The Top 10 Horror Performances Of The Year

Best Horror Performances 2023

There was an endless supply of horror movies this year. This means countless performances deserve recognition in 2023. Even in movies that missed the mark for most of us, we saw actors doing remarkable work. Which is why zeroing in on just 10 performances was difficult. I had to box myself in to keep this from becoming the length of a novel. I forced myself to use movies categorized as horror. This means no thrillers (Barry Keoghan, Saltburn), sci-fi (Riz Ahmed, Fingernails), or fantasy (Andrew Scott, All Of Us Strangers). As someone who likes to remind people how big the genre umbrella is as I paint with all the subcategory colors, this was the hardest blow imaginable. I also limited the list to movies available to watch as I am writing this. So, I sadly had to omit David Dastmalchian’s career-defining role in Late Night With The Devil. It also means I cannot rave about newcomer Zafreen Zairizal in Tiger Stripes. 

With these restrictions, it was still nearly impossible because many of the movies below have a few actors who really served. However, I persisted and have carved out a list of the 10 Best Performances In 2023 Horror Movies that will allow me to sleep at night.

10. Dewayne Perkins, The Blackening

Where You Can Watch: Starz

Because the ensemble is so strong in The Blackening, I had to watch it a few times to make sure I was correct in saying Dewayne Perkins was the standout performance. Not only did Dewayne give us a character that was smart, fun, queer, and the most relatable of the group, but he also had many of the best lines. Every time this character called their best friend out, I felt seen. Because Perkins managed to have a breakout performance in a group of hilarious actors, I want to see him in a leading role. Preferably in another horror movie, but I’ll show up and ask questions later. 

9. Lizzy Caplan, Cobweb

Where You Can Watch: Hulu

I am one of the people who enjoyed this creepy autumn-infused gem. A huge part of that is because of Lizzy Caplan’s phenomenal performance. In a movie where she shares most of her scenes with Anthony Starr (who excels in these likable but villainous characters), and we have an unhinged reveal, the thing that stays with me is Carol. Caplan has infused this woman with so much creepy concern and wrapped her in a shroud of mystery. At different times I wondered if Carol was victim, monster, or just complicit. Caplan is always electric, but something about this turn was pure magic. I have very few notes for this nightmarish storybook, but one of them is I wish Carol had more screen time.

8. Judy Reyes, Birth/Rebirth 

Where You Can Watch: AMC+ and Shudder

Judy Reyes has been giving stellar performances for decades. This is why I got so excited when I discovered she would be in a horror movie. The way Reyes navigates this mother’s grief and guilt is part of the reason this Frankenstein-inspired title rises above the others that we have been bombarded with this decade. Our dear Judy deserves an award for everything she did in this role. While many may understandably view this film as a team effort between her and Marin Ireland (who is stellar in her own right), Reyes is the one you cannot look away from. She is the heart and soul and drives this vehicle like an expert. I need to see her do so much more horror, and I need it today.

7. Dave Bautista, Knock at the Cabin

Where You Can Watch: Prime Video

However we feel about this movie, we must give Dave Bautista his flowers. His performance is one of the few things working for this adaptation. We’ve seen many wrestlers step out of the ring and onto the screen to play the same few roles indefinitely. While Bautista has gotten stuck being cast as a type, he’s one of the few I’ve suspected is capable of doing more than he’s typically given. I’ve literally watched him add nuance and depth to even a character like Drax The Destroyer in the MCU. So, I’ve been lowkey hoping he’d land a role that would let him show us what he can really do. Seeing him play a sad man tasked to deliver the worst news to a family was a thing of beauty. Hopefully, this role will open more doors to get him even more challenging work.

6. Leslie Odom Jr., The Exorcist: Believer 

Where You Can Watch: Peacock

I almost believed I would have a good time with this movie solely because of Leslie Odom Jr.’s performance in the first act. He shone the brightest when given something to work with as a father looking for his missing daughter. Ultimately, the movie devolved into what always happens when David Gordan Green and Blumhouse team up. However, I remember that flicker of hope I was given in those first few moments because Odom Jr. is an exceptional actor. I wish he’d gotten a movie that believed in him enough to let him really lead it. Instead, he was weighed down by another family’s possession to distract from what was going on in his home. Then they tasked him with escorting a wasted legacy character around before getting to a crowded exorcism that resulted in more laughs than scares. I wouldn’t blame Odom Jr. if he never spoke to the genre again, but I sincerely hope to see him again in something worth his time.

5. Felicity Kyle Napuli, In My Mother’s Skin

Where You Can Watch: Prime Video

Felicity Kyle Napuli is a name we should start getting used to hearing. In what appears to be one of her first feature films, she knocks it out of the park. This teen was tasked with playing a child in a horror fantasy period piece, and she churned out a performance well beyond her years. Napuli finds every peak and valley in this character while never forgetting Tala is a child. A kid being forced to take care of matters that even most adults are not equipped to handle but through the eyes of youth. It is heartbreaking to watch her realize the creature she turned to for help is there to do anything but that. We all knew that was coming, but Napuli’s performance felt like a knife to the chest. I sincerely hope we see her in the genre more often because if this is how she enters the chat, I cannot even begin to imagine how bright her future will be. 

4. Melissa Barerra, Scream VI

Where You Can Watch: Showtime

I’ve been obsessed with Melissa Barerra since Vida. She’s a strong actor who is unafraid to get into the messy and dark corners of her characters. This is a huge part of why Sam Carpenter is one of my favorite final girls. Barerra brings a smart, strong, practical approach to the role. She is brave, quick on her feet, and will protect those she loves at all costs. This is a major contrast to the majority of final girls who need to cry about what must be done before doing the work. Not only is Sam a fighter, but “there is a darkness inside” of her, forcing her to wonder if she’s a little too good at ending Ghostfaces. Barerra not only understands the assignment but continues to exceed expectations. 

3. Sophie Wilde, Talk To Me

Where You Can Watch: VOD

I did not know Sophie Wilde before Talk To Me, but I’m making it my business to keep up with her work now. Her portrayal of the messy, fragile, and grieving Mia struck all the right notes. She made all of the mistakes that come with youth while also fighting supernatural entities that were invited in during an attempt to distract from her own pain. She is one of the most fun, interesting, and raw characters we have seen this year. Wilde manages to keep all of Mia’s emotions near the surface, so we are forced to remember that nothing she does is out of malice. It’s almost too painful to watch when her chosen family (understandably) turns against her after one of her bad decisions leads to the most gnarly scene of the film. Mia has become one of my favorite characters in a very long time. However, I doubt she would be as compelling without Wilde’s understanding of the character.

2. Kyle Gallner, The Passenger

Where You Can Watch: MGM+

Many of us have taken Kyle Gallner for granted. He always gives us a solid performance and is often one of the strongest performances in many movies he’s in. As with most engaging actors, we have come to expect certain things from him because he always delivers. However, this year, he seemingly leveled up in two completely different roles. His turn in Mother, May I? would have easily landed him somewhere on this list, but he truly excels in The Passenger. In the role, he manages to fuse his natural charm, relatability, and likability with Benson’s ticks, triggers, and seemingly depressive rage. Perhaps it was working with director Carter Smith, something about the material, or maybe the planets aligned. Whatever the case, Gallner gives a career-best performance in this movie. It is the perfect showcase for him to shake the table and remind us he stays booked and busy for a reason.

1. Natalia Solián, Huesera: The Bone Woman

Where You Can Watch: AMC+ and Shudder

As someone who is usually annoyed by how women are written in movies about motherhood, I went into this with low expectations. But I was blown away by the character Valeria. It’s about time we have more characters question why they want to be parents and ask themselves if they are willing to give up parts of themselves to be forced into the mom box. While all this manifests in disturbing, upsetting, and creepy ways, Natalia Solián forces you to stay with her. There’s something so vulnerable and engaging about what she does in this role. She manages to keep her doubts bottled up with only a few ticks and glances to give away the truth of what she does not want to face. Her ability to convey so much of Valeria’s internal turmoil while pretending to be as happy as society demands her to be is captivating. Valeria’s silent screams were louder than any auditory screams in the movie.

Do we have some of the same favorite performances in horror this year? Then let me know at @misssharai.



Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter