Mia Goth and 9 Other Oscar-Worthy Horror Performances From 2022

Every year, it feels like there’s another horror performance that genre fans rally around en masse, only for it to receive next-to-no industry recognition, even when some prominent voices in Hollywood use their platforms to support the performance publicly. Said support is simply no match for the industry-wide “genre bias” amongst many awards bodies – this perception that performances given in any genre except for dramas (comedies, horror films, you name it) are inherently “lesser” and require less “work” from an actor. Sure, there are a few exceptions (Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, Kathy Bates in Misery, and, most recently, Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out), but for the most part, no matter how powerful your performance may be in a genre film, The Academy just won’t bite. And while sometimes you can blame it on a film’s macabre subject matter (Hereditary was simply too dark for Toni Collette to stand a chance at earning an Oscar nom), even former Oscar winners can’t overcome this obstacle (despite earning Critics Choice and SAG nominations, Lupita Nyong’o still couldn’t grab The Academy’s attention in Jordan Peele’s Us).

Many before me have noted what a standout year 2022 is for the horror genre – with hit (Ti West’s X) after hit (Halina Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies) after hit (Zach Cregger’s Barbarian) – and that quality extends to the performances found in these films as well. Mia Goth’s gargantuan portrayal of a housewife-gone-psycho in Pearl is perhaps the most talked about horror performance of the year (with countless fans already begrudgingly comparing her to Collette and Nyong’o, as yet another actress giving her all to a genre piece only to receive a fraction of the plaudits she deserves), but she’s far from the only star who has turned in towering work in the genre space this year. Bones and All features some of Timothée Chalamet’s and Mark Rylance’s best performances to date – along with a brilliant breakout role for Waves‘ Taylor Russell – while Keke Palmer and Rachel Sennott proved to be sensational supporting standouts in Nope and Bodies Bodies Bodies respectively, delivering some of the most memorable movie moments of 2022. And even still, we’ve just barely scratched the surface of all the acting excellence in horror that the year has offered so, in honor of Halloween, here are ten horror performances from 2022 that I believe deserve legitimate awards attention this season. (Some spoilers may follow.)

Sosie Bacon – Smile

Smile is the surprise horror hit of 2022 – earning nearly $200 million worldwide on a $17 million budget – but while much of that success can be attributed to writer-director Parker Finn’s chilling command behind the camera (and his viscerally affecting adaptation of his short film Laura Hasn’t Slept), we also shouldn’t undersell Sosie Bacon’s wickedly winning work in the lead role. Even when Smile‘s story feels a bit reminiscent of recent horror flicks like The Ring and It Follows, Bacon makes Rose’s woes feel revolutionarily scary all over again, especially when viewed within the modern context of a woman’s fears and experiences not being taken seriously by others – or even believed whatsoever. As Rose descends further into delirium (and as her premonitions further corrupt her psyche), Bacon’s performance becomes increasingly physical, and her eerily effective expression of this full-bodied affliction is a stupefying sight to behold, as is her relentlessly enthralling desire to escape her fate and save others from suffering at the hands of this callous curse as she and countless victims have. Even if Smile doesn’t bring Bacon any industry accolades, here’s hoping it allows one of the most promising stars of her generation the long-overdue opportunity to level up in Hollywood she deserves.

Rohan Campbell – Halloween Ends

Rohan Campbell in Halloween Ends

Halloween Ends is perhaps the most hotly debated sequel in a horror franchise full of ’em, and the character at the center of that contentious discourse is none other than Rohan Campbell’s Corey Cunningham, who happens to essentially be the lead of this franchise finale as opposed to Michael Myers or Laurie Strode. When you first realize that Corey – a Haddonfield teen who is accused of murdering a child he babysat and subsequently ostracized by this small town (when it was really just an incredibly unfortunate accident) – is our primary protagonist this time around, it’s a little jarring. Why are we spending so much time on this rando’s social troubles and burgeoning romance with Andi Matichak’s Allyson? This is Halloween, not some “sweeping romantic drama.” But when it becomes clear what David Gordon Green and Danny McBride are doing with this character (especially when he finds/frees Michael and develops a kinship with this reclusive killer), Corey’s descension into madness becomes quite compelling, representing how individuals – and particularly, young men – turn to violence to deal with their disenchantment with the world around them and to “right the wrongs of their life” (and how Haddonfield has become as big a monster as Michael to push him on this path). If some people feel that Green’s social commentary isn’t as sharp as it could be, I think Campbell should come out unscathed from those critiques – his chilling commitment to his character is the reason the first two (mostly Micheal-less) thirds of Halloween Ends are as engrossing as they are, and it’s his emotional investment that allows us to empathize with Corey without ever endorsing his actions. In a just world, it should be a star-making turn.

Timothée Chalamet, Taylor Russell, and Mark Rylance – Bones and All

Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet in Bones & All

Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All has an air of “prestige” around it – due to both the pedigree of its cast and crew and its fancy premieres at a slew of fall film festivals – but don’t let that distract you from the fact that this is still a horror film through and through, just one that employs drama and romance tropes as well to conjure up as tragic a conclusion as possible for this Badlands-esque cannibal love story. Much attention and acclaim has already been given to the arresting Taylor Russell in the lead role (she even took home the Marcello Mastroianni Award at the Venice Film Festival for her work here), and she is undoubtedly captivating as a young girl named Maren forced to go on the run for reasons out of her control, with still so little awareness of what her body is capable of. But really, Bones and All is jam-packed with powerful and poignant performances, with the transcendent Timothée Chalamet – portraying Maren’s love interest, Lee – turning in some of his most thrilling work in years, beginning as a brash young boy who has hardened his heart to make his way through this wicked world, only to find that his connection with Maren allows him to unravel emotionally in ways he never thought possible, culminating in a magical monologue that will stand as a highpoint in Chalamet’s career. And let’s not also forget the monstrous Mark Rylance as the slimy Sully, an older “eater” who can’t seem to stop pursuing Maren and trying to “convince” her to accompany him on his travels at all costs. We all know the Oscar-winning Rylance is a dramatic force to be reckoned with, but you’ve never seen him as spine-chilling as he is here, and it’s absurd to think that The Academy would let Bones and All‘s genre get in the way of recognizing one of the most memorable supporting roles of the year from an actor they’ve already honored.

Mia Goth – Pearl

Mia Goth in Pearl

Perhaps the performance that inspired this piece, Mia Goth’s work in Pearl is instantly iconic. Sure, some may dismiss it prior to seeing the film for the memes it’s inspired on Twitter, but for all the talk of how this is “The Female Joker” (or how Goth’s many manic outbursts can come across as “campy”), we tend to forget that Pearl is actually an emotionally affecting tragedy at the end of the day, sharing the story of a small town girl – who, yes, might have already had a few “screws loose” – who dreams of nothing more than being a star, but finds herself held back by the life she was born into (including the abusive mother who micromanages her entire existence) and the indifference of the industry. Through Goth’s staggering – but also subtly poignant – portrayal of Pearl, we palpably feel her frustration every step of the way, and at times, we’re even rooting for her to get revenge on those who have wronged her, no matter how grisly their demise may be. And, of course, there’s no discussion of Mia Goth’s performance in Pearl that can’t include a massive rave for that mighty nine-minute monologue (an unbroken shot!) that allows us intense and intricate insight into Pearl’s psyche in a way that not only wonderfully complicates the character, but also adds so much depth to Ti West’s X trilogy as a whole. If Goth was delivering that monologue in any other movie – especially if it was a contemporary character study or stuffy period piece – she’d essentially be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. But since Pearl is a horror film? Fat chance – which should be an indictment on awards season.

Rebecca Hall – Resurrection

Rebecca Hall in Resurrection

Can someone give Rebecca Hall a break? It feels like the only roles she’s offered these days are those of strung-out and emotionally abused women struggling to overcome the pains of their past (ChristineThe Night House, and now, Resurrection), but when she’s this damn good at them, why wouldn’t you want more? In fact, Resurrection might be her best take on this trope yet. Here, Hall plays a working mother whose life is upended when a monstrous man she was married to but narrowly escaped years before re-emerges and won’t leave her alone, and even when the story goes for “surrealism” on occasion, Hall does her damndest to roots the emotional stakes in realism thanks to her gusty gravitas and courageous commitment to this character – a woman pushed to her limit who will do anything (and everything) to protect her and her daughter and avoid the abuse she cruelly endured so long ago (oh, and did we mention that this horror film also features a near-ten-minute monologue relayed via an unbroken shot that enriches a complicated character to electrifying effect?). Towards the end, Resurrection becomes a bit befuddling, and no one will fault you if you’re still left contemplating how all the twists and turns come together as the credits roll, but it’s Hall who makes this eccentricity engrossing all the same, with her work transcending genre parameters and simply serving as some of the most acting period you’ll find from any lead actress all year long.

Rory Kinnear – Men

Rory Kinnear in Men

Word-of-mouth on Alex Garland’s Men was mightily mixed when it released this May (I happen to be in the minority that actually appreciated his outrageously layered – if occasionally obvious – investigation of the ills of the patriarchy throughout history), but one thing that was never called into question was the acting from lead Jessie Buckley and her co-star Rory Kinnear. While Buckley was sometimes branded as a “cipher” by critics – acting as a metaphor as opposed to a fully fleshed out character – she imbued her Harper with honesty and humanity nevertheless, but it was actually Kinnear’s work that has stuck with me the most, as although this is essentially a two-hander, that’s because Kinnear takes on the job of playing every single man that Harper comes into contact with over the course of the story. The overbearing owner of the holiday house Harper rents? Kinnear. The primitive naked man who pursues her in the woods? Kinnear. The provocative priest who can’t seem to control his “unholy” desires? Kinnear. And on and on and on. It’s an audacious artistic choice that could’ve fallen flat if the actor asked to take on this task wasn’t fit for the job, but thankfully, Kinnear is simply sensational, fully embodying every single variation of these “men” with masterful and mesmerizing exactitude. And by the time Men reaches its chaotic – and conceptually courageous – conclusion, these images only hold as much power as they do because Kinnear brilliantly laid the groundwork for their thematic resonance.

Keke Palmer – Nope

Keke Palmer in Nope

Those who followed her growing up in films like Akeelah and the Bee or shows like True Jackson, VP already knew that Keke Palmer was a surefire star, but it seems it took the rest of the world a little longer to catch up, as Jordan Peele’s Nope provided her with the most mainstream attention of her entire career – and rightfully so. As the riotously entertaining Emerald Haywood, Palmer is initially presented as the comic relief of the piece, almost as Lil Rel Howery was in Get Out. She gets every glorious one-liner, says what the audience is thinking in the most shocking setpieces, and overall fills the film with light and levity it might have otherwise lacked in her absence. However, over time, her considerate connection with her brother O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya) reveals itself to be the heart of the story, and the key to the immense emotional impact of the film’s finale. It’s impossible to forget the tears in her eyes as she rides away from O.J. in their climactic confrontation with “Jean Jacket” – not knowing if she’ll ever see her brother again – and an hour prior, one might have doubted that a character this seemingly comical on the surface would be the missing puzzle piece to Nope‘s ultimate poignancy. But such is the power of Palmer’s multidimensional performance here, where she doubles as both a side-splitting scene stealer and the source of the story’s sentimentality.

Rachel Sennott – Bodies Bodies Bodies

Rachel Sennott in Bodies Bodies Bodies

Last but certainly not least, no list of the “best horror performances of 2022” is complete without representation from the brilliantly biting Bodies Bodies Bodies, but while I could’ve listed nearly every actor from the film’s exceptional ensemble (including the delightfully dopey Lee Pace, the astoundingly acerbic Myha’la Herrold, and the outrageously oblivious Pete Davidson), I had to single out Rachel Sennott, who was already a star-on-the-rise after her witty work in last year’s Shiva Baby, but once again steals the show here as the absent-minded Alice, who cares just as much about her podcast as the potentially murderous perils at hand, and, above all else, still simply wants to have a good time even when shit goes south. Her reactions are the most obscenely overblown but enormously entertaining from any character in the cast, and every single one of her line-readings feels like a revelation (“He’s a Libra moon, and that says a lot!,” “A podcast takes a lot of work!,” and “Your parents are upper. middle. class.,” are instant all-timers). Sennott’s comedic prowess would be more than enough to make this an Oscar-worthy performance, but it’s the way she portrays Alice without prejudice or pretension that proves to be her secret weapon here. In another actress’ hands, it’s easy to see how one could have simply mocked Alice throughout the entire movie and turned her into a stock stereotype to mine laughter from the audience, but Sennott so thoroughly believes in Alice’s blissfully sincere worldview that we too regard the character as “real” and worthy of our investment, which is her greatest accomplishment of all.

Written by
Though Zoë Rose Bryant has only worked in film criticism for a little under three years - turning a collegiate passion into a full-time career by writing for outlets such as Next Best Picture and Awards Watch - her captivation with cinema has been a lifelong fascination, appreciating film in all its varying forms, from horror movies to heartfelt romantic comedies and everything in between. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, she made the move to Los Angeles in 2021 after graduating college and now spends her days keeping tabs on all things pop culture and attempting to attend every screening under the sun. As a trans critic, she also seeks to champion underrepresented voices in the LGBTQ+ community in film criticism and offer original insight on how gender and sexuality are explored in modern entertainment. You can find Zoë on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd at @ZoeRoseBryant.

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