As another calendar year draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on the very best the thriller genre had to offer in the past 12 months. Though the entertainment business has yet to fully recover from the pandemic, and the theatrical experience in itself seems to be hanging by a thread, moviegoers were still treated with a healthy vintage of pulse-pounding titles that kept them glued to the screen and sent shivers down their spines.
This year’s crop of thriller movies left us with an overabundance of instant classics, which explains the glaring omissions of notable standouts that just missed the cut like Halina Reijn’s electrifying “Bodies Bodies Bodies”, Steven Soderbergh’s tautly constructed “Kimi”, Disney’s gnarly Predator revival “Prey”, the Aubrey Plaza-led Sundance hit “Emily the Criminal”, Claire Denis’ beguiling romantic nail-bitter “Stars at Noon”, and the explosive Bay-hem of “Ambulance”.
Conspiracy mysteries, romantic noirs, cutting-edge genre hybrids, traditional whodunnits, tentpole blockbusters, and all the gems in between—they’re all here in the definitive shortlist of 2022 thrillers that deserve your attention.
10. The Menu (Mark Mylod)
Dunking on the rich and the elite has been something of a recurring theme this year at the multiplexes, with no shortage of high-profile titles going straight for the jugular and making their tenor more than clear. This exquisite stew of politically tinged satire courtesy of the man behind HBO’s hit drama “Succession” might’ve been dealt a bad hand by having its U.S. theatrical release overlap with Ruben Östlund’s incendiary Palme d’Or winner (“Triangle of Sadness”), but it should still find plenty of welcoming audiences this fall.
“The Menu”, which is now being billed as “Ratatouille” by way of Buñuel, is an unpredictable and wickedly funny schadenfreude that unfolds in a lavish restaurant home to a renowned chef (Ralph Fiennes). Lacing its satirical jabs on high-end foodie culture, and critic snobbery the film slowly but steadily ratchets up the tension, keeping the viewer at arm’s length with a delicious cocktail of biting critique, slapstick humor and stomach-churning thrills. Though hardly subtle, Mark Mylod’s banquet will prove a sumptuous meal for your cinematic taste buds.
9. Don’t Worry Darling (Olivia Wilde)
Notwithstanding an incendiary press tour at Venice that let loose a firestorm of online chatter, sent the Hollywood gossip mill into overdrive, and gave fans some cause for concern, “Don’t Worry Darling” featured one of the finest performances of the calendar year in Florence Pugh, who should be showered in accolades in the following months for her tensely controlled turn as Alice—a 1950s housewife whose idyllic lifestyle collapses on itself after disturbing truths come the fore.
Conjuring up a pitch-perfect vision of the white-picket fence American suburbia on the lines of “Blue Velvet”, “The Truman Show”, and “The Stepford Wives”, Olivia Wilde’s stunner wears its influences on its sleeves while still managing to pepper in plenty of spicy social subtext amidst its pulpy, Twilight Zone-esque spectacle. Though somewhat bogged down by its predictability, “Don’t Worry Darling” is nevertheless a star-studded and sufficiently engaging thriller that provides a solid cross-section of patriarchy, gender roles, and bourgeois complacency.
8. Master Gardener (Paul Schrader)
Those well versed in the work of Paul Schrader might have seen earlier sketches of the characters and story beats seen in his latest offering, “Master Gardener”. After all, the distinguished screenwriter has spent a big chunk of his career exploring and retracing the exact same “God’s Lonely Man” character archetype over and over again, both in films he penned (“Taxi Driver”) or went on to direct himself (“Light Sleeper”, “The Card Counter”).
You know the drill—a martyred middle-aged man tries to start anew, bury his guilt and existential anguish through an austere routine before things inevitably go awry—prompting our tormented anti-hero to play vigilante in order to atone for his sins and hopefully find redemption. The man in question this time around is Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton), a stoical horticulturist devoted to his work who conceals a violent past. Expect moody voiceovers, Bressonian asceticism, and an explosive climax that will knock your socks off. Some may argue all of this might smack of déjà vu, but that doesn’t stop Paul Schrader from taking his familiar themes to new, refreshing directions.
7. The Batman (Matt Reeves)
Just when superhero fatigue finally seemed to kick in among general moviegoers—a jaded feeling accentuated by Marvel’s endless stream of content—“Planet of the Apes” director Matt Reeves came to the rescue and treated audiences with a three-plus hour rush in the latest (and grittiest) reboot of the world-famous billionaire cape crusader.
Conjuring up the grittiness and foreboding atmosphere of classic detective noirs like “Chinatown”, with ample doses of David Fincher (“Se7en”, “Zodiac”) for good measure, “The Batman” reinvents its source material with surprising dexterity—wearing its sundry cocktail of cinematic influences as a badge of honor; perhaps as a way of reassuring seasoned viewers that, despite being a sizeable I.P. franchise, this is in fact ‘serious’ filmmaking. Central to the film’s watchability is Robert Pattinson’s gloomy portrayal of a still inexperienced Bruce Wayne, who’s given plenty of screen time to flex his detective skills as he navigates Gotham’s seedy underworld. Though it still very much feels like a PG-13 superhero movie trying to disguise itself as a thriller for grown-ups, if you’re looking for quality popcorn thrills, “The Batman” will do the trick.
6. The Beasts (Rodrigo Sorogoyen)
Despite debuting out of competition last summer at Cannes with little to no fanfare, Spanish filmmaker Rodrigo Sorogoyen cut a deep gash with one of the gnarliest and gut-punching thrillers of this year’s festival season, a film that could (and very well should) become a word-of-mouth hit once it hits streaming.
“The Beasts” zeroes in on a married couple of French expatriates (Denis Ménochet and Marina Foïs), who have decided to settle down and retire on a small mountain village located in the northern region of Spain. Though the film takes its sweet time getting going, simmering tension soon escalates and begins to boil over once the combative locals attempt to twist the couple’s arm in order to sign a lucrative turbine project. Against this disquieting backdrop, this rural thriller casts an unwavering eye on narrow-minded chauvinism while confronting the political and personal implications of groupthink morality. At once shocking in its offhand brutality and incisive on its many observations, “The Beasts” clings to the mind and leaves you with a lot to chew on.