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Review of 2022: Top Twelve

It’s been a bit of a journey over the last few days, so thank you for sticking it out. Here, at long last, are my top twelve films of 2022, based on UK cinema and streaming releases, presented in musical form:

To give a more detailed account: 

1. Benedetta. A lustrous, gorgeous and electrifying tale of belief, fanaticism, politics, passion, love and the tension between faith and duplicity. 

2. She Said. A gripping, urgent, distressing journalism thriller of investigation, institutional abuse and the power of voices and silence.

3. Happening. A grounded, unflinching, unsentimental and at times harrowing drama of solitude, desperate ingenuity and finding your way through an unsympathetic world. 

4. The Batman. An intense, grim, brooding, brutal, intimate, deliberate, street level vigilante/detective revenge journey through brooding atmosphere, intricate plotting and the politics of vengeance. 

5. The Innocents. An unsettlingly intimate and by turns chilling, charming and horrifying blend of superpowered discovery, childish cruelty and a secret world. 

6. Nightmare Alley. A sumptuous, suffusive and superb modern noir of immersive style, ravishing detail, deceit, deception and dark desire. 

7. Everything Everywhere All At Once. An extraordinary, bonkers and brilliant bonanza of concepts, emotion, cinematic invention and finding the meaning of existence(s). 

8. Speak No Evil. A deeply uncomfortable, ferociously tense and thoroughly terrifying psychological horror of manipulation, escalating aggressions and social appropriation. 

9. The Banshees of Inisherin. A beautiful and touching, melancholic yet humorous, whimsical yet quietly profound dark tragicomedy of wisdom and dullness, niceness and resentment, mental health struggles and the tensions of small communities. 

10. Turning Red. Big meets The Incredible Hulk meets Metamorphosis in a super smart, super cute, super fluffy and truly magical animated comedy adventure of growing pains, familial pressures and the power of friendship, fandom and song. 

11. The Worst Person in the World. A whimsical yet scabrous, sentimental but honest, beautifully observed and meticulous portrait of the messiness, complexities and contradictions of career, relationships, family and other aspects of life. 

12. Belfast. A sublime and immersive blend of charm, tragedy and reflective nostalgia that explores family, community and maturation, the need for movement yet the pull of home, lovingly rendered through gorgeous images, long takes, 360 pans and the wide yet tear-tinged eyes of a child. 

Honourable mentions go to: 

A ferocious, intense and brutal revenge tragedy of stark visuals, iron resolve and the blurred boundaries of myth and destiny. 

A sweet and charming yet spiky and astringent romantic comedy drama of hustling, coming of age and resisted desire. 

A sweeping, gorgeous and thrilling, progressive and challenging but never preachy and thoroughly accessible epic of duty and defiance, war and alliance, family and community. 

A moving, haunting and sublime visual poem of the beauty of nature, the power of the image and the wonder of wildlife.

A stunning and terrifying found footage What If? political warning of hubris and the perils of technology, infused with musical creativity and critical nostalgia.

A nerve-shredding and intensely vertiginous survival tale of ingenuity, friendship and the combined uses of humanity and technology.

An exquisitely composed, deeply uncomfortable and severely fucked up Welsh folk horror of shifting directions of consumption. 

Black Swan meets Turning Red in a gripping and gruesome tale of monstrosity, maternity and maturation.

A compelling, terrifying and brilliantly ambiguous portrayal of body horror, psychological fear, occult suggestion and the terror of motherhood and isolation. 

A joyous, exhilarating and witty action adventure of regret, camaraderie, redemptive nostalgia and aerial thrills. 

A thrilling and visceral coming of age sci-vival horror that brilliantly balances homage and innovation. 

An extraordinary amalgam of referentiality and innovation in a meta sci-fi western horror that captures the terror of open and enclosed spaces and the power of the gaze. 

Psycho meets Creep with a dash of The Descent in a compellingly creepy and gleefully gruesome blend of body horror, identity politics and the rot of traditional America.

With so much excellent content, and after a genuinely difficult time deciding on my top twelve and indeed their order, I can honestly say that 2022 was a fantastic year for movies. 2023 is promising some heavy hitters, but it has a tough act to follow.


Review of 2022: The Return of The Views

Hello everyone, sorry to have been away so long. 2022 featured various new challenges and opportunities, some of which led to new outlets for my critical ideas. This includes various websites where my views can be, well, viewed, as well as my ongoing podcast Invasion of the Pody People and appearances on multiple other podcasts. But after all this time, I felt I should come back and offer my view here on Vincent’s Views. And what better way to return than by casting my eye over the films of 2022?

In brief, 2022 was a really strong year for film. It’s a sign of great cinema that, when you decide to whittle down what you saw to a best of list, it is initially very difficult to decide what gets into that list – top twelve for my own musical reasons – and then equally difficult to decide how you would rank them. Indeed, the process of deciding my top twelve involved a great deal of going back and forth. Was I more moved by The Velvet Queen or Belfast? Does the atmosphere of The Batman trump the exhilaration of Top Gun: Maverick? Do the chills of The Innocents surpass those of Speak No Evil? Was Benedetta or She Said ultimately more impressive? These are the questions that occupied my mind throughout the latter weeks of December, once I had seen everything that I thought might break into the top twelve. 

Horror was especially strong in 2022, as identified by other critics and in terms of what I saw, since I attended FrightFest both in Glasgow and London. Some of the highlights of this wonderful festival included You Are Not My Mother, Some Like It Rare and Monstrous in March, while August offered such delights as Lola, Huesera: The Bone Woman, Swallowed, Fall and one of the most popular horrors of the year, Barbarian. Other great horror included X, The Feast, Piggy, Halloween Ends, They Live in the Grey, Smile, Nope, The Black Phone, Men, Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, and some especially strong offerings from Scandinavia, which provided Hatching from Finland, the Danish/Dutch Speak No Evil and The Innocents from Norway. Other commentators have described 2022 as an exceptional year for horror, and looking at the evidence I have no argument with that claim.

Turning Screws Part Four

In a previous post, I discussed The Haunting of Bly Manor in terms of character and highlighted that it is a very melancholy show. How is it as a horror? Is it scary, or at least unsettling? I can confirm that it certainly is. Maybe not as petrifying as The Haunting of Hill House, but the production design and cinematography create an environment that is enclosing to the point of claustrophobia. This is quite a feat considering the expansive spaces of Bly Manor. The grand kitchen and dining room, where much of the action takes place, is homely and pleasant. The bedrooms as well as the entrance hall and living room are similarly tasteful, and yet the ornate panelling seems imbued with the regrets of the past. These regrets also manifest as figures that appear in the background, with little or no emphasis which may leave the viewer wondering if they were really there.

This is one of the show’s most unnerving features. At many points we see someone in the background, but the characters do not and, more importantly, with no visual emphasis it creates an untrustworthy situation. How can we trust what we see when the visual text we read presents us with something that has apparently no reason to be seen? In this way, the show becomes uncanny – both familiar in terms of the tropes of the ghost story, yet unfamiliar in that we don’t know why these figures are there. But creator Mike Flanagan and his collaborators are playing the long game, and although the first few episodes are a little shaky, as the series comes full circle everything starts to fit together.

As events unfold, the tragedy becomes clearer and the scares more overt. There is a facial effect that is especially unnerving, as the ghosts are again recognisably human but seriously inhuman. The single most frightening thing in the show is the Lady in the Lake (Kate Siegel). No swords here, but plenty of choking and drowning, including a moment with a dress that deserves mention alongside In Fabric. Furthermore, the effect of drowning is notable, presented as tragic and terrifying all at once. Sometimes the show conveys drowning in horrific detail, complete with a heartbreaking aftermath. At other points, we see characters immersed where water should not be, perception and experience created through an astute blending of visual and aural devices.

The presentation of drowning, and the wet legacy that it leaves, is among the show’s scariest features. But it is also one of the most emotional and part of what is perhaps the show’s greatest strength: putting memory on screen. Film – be it cinema or TV – can replicate the experience of memory and dreams through cuts and sudden juxtapositions that startle but are nonetheless understandable. The Haunting of Bly Manor does this extraordinarily well. Referred to as characters being ‘tucked away’, scenes are played and replayed, much as ghosts appear and disappear. Memories are thus like ghosts, emerging unexpectedly and without warning. Sometimes this is horrific, as we recall a traumatic memory. Other times it is tragic, such as the recollection of lost loves. Taken as a whole, the structure of the show proves itself to be quite ingenious as, despite the episodes having different directors, visual and narrative cues are consistently connected. Even the overall framing device proves to have great emotional weight. Come the final coda and explanation of everything we have seen, you may have had some shivers, but you could also be wiping away a tear or two.

Turning Screws Part Three

What does it mean to be haunted? In ghost stories, the spirits of the departed often serve as metaphors for memories and regrets. In our own lives, we are haunted by memories and regrets. Lost loves, past traumas, choices we made – all of these haunt us in the sense that they are gone and yet linger in memory. Therefore, haunting refers to a peculiar relationship with time, one that does not work in a strictly linear way. Our bodies may move through time in one direction and at a constant rate (gravity fluctuations notwithstanding), but our consciousness, our awareness, flits back and forth in time. As we are conscious of past moments, those moments haunt our present.

Haunting as a flitting of consciousness is central to The Haunting of Bly Manor, a nine-part Netflix series by Mike Flanagan that adapts the works of Henry James. It is both a ghost story and a love story, although this is not immediately clear. In ‘Episode One: The Great Good Place,’ a wedding guest (Carla Gugino) in 2007 begins a ghost story, which will sound familiar to those who know The Turn of the Screw and The Innocents. Flashing back to 1987, an au pair is hired to work in a remote English country house, where she will care for two orphaned children. Upon arriving, American Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) encounters increasingly weird and frightening events.

Adapting James’ 1898 novella into the 1980s necessitates some changes. 1987 is well-evoked (and makes me feel my age!), and the series’ treatment of class is notable in that divisions are present but less overt than would be the case in an earlier period. More significantly, the scope of this series allows the writers to flesh out all the characters, making the show a great ensemble. Attention to character also serves the central premise of haunting as memory. The narration by the Storyteller demonstrates the persistence of memory, and within the 1987 story we get further flashbacks which detail the lives of the characters at Bly Manor. These stories are both tragic and disturbing, from Miles’ (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) school experiences to Dani’s trauma to possibly the peak of the series as a whole, ‘Episode 5: The Altar of the Dead’, when we the times of Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller). This episode highlights the series’ motif of repeated action, which becomes steadily more apparent and creates a proper mystery in ‘The Altar of the Dead’, before delivering a devastating climax which throws the whole of the story into a different light.

Prior to that point, ‘Episode 4: The Way It Came’ has been emotionally powerful, delivering a progressive twist on the Gothic trope of a woman not trusting her mind. Dani repeatedly sees some sort of spectre which is framed in such a way as to be a memory rather than something supernatural. Hence, when we learn what this ominous figure with shining eyes means, it carries significant emotional weight as well as explaining Dani’s distressed but not disturbed mind. Further progressive elements in the series are a racially diverse cast and a queer relationship. These elements are not emphasised but simply presented as natural, as indeed they should be. ‘The Way It Came’ is also desperately sad and emphasises the melancholia of haunting and indeed mortality. A speech by Owen (Rahul Kohli) had me shed a tear, and the revelations of ‘The Altar of the Dead’ made the melancholia even stronger. It’s a fine ghost story that has you both jumping and weeping in quick succession. I’ll say more about the jumps and dread next time.

Turning Screws Part Two

Expectations are a hard thing to live up to. If you hear something is bad, you have lower expectations and may be pleasantly surprised. If you hear something is good, there is a risk that it will not measure up. As I have become more versed in horror, The Innocents comes up as one of the greatest ghost stories ever filmed, a major influence on later entries in the sub-genre such as The Sixth Sense, The Others and The Orphanage. Yet despite this, it took me a long time to get around to watching The Innocents, and when I did, I feared it would not live up to its reputation.

Holy haunted houses, did it ever! Jack Clayton delivers a masterpiece of atmosphere, creeping dread and suspense, that simultaneously could have created every trope of the ghost story and then pushed them to their logical extreme. The setting is sublime – an imposing manor house so steeped in its grounds as to be isolated from anywhere else. Within these grounds, curling mist envelops trees, buildings and people alike, turning Bly Manor into an eerie space between dream and reality. Within this space, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) forms a constant anchor for the viewer, her encounters with the uncanny prompting fearful responses in us as much as her.

Photo by Snap Stills/REX (1918514c) Deborah Kerr, Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin The Innocents – 1961

Central to this uncanny element are the creepy kids, Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin). Diminutive yet precocious, both children seem as much out of time as the house itself. Miss Giddens’ devotion to them is admirable and understandable, her relationship with them crafted in a way that is more nuanced and relatable than the idealisation and naivety of that in Henry James’ novel. Within the manor’s cavernous space, the children appear out of shadows as well as shafts of light, seemingly a manifestation of the house’s unsettling atmosphere, much like the mysterious appearances of Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) by the lake and Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) in the window.

Beautifully, Clayton maintains an extraordinary ambiguity throughout, never clarifying if what we see is actually supernatural or the product of Miss Giddens’ mind. This is a familiar trope of the gothic and the ghost story, presenting the woman who either is hysterical or is driven to hysteria by her environment. In this case, however, Clayton never allows Kerr or the film as a whole to tip into full-on hysteria. Set pieces escalate slowly but surely, with jump scares developing out of the overall sense of unease. Therefore, the film keeps us aligned with Miss Giddens’ perception and denies access to certainty. Is she/we seeing ghosts and encountering possession, or is she imagining things (which we also see) because of the isolation and the unusual but not necessarily supernatural events? As I have suggested previously, this may be the greatest fear of all – the inability to trust one’s own mind. Clayton injects that fear into the viewer’s own mind, so we are not sure what happened. Just at the point where the strange events might have been confirmed one way or another, the film ends, leaving us with another mighty trope of the ghost story – melancholia. Brought on by grief, Miss Giddens and the viewer is left with misery, and the lingering guilt that makes fear all the worse.

Turning Screws Part One

Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw from 1898 is an iconic and much adapted piece of gothic/horror fiction. This year, I encountered three significant versions: James’ original novel, the 1961 film The Innocents and the 2020 Netflix series The Haunting of Bly Manor. I’ll discuss all three this week.

Beginning with the novel (yes, I read books too, shocking!), I confess I was disappointed. The premise of The Turn of the Screw is intriguing enough. An isolated mansion, orphaned children, absent uncle, mysterious deaths, young woman who doubts her surroundings and, increasingly, her sanity. Along the way there are some unsettling moments, such as the face at the window and of course the precocious and creepy children. There are some vivid descriptions that provoke a sense of dread, and it’s easy to see why this story has loaned itself to adaptation over the years.

Unfortunately, James undercuts his tension through a cyclical structure to the point of tedious repetition. The governess’ encounters with the uncanny events of Bly Manor are recounted to Mrs Grose, and then we have another encounter and another recounting. The relationship between the governess and the housekeeper seems the core of the novel, with the children more like objects of mystery than subjects of agency. Indeed, the gradual discovery of Miles’ strange association with Peter Quint forms the thrust of the narrative, leading to an admittedly powerful conclusion. It’s just a shame that James was rather unimaginative with the journey to get there.