The Best Genre Movies of 2022
We look at the best in horror, science fiction, action and international films, all available to stream.
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By Elisabeth Vincentelli, Erik Piepenburg, Robert Daniels and Devika Girish
Ready to go some gooey or gory places? Or see an expert performer navigate action films in an original way? Or perhaps you’d like to explore two knockout docs from around the world? Our genre movie streaming columnists have made their picks for the best of the year. Some movies you will have heard of. Others will be new to your view. Either way, prepare to head out on adventure with these across-the-spectrum offerings.
For David Cronenberg, the call is always coming from inside the house: It is the body that attacks, betrays, seduces, takes over. Impervious to the subjects agitating current science-fiction movies (alternative universes, artificial intelligence, a dying Earth), the Canadian director went back to familiar turf with his latest, in which people mutate in unpredictable ways. Cronenberg has always known that the true frontier is not space but the evolution of flesh, consciousness and machine.
In “Crimes of the Future,” Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) keeps growing new tumors that his acolyte, Caprice (Léa Seydoux), excises in public, via a repurposed autopsy device. The visual effects are not much more sophisticated than those in the director’s similarly themed “Videodrome” (1983) and “Existenz” (1999), but the squishy organic feel is exactly what makes the new film stand out from run-of-the-mill C.G.I. fests. That and, of course, its tone, coldly detached and darkly comic, as exemplified by Kristen Stewart’s deliciously arch turn as a fan of Tenser’s body artistry.
“Everyone wants to be a performance artist these days,” we are told, and the movie zeros in on our narcissism, need for attention and terminal cynicism. Beyond the gross-out close-ups of puckering organs, what is most striking here is a rare cinematic quality nowadays: perversity. — ELISABETH VINCENTELLI
Stream “Crimes of the Future” on Hulu.
My favorite horror movies this year laid off the flashy effects and instead gave me the unshakable willies the unshowy way: with creeping dread and uncertain stillness. That’s how “Watcher,” “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” and “The Innocents” did it.
But oh man, “The Sadness.” Rob Jabbaz’s transgressive zombie film was bombastically directed and exhaustingly gory — in other words, the year’s most gloriously brutal horror-watching experience.
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It’s set in Taipei, where two young lovers (Berant Zhu and Regina Lei) fight to reunite after a contagion turns people into sexually voracious flesh destroyers. The carnage almost never lets up, and it’s jaw-dropping to watch — like when the hungry infected turn a crowded subway car into a preposterously blood-slick Slip ‘N Slide. This scene, like the film overall, is demented and repulsive but also — and here’s the curveball — uncompromisingly feminist. It’s not easy to get a message across when the mayhem surrounding it is this maximalist, but Jabbaz figured it out.
Listen to me carefully: If you’re at all iffy about being grossed out, stay away from this film. But if your constitution is solid, I dare you to jump into its exquisitely gruesome, grimly satirical maelstrom. — ERIK PIEPENBURG
Stream “The Sadness” on Shudder.
Between Matt Reeves’ gripping neo-noir “The Batman” and Steven Soderbergh’s unnerving surveillance thriller “KIMI,” this year the actress Zoë Kravitz ruled the action genre. Her reign is uniquely impressive when one considers the disparate requirements of each role.
As Selina Kyle/Catwoman in “The Batman,” the agile, shadowy equal to the caped crusader, she moves with a slender yet muscular physicality. As seen in her knowing runway stride, sultry possibilities become real and hand-to-hand confrontations are rendered acrobatic as Kravitz gracefully leaps and dives against thugs.
Playing Angela, a blue-haired tech employee confined to her home office in “KIMI,” the actress turns in her former fluidity for an antisocial rigidity as she becomes the target of a predatory company intent on covering up the crime she discovered. In contrast to the skintight leather suit she wears as Catwoman, Kravitz packs a different but no less formidable punch in her long loose coat as she evades her pursuers during a series of arresting chase scenes.
And yet, what binds these seemingly conflicting performances is how Kravitz’s expressive eyes translate the assuredness of Catwoman and the savviness of Angela. They’re a confirmation of her range as today’s premiere Black woman action hero. — ROBERT DANIELS
Stream both “The Batman” and “KIMI” on HBO Max.
Every month, as I compile international films for my column, I am confronted with the arbitrariness of the boundaries that determine what we consider familiar and foreign, the home and the world. My two favorite films this year, both documentaries by women, challenge these delineations. In “A Night of Knowing Nothing” by Payal Kapadia, a fictional voice-over narration, chronicling the dissolve of the speaker’s inter-caste relationship, coalesces a series of twilit scenes of college life in India that range from nocturnal revels to protests against an increasingly repressive government. Culminating with CCTV footage of baton-wielding police descending upon a library full of students, the film shatters the fictions of democracy: The will of the people means little to the weapons of the state.
In Alice Diop’s “We,” a train route that connects Paris’s suburbs to the city center forms the spine for the film’s intimate, itinerant glimpses of the working-class immigrants who live on the outskirts of France’s capital. Diop’s cinematic map bursts the contours of French identity and recenters them around those relegated to its margins.
Each film, a whole fashioned from disparate pieces, offers an allegory for the nation itself, as a collective forged out of solidarity rather than superficial similarities. — DEVIKA GIRISH
Stream “A Night of Knowing Nothing” on the Criterion Channel. Stream “We” on Mubi.
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