Whatever you craved from the content gods in 2022, one thing that probably wasn’t on your preferred menu: Multiple stories that focused on, explored, and even celebrated cannibalism. Yes, movies and TV shows about people eating people.
This sudden cultural preoccupation with the taste of human flesh could potentially be considered our natural next course after the overly-trodden genre booms of vampire and zombie tales from the last 20-something years. But still, the abundance of cannibalistic offerings this year would cause anyone’s brow to wrinkle (and stomach to churn).
The strange glut of consumer content was portended, as it were, by none other than actor Armie Hammer, whose alleged cannibal-leaning text messages were aired publicly back in 2021, only to resurface in September via Discovery+’s somewhat sensationalistic docuseries “House of Hammer.” (Discovery+, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.)
But that’s far from all. Hammer’s “Call Me By Your Name” director Luca Guadagnino again worked with the star of that film Timothée Chalamet this year on a bizarre love story about cannibals on the margins of society called “Bones and All,” which came out last month. The movie, costarring Taylor Russell, Michael Stuhlbarg (also from “Call Me”) and Oscar winner Mark Rylance, earned mostly favorable reviews, with CNN’s Brian Lowry calling it “a strange and intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying stew.”
It might be hard to believe, but that film was just one of two cannibalistic quasi-romances this year, with Hulu’s “Fresh” being the first in March. A blacker-than-black satire on the evils and pratfalls of modern dating, “Fresh” features Sebastian Stan as a way-too-good-to-be-true plastic surgeon who pursues young women to eventually trap them in his remote mansion and take pieces of them for an elite underground community of flesh eaters who pay top dollar for the, er, freshest cuts. The movie deftly teeters between hard-to-watch and tongue-in-cheek, ultimately providing an ending that gives new meaning to the term “just desserts.”
And then there was Netflix’s “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” which was the streaming giant’s most-watched new show in its first week at the time in September. This Ryan Murphy series had many viewers unable to finish watching even the first episode. If that weren’t enough on the notorious cannibalistic serial killer, October saw the premiere of a third installment of the “Conversations With a Killer” series, also on Netflix, this one focusing on Dahmer.
On top of these were a few very attention-getting “cannibal-adjacent” titles, like Showtime’s “Yellowjackets,” which came out late last year but got more legs this year. The series is an atmospheric new take on the “Lost” trope, this one following a group of women who survived a harrowing experience following a plane crash that left them stranded in the wilderness for over a year when they were teens. And while there is no explicit cannibalism in the show as of yet, “Yellowjackets” kind of dangles the idea but seems to be saving the real meat of it (sorry) for next year’s Season 2.
Lastly, there was last month’s “The Menu,” which also does not feature people-eating, but definitely teased the idea of it in its marketing campaign.
This definitely isn’t the first time cannibals have captured the zeitgeist. After all, Anthony Hopkins won his first best actor Oscar for only 16 minutes of screentime as the murderous flesh eater Hannibal Lecter in 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs.” The San Diego Museum Of Man’s strange and mystifying “Cannibals: Myth & Reality” exhibit explains that cannibalism is actually not as foreign as one might think, spanning cultures and history, from European royalty to American colonists, as well as unlucky sailors and accident survivors. (Remember 1993’s “Alive” with Ethan Hawke, based on the true story of a Uruguayan rugby team who had to eat the dead to survive after crashing in the Andes?)
The exhibit even shines a light on how the human body was used as medicine among the British aristocracy in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Cannibalism, it could be said, is as much as part of our history as it is the strange present we call 2022.
At any rate, one would hope that this unsettling fascination with cannibals has come to an end, along with this year. In fact, as a colleague noted in an email, “Feeling like you have to come out against cannibalism is really 2022 in a nutshell.”