As festival season continues, buzz is building for a variety of awards players to come out of the Toronto International Film Festival. But we’re also on the heels of Halloween-oriented horrorthons, so we thought we’d examine a few noteworthy films with a dark side. Here are five of our top picks for hair-raising feature films from TIFF 2022, in no particiular order.
Co-written by Kevin Williamson, the scribe of Scream fame, Sick is the arguably the most COVID-specific horror film you’ll ever see. Set circa 2020, when every character is still wiping down their groceries with sanitizer, Sick focuses on a group of teens isolating at a lake house over the summer. Instead of focusing on the usual moralizing of stereotypical teen slashers, Sick judges its characters from the lens (often, jokingly) of COVID protection and rule-following. Rather than: are teenagers having sex and doing drugs, think: Are characters respectful of isolation rules? Do they wear a mask when they ought to? It sounds stupid, and it is, but knowingly so, allowing even those of us who were incredibly strict about the rules to laugh at ourselves a bit.
Director John Hyams (Universal Soldier: Regeneration) melds the teen slasher elements of Williamson’s script with his own penchant for action. As a result, instead of focusing on surprising shots and jump scares, Sick is a very physical film, with characters all-out brawling against their attackers instead of constantly running away. It’s a decision that brings some novelty to the proceedings, as well as constant cheers from the crowd, and spins the dynamic away from fully feeling like a game of cat-and-mouse. Slight, but fun, Sick is the kind of horror film you’ll want to see with friends – the rowdier, the better. Release date TBD.
A movie with a killer (no pun intended) premise, Holy Spider is based on the true story of serial killer Saeed Hanaei, who murdered 16 sex workers over the course of a year in Mashhad, Iran. Writer and director Ali Abbasi spins his fictional tale around the story by giving us dual points of view: the first, from Saeed himself (Mehdi Bajestani), and the second from a perspective of a journalist, Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi), who is investigating the killing spree.
From Rahimi’s point of view, we understand not only the terror these murders evoke from women, but the ambivalence: ambivalence from the government to act against a murderer who kills sex workers, as well as ambivalence from the police and investigators she works with to take her seriously as a colleague.
It’s hard not to compare Holy Spider to Zodiac, which is a serious compliment, but at the end of the day the film has something else on its mind. Less of a character piece than a critical thesis, Holy Spider thoughtfully illuminates the systems and beliefs that can breed and fester a killer of this kind. Holy Spider releases in select theaters Oct. 28.
Adapted from the graphic novel Une sœur by Bastien Vivès, this Canadian French film doesn’t fall under the horror banner but is instead a coming-of-age drama. It still makes the list, though, because of the dread the movie instills throughout its runtime, as the viewer waits for a tension lurking in the background of the film to come into focus.
Falcon Lake, directed by Charlotte Le Bon, depicts adolescent Bastien (Joseph Engel) and his family’s summertime trip to the countryside, where they stay with close friends. Bastien rooms with 16-year-old Chloé (Sara Montpetit). Chloé is only a few years older than Bastien, but it feels like she inhabits another world, one with drinking, partying, and sexual relationships. What follows is what you’d expect from a teenage coming-of-age drama, with Bastien and Chloé’s friendship simmering into something more as they explore the quiet countryside, as well as the gulf between their experiences.
Falcon Lake is a strong mood piece, and the setting does a lot of the film’s most interesting and heaviest lifting. Chloé is fixated on ghost stories and urban legends of their locale, and she and Bastien spend a large chunk of their summer exploring these mysteries, recreating them with photographs, and pondering their biggest fears. As their sexual tension escalates, so to does the vibe of unsettling dread, which culminates in the film’s twisty final act. Release date TBD.
THE GOOD NURSE
At first blush, a thriller molded around the true story of a serial killer nurse comes with a certain set of expectations. That the killer will evoke horror; that the film will focus on his body count; that our point of view will be from the police who eventually apprehend him. But Tobias Lindholm (The Hunt, Another Round) isn’t a flashy director. Lindholm instead likes to weave stories more subtly, which is what makes his take on The Good Nurse an unexpected one.
This film depicts the true story of serial killer Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), a nurse who killed dozens of patients over the course of more than a decade. Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Charles Graeber, The Good Nurse focuses far less on Charlie’s childhood, motives, and delusions than it does on his friendship with a fellow nurse, Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastian). As a single mother, Amy works on a floor that is severely understaffed and overworked. Compounding this is Amy’s heart condition, which makes it difficult for her to be on her feet and perform the kind of physical labor her job demands. When newcomer Charlie offers to help Amy, both at work and eventually at home, the two strike up a close friendship.
As patients begin to mysteriously die, though, Amy is forced to confront Charlie’s involvement in the deaths. What follows is a character piece about Amy and Charlie’s relationship – the true friendship they share, the kindness she feels towards him, and the gap between those feelings and the reality of Charlie’s crimes. Although Charlie is never portrayed in a particularly frightening way due to this friendship, The Good Nurse instead focuses on the chilling reaction of the hospital systems that know their patients’ lives are in danger but avoid taking action to protect themselves.
The Good Nurse debuts on Netflix on Oct. 26.
Early on in Baby Ruby, there’s a scene where pregnant Jo (Noémie Merlant) attempts to peek at a mother’s infant slumbering in a baby carriage. The baby’s mother’s face changes in an instant, contorting from upbeat and friendly to one full of rage and fear. She bats Jo’s hands away violently and instructs Jo never to wake a sleeping baby.
This scene marks the first moment you realize what kind of movie you’re actually getting with Baby Ruby. On its surface, it looks like a dramedy about a lifestyle influencer mother grappling with the ugly, un-hackable, and imperfect sides of raising an infant. But Baby Ruby stretches far beyond the “social media is lying to you” veneer of a film like Ingrid Goes West and instead treads into full-on psychological horror.
Fans of A Portrait of a Lady on Fire are in for a treat, as Merlant carries the full weight of Baby Ruby and stretches every acting muscle imaginable. Kit Harington also offers a serviceable performance as Merlant’s “ethical butcher” husband, who is largely held at arms-length from Jo as she falls head-first into post-partum depression and paranoia that her baby is her enemy. But playwright and first-time feature film director Bess Wohl is obviously the film’s MVP, pulling together a tight and evocative piece of maternal horror that manages to highlight the stark contrast social perceptions of live with a newborn against the dark realities of postpartum, along with the lack of medical, societal, and community support for those experiencing it.
Release date TBD.