Streaming Bloody Murder: Horror VOD Postmortem for November 2017

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Recent Video-on-Demand Offerings in Horror and Horror-Related Cinema

by:
Andrew Wyatt

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.

Most Beautiful Island

2017 / USA / Dir. by Ana Asensio / Opening in select theaters and available on VOD on November 3, 2017

If Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop, Goodbye Solo) made a feature-length film about one of the masked, naked women in Eyes Wide Shut, it might look something like Ana Asensio’s unsettling directorial debut, Most Beautiful Island. Asensio stars as Luciana, a young Spanish immigrant struggling (and failing) to keep her head above water in New York City. One day, her friend Olga (Natasha Romanova) tosses her an opportunity: show up at an underground cocktail party, look beautiful for a few hours, and walk away several thousand dollars richer. Naturally, it’s too good to be true, although even the canniest viewers are unlikely to deduce the skin-crawling specifics of the trap until they become terrifyingly evident. Most Beautiful Island is neatly bifurcated into a social realism half and a psychological horror half, but Asensio deftly blends the seams with remarkably self-assured direction, a penchant for subtle genre subversion, and an eye for the minutiae of immigrant women’s experiences. Rating: B [Now available on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.]

Bitch

2017 / USA / Dir. by Marianna Palka / Opening in select theaters and available on VOD on November 10, 2017

There’s nothing especially scary in writer-director Marianna Palka’s bizarre domestic satire Bitch, but there’s a lot that’s rancorous and discomfiting about it. Like Darren Aronofsky’s divisive, ferociously feminist mother!, Palka’s feature will provoke women to nod in recognition and men to squirm in discomfort. The director stars as depressive homemaker Jill, who one day begins acting like a dog: scrambling around naked on all fours, snuffling in her own filth, and barking viciously at her ungrateful children and negligent, philandering husband Bill (Jason Ritter). Palka milks the scenario for bitter laughs, but also allows it to play out plausibly, with psychiatric evaluations and clashes over legal guardianship. Unexpectedly, the film follows Bill’s perspective once Jill undergoes her canine devolution, permitting the seemingly hopeless jackwagon a credible redemption arc. This generosity, as well as the film’s acerbic acumen and alluring formal flourishes, elevate Bitch above its one-joke conceit. Rating: B- [Now available on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.]

I Remember You

2017 / Iceland / Dir. by Óskar Thór Axelsson / Opening in select theaters and available on VOD on November 10, 2017

Icelandic director Óskar Thór Axelsson’s moody I Remember You is plainly an attempt to split the difference between a Nordic noir police thriller and a Blumhouse-style ghost story. The result feels at once overstuffed and undernourished, in part due to the film’s dual, parallel storylines. The first thread involves psychiatrist Freyr’s (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) investigation into a cult-like suicide, which merges with the trail of boy who vanished decades ago, and—to his disbelief—that of his own son’s disappearance three years prior. Meanwhile, as Katrín (Anna Gunndís Guðmundsdóttir) renovates a remote farmhouse with her husband and best friend, she is bedeviled by menacing visions of a moldering, ghostly child. Naturally, these seemingly unconnected storylines eventually converge, albeit clumsily. Admittedly, I Remember You is often gratifyingly chilling and shocking; it boasts effective jump scares, prickly tension, and suitably gloomy Scandinavian atmosphere. Unfortunately, Axelsson regularly allows the narrative energy to slip away amid an unnecessary snarl of characters, subplots, and backstory. Rating: C+ [Now available on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.]

Mayhem

2017 / USA / Dir. by Joe Lynch / Opening in select theaters and available on VOD on November 10, 2017

A gleefully profane and bloodthirsty blend of viral apocalypse thriller and 21st century economic satire, director Joe Walsh’s Mayhem is most notable for its unserious approach and for slotting Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) into the role of a sarcastic, scumbag antihero. The film’s sci-fi horror conceit—a plague that unleashes infected individuals’ most violent and debased impulses—is just an excuse to quarantine a law firm's high rise office for a gladiatorial free-for-all. Derek (Yeun), a hotshot attorney who has been unjustly canned, joins forces with pissed-off evicted homeowner Melanie (Samara Weaving) and hacks his way to the CEO’s penthouse throne. Never as clever or droll as it thinks it is, Mayhem has all the nuance of a nail gun to the face, and even at 86 minutes, it feels tediously protracted. Still, it’s divertingly bloody fun, and unapologetic in its delight at the sight of the ultra-rich getting some grisly comeuppance. Rating: C [Now available on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.]

Amityville: The Awakening

2017 / USA / Dir. by Franck Khalfoun / Available on Google Play on October 12, 2017; expanding to other VOD platforms on November 14, 2017

The Amityville Horror series—a franchise laden with direct-to-DVD bastard offshoots—has never been particularly frightening, but it’s still demoralizing to see a listless, uninvolving pile of nothing like Amityville: The Awakening slump into the world after three years’ worth of delayed release dates. Overbearing single mother Joan (Jennifer Jason Leigh) moves into the notorious 'murder house' at 112 Ocean Avenue with her children, including Movie Goth teen daughter Belle (Bella Thorne) and the girl’s brain-dead fraternal twin James (Cameron Monaghan). Before long, James begins exhibiting disturbing, medically baffling signs of mental and physical activity, and Belle rightly suspects the house’s unholy influence is to blame. Director Franck Khalfoun helmed the rattling 2012 remake of Maniac (2012), but Awakening is thoroughly pointless and uninspired—not to mention irritatingly smug in its stabs at metatextual cleverness. The film’s only redeeming traits are the odd ghastly visual effect and Thorne’s leggy allure. Rating: D [Now available on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms.]