With movie theatres closed – and likely to stay that way in major cities until at least August – I find myself missing one of the distinct pleasures of the deep summer months: watching a horror movie with a sold-out crowd, all of us intent on escaping the heat and myriad pressures of the season. Luckily, the streaming and video-on-demand market is here to deliver on all these cheap thrills in the meantime – just minus the sweaty stranger next to you.
Relic, VOD Natalie Erika James’s feature directorial debut comes with a handful of easy marketing hooks: It’s an Australian Hereditary! A slower-burn Babadook! A haunted-house movie for the art-house crowd! All those sells might be accurate in their own way, but they also underplay just how carefully James pulls apart the tropes of the domestic horror genre to create something terrifyingly her own.
Focusing on three generations of the same family – grandmother Edna (Robyn Nevin), daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) – and their battle to escape one very disturbing country home, Relic takes its time building its tension and layering its characters. But once James is satisfied that she’s explored every dark nook and cranny of the family and their creaky, creepy home – a structure with as much character and nerves as its human inhabitants – the director delivers a haunting for the ages. Relic’s finale will shake you for days.
The Beach House, Shudder The horror-focused streaming service Shudder has scored a number of programming coups over these past few horror-movie-like months – maybe even enough to convince non-genre fans to sign up for subscriptions. Its latest acquisition, Jeffrey A. Brown’s The Beach House, should turn at least a few more heads, Exorcist-style. A cross between H.P. Lovecraft, The Day of the Triffids and a dozen vacation-gone-wrong thrillers, Brown’s directorial debut is startling and squishy in all the right ways. While its parasitic-invasion storyline and end-of-the-world vibes might not soothe any contemporary nerves, that doesn’t make the film any less effective.
Volition, VOD In the low-budget tradition of Primer and Timecrimes – but with the energy of a glossy joy ride like Looper –Canadian director Tony Dean Smith’s Volition is not exactly a horror movie. But its tale of a clairvoyant low-life (Adrian Glynn McMorran) who must solve the mystery of his own forthcoming death has the same cerebral-yet-scuzzy appeal of a future midnight-movie gem. While you might spend more time untangling Volition’s many influences – there’s a lot of Minority Report going on here, too – as you do its twists, Smith’s passion for the material is evident in every frame. Spend an evening sweating alongside McMorran’s character, and congratulate yourself on a summer night well done.
Skyman, VOD Any new work from the co-director of The Blair Witch Project merits attention, given that an entire wave of found-footage horror was the result of that film’s stunt-y subversiveness. Daniel Myrick’s latest, Skyman, works within the same mockumentary-esque playground that he and Blair’s Eduardo Sanchez were used to from their time in the woods, although this new movie is more sorrowful than scary. Following a fortysomething loner (Michael Selle) who has been unable to get past an adolescent encounter of the third kind, the film works best as a deeply sad character portrait, with just a touch of the otherworldly. Come, if you must, with the guarantee of a shriek-y climax, but stay for Selle’s impressive feature-film debut, and Myrick’s inquisitive, and ultimately sympathetic, look at those who remain on the fringes of the fringe.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.