by Andrew Wyatt on May 1, 2019

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.

The Wind

2018 / USA / 96 min. / Dir. by Emma Tammi / Premiered online on Apr. 5, 2019

Loosely inspired by Dorothy Scarborough’s novel and the 1928 Lillian Gish vehicle of the same name, director Emma Tammi’s narrative-feature debut is a marvelously unsettling and elliptical tale of frontier terror. While her husband (Ashley Zukerman) is away for weeks at a time, homesteader Lizzie (Caitlin Gerard) is obliged to face down wolves, storms, paranoia, and a demonic presence that seems to ride on the prairie winds. Tammi cross-cuts Lizzie’s present-day travails with elusive snippets of the recent past: a rifle accident, a blood-drenched birth, a neighbor’s hellfire-tinged descent into madness. The scrambled chronology effectively places the viewer inside the heroine’s numb, twitching headspace, where the promise of the frontier has been revealed as a cold, lonely hell. (Think Repulsion [1965] and The Shining [1980] by way of Laura Ingalls Wilder.) Tammi’s nimble direction is epitomized by her intrepid handling of genre. The Wind is unambiguously a horror film, but it’s simultaneously a small-bore revisionist Western, one roiling with distinctly feminine fears and resentments. Rating: B+ [Now available to rent from Amazon.]

The Silence

2019 / USA / 90 min. / Dir. by John R. Leonetti / Premiered online on Apr. 10, 2019

One is hesitant to label Netflix’s tedious creature feature The Silence an outright rip-off of last year’s A Quiet Place, given that the films were shot at roughly the same time. However, John R. Leonetti’s film does throw the taut brilliance of A Quiet Place into sharp relief, simply by doing everything wrong that the latter feature does right. There’s the clunky exposition for starters, from the pointless voiceover by star Kiernan Shipka to the unpersuasive news footage that the viewer is obliged to watch over the characters’ shoulders. There’s the too-large cast, cluttered up with family and friends who are virtually guaranteed to perish by the claws of the film’s prehistoric bat-monsters. There’s the strained attempt at post-apocalyptic world-building, which offers some legitimately creepy moments but makes little sense in a 90-minute stand-alone thriller. There’s the fact that hearing actress Shipka plays a deaf character, and her ASL is evidently laughably sloppy. Perhaps most egregiously, The Silence isn’t the least bit involving or frightening. Rating: D+ [Now available to stream exclusively on Netflix.]


2018 / USA / 87 min. / Dir. by Dallas Jackson / Premiered online on Apr. 14, 2019

The kindest thing that can be said about director Dallas Jackson’s Thriller is that it has good albeit shallow intentions. Set in Compton, Calif., and featuring an African-American and Latinx cast, the film represents a belated attempt to diversify the 1990s slasher renaissance embodied by the likes of Scream (1996) and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). Unfortunately, Thriller proves to be a chintzy, laborious dud of a film. Ostensibly, this is a revenge story: 18-year-old Chauncey (Jason Wood) returns to his old neighborhood to exact violent retribution on the classmates whose prank sent him to juvenile detention for five years. In practice, Thriller is a cliched and deadly-dull high-school drama, one where the unstoppable murderer on the loose is given less attention than petty, pointless subplots about street cred, romantic jealousy, and a local celebrity’s publicity stunt. It’s flimsy, boring, and often outright terrible, the latter typified by Jackson’s half-hearted attempts to wedge political allegory into a Z-grade slasher. Rating: D- [Now available to stream on Netflix and to rent or purchase from Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and other platforms.]

Body at Brighton Rock

2019 / USA / 87 min. / Dir. by Roxanne Benjamin / Premiered online on Apr. 26, 2019

The nickel summary of Roxanne Benjamin’s Body at Brighton Rock resembles the sort of spooky, quintessentially American horror story that Ambrose Bierce or Stephen King might have penned. While posting trail warnings in a remote mountainous area, tenderfoot part-time park ranger Wendy (Karina Fontes) quickly loses her bearings, but that’s not the worst of it: She also stumbles onto a bloody corpse. Ordered via radio to stay put until search-and-rescue can locate her, Wendy is forced to endure a long night in the wilderness with only a dead man for company. Writer-director Benjamin has a great concept, but she’s hamstrung by an underwhelming cast and her own indecisiveness with respect to tone. (Is this gritty survival horror, a hallucinatory campfire tale, or a farce at the expense of a clueless city slicker?) Once Wendy is stranded with her rotting companion, the film frankly loses most of its steam, gracelessly shambling from one plot incident to another and routinely deflating tension with all-a-dream fake outs. Rating: C [Now available to rent from Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and other platforms.]

I Trapped the Devil

2019 / USA / 82 min. / Dir. by Josh Lobo / Premiered online on Apr. 26, 2019

Writer-director Josh Lobo starts with an admirably lean premise that feels like it could have been plucked from an old Tales from the Darkside episode. When married couple Matt (AJ Bowen) and Karen (Susan Burke) call on Matt’s estranged, troubled brother Steve (Scott Pythress) during the holidays, it’s obvious that the man is unbearably anxious about something. Steve eventually reveals that he has the Devil locked in his cellar, a confession whose maddening quantum uncertainty becomes the central conflict of the film. Someone is whispering to Karen from behind the cellar door, but there’s no way it can be the Prince of Darkness himself, right? Right? The performances in I Trapped the Devil are regrettably subpar, and the feature’s pacing is frustratingly glacial in stretches. That said, Lobo manages to convey the dark appeal of the film’s conceit – an infernal twist on Pascal’s wager – with wily restraint, sprinkling in ambiguous clues and nasty complications that only serve to sadistically muddy the waters. Rating: C+ [Now available to rent from Amazon, Google Pay, iTunes, and other platforms.]