Looking over my list of 2022's worst films, I notice how significantly the cinematic landscape has changed. Most of what gets released widely into theaters is “safe” franchise fare. The other stuff, especially if it isn't good, gets shipped off to VOD or a streaming service. Of the ten titles on this list, only one is a major studio production that received a wide theatrical run – and even then, it streamed on Peacock simultaneously. The rest either got limited or, at best, semi-wide releases, or were sent to a streamer. The game has changed.
A quick reminder that I make this list not to be mean, but to simply document the year in film. It's a counterpoint to my Ten Best Films of 2022 list, a summary of the past twelve months. With that said, here are my least favorite movies of the year:
10. Mack & Rita - Poor Diane Keaton. She's an Oscar-winning actress who has appeared in multiple certified classics. Now, as a woman of a certain age, good roles have apparently dried up, leaving her stuck in this moronic comedy about a 30-year-old woman who transforms into her 70-year-old self after undergoing “regression therapy” inside a tent in a parking lot. What follows is lame humor that requires Keaton to scream and flail around like Jerry Lewis after chugging a case of Red Bull. I felt embarrassed for her watching this movie.
9. Firestarter - Hollywood's addiction to remakes and reboots hits a nadir with this new version of the Stephen King book. Aside from eliminating/altering important parts of the author's story, the movie offers up unconvincing fire effects and “action” scenes that possess no excitement whatsoever. The 1984 Drew Barrymore version is not considered one of the better King adaptations, but it's The Shawshank Redemption compared to this chaotic mess.
8. The Desperate Hour - A good rule for filmmakers to follow would be to never, ever, under any circumstances make a movie about a school shooting. Doing so without becoming offensive is virtually impossible. This dreadful thriller stars Naomi Watts as a mother out for a jog in the woods when news of an active shooter at her son's high school hits. Most of the film consists of her running back to town. But then she gets the shooter's cell phone number and calls him in the midst of his crime and...well, you see what I mean? Totally tasteless.
7. Family Camp - I've seen some very good faith-based dramas. I've never seen a good faith-based comedy. That's because the ones that exist rely on tired old gags and lame slapstick. Afraid of offending anybody in this Meatballs-meets-The Great Outdoors wannabe, YouTube comedy duo “The Skit Guys” (a.k.a. Tommy Woodard and Eddie James) opt to mug incessantly at the camera for almost two hours before delivering the eventual religious message. To its credit, Family Camp did make me say “Hallelujah!” when it was over.
6. The King's Daughter - Here's a movie that sat on the shelf for seven years before hitting theaters in 2022. It should have sat there seven more. Whatever happened during that time resulted in a story so incoherent, Julie Andrews had to be brought in to provide voiceover narration to fill in the gaps. It didn't work. Pierce Brosnan plays King Louis XIV, who has captured a mermaid that his illegitimate daughter (Kaya Scodelario) wants to free, and the plot becomes hazy after that.
5. No Exit - I hated this movie so much, I didn't even bother to write a review of it. A group of people are stranded at a roadside rest stop because of an intense blizzard. One of them has a kidnapped child in the back of a van, and a young woman named Darby (Havana Rose Liu) is determined to figure out who it is. Aside from being both predictable and preposterous, the film contains scenes in which a child is shown in grave danger, including having a nail gun pointed at her. The kid isn't even developed as a character; she's just a prop for cheap thrills. No Exit? No way.
4. The Friendship Game - This chiller wants to be Hellraiser for the teenage audience, but it's really just hell. Peyton List and friends buy a weird metal orb at a yard sale. It's a game designed to test the friendship of anyone who plays it. That could be an interesting premise, but The Friendship Game is filled with weird, non-sensical hallucination sequences, choppy storytelling, and one-dimensional characters. And because it rushes through the explanation of how the game works, getting confused becomes even easier. This is a profoundly unpleasant film to sit through.
3. The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild - I'd call The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild a bottom-of-the-barrel family film, but the last few Ice Age sequels were bottom-of-the-barrel. This one is the sludge underneath the barrel – a thinly-plotted, cheaply-animated cash-in meant to drive Disney+ subscriptions by capitalizing on Ice Age's name recognition. Stars Ray Romano, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, and Queen Latifah wisely opted not to return. Heck, even Scrat the squirrel was smart enough not to come back.
2. Hocus Pocus 2 - Speaking of Disney+, the streaming service was also the receptacle for the abysmal sequel to the equally-abysmal 1993 Halloween-themed comedy. Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker are back to repeat all the jokes from the original, make faces for the camera, and jump around like lunatics. You'd think the people who made Hocus Pocus 2 would want to improve on the original. Nope, they just take the same obnoxious, unfunny approach.
And my choice for the Worst Film of 2022 is:
1. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - A couple months after seeing this movie, I'm still trying to figure out what it was. Ostensibly the story is about a cranky book store owner (Kunal Nayyar) trying to find his lost copy of a rare Edgar Allen Poe book. Then he's suddenly dating the woman (Lucy Hale) he couldn't stand at the beginning, and abruptly adopting an abandoned little girl, and dealing with his sister's anger over her husband's infidelity. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry bounces randomly from one plot thread to another, never even trying to develop dramatic tension or narrative coherence. The effect is devastating boredom. If you can watch this movie without falling asleep, playing with your cell phone, or running for the exits, you have accomplished something impressive.
Honorable Mention: All Jacked Up and Full of Worms - I saw this movie at a festival, and it received a VOD release shortly afterward. The experience was the most unpleasant I had in 2022, yet that's precisely the point of this intentionally nightmarish work about a group of people eating hallucinogenic worms and freaking out. You couldn't pay me to sit through this picture again. That said, I opted not to include Worms in the formal list because this is really a case of experimental cinema that simply isn't my kind of thing, as opposed to something that's more conventionally “bad.”