There was a time not too long ago that it would be difficult to create a “best of” list of horror movies featuring black leads in any given year, since there were so few of them, and the ones that did exist were of such dubious quality. But thankfully, things have changed in both quantity and quality over the past several years, so here are my choices for best black horror movies of 2022.
20. The Invitation
British actress Nathalie Emmanuel stars as an American invited to England to reunite with the long-lost white branch of her family in this enjoyably fluffy vampire tale whose predictable genre trappings are enhanced by a glossy veneer, solid cast and the ballsiness to tackle issues of race in a popcorn film.
19. Adult Swim Yule Log (AKA The Fireplace)
The oddest movie on this list gains points for originality for its brilliant concept: what if one of those looped yule log videos kept playing and turned into a full-fledged movie? In this case, the fireplace in question is located in a cabin that a black woman (Andrea Laing) and her white boyfriend rent for a romantic getaway, only to be interrupted by serial killers, aliens and a cursed log from a hanging tree. It’s lunacy that could only come from Adult Swim, and the film’s unhinged nature keeps us engaged even when its attempts to blend humor with slavery and racial violence fall flat.
18. The Curse of La Patasola
When two couples—one white, one black (Patrick Walker and Najah Bradley)—succumb to a bout of Jungle Fever infidelity on a camping trip, they inadvertently conjure a legendary creature who preys on cheaters. No, not Joey Greco. Strong performances and intriguing, well-defined interpersonal dynamics elevate this above the typical creature feature.
17. Day Shift
High-octane, John Wick-like action sequences and Jamie Foxx’s Jamie Foxx-ness carry this slick tale of an L.A. vampire hunter (Foxx) trying to save his family from bloodsuckers and dated buddy cop cliches.
16. Choose or Die
An effectively chilling, if a bit nonsensical, “curse” movie in the vein of The Ring, except with an ‘80s video game as the conduit instead of an ‘80s VHS tape. Plus, there’s black people! Black final girl Kayla (Iola Evans) tries to uncover the mystery behind the killer choose-your-adventure game that’s targeting those around her for gruesome deaths that put The Oregon Trail to shame.
There’s a vulgar joke in there somewhere about Idris Elba slaying cats, but in Beast, he battles a literal cat—a man-eating lion, to be exact—when he and his daughters find themselves stranded in the South African bush. The script is by-the-numbers survival fare, but the set pieces deliver harrowing thrills, and Elba shows off the heroic panache that he should’ve parlayed into being the next 007 rather than the next Knuckles the Hedgehog.
14. She Will
What this feminist folk horror lacks in scares it makes up for in dreamy atmosphere, sympathetic performances and satisfying vengeance. In it, a black health care worker (Kota Eberhardt) is tasked with looking after a cranky, aging film star (Alice Krige) who’s recovering from a double mastectomy at a retreat in the wilds of Scotland. As they grow closer, they discover that the land holds mystical powers rooted in a history of men being terrible.
13. Ghosts of the Ozarks
Channeling elements of The Village and The Wicker Man, this hybrid of horror, mystery and Western is set shortly after emancipation, as a young black doctor (Thomas Hobson) arrives for his new job in a mysterious Arkansas town surrounded by haunted woods. He slowly uncovers a dark side to the seeming Utopia in a thoughtful script that wrangles with the question of black struggles to integrate after slavery. Genre thrills take a back seat to an engaging plot and a wonderful cast that includes Tim Blake Nelson, Angela Bettis, David Arquette and the ageless Phil Morris.
12. Bones and All
Ostracized black teen cannibal Maren (Taylor Russell) finds a kindred spirit in fellow cannibal Lee (Timothée Chalamet) in this coming-of-age tale, their bloody bond protecting them against the dangers of an underground cannibal community that is much more robust than you’d expect. The gruesome subject matter is handled with poetic lyricism by director Luca Guadagnino, the carnage—and a scene-stealing performance from Mark Rylance—adding a much needed edge to the mopey romance.
11. Run Sweetheart Run
Brimming with energy, this fast-paced cat-and-mouse game stars Ella Balinska as a young aspiring lawyer who’s strong-armed by her boss into attending a business dinner with a client who, it turns out, likes to hunt and kill women. Nobody’s perfect. The wild narrative moves in unexpected directions, and while it flies off the tracks every now and then, it channels female rage into something cathartic and, against all odds, fun.
Anna Diop gives a beautifully grounded performance as a Senegalese nanny for a wealthy white American family who has to juggle the foibles of her employers with the stress of leaving her family behind in her homeland as she’s plagued by a series of unexplained supernatural phenomena. Writer-director Nikyatu Jusu’s portrayal of the everyday horrors faced by immigrants delivers arresting imagery and an overwhelming sense of dread that pays off in a powerful climax, along with one of the most sympathetic and nuanced portrayals of African diaspora religious beliefs you’ll find in American genre film—albeit the dramatic approach dampens the horror elements and thus, the scare factor.
9. The Harbinger
The Harbinger makes the most of its modest budget, mining the fear bred from the COVID-19 pandemic into the genuinely creepy yet heartfelt story of a black woman named Monique (Gabby Beans) who risks venturing outside of her familial bubble during the height of the outbreak to help a friend who appears to be suffering a nervous breakdown. It turns out that her friend is being haunted by an entity, and unfortunately for Monique, N95 masks are useless against contagious demons.
In this offbeat action-Western-horror hybrid from Senegal, a plane carrying three mercenaries escorting a drug trafficker crash lands in a remote region plagued by a supernatural curse. What follows is a triumph of stylish action and attitude, with cinematography that takes advantage of the breathtaking landscapes, a propulsive soundtrack and a wry sense of humor—none of which undermines the seriousness of the underlying message about the ravages of colonial exploitation and war.
7. Good Madam
A fascinating peek behind the veil of South African society a generation after the end of Apartheid, Good Madam portrays a white, upper-class home—occupied by an aging matriarch and her longtime black domestic worker—as being haunted by the vestiges of that racist system. The relationships between races, classes and generations are put under the microscope when the domestic worker’s daughter moves into the house and begins to suspect that something is rotten in Denmark. That is, South Africa. Thoughtful and slow-burning, yet still creepy and oozing with atmosphere, the film takes a deep dive into the troubling social legacy that still haunts the nation to this day.
6. Bodies Bodies Bodies
Amandla Stenberg is co-Final Girl in this satirical Gen Z slasher that playfully undermines genre expectations, generational quirks, and human nature as a whole. The story is set up like a classic whodunit: a group of young people gather at a mansion to ride out a massive storm with a “hurricane party,” only to have one person turn up dead. And then another. And another. The cast is wonderfully convincing on both comedic and dramatic levels, and the script proves shrewdly observational about interpersonal dynamics—particularly those of young people who treat their cell phones as appendages and must face the dire consequence of an interruption of service: face-to-face interactions. The horror.
5. Some Like It Rare
Fabrice Eboué directs, co-writes and stars in this deliciously dark French horror-comedy as a mild-mannered butcher on the verge of losing his business when he and his wife (Marina Foïs) discover a secret source of meat that becomes a sought-after delicacy: humans. More specifically, vegans, whose strict dietary efforts have the unintended effect of making them scrumptious. It’s all silly, breezy fun with laugh-out-loud moments, propelled by great comedic performances and humor targeting elitism of all kinds. Even more fun: picture it as a sequel to Bones and All, with Maren and Lee settling down as middle-aged, tax-paying cannibals.
A perfect double bill choice for Bodies Bodies Bodies, this Australian horror-comedy is likewise an unconventional Gen Z slasher in which a group of young, self-obsessed social media addicts get picked off one by one while attending a remote getaway. Unlike the whodunit nature of Bodies Bodies Bodies, however, we know who the culprit is here: the titular black girl Sissy (Aisha Dee) herself, who, as a reluctant killer, is more antihero than villain. Outrageously entertaining, the film touches upon hot-button issues like mental health, bullying, self-image and the warped perception of reality in today’s social media but manages to maintain a light, parodic tone, satirizing online celebrity status, wallowing in cringey social interactions and delivering a gleefully gory string of over-the-top death scenes.
The feature debut of writer-director Mariama Diallo is a rich, layered ghost story about literal and figurative hauntings at an elite college where two black women—bright-eyed incoming freshman Jasmine (Zoe Renee) and newly appointed housemaster Gail (Regina Hall)—struggle to find footing in their new roles against the backdrop of a ghost that’s rumored to target first-year students. The oppressive whiteness of the surroundings is genuinely nerve-racking, as the women traverse a minefield of microaggressions and institutional reminders of their status as outsiders. Diallo brilliantly captures the feeling of unease that black people can feel in white environments, conveying the palpable sense of Otherness that can degrade into outright paranoia that makes actual ghosts a secondary concern.
A booking mixup leaves a black woman (Georgina Campbell) sharing a house with a white male stranger (Bill Skarsgård). Then, shit hits the fan. Without going into detail, things get bonkers—alternately gruesome, scary and morbidly hilarious, buoyed by a strong cast (which also includes Justin Long) and creative storytelling that splits the film into three sections, each with a distinct tone and central character. It jumps, jarringly, almost comically, from one to another, keeping viewers on their toes as the story unspools with maniacal energy in perhaps the most fun horror viewing experience of the year.
Jordan Peele strikes again. While Nope might be the weakest of his three directorial efforts so far, that’s just an indication of how great Get Out and Us are. Playing like a cross between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws, Nope stars Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer as sibling horse wranglers whose land is frequented by a UFO that increasingly wreaks havoc, abducting and killing humans and animals alike. Consider it Attack the Flock. Nope is top-tier entertainment, both a celebration of spectacle (in Spielbergian blockbuster fashion) and a critique of it, as characters meet their demise in selfish pursuit of fame, power and wealth. Palmer’s performance in particular is a revelation, adding much needed comedic energy to some breathless moments of tension. While it delivers ample thrills, it’s brighter and tonally more fun than Peele’s previous films, with some dazzling visuals and enough mysteries to keep you on your toes until the rousing, emotional climax.