This month’s picks include three found-footage oddities and thrillers about a contagion and a kidnapping that are not what they seem.
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The gods of experimental horror have been generous this year. First came the sublimely unsettling “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair.” Now comes this singular found-footage art film, made during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown by the writer-director-cinematographer Jacob Aaron Estes (“Don’t Let Go”) at his own home.
The story is told from the point of view of Iris, a teenager, and her younger brother, Lucas, who are stuck at their family’s Los Angeles house while their parents are hospitalized with a malady that’s killing people across the country. (Iris and Lucas are played by Estes’s children, also named Iris and Lucas.) Mom and Dad aren’t responding to Iris’s messages, but somebody is sending her videos that were shot at night from inside the house — and Lucas is not the messenger. I won’t say more, because to do so would spoil the film’s grotesque joys.
Estes said in the film’s press notes that he made the movie to ward off boredom while he and his wife and children were cloistered indoors. But instead of a feel-good family album, he went full-on macabre, filling his movie with fun-house menace and formalist madness and calling on his kids to explore predation, despair and resentment, a task they perform with remarkable assurance. This is bold horror moviemaking, and it’s one of my favorite scary movies of the year.
Stream it on Amazon.
Male privilege takes a beating in this 16-millimeter found-footage fever dream from the writer-director Samuel Marko.
In 2017, a camera crew tagged along with a group of Colorado students for a documentary about college life. Their main subject was Lee (Luke Krogmeier), a creative writing student who’s having a tough time after being dumped by his girlfriend. The camera follows Lee as he hangs with his buddies and goes on a halfhearted date, but things take a chilling turn when Lee hires Amos (Luke Towle), a hit man, to kill his ex. The filmmakers become complicit in the horrors that follow as Lee’s mental state spirals and he and Amos have a falling out.
Epitomized in a gruesome scene involving a puppy, a hammer and a passage from Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro,” Marko’s film is a brazen synthesis of violence and vérité, like a scrappy cross between “A Clockwork Orange” and a Frederick Wiseman documentary. As the bleakness builds, so does the experimentalism — under the artful hand of the cinematographer Nils Alan Eklund, terror is rendered in shapes, colors and, ultimately, darkness. It’s rhapsodic.
Stream it on Amazon.
This documentary explores what happened to Gary Hinge, a young hiker who was reported missing after he set off into the Nevada wilderness. Through interviews with friends and relatives, we learn that Gary was a kindly gay man who was obsessed with survivalism and had a popular hiking blog.
Gary didn’t tell anyone where he was headed the night he disappeared, frustrating the authorities and the private detective hired by Gary’s sister, Beverly. Things take a dark turn when police find Gary’s truck with unidentifiable bare footprints alongside it — strange, since Gary didn’t drive to the places he hiked. But then Gary’s backpack surfaces, and so does a mysterious video.
I lied. This isn’t a true-crime documentary, it’s something far creepier: a low-budget found-footage horror movie that’s so realistic it’s uncanny, like an otherworldly episode of “48 Hours.” The writer-director Dutch Marich and his cast work magic by keeping the action to a minimum and the acting on a low flame. Watching the film calls for patience, because Marich reveals what happened to Gary almost entirely through dialogue, like a campfire ghost story.
That is until a sadistically directed finale that’s so terrifying, I had to look away from the screen because I could not handle it. I can’t wait for the sequel later this year.
Stream it on Tubi.
As a deadly contagion spreads, David (Harry Aspinwall) remains isolated in a beautiful home in the woods. For some reason he has survived, and he hands over his blood samples to the government in exchange for food — a lifeline coordinated by his wife, Sam (Anita Abdinezhad), a scientist who is uninfected and hidden away, charged with keeping David alive in hopes of developing a vaccine.
But after a mysterious phone call from a man who says David’s isolation may not be what he thinks it is, David leaves the house, only to fight off a ravenous zombie — an encounter that makes him question if trusting the authorities was in his best interest.
This slow-burn plague-survival film directed by Daniel Byers, which he co-wrote with Aspinwall, explores deception and isolation with strategically positioned twists that will keep you guessing. Ben Heim’s nightmarish score and Alexandra Gilwit and Zachary Ludescher’s lush cinematography help elevate the film above other recent Tubi horror originals.
Stream it on Hulu.
Ignore some of the half-witted dialogue — like “I’m a Marine, you idiot. It’s what we do.” — and instead enjoy Damien Power’s film for what it is: a guess-who, single-location horror-thriller with enough surprises and blood to be just the right amount of entertaining in 95 minutes.
Darby (Havana Rose Liu) is in a drug rehab program when she learns that her mother is in the hospital. Hot-wiring a getaway car, Darby flees the (very minimum security) facility only to be stymied by treacherously snowy weather. She opts to weather the storm with four strangers at a rural visitors center with, of course, no Wi-Fi.
Stepping outside after meeting the strangers, Darby is startled to see a girl (Mila Harris) bound and gagged inside a van in the parking lot, leaving her to wonder which of the people she’s with is a kidnapper. Is it the kindly older couple (Dennis Haysbert and Dale Dickey)? The pretty-boy jock (Danny Ramirez)? The greasy-haired weirdo (David Rysdahl)?
The truth — revealed in a dizzying third-act twist — I did not see coming.
Five Horror Movies to Stream Now – The New York Times