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 have a ‘same-day’ limited theatrical opening and video-on-demand (VOD) launch. 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 like St. Louis, online streaming is an 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.
2017 / USA / 106 min. / Directed by Liam O’Donnell / Opened in select cities and premiered online on Dec. 15, 2017
Beyond Skyline—a spinoff/sequel to the dismally crappy, instantly-forgotten Skyline (2010)—is unequivocally a Bad Movie, and not in the winking, kitschy manner of a Syfy original. It essentially depicts the same alien invasion from the first film, but from the perspective of different characters, chiefly a widowed, alcoholic LAPD detective (Frank Grillo). It’s not a complete train wreck as action-sci-fi-horror mashups go. The film boasts some decent creature design, solid martial arts from veterans of the Raid films, and a certain go-for-broke, juvenile nuttiness to its plot swerves. (In one scene, Grillo delivers an alien-human hybrid infant on a spaceship—and that’s just at the film's halfway point.) However, it’s also stupid, tedious, illogical, and a tonal mess. In other words, it’s an intermittently amusing Bad Movie for the viewer who’s only halfway paying attention. It barely squeaks into the “Hell, Why Not?” pile due to the brain-ripping gusto it displays in earning its R rating. Rating: C- [Now available to rent or purchase on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.]
2017 / USA / 78 min. / Directed by Sam Patton / Opened in select cities and premiered online on Dec. 15, 2017
It’s clear that Desolation is predicated on a noble, if humble, ambition: distilling wilderness survival and serial killer tropes into a single, lean, character-centered work. The result has a whiff of low-budget chintziness, but slim resources aren’t a failing, and Sam Patton’s film has other problems anyway. For a good 40 minutes, it’s a solid and often unnerving exercise in escalating tension. While backpacking in the wooded Adirondacks, a widow, her best friend, and her adolescent son gradually realize they are being stalked by a mysterious, silent hiker. (Despite looking like Rob Zombie in a windbreaker, this figure conveys a predatory menace solely through his preternatural stillness and inscrutability.) Once the bloodletting begins, however, Desolation seriously starts to sputter. Not only does the villain devolve into just another violent brute, but it becomes apparent that the filmmakers are unable to either satisfyingly resolve the characters’ physical ordeal or justify first act’s thematic preoccupation with the grieving process. Rating: C- [Now available to rent on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.]