The gap between Halloween and the new year is tough for a lot of people. Long nights, cold weather, bad relatives, no relatives, end-of-year deadlines – it’s enough to drive a horror fan mad. Thus this month’s horror movie round-up is all about alienation, claustrophobia, and what happens when you have the misfortune of running into somebody even crazier than yourself.
On a routine trip to Mars, a people-mover the size of a luxury hotel is accidentally sent off-course into the “endless night” of deep space. Based on Harry Martinson’s epic poem, ANIARA follows a hopelessly optimistic woman’s efforts to keep the passengers sane by giving them comforting images of Earth. A beautifully shot and devastatingly bleak metaphor for a human life that makes MELANCHOLIA look like a Hallmark movie.
Grade = A+ (Hulu)
THE FOREST OF THE LOST SOULS
A young female psychopath stalks the grounds of a suicide forest, looking for lonely souls to prey upon. “Sadness doesn’t last forever,” Carolina says to a grieving girl, but only because you catch more lost souls with honey than with vinegar. A cold and efficient arthouse movie, shot entirely in black and white, that defies explanation and throbs to an anxious industrial beat.
Grade = A- (Hulu)
Frances, a lonely young woman, has recently lost her mother. Greta, a lonely middle-aged woman, has lost her husband and daughter. When Frances finds Greta’s purse on the New York subway, the two form an unlikely friendship – and then everything goes to shit. A surprisingly melancholy and stylish little old-fashioned thriller that more than passes the Bechdel Test and occasionally strikes higher chords about urban isolation.
Grade = A- (Prime)
A modern American household hosts “Thanksgiving reenactors” who are very obsessed with old-fashioned values of gratitude and piety. What follows is a descent into bloody absurdity that somehow manages to evoke both SAW and MOTHER! While PILGRIM half-stumbles into a cringey “true meaning of Thanksgiving” lesson, there’s something more to be said for its criticism of our fascistic search for a mythical authenticity.
Grade = B (Hulu)
Broken psychic Dan tries to help a powerful young girl who discovers an evil syndicate of psychic child-killers. Fans of director Mike Flanagan’s HILL HOUSE adaptation will find plenty to like, but the plodding pace and cloying sentimentality diminish any sense of urgency. Like most good vs. evil stories, DOCTOR SLEEP would have been improved by a sole focus on the ragtag villains led by Rose the Hat (wonderfully portrayed by Rebecca Ferguson).
Grade = B-
I TRAPPED THE DEVIL
A couple visits their brother(-in-law) for Christmas and discover he’s holding someone – the devil, he insists! – hostage behind a basement door. A holiday-themed entry into the distinctively masculine “mumble horror” genre, in which a man slides into increasingly violent and crazy behavior but just might have a good reason for it. The question of the devil-trapper’s insanity, however, is clunkily obvious the whole time.
Grade = C+ (Hulu)
A sad paranormal skeptic is asked to investigate the stories of three men whose supernatural experiences will supposedly make a believer out of him. He’s really less of an investigator than a stenographer of flat monologue, though. Rather than maintaining the ambiguity that’s practically required of this subgenre, GHOST STORIES leans way into its ham-fisted ghost reenactments – and then, into a true groaner of an ending.
Grade = C (Hulu)