by Andrew Wyatt on Aug 2, 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

2019 / USA / 100 min. / Dir. by Pollyanna McIntosh / Opened in select cities and premiered online on July 12, 2019

Now here’s an odd cinematic pedigree: A sequel to Lucky McKee’s divisive domestic bloodbath The Woman (2011), Darlin’ is written and directed by Pollyanna McIntosh, who played the titular feral woman in McKee’s feature and reprises her role here. The new film’s protagonist, however, is Darling (Lauryn Canny), the adolescent daughter of McIntosh’s cannibalistic forest-dwelling matron. After stumbling into an emergency room, the snarling, disheveled Darling is placed into the care of a Catholic children’s home, where the scheming bishop (Bryan Batt) plans to fundraise off the spectacle of the girl’s forcible civilization. Following both Darling’s tribulations at the exploitive orphanage and the Woman’s violent, often absurd search for her missing daughter, McIntosh’s film positions itself as a sharp-elbowed feminist companion/counterpoint to McKee’s. However, the new feature’s ambitions are stymied by its scattershot plot, clumsy characterization, and tonal indecisiveness. At best, Darlin’ feels more like a feverish midnight-movie riff on Truffaut’s The Wild Child (1970) than a trenchant jab at the patriarchy. Rating: C- [Now available to rent or purchase from major online platforms.]

2018 / USA / 88 min. / Dir by Orson Oblowitz / Opened in select cities and premiered online on July 12, 2019

There’s a disquieting racial dimension to Orson Oblowitz’s visually glossy and narratively lumpy home-invasion thriller, Trespassers, which pits a foursome of vacationing wealthy Americans against a band of vicious, steroidal Mexican intruders, complete with bandanas and gang tattoos. However, it seems a bit unfair to critique the film’s racial stereotyping too severely, given that the villains don’t even show up until the 50-minute mark. Oblowitz spends an unfathomable amount of screen time mucking about in the weeds of petty character melodrama – which includes a miscarriage, secret infidelity, and a physically abusive partner – and playing coy with an overabundance of strange plot swerves like the late-night appearance of a mysterious neighbor (Fairuza Balk, dispiritingly overqualified for the material). The film’s gruesome violence is fittingly ruthless, but the director doesn’t do much of anything to distinguish this morally scuzzy tale of unsympathetic victims vs. demonically wicked criminals from numerous features that follow a similar template and execute it much more capably. Rating: D+ [Now available to rent from Amazon.]

2018 / USA / 93 min. / Dir. by Tony West / Premiered online on July 18, 2019

If Peter Jackson’s cult classic The Frighteners (1996) illustrated that a ghost story staged as a cheesy live-action cartoon could still be a spooky delight, director Tony West’s irksome treatment of a similar story in DeadTectives proves that over-the-top occult silliness is no substitute for proficient filmmaking. Pitting a team of poltergeist-hunting fraudsters against a very real and nasty haunting at a cobwebby Mexican estate, West’s film consistently pushes its most grating horror-comedy elements to the forefront: broad slapstick, “wacky” personalities, and painfully unfunny running gags. Mistaking contemptible characters and ordinary shrillness for humor, West and his performers – including, inexplicably, Altered Carbon’s Martha Higareda in a minor role – fail to unearth the droll charm that might have counterbalanced the film’s splatstick violence. It’s enough to make Abbott & Costello’s myriad run-ins with the Universal monsters look like nuanced drawing-room comedies in comparison. There’s a certain low-rent charm to the film’s Haunted Mansion-style makeup effects and sub-Ghostbusters cosmology, but they don’t alleviate the film’s puerile monotony. Rating: D [Now available to stream from Shudder.]