies), but what’s here is gnarly and terrifying enough to stand out.
Carlota Pereda’s Piggy is one of the most accomplished, self-assured international horror premieres of the year. In this Spanish-language horror flick, Laura Galán’s Sara—an overweight, bullied young woman—grapples with the moral dilemma of all moral dilemmas. After her bullies are brutalized and kidnapped by a mysterious stranger, she’s left with deciding whether to let vengeance take hold or assist the authorities in finding them. Our own Josh Korngut put it best when he said, “It’s raw, fresh, and dripping with bright hot red potential.” Not only is Piggy thrilling, but it’s an urgent and necessary step forward for representation on-screen. Piggy is the best of what horror has historically been and what the future of horror could be. Plus, it’s damn near suffocatingly tense.
Hanna Bergholm’s Sundance darling Hatching has some of the best creature effects the genre has seen this year. In this Finnish-language affair, 12-year-old Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) is living under the oppressive rule of her influencer mother. Bergholm adroitly conceptualizes yuppie neglect, empathetically outlining how, despite their wealth and privilege, Tinja still lives without the requisite maternal attachment young girls need to thrive and develop. After she discovers an egg in the woods and takes it home, it hatches into a lithe, skeletal bird creature, one Tinja nurtures and cares for. The bird simply looks remarkable, and that’s before it starts acting as a conduit for Tinja’s burgeoning violent desires. Hatching is a violent, heartrending fable, one of this year’s very best.
Shinzô Katayama’s Missing is one of the year’s most dour watches. This is nihilistic cinema at its best, a movie less concerned with offering insight than it is reminding audiences of just how cruel and arbitrary the world really is. Ostensibly the story of Kaeda’s (Aoi Ito) search for her errant father, Missing soon unravels into several distinct timelines, all of which inform the others. It’s a dense, demanding watch, one abounding with so much grim inhumanity, it can be difficult to fully stomach. Yet, as it all comes together, Katayama’s medley of poverty, serial killing, and the lengths people will travel to protect themselves resonates with stony terror. It’s one of the best Japanese serial killer stories since Cure.
6. The Innocents
Audiences might be inclined to flip off The Innocents after a particular early movie death. It’s outrageously cruel, filmed so matter-of-factly, it lingers throughout the entirety of Eskil Vogt Norwegian shocker. Sort of like The Florida Project meets Carrie, The Innocents follows a group of children with burgeoning telekinetic powers. The child actors are uniformly excellent, trading in both curiosity, sympathy, and malice as they test the lengths of the powers. As The Innocents unfurls, these powers manifest in more violent ways, a sort of playground battle of both wills and brawn as they turn on each other and the adults around them. It’s so detached and cold, it feels like something audiences shouldn’t be seeing, but Vogt’s artistry and commitment to his core ideals render it one of the scariest movies about evil children ever made.
5. Speak No Evil
Politeness can kill. Politeness theory is tied up in Goffman’s idea of face, namely the process of both avoiding face threats and restoring face once it’s been compromised. In effect, people are often polite to their own detriment, even if that detriment means spending too long with a dangerous couple you met on vacation. Christian Tafdrup’s Speak No Evil is the international horror answer to The Strangers. This reverse-engineered Dutch home invasion thriller at first plays as a comedy of yuppie errors. The audience delights in seeing the central couple back themselves into a corner, prioritizing being polite over their own well-being. Those early moments were (deliberately) to incite awkward laughter, though the capstone is anything but.
Speak No Evil might have something to say about a cultural need to be liked at one’s own expense. It might. Truthfully, though, its strongest contention is that, sometimes, the world is inexplicably cruel. There is no answer. There is no reason. Bad things simply happen, and when they do, they’re horrifying.
4. Satan’s Slaves 2
Joko Anwar’s Satan’s Slaves was one of 2017’s strongest international horror releases. In fact, it’s one of the century’s best. It was Indonesia’s answer to The Conjuring, a movie that at times exceeds even the inimitable James Wan’s framework, delivering so many effective scares within its truncated runtime, it’s simply miraculous to behold. Anwar’s follow-up loses some of the rural intimacy of the first, opting for a larger scale that, while impressive, jeopardizes some of the first’s frightening immediacy. Even still, it remains a wickedly effective merging of cult horror and supernatural shenanigans. It’s scary, tender, and has some of the best horror iconography I’ve seen this year. That early act elevator scene alone… absolute chills. Anwar is one of the strongest horror directors working today, and naysayers need look no closer than Satan’s Slaves 2.
3. Virus: 32
Gustavo Hernández’s Virus: 32 is the best Resident Evil movie ever. Sure, this claustrophobic Uruguayan zombie thriller isn’t actually attached to the Resident Evil series at all. But in its 90-minute run, it better conceptualizes the distinct thrills and spectacle of survival horror than anything actually bearing the Resident Evil moniker. Paula Silva’s Iris is tasked with taking her daughter, Tata (Pilar Garcia) to work at the recreation center where she works security. It’s a remarkable setting, one that gives Hernández plenty to work with once the zombie outbreak begins.
The core conceit of the infected needing 32 seconds to recover after attacks is never exploited as much as the title suggests. But it matters for naught when the rest of the movie is so effective at subverting expectations and delivering one of the best zombie movies in years. A second-act scene of Iris creeping through a locker room lasts close to ten minutes, and with no embellishment, it’s one of the tensest scenes in horror I’ve ever seen.
2. Decision to Leave
Genre is amorphous. Even titles that don’t strictly qualify as horror deserve mention among the clearer, more conspicuous genre fare. In a “Best Of” list, then, I would be remiss not to mention Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave. Like his past filmography—and truthfully, so much South Korean genre cinema—Decision to Leave is a lot of things at once. It’s a murder mystery, a love story, a parable about depression and obsession. It’s also gut-bustlingly funny and existentially sad, sometimes within the same beat. While it’s par for the course with Park Chan-wook, though the real exceptional standout is Tang Wei. As Song Seo-rae, the woman suspected of murdering her husband, she lingers more effectively than any ghost. It’s one of the year’s best performances, and her performance will haunt audiences for years.
I genuinely believe Incantation is poised to radically metamorphize what audiences think of when they hear “streaming horror.” While it got a theatrical release in its native Taiwan, it hit Netflix stateside, and though I never thought I’d say the words, it seems tailor-made for streaming, not theatrical. Li Ronan (Tsai Hsuan-yen a) narrates a collection of found footage, some in the past, some contemporary, as she endeavors to lift a curse her daughter Dodo (Huang Sin-ting) has inherited for her. I won’t spoil the many surprises, but like last year’s The Medium, it’s a movie that rewards patience, one whose scares are both effective in the moment and poised to linger for days afterward. Shocking, heartbreaking, and remarkably confident, international horror didn’t get any better than Incantation this year. Now, if Netflix would only recognize that and consider marketing it.