Best Movies of the Year lists seem to pop up earlier and earlier, but you don’t see quite as many Worst of the Year equivalents. I understand why: It seems mean, it flirts with Golden Raspberry-level cluelessness, and it doesn’t seem worth the effort telling people to avoid a few movies they might have already seen (or, as with smaller movies, would probably never come across anyway) rather than telling them to check out any number of gems. And yet: There is something satisfying about rounding up a motley crew of the year’s most annoying, inexplicable, and/or painfully inept cinematic experiences, if only to see where the bad trendlines are headed (and maybe compile some writing that hopefully justified the critic’s investment of time). This year, perhaps owing to my co-hosting a horror movie podcast, I saw plenty of bad horror movies (and this was a very good year for horror in general). I also saw a lot of movies rolling the dice on Get Out-style social commentary, and then watching as the dice skipped down the sidewalk and fell through a sewer grate. So take a look at my least-faves of 2022, check out some writing and podcasts from the past year, and be glad that I left off Resurrection, and see how they compare to 2020 and 2021.
The Worst Movies of 2022
15. The Black Phone
“Every would-be crowdpleasing element feels like a sideshow: The smartmouthed and profane tween girl, the from-nowhere coke-addled comic relief, the crafty plotting against an outlandishly costumed monster of a man. These bits and pieces provide momentary shocks of amusement, but put together they’re just geek-brain dispatches, all accompanied by a smirking question: Ain’t it cool?” (Paste review)
“Like its logier predecessor, the 2022 Firestarter feels oddly centerless. Though it’s initially structured as a family-on-the-run chase picture, it travels in circles and ends abruptly, with the seeming intent of withholding a chunk of material involving Rainbird for a potential sequel. Is it better for a Stephen King adaptation to burn out, or fade away? Firetarter manages to do both at once.”
13. Father Stu
FATHER STU is a great example of how faith-based entertainment doesn't have to feel low-rent and simplistic, performed by a C-list cast. It can also feel low-rent and simplistic when performed by extremely famous movie stars.
— Jesse Hassenger (@rockmarooned) April 12, 2022
“Despite all this magical bric-a-brac, Luck isn’t an especially magical experience. It feels more like a whiteboard full of brainstorms nobody had the heart to erase. It’s a cartoon with mundane ideas about the flukiness of fate, expressed in convoluted and tedious ways. It’s like a ‘plussed’ corporate impression of a Terry Gilliam movie.” (Polygon review)
11. Mr. Harrigan’s Phone
Stephen King is obviously a brilliantly talented writer, and the only real eeriness to be gleaned from Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is the way it manages to make a lot of pure-King conceits look either absolutely idiotic (the psychotic school bully obsessed with making a kid… polish his shoes?! In 2007?!) or comatose with lack of inspiration (you say it might be our phones leading to insidious levels of distraction, misinformation, and coarser behavior?! Do go on!). John Lee Hancock has made some good movies in the past (though he also made the execrable The Blind Side) but this movie is so slack, overlong, and dull to look at, and so successfully subsumes King tropes in its mediocrity, that it feels like a true auteur project for Netflix as a corporate entity.
There are multiple Liam Neeson action-thrillers where the star plays an alcoholic on the verge of bottoming out; the protagonist of Blacklight isn’t similarly afflicted, yet the movie itself seems to be actively pursuing a DTV-level floor, or possibly dirt beneath the floor, for the late-stage phase of Neeson’s career that he keeps threatening to curtail. Look, I live for this garbage, and saw two Neeson programmers in movie theaters in 2022 alone. Blacklight is the impossible-to-defend pits. It’s not just far from the pulp juice of his movies with Jaume Collett-Sera; it also fails to attain the slick stupidity of the Taken trilogy, or the third-tier-Eastwood vibes of The Marksman. It’s the first Neeson action movie I’ve seen that feels like they barely finished actually making it before inexplicably sending it out to theaters nationwide. If this can get a theatrical release, so can any given security footage of Neeson waiting on line at a pharmacy.
“It owes more to the industrial decay of comics movies like The Crow — though it’s equally indebted to local-news scaremongering that depicts any and all cities as cesspools of crime, on the brink of total anarchy. Accordingly, its baddies bear the true marks of the beast: tattoos, ostentatious hair, and exposed forearms. The movie offers a libertarian spin on Spider-Man’s central lesson: ‘Great power comes strictly and exclusively with personal responsibility.’” (Polygon review)
8. The Score
“Gloria and Troy fall in love through song, just like in a classic musical, though they don’t also communicate with the language of dance. This is more of a singing-on-the-way-to-things, singing-while-looking type of musical. It feels like it’s been derived from some bloke’s old iPod, if the bloke in question was going through an inexplicable Johnny Flynn stage despite The National being right there.” (Paste review)
“Some horror movies rely on generating silently festering currents of unease. Umma instead contains at least five scenes where one character stands in front of another and delivers exposition about their past or current feelings. There’s no mystery, no imagery, no subtext, and between these glum confessions, the story generates an astonishing lack of momentum. It amounts to a list of things that have been, in other contexts, sufficiently scary: ghosts, masks, childhood trauma, and turning into the monster you once feared.” (Polygon review)
6. The Estate
“Writer-director Dean Craig has experience crafting farces out of human pettiness, punctured social rituals and general venality; he wrote both the original Death at a Funeral and its American remake. He’s a bit lacking, however, in actually finding the laughs in his shopworn material. He tends instead to set up “funny” situations and have characters react to them by saying “fuck” with such deadening, self-regarding frequency that the profanity winds up holding about as much zing as a line from Full House, while scene after scene is staged with a handheld camera wobbling around like a bad imitation of Arrested Development.” (Paste review)
5. Spirit Halloween: The Movie
A scrappy indie horror movie aimed at families, about a group of kids who get locked in a Spirit Halloween store overnight and encounter a real-life ghost, could be pretty bad and still either get by on charm, or escape my attention entirely. But the producers Spirit Halloween bought themselves a problem when they licensed the seasonal emporium’s good name and hired Christopher Lloyd to play a mostly-disembodied spirit: They decided that on some level they could compete with, if not a big theatrical release, at least a streaming-level Amblin knockoff. And Spirit Halloween is not equipped to do that at all; it has the kind of kid-friendship dynamics that seem to have been written without a second thought toward what it’s actually like being a kid, and plotting slapdash enough to embarrass the most shameless Nickelodeon exec. Maybe charming Spielbergian kid-adventure movies were a mistake.
4. Prey for the Devil
How to separate your run-of-the-mill exorcism drama from half the horror movies released between 2004 and 2010? Counteract your determined-lady-exorcist novelty with a storyline insisting that the abuse a character suffered as a child was not actually at the hands of an unstable and violent mother, but rather a demon possessing her mother, who never wanted her child to get hurt. Maybe another movie could have teased this idea out into something powerful or provocative; Prey for the Devil simply suggests that a seemingly abusive parent might actually be secretly loving and protective at their core. In the parlance of Twitter: Did… a child abuser write this?!
“He’s written for Ridley Scott, for Scorsese, for Gore Verbinski… good writer. And boy, does he seem out the fuck out of his element writing and directing a horror picture. What a strange miscalculation this movie is. My central problem… is that I detected in this movie what I thought was a genuine contempt for horror movies. I think this is made by someone who doesn’t give a shit about horror movies, or maybe thinks they’re kinda stupid. It’s so pleased with itself, and the way it uses horror movie elements is so inept, and so smug, and so not scary, it’s just this complete afterthought to this cute-ish drama about kids bonding at conversion camp. Making a horror movie is so much harder than these people seem to understand!” (New Flesh podcast review)
Though the timing of its writing and production makes this all but impossible, Alice has the embarrassing incompetence of a bad bet: It feels like a movie that was pre-commissioned to capitalize on the wild runaway success of Antebellum, a thriller that itself turned out to be a terrible side effect of the excellent Get Out. Alice also reverse engineers Django Unchained, a movie that notably already exists; it’s about a slave on a plantation who magically time-warps into the blaxploitation heyday of 1973—only can you guess that maybe there isn’t any magic afoot in her journey? Sure, probably, but could you guess at just how clumsily this movie attempts to imitate blaxploitation? (Why copy its style when you can simply have the characters watch the movies?) Keke Palmer’s demonstrative ex-child-star acting style worked perfectly in Nope, a genuine genre-masher. Here, she alternates between overwrought and bloodlessly steely, in search of a movie that would at least be worth posing for.
1. Asking For It
“As a road movie, Asking for It is inert. (This is the raucous odyssey of some girls who drive a few hours out of town and then drive back.) As a revenge movie, it’s inept. (The ladies’ plan is so ill-explained that it’s hard to figure whether it’s a galvanizing act of biological warfare or a zany prank.) These failures pale, however, to the movie’s late-breaking nadir. In his final montage, an appalling series of end-credits testimonials to the power of these fictional characters, director Eamon O’Rourke isn’t just inserting a bunch of bullshit into #MeToo; he’s essentially crediting his movie for taking it to the next level. Give the movie a little credit: Being this terrible is the best provocation it can muster.” (Paste review)
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