This has been a fallow period for horror. Call it a supply-and-demand problem: There haven’t been enough scary movies—good ones, anyway. (Can you name a horror movie you truly loved from the last 18 months? I can come up with one: The Night House.) Nor has there been the same appetite for them, I’d argue. Horror thrives in theaters, which have been lonesome places of late, and lived reality in a pandemic has provided jolts and dread and anxiety all on its own.
But enough of that—the return to normality I’m here for is a fresh crop of cinematic scares to get excited about. And that is why last week’s Sundance Film Festival gave me a particular thrill.
The festival was great this year, unexpectedly so, for all sorts of reasons. The last-minute cancellation of the in-person Park City, Utah, festival once again lifted Sundance’s hermetic air of industry exclusivity: Like in 2021, anyone online could buy a ticket to screenings, and the onslaught of films was a breeze to navigate from your laptop. The documentaries were predictably strong, but what I noticed most was how much horror and horror-adjacent storytelling there was from new voices. This was elevated stuff—art-house, slow-burn horror—but the jumps, scares, and freak-outs were in place and impressively orchestrated. Below are the six I liked the most, coming to theaters and streaming services in 2022.
The feature debut from Mariama Diallo, Master is set at a Northeastern college haunted by a witch and by less supernatural afflictions as well: elitism, faux wokeness, paranoia, and a menacing strain of old-fashioned racism. Master has a stew of storylines that don’t always perfectly blend together, but I was impressed by how effective and uneasy making its mood remained all the way to the end. Regina Hall is extremely good as a newly elevated Black faculty member (the master of the title), but I was most enthralled by the young actor Zoe Renee who plays freshman Jasmine, an outsider at Ancaster College but so savvy and self-possessed that she soon commands her own place in the social order. The most terrifying scene in the movie, which is studded with supernatural visions, might be the one where Jasmine has to walk into her dorm room filled with ruthlessly appraising white upperclassmen.
How to Watch: Stream on Amazon Prime March 18