Horror reigned supreme once again at the movies in 2023, with some amazing offerings from a variety of different cinematic voices making their way to theaters and streaming services throughout the year. Everything from new originals to franchise entries made their way into viewers' eyes and nightmares, with some filmmakers embracing the new while others paid homage to the old.
From a found-footage anthology to a new spin on the possession subgenre to a nearly silent film, here is our list of the horror movies this year that stood out the most.
‘Talk to Me’Australian YouTube sensations Danny and Michael Philippou made a striking debut with Talk to Me, a possession movie that injects fresh life into the tired subgenre. Featuring a creepy embalmed hand that lets a group of reckless teens connect with the dead, the movie depicts ghostly possession as a kind of party drug, which is just one of the inventive ways it plays with familiar horror tropes. Talk to Me is able to constantly surprise, making it all the more entertaining and genuinely frightening as well.
Gripping lead performances by Sophie Wilde and Joe Bird are standouts of the year, and not just in the horror genre. If you haven’t already subscribed to this cautionary horror tale, you might be a little late to the party - Talk to Me has become A24’s highest-grossing horror film and second highest-grossing film overall for the company. Let it in and you’ll likely have a hell of a time, and probably some memorable nightmares too.
‘Evil Dead Rise’
The pressure was on for this fifth entry in the beloved Evil Dead franchise, and somehow, writer and director Lee Cronin managed to deliver. Finally moving away from that bloodsoaked cabin in the woods, Cronin’s film follows a struggling family living high up in a Los Angeles apartment complex. Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) is a single mother to three kids, teenagers Danny (Morgan Davies) and Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and their younger sister Kassie (Nell Fisher).
On the same night that Ellie’s own sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) comes to visit, a certain evil book is uncovered, and unholy hell is quickly unleashed on the building. Evil Dead Rise doesn’t stray too far from the formula, ramping up the gory insanity as the film progresses and sparing no feelings in the process. It’s mean, it’s unhinged, and its finale will impress even the most hardened of horror veterans. Rise is the real deal, and definitely not for the squeamish.
‘No One Will Save You’
Look, aliens are scary. They just are. But they’re rarely as terrifying onscreen as they are in my nightmares. Thankfully, filmmaker Brian Duffield (Love and Monsters, Underwater) gets the best of both scary and fun in a film that mixes classic extraterrestrials and home invasion thrillers for a solidly original horror flick. Kaitlyn Dever stars as Brynn, a young woman who’s been outcast from her town and is left to fend for herself when her home is attacked by aliens.
With barely any spoken lines of dialogue, Dever commands the screen and sells the terror - and the action. No One Will Save You could just as easily work as a silent film and very nearly is, but of course, then we’d have missed out on the exceptional score from Joseph Trapanese. Duffield’s films are always made with an obvious love for playing with genre, and this latest just might be his best.
Kyle Edward Ball’s feature debut set the bar for horror very early on in 2023, dropping right off the bat in January. It’s hard to say if any other movie last year was any scarier. Skinamarink takes place over one endless and sleepless night in the home of two young children, four-year-old Kevin (Lucas Paul) and six-year-old Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault). While normally in the care of their father (Ross Paul), the siblings awaken at God-knows-what hour and discover he’s nowhere to be found. Neither are the windows or doors.
This movie taps into a primal fear of the dark and the unknown that’s only going to work if you let it, using a creepy, dread-inducing lo-fi aesthetic with chilling effectiveness. No other horror film since Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair has felt quite so modern in its approach despite Skinamarink’s throwback feel and setting. It’s a new age for scary movies, and it’s these kinds of filmmakers that are leading the charge.
‘Where the Devil Roams’
The Adams family have been quality standouts of the independent horror scene, proving the old mantra true that less can always certainly be more. 2022’s HELLBENDER was a highlight of the year, and the DIY auteur filmmakers have delivered once again with their latest. Opening with the steady rhythm of an offscreen stabbing, Where the Devil Roams has the blood and guts, sure, but most importantly it has the heart - figuratively and er, maybe literally, too.
Deep, gnarly bass guitar hums over eerie yet angelic vocals in this story about a desperate and murderous family of avant-garde carnies (Toby Poser, Zelda & John Adams) caught in the Great Depression. Filled with poetic passages and imbued with melancholic contemplation of what we leave behind, the film also contains gorgeous photography and always interesting imagery to back up its brooding thoughts.
If you give this particular group of scrappy filmmakers an unlimited budget and no restrictions to make whatever they want, would you get a masterpiece or would you lose almost everything that makes their art special? Thankfully, they already appear to be doing exactly what they want. And what they’re leaving behind this time around is their best - and most somber - work yet. “Devil took the best of me, took the best of him and left us with broken pieces of nothing.”
Scream writer and producer Kevin Williamson teams up with director John Hyams (2020’s Alone) for the defining slasher of the COVID era, Sick. While formulaic on the surface - a group of teens spending time alone at a lake house get picked off one by one by a masked maniac - Sick’s pandemic setting reveals itself to be more than just fun widow dressing. Williamson takes a surprisingly nuanced approach to the material that digs into the fears and anxieties of a time not very long ago, giving this slasher a bit more layers to its bloody murder spree.
But more than just having something to say, Sick is also exceptionally well-done. Clever blocking and camerawork conceal the killer as they move unnoticed in the background of shots, helping ramp up the vicious thrills that inevitably come. Wonderfully executed and energetic chase and action scenes will call to mind the most obvious inspirations like Scream, and with this film clocking in at only 83 minutes, it all flies by at an electrifying pace. Don’t sleep on this one.
Brandon Cronenberg followed up his disturbing 2020 breakout Possessor with the broodingly superior Infinity Pool, possibly the bleakest entry on this list despite tough competition. Stuck with a serious bout of writer’s block, novelist James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) takes himself and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) on a swanky tropical vacation. But when James becomes tangled in the devious web of another resort guest, Gabi (Mia Goth), he sinks in deep to the depraved culture she takes part in.
With a dread-inducing tone and an oppressive atmosphere, Infinity Pool dives into the broken psyche of a man who’s just about given up. Skarsgård and Goth are terrific in their opposite but equally as juicy roles of mutual self-destruction, and Cronenberg proves that while he may carry on his father’s tendency towards the taboo, his style and ideas are very much his own. And they’re dark as hell.
‘Beau is Afraid’
As the man behind Hereditary and Midsommar, two defining horror masterpieces of the modern era, there were obviously some expectations for the third feature from filmmaker Ari Aster. The hilarious and horrific Freudian odyssey of Beau is Afraid defies any kind of easy categorization. Part horror, part black comedy, part hero’s journey, and all mommy issues, Aster’s latest is a surreal nightmare come to life; the kind of movie where, whether you love it or hate it, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it. Like Toni Collette and Florence Pugh before him, Joaquin Phoenix delivers an immense central performance as Beau Wassermann, one of the saddest and most pathetic men you’ll likely ever see leading a major movie.
Beau is an aging loner living with little direction and constant paranoia in the big city. He is certainly afraid - of everything and everyone, at all times. For nearly three hours, we’re trapped in Beau’s mind right alongside him, and it’s a raging hornets’ nest of fear and insecurities. There’s nothing like this movie and its nightmarish depictions of guilt and shame, and there’s no better example on this list of a filmmaker really letting loose.
The V/H/S series has been a pretty consistent franchise when it comes to scary shorts, utilizing its anthology format to give viewers a wide variety of found-footage horror offerings with every new movie. The sixth installment, V/H/S/85, takes things back to the 80s and just may be the most well-rounded of the series thanks to exceptional segments from directors David Bruckner (The Night House, 2022’s Hellraiser), Natasha Kermani (Imitation Girl, Lucky), Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Black Phone), Gigi Saul Guerrero (Bingo Hell), and Mike P. Nelson (Wrong Turn).
From a terrifying shooting spree on a lake to shapeshifting monsters to devastating earthquakes, 85 has something for everyone. Both the frights and the fun are in abundant supply, delivered by a group of filmmakers with an obvious love for the genre and the scene they came up in.