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 Room
2019 / France, Luxembourg, Belgium / 100 min. / Dir. by Christian Volckman / Premiered online on Mar. 12, 2020

A peculiar little monkey’s-paw tale that twists itself into a repulsive Oedipal nightmare, Christian Volckman’s The Room is the sort of low-budget horror feature that’s too creepily inspired to be dismissed out of hand, but too lousy to be actively enjoyable. When married couple Kate (Olga Kurylenko) and Matt (Kevin Janssens) move into a remote fixer-upper, they discover an enchanted room – powered by an infernal steampunk generator – that can conjure any physical object when they voice their wish out loud. Eventually Kate dares to ask for the child that biology has denied them, and the results become predictably horrifying. The Room commits to its “changeling child” premise with deranged enthusiasm and slowly complicates the rules of the unholy wishing chamber in weird, mind-bending ways. However, the film feels oddly crabbed, far too preoccupied with chasing one eccentric idea to the exclusion of more expansive possibilities. It’s also unfortunately saddled with crummy dialogue, underwhelming performances, and some baffling directorial choices. Rating: C- [Now available to stream from Shudder.]

The Platform
2019 / Spain / 94 min. / Dir. by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia / Premiered online on Mar. 20, 2020

Unfolding at the ghastly intersection of Jorge Luis Borges, J.G. Ballard, and James Wan, The Platform is an unsubtle sci-fi/horror political allegory in which plot and world-building are often synonymous. Goreng (Ivan Massagué) awakens in the Hole, a vertical prison where inmates are fed by a descending platform that starts out laden with a gourmet feast but predictably ends its daily downward journey as a ruin of empty plates. Screenwriters David Desola and Pedro Rivero and director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia – making his impressive feature debut – adds a game-like complexity to their story’s hellishly grim class metaphor by switching the prisoners to a random floor every month. The Platform works primarily because it focuses on the granular details of its elaborately malevolent conceit rather than on oh-so-clever symbolism. Accordingly, the emergence of, for example, naïve altruists and bloody-minded revolutionaries within the Hole’s microcosm feels surprisingly organic. Ultimately, the film is less a cutting political critique than a disturbing funhouse-mirror reflection of capitalist systems’ inhumanity. Rating: B [Now available to stream from Netflix.]