by Andrew Wyatt on May 1, 2020

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.

Pooka Lives!
2020 / USA / 90 min. / Dir. by Alejandro Brugués / Premiered online on Apr. 3, 2020

Less a follow-up to 2018’s Pooka! than a facetious, vaguely meta “sidequel,” Pooka Lives! doesn’t refer to the first film’s events at all. Instead, it uses the titular children’s toy – a bafflingly repulsive Furby-like creature – for a goofy, tonally confused send-up of Internet creepypastas. Over late-night drinks, disgraced writer Derrick (Malcolm Barrett) and his high-school buddies invent a homebrewed urban legend about Pooka and then disseminate it online for laughs. Naturally, the legend quickly takes on a (literal) life of its own, the characters terrorized by a spirit that mutates in real time as its viral notoriety spreads. Pooka Lives! works best as silly, low-budget comic riff on familiar horror tropes, with the presence of MST3K stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day serving to assure the viewer, “We don’t take this too seriously.” Regrettably, the film often veers into banal character drama that lethally undercuts its otherwise jokey tone, which only exacerbates the narrative’s already saggy, lumpy qualities.

Rating: C-

Pooka Lives! is now available to stream from Hulu.

Behind You
2020 / USA / 96 min. / Dir. by Andrew Mecham and Matthew Whedon / Premiered online on Apr. 17, 2020

There’s a germ of a halfway-decent horror flick in the premise of the broadly lousy Behind You, which concerns a demonic entity that has been trapped for decades within the mirrors of a creepy, cavernous house. When sisters Olivia (Addy Miller) and Claire (Elizabeth Birkner) are dumped on the doorstep of the aloof, eccentric aunt (Jan Brobeg) they barely know, it’s only a matter of hours before the spirit imprisoned in the house begins whispering lies to Claire. Despite some modest atmosphere and at least one brutal plot swerve, Behind You is an unimaginative slog of a film, with a lurching, needlessly convoluted story. Directors Andrew Mechan and Matthew Whedon defer to visual and situational clichés at every opportunity, and the film’s in-universe rules regarding its mirror-devil seem to change every 15 minutes or so. What’s more, the feature’s entire third act has the feeling of a run-out-the-clock exercise, arbitrarily and rather inanely wringing out another half-hour of dismal, demonic nonsense.

Rating: D+

Behind You is now available to rent or purchase from major online platforms.

2019 / USA / 90 min. / Dir. by David Marmor / Premiered online on Apr. 24, 2020

A film can commit graver sins than creatively swiping elements from a better film, and it’s therefore hard to criticize writer-director David Marmor too harshly for the obvious similarities between his feature and Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation (2015). While not remotely as moody, thoughtful, or eccentric as the latter film, 1BR is a tense and gruesome captivity-horror tale with a similar streak of sub-Lynchian LA-based dissociation. Newly arrived in the city, Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) lucks into a lease in a gated apartment complex that seems too good to be true – which of course it is. Marmor’s screenplay doesn’t give Bloom much to work with beyond some pat backstory, but rich characterization isn’t really 1BR’s strong suit. What the film does quite well is lock the viewer into the headspace of a cult victim, effectively conveying a nightmarish medley of disbelief, terror, and submission as Sarah is robbed of her agency and broken down psychologically. It might not be original, but 1BR is gruelingly effective.

Rating: C+

1BR is now available to rent or purchase from major online platforms.