by Andrew Wyatt on Sep 3, 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.

Jacob’s Ladder
2019 / USA / 89 min. / Dir. by David M. Rosenthal / Premiered online on Aug. 23, 2019

There is no film so sacrosanct that the very notion of remaking it is somehow inherently blasphemous, but it’s hard to envision a Jacob’s Ladder “re-imagining” as anything less than extremely ill advised. Adrian Lyne’s 1990 masterwork has three things going for it – a mind-screwy twist ending, ground-breaking visuals, and a distinctive Boomer paranoia – that can’t be replicated in 2019. Still, it feels like director David M. Rosenthal and a trio of screenwriters barely even tried to turn the story of haunted veteran Jacob Singer (a woefully underserved Michael Ealy) into something fresh, incisive, or even nominally interesting. Replacing the original film’s intimate, nightmarish psychological horror with limp, insincere moralizing about veterans’ services and mental illness, the remake resembles the blandest of Lifetime Originals dressed up with cut-rate J-horror flourishes. There’s nothing overtly bungling about the film – Rosenthal’s direction is drab but competent – but the copious visual references to Lyne’s original only serve to remind the viewer of the immeasurably superior film they could be watching. Rating: D+ [Now available to rent or purchase from numerous online platforms.]

2019 / USA / 87 min. / Dir. by Richard Bates Jr. / Premiered online on Aug. 23, 2019

While writer-director Richard Bates Jr.’s Tone-Deaf doesn’t ever rise to the level of “good,” it at least manages to be gruesomely diverting and agreeably bizarre in shorts bursts. Some of this is due to Bates’ loopier choices, such as the surreal, music-video nightmares that plague Harvey (Robert Partrick), a widowed innkeeper whose lifetime of get-off-my-lawn resentment is about to erupt into a homicidal rage. Some of it is also attributable to how gamely Patrick and his co-star Amanda Crew – here portraying visiting LA hipster Olive, who is recently single, unemployed, and eager to get away from the city – bounce off each other in a series of awkward, testy exchanges. Tone-Deaf is ultimately undone, however, by its determination to use Harvey and Olive as proxies in a facile, idiotic Boomer-vs.-Millennial culture clash, a conceit that smacks of trollish disingenuousness. By the third time Patrick directly addresses the camera to rant about these entitled Kids Today and their avocado toast, the shtick has gone from trite to insulting. Rating: C- [Now available to rent or purchase from numerous online platforms.]