Recent Video-on-Demand Offerings in Horror and Horror-Related Cinema
The cream of contemporary feature-length cinema isn’t always found in theaters. These days, smaller and more niche films often implement a same-day launch, simultaneously premiering in a select-city theatrical run and on video-on-demand (VOD) services. Moreover, streaming services are now offering original films of their own. Given the dire and disposable state of the horror genre at the multiplex, these release strategies are particularly suited to reaching a wider, more appreciative audience for cinematic chills. For horror fans in a mid- to small-sized movie market such as St. Louis, online streaming and digital rental/purchase are increasingly vital means of accessing noteworthy features. What follows is a brief assessment of the major new horror (and horror-adjacent) films that have premiered on VOD within the past month.
2018 / Spain / 110 min. / Dir. by Sergio G. Sánchez / Premiered online on April 13, 2018
Shortly after fleeing to the U.S. from England in the late 1960s, the four Marrowbone children lose their divorced mother to illness. Terrified that the state will separate them, the kids are obliged to maintain the pretense that she is still alive until the oldest son, Jack (George MacKay), turns 18. That premise alone was probably sufficient for a moody, slow-boil period thriller, but writer-director Sergio G. Sánchez can’t resist complicating his scenario with an escaped-murderer father, a cache of stolen money, and a grab bag of supernatural-horror elements. The overqualified young cast – including Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, and Mia Goth – and the splendid cinematography and production design don’t quite make up for the needlessly cluttered story, which (spoiler alert) borrows freely from The Others (2001), Split (2016), and Sánchez’s own screenplay for The Orphanage (2007). While some of its aesthetic and narrative components are vivid, Marrowbone as a whole feels simultaneously overstuffed and derivative. Rating: C+ (Now available to rent on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.)
2018 / USA / 92 min. / Dir. by Fritz Böhm / Premiered online on April 13, 2018
The feature directorial debut of German filmmaker Fritz Böhm, Wildling is the sort of grim indie horror picture that takes pains to never overtly mention the subgenre (*cough* werewolf movie *cough*) that it’s ostensibly updating. Anna (Bel Powley) has been held captive her entire life by her creepy adopted “Daddy” (Brad Dourif). When liberated, her difficulty in adjusting to the outside world constitutes more than culture shock. Once her delayed pubescence starts to kick in with a vengeance, things get predictably hairy, bloody, and monstrous. Powley (Diary of a Teenage Girl) and genre mainstay Dourif do their best, but Wildling is a bland muddle: fatally uncertain as to what tone it wants to convey, and prone to haphazardly picking up and discarding subplots and themes. Ginger Snaps (2000) similarly treated lycanthropy as a metaphor for menstruation and female sexuality, and although flawed, it had personality to spare. Wildling just feels like it’s going through the motions. Rating: C- (Now available to rent on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.)
2017 / USA / 90 min. / Dir. by Ryûhei Kitamura / Premiered online on April 26, 2018
Japanese genre veteran Ryûhei Kitamura (Versus, Godzilla: Final Wars, The Midnight Meat Train) has nothing to prove, so it’s strange that Downrange feels like a young horror filmmaker’s debut. This isn’t to say that the film is sloppy or uncertain, just slight, in terms of both its ambition and substance. Admittedly, Downrange has a juicy single-location thriller premise: Six carpooling twentysomethings have a blowout in the middle of nowhere, rendering them easy prey for a concealed sniper, who picks them off one-by-one as they scramble for improvised cover in a sweltering, exposed landscape. The scenario has a lean savagery that’s reminiscent of an early Stephen King novella, and Kitamura brings some welcome directorial flashiness and gorehound excess to it – especially in the bonkers third act. The characters are indistinct and the performances lousy, but such deficiencies are less vexing when the blood, brains, and bullets are flying with such abandon. If only the film’s ironic twist ending didn’t leave such a sour taste. Rating: C+ (Now available to stream exclusively on Shudder.)