Richie’s Top 10 Horror Movies of 2023
Written by Richie Corelli
There is an annual tradition on social media that dates back to the AOL days. In the final week of December, we reflect on the twelve months that came before. More often than not, we focus on the hardships of the past while looking forward to better times ahead. The general sentiment is this year was tough, but the next will be better. But then the future becomes past, and the cycle repeats itself.
There will always be bad times. The goal is to offset that sorrow with joy. My happy-place is in a movie theater, ghost-lit by a silver screen, or in front of a television, bundled in blankets, soaking in Shudder’s rays. I revel in these movies. I incessantly revisit the classics. When I’m depressed, I turn to horror. I love it when Bela Lugosi puts me under his spell, Robert Englund flaunts his charisma, or Patty Mullen chirps, “Wanna date?”
The old movies lift my spirits, but it’s the newer films that ignite the most discourse. And bonding with a friend over a horror film is my favorite way to escape the tribulations of life. It challenges me and triggers an analytical part of my brain while bringing me closer to my fellow cinephiles.
So, let’s nerd-out and talk about the horror movies of 2023! There were some disappointments, sure. But overall, I found plenty to appreciate. I devoured the feast Eli Roth served up for Thanksgiving. I was along for the ride when M3GAN took a trip deep into the uncanny valley. I found El Conde to be a delightfully weird history lesson. I was glad Influencer kept me off my phone for a bit. I showered in the dreariness of Where the Devil Roams. And I couldn't help but flash a wicked grin when the Evil Dead rose again. But while I thought those movies were certainly worth checking out, there were others I liked more.
My favorites ranged from understated art flicks to in-your-face monster movies. These are the films that made me cry, made me laugh, and made me think. These are the ten films that defined my year, the ten films of 2023…
|10) Attachment (Directed by Gabriel Bier Gislason)
Maja (Josephine Park) and Leah (Ellis Kendrick) meet-cute at a bookstore in Denmark and hit it off immediately, leading to a date. Their tea-party-turned-sleepover at Maja's apartment is filled with lighthearted charm. However, things take a turn after the two travel to Leah’s flat in London. Maja is introduced to Chana (Sofie Gråbøl), Leah’s cold and oppressive mother who seems to be hiding a secret, and Lev, a Jewish scholar with a particular interest in supernatural malevolence. Maja realizes something sinister may be at play and sets-out to learn the truth.
First-time director Gabriel Bier Gislason designed Attachment as a character piece, opting to portray horror through emotional complexities over cheap jump-scares. This is heightened by the movie’s cultural detailing, where language barriers and character backgrounds cause schisms in understanding. With strong chemistry and authentic dialogue between the main actors, the film plays on distrust and family drama, but ultimately prevails as a story of love in all its extremes.
|9) In My Mother’s Skin (Directed by Kenneth Dagatan)
During the final days of World War II, in a secluded section of the Japanese-occupied Philippines, a lone family lives in constant fear. With her father away and her mother gravely ill, fourteen-year-old Tala (Felicity Kyle Napuli) treks out into the forest looking for food. Instead, she comes across a beautiful fairy who offers to help. But something sinister abounds and the fairy may not be as benevolent as she appears.
Director Kenneth Dagatan builds a classic fable that serves as a cautionary tale in this richly atmospheric folk-horror. Elevated by exquisite costuming and outstanding sound design, the movie tells a story of innocence, trust, deceit, and greed. It’s underpinned by symbolism. As a parasitic bug digs beneath the skin of its victims and threatens to destroy their minds, Japan’s military occupation, burrows into the lives of the Filipino people and robs them of their autonomy. In My Mother’s Skin is a small, intimate folk-horror with a parabolic backdrop that will leave audiences shivering and thinking at the same time.
|8) Talk to Me (Directed by Danny and Michael Philippou)
A group of teenagers from Adelaide, Australia, get hold of an embalmed hand that enables them to establish a connection to the spirit world. The experience is dangerous but exhilarating, and it quickly becomes a popular party game. One of the kids in the group, Mia (Sophie Wilde), develops an unhealthy obsession with the hand after convincing herself that she can use it to communicate with her deceased mother. It does not go well.
With Talk to Me, first-time filmmakers Danny and Michael Philippou use long-established horror tropes to tell a multi-layered story of fear, depression, and loss. The ecstasy a user feels when opening the otherworldly portal mimics the high a person experiences through drugs and alcohol. Like so many people who are suffering, Mia abuses a substance as a coping mechanism for grief. It’s a despairing attempt to mute the pain. While supernatural, the movie harmonizes its fantastical premise with an authentic depiction of teenagers and their behaviors, making this picture relatable to anyone who has ever made poor decisions during their youth—which is most of us.
|7) Birth/Rebirth (Directed by Laura Moss)
Rose (Marin Ireland) is a morgue technician with a secret: She’s been working with embryonic stem cells in her Bronx apartment to reanimate dead tissue. A tragedy causes her path to converge with a maternity nurse named Celie (Judy Reyes). Together, the two begin to harvest biological matter from unknowing pregnant women to keep progressing Rose’s experiments. Obtaining these materials becomes progressively challenging, and the pair becomes increasingly desperate.
Marin Ireland’s fantastic portrayal of the “mad scientist” trope is awkward and off-putting, yet somehow endearing. And Judy Reyes’ role as a devastated and loving mother is heartbreaking. The two have strong chemistry as foils working together with different motivations toward a common goal. The feature-length directorial debut from Laura Moss, with a screenplay by Moss and Brendan J. O’Brien, Birth/Rebirth is a contemporary take on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It takes this old story and, like Victor Frankenstein himself, gives it new life.
|6) Eight Eyes (directed by Austin Jennings)
Americans Cas (Emily Sweet) and Gav (Bradford Thomas) are on vacation in Serbia when they befriend an overbearing but seemingly good-natured local named Saint Peter (Bruno Veljanovski). Saint Peter persuades them to explore the country's non-touristy areas, promising to guide them through the unfamiliar terrain. However, the trip takes a dark turn when the couple begins to suspect Saint Peter may have ulterior motives.
Shot entirely on 16mm Kodak film, with all effects created in-camera, Eight Eyes is director Austin Jennings' impressive homage to the history of horror. The visuals by cinematographer Sean Dahlberg and the score by Morricone Youth feel like something from yesteryear. While the movie clearly takes inspiration from 1970s grindhouse and giallo cinema, Eight Eyes avoids the trappings of derivation and thrives on its own merits. Respectful of what came first but anxious of what’s ahead, Eight Eyes looks in all directions of horror at once: past, present, and future.
|5) Infinity Pool (Directed by Brandon Cronenberg)
While on a resort vacation with his wife in the fictional country of Li Tolqa, James (Alexander Skarsgård) meets a young woman named Gabi (Mia Goth). Against his best judgment, James, along with his wife, joins Gabi and her husband on an excursion in the countryside. After an accident, James is forced to make a harrowing decision that will forever change the trajectory of his life.
Infinity Pool satires the opulent hedonism of the elite at the expense of the poor. Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg keeps things ugly. There are no moral lessons here. The wealthy can do whatever they like with little consequence. Cronenberg’s camera is there to capture it all. Cinematographer Karim Hussain uses hallucinogenic imagery to sensationalize sex and violence with lurid excitement. Underlined by the dark, watery score of ambient mastermind Tim Hecker, Hussain captures the shallowness of Cronenberg’s characters visually with limited depth of field. But superficiality does not mean these people are uninteresting. Skarsgård portrays James as a man struggling with morality while Mia Goth—always phenomenal—revels in Gabi’s wickedness. For fans of sci-fi, horror, and sociopolitical storytelling, Infinity Pool is sure to make a splash.
|4) Huesera: The Bone Woman (Directed by Michelle Garza Cervera)
Valeria (Natalia Solián) is pregnant. As she prepares for her new life, supernatural visions begin to take hold and torment her. Relationships suffer as Valeria’s emotional state fractures. She begins to question herself, who she is, and what she wants.
Pregnancy is scary. From a purely physical perspective, a fetus has a different genotype than the mother. It acts as a parasite, exploiting the host to divert nutrients for its survival and growth. It’s pure body-horror. But the emotional part is where it gets really terrifying. The mother’s previous existence is sacrificed. She is forced to become someone new. At its core, Huesera: The Bone Woman looks at this through character-study. It explores how pregnancy relates to gender expectations and how that experience could lead to self-deception. Natalia Solián’s sells it with an outstanding performance. Her subtle gestures heighten feelings of confusion, doubt, and sadness. She’s supported by the cinematography of Nur Rubio Sherwell, who subtly uses color shading to create a sense of internal conflict, and a sound editing team that gives the film’s spookier elements goosebumpy, crunchy depth. A remarkable debut from director Michelle Garza Cervera, Huesera: The Bone Woman is an understated horror gem.
|3) Godzilla Minus One (Directed by Takashi Yamazaki)
In the aftermath of World War II, a disgraced kamikaze pilot, Kōichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki), returns to Toyko to find his family had perished during U.S. Operation Meetinghouse. Depressed and despondent, Kōichi reluctantly sets out to rebuild his life. But new threats bubble up, jeopardizing his future and the future of the entire city.
Over its 69-year history, the character of Godzilla has been many things; a malevolent force, a brawling kaiju monster, a sympathetic rogue, an unexpected anti-hero, and a family-friendly children’s cartoon. In the original 1954 film, the monster was a god of destruction, awakened by humankind’s development of nuclear weaponry. Godzilla Minus One brings the creature back to these roots and, in doing so, offers a commentary on nationalism and the meaninglessness of war. The film depicts a culture that struggles with a broken identity while keeping the story compassionate as Kōichi battles shame and PTSD. The brilliance of the movie is, despite these heavy concepts, Godzilla Minus One strikes a balance. It never forgets that it’s a creature-feature and is loaded with references to earlier films in the franchise. The monster commands attention every time it's onscreen. And its iconic roar is an absolute crowd-pleaser. But while the Godzilla gets to have its name on the marquee, it’s the people on the ground who give this movie life. A story featuring a giant monster never had so much humanity.
|2) Enys Men (Directed by Mark Jenkin)
A lone wildlife observer, simply credited as The Volunteer (Mary Woodvine), lives in a cottage on a remote island off the Cornish coast. Every day, she studies a patch of rare wildflowers, marking “no change” in her notebook. But change is happening, even if it's not recorded. It’s a metaphysical change. Time folds in on itself. Phantasmagorical figures of the island’s past haunt the land. Lichen grows everywhere. All the while, an ominous obelisk stands on the horizon like a marker of death.
Enys Men is a surrealist journey with no traditional narrative to anchor it, sprawling outward with increasingly unquieted imagery. It’s a liminal horror movie of abstract reasoning and absolute grandeur. Written, directed, and scored by Mark Jenkin, this experimental film, shot in 16mm with vintage equipment, is a marvel for the senses. The color is gorgeous. Over a haunting tonal score that moves like the far-off waves depicted in the film, Jenkin’s camera captures beauty and despair. The film is purposefully under-exposed, intentionally rough-around-the-edges, with an ambiance that shifts from soft to hard, from cold to warm. It’s unsettling and disorienting. But above all, it’s gorgeous. Enys Men is a work of art.
|1) When Evil Lurks (Directed by Demián Rugna)
After brothers Pedro (Ezquiel Rodríguez) and Jamie (Demián Salomón) find a mutilated corpse in the woods, they do some investigating and discover their small rural town has been infected with The Rotten—unborn demons who use human hosts for physical birth. With no help from local authorities, the brothers set out to prevent this evil presence from overtaking their land. But The Rotten isn’t something to be trifled with and Pedro and Jamie quickly find themselves in over their heads.
Grim and gory, When Evil Lurks blends folk-horror helplessness with demonic possession tropes and brings them to the rural Argentinian wilderness. It’s a brutally unforgiving film that, at its crux, explores the human tendency for knee-jerk reactions. The brothers are given clear instructions on what they need to do. But it’s hard to follow the rules sometimes. In a way, it parallels the COVID-19 pandemic. Strategies to prevent the spread of the virus were laid out, but often ignored. Supplemented with great, if graphic, cinematographic detail by Mariano Suárez and an unrelenting script by director Demián Rugna, When Evil Lurks isn’t for the squeamish. But those who could stomach it will find a bleak but thought-provoking film that proves human nature is more dangerous than any demon could ever be.
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