Brief Impressions of Three 2022 Horror Films: Smile, Barbarian, and X

Movie theater room cinema

I watch a lot of horror films, but I don't watch many during the year of their release. I don't have any interest in going to movie theaters, and the concept of streaming has little appeal. This limits my access to newer films, but I am happy to be patient. I can still enjoy them whenever I get around to watching them.

Since I recently saw three horror films released in 2022, I figured I'd share my impressions. The films were Smile, Barbarian, and X. All may be worth a look, depending on your tastes. As for me, I found two of them to be worthwhile.

Smile (2022)

Smile is one of those films where the trailer reveals almost everything you need to know. This isn't always a positive thing, but it worked here. I thought the trailer made the film seem interesting, and it was. There is more to the film than the brief summary I'll offer, of course. Without revealing too much, the story centers on a therapist. Through one of her patients, she encounters an entity that enters people. When it does, the result is a menacing smile and assorted bad things you'd expect in a horror movie.

I give Smile lots of credit for creative storytelling. Turning something positive, a smile, into something frightening was a great concept. Besides the story, the film had a strong cast and solid acting. The special effects were good enough for a film that didn't have to rely on them. It wasn't what I'd consider scary or disturbing. If viewed as more of a thriller or even a mystery than a straight-up horror film, I could forgive this.

Where Smile broke down for me was in the pacing. It seemed like the filmmakers were trying to make a feature film from a short story and had to use lots of filler. After a strong start and decent character development, the pace slowed to a crawl. I found myself getting bored. That's not something one wants in a horror film. Smile was far too long, and there were many unnecessary scenes. Nothing would happen for a few scenes, and then there would be a random jump scare. It was almost like the filmmakers were trying to convince the audience to keep watching. I made it to the end, but better editing would have made it much more effective.

On balance, I found more positives than negatives. I'd give Smile a 6/10 rating, and I'd watch it again. I'm sure I'd enjoy it more with more realistic expectations.

Barbarian (2022)

I was eager to see Barbarian based on the kind of ratings I saw it getting. I was careful not to read any of the reviews beforehand, so I am referring only to the polarized ratings I saw. People either loved it or hated it. Polarizing films like this aren't always good, but they are usually interesting. Little did I realize what an understatement that would be.

As strange as it was, Barbarian was one of the better horror films I've seen in some time. As someone fed on a regular diet of horror, I sometimes feel like I've seen it all. Barbarian proved me wrong. It was nothing like what I had expected, and it did some things I don't recall seeing before. It has been at least a couple of years since I last heard myself say, "Whoa" or "What the hell" while watching a horror film.

Believe it or not, there was even a moment when I had to check the input on my TV. I thought I had changed the source without realizing it. I didn't realize that what I was still watching was the same movie! That's never happened before.

Because it is vital that anyone thinking of seeing Barbarian goes in cold, I can't say much more than that. The IMDb synopsis says, "A woman staying at an Airbnb discovers that the house she has rented is not what it seems." Yes, and then some. This was one of those films operating on more than one level and with something to say. But we'd better leave it at that.

The cast was amazing, the acting was top-notch, and the special effects worked well. The primary flaw involved a couple of major plot holes. Horror fans know that moment when the main character does something so stupid that it yanks one out of the film. Nobody would do that in real life. That happened here at least twice.

I'd give Barbarian at least an 8/10 rating, and I want to see it again soon. I am confident I'd pick up on more the second time around. In a word, wow!

X (2022)

Like every other horror film directed by Ti West, X (2022) seduced me with glowing reviews on IMDb. And like every other horror film directed by Ti West, I came away disappointed. I haven't liked any of his films, and my complaint is the same with every one of them. Despite the positive reviews, X wasn't any better.

X, like most of Ti West's films, appeared to be an homage to horror classics. Imagine the cast of a low-budget porn film entering the late 1970s landscape of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and you'd be close. I'm exaggerating. Aside from being set in 1979 in rural Texas, it didn't have much in common with TCM. A group of young filmmakers visits a run-down farm owned by an elderly couple. They film some pornographic scenes, which upset their hosts. Some mild horror ensues, and that's about it.

The look of the film was good, and everything seemed period-correct. The casting was fine, and the acting did not detract. The special effects worked well, and there was an appropriate amount of gore. All those positives pale in comparison to the big negative.

In fairness to Ti West, I have not seen every one of his films. The ones I have seen, including X, share the same flaw. They have no heart, no soul, no passion. As an audience member, they give me no reason to keep watching. I keep hearing that West is a real horror fan. That's great, but it doesn't come through in his films. The emotional tone is bland. The characters are one-dimensional, and very little happens.

I love slow-burn horror. That isn't what West offers. I prefer psychological horror to gore. I love a good atmosphere and a building sense of dread. I don't find either in West's films. This was yet another one where I sat there for all but the last 10 minutes waiting for something to happen. I didn't care about any of the characters, so I assumed there must be a big payoff at the end. It never came. X committed the only unforgivable sin in horror: it was boring from beginning to end.

Being as generous as I can, I'd give X a 4/10 rating. I realize I may be one of the few horror fans not enamored with Ti West. I don't see myself sitting through another one of his films any time soon.

Image by Alfred Derks from Pixabay

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