TV Room: ‘Lovecraft Country’

HBO’s latest entry into politically relevant genre adventure is Lovecraft Country, an ambitious and messy 10-part series that bites off far more than it can chew but deserves some applause for trying.

Lovecraft Country starts this Friday. My review is at PopMatters:

Based on Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel, it keeps one foot planted firmly in the real (Black characters trying to make their way in segregated 1950s Chicago) and another dipping into various pools of the unreal (sorcerers, Lovecraftian beasts, haunted houses). The combination makes sense more than it should, at least at first. That’s largely because while head writer Misha Green (Underground) is exquisitely aware of the ways race factors into nearly every aspect of its characters’ lives, she doesn’t allow that to define them entirely…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘She Dies Tomorrow’

My review of the new atmospheric viral paranoia thriller She Dies Tomorrow ran at PopMatters:

It is possible that ten years from now, when COVID-19 cases have hopefully gone the way of the bubonic plague, people will say that films like Amy Seimetz’s She Dies Tomorrow are emblematic of a certain strain of late-stage Trump Pandemic-era anxiety…

You can see the movie on VOD now. Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Rental’

In The Rental, the debut movie from Dave Franco (James Franco’s far less prolific brother), four hipsters, including a particularly oily Dan Stevens (a long way from Downton Abbey) head up to a secluded cabin for a vacation that turns, well, dicey.

The Rental is available for streaming and can be seen at some drive-ins starting this Friday. Check it out.

My review is at PopMatters:

In many horror movies, once the malevolence of the setting has been made clear, there remains a significant amount of celluloid left to run as the characters fight for survival. That is not the case in The Rental, which feels at first more like a gloomily-lit smaller-scale version of [co-writer Joe Swanberg’s] Drinking Buddies, a far gentler comedic take on two couples who lose sight of boundaries during a weekend at the shore. Not so here, where the foursome just starts to realize the threat of their surroundings when the trap starts to swing shut…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Us’

Lupita Nyong’o in ‘Us’ (Universal Pictures)

In the latest horror/satire/commentary from Jordan Peele (Get Out), a family on vacation faces a terrifying threat: themselves, only not. It’s early, of course, but there is already some, likely justified, award buzz for star Lupita Nyong’o.

Us opens wide this week. My review is at PopMatters:

Us takes pieces from a few different genres, particularly home-invasion thrillers and subtext-laden George A. Romero-esque zombie movies, and stitches them together into a uniquely weird and hammer-intense experience….

Screening Room: ‘Bird Box’

Bird Box

The latest movie from Susanne Bier (The Night Manager) is a postapocalyptic horror story starring Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich.

Bird Box is playing now on Netflix.

My review is at Slant Magazine:

Needing to avoid psychotic zombies isn’t the only danger faced by the harried survivors of an unspecified pandemic at the start of director Susanne Bier’s adaptation of Josh Malerman’s novel Bird Box. The hard-as-nails Malorie (Sandra Bullock) and her two five-year-old wards must also manage navigating a postapocalyptic wilderness while wearing blindfolds. Oh, and they’re in a boat on a fast-running mountain river with rapids approaching. Also, they’re threatened by invisible monsters who can only be spotted when nearby birds start chirping and who cause instant suicidal tendencies in those who look their way. Things aren’t looking good for the trio…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Witch’

thewitch1

thewitch-posterA period creep-fest, The Witch dives into the surprisingly rarely-tilled soil of Puritan-era New England for its tale of possession, madness, and magic afflicting one isolated family.

The Witch opens this week in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

A shiver machine that runs cool and low with spiritual trepidation and darkly sexual undercurrents, The Witch makes a daring choice. Set in 17th century New England, it wraps primary-sourced dialogue and folklore into a horror story. Writer-director Robert Eggers’ audacious debut imagines that the period’s harum-scarum fright tales about witches are all true. That is, the movie is true to how its subjects perceived their world, assuming that witches and their animal familiars worked as Satan’s agents on Earth, bringing ruination and uncertainty to the faithful…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ Takes Aim at the One Percent

In 'The Purge: Anarchy' all crime is legal for one annual twelve-hour free-for-all (Universal Pictures)
In ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ all crime is legal for one annual twelve-hour free-for-all (Universal Pictures)

purge-poster1Just last year, a little sci-fi/horror film called The Purge lit up theaters with its canny blend of exploitation thriller jolts and subversive agitprop. Now comes the inevitable sequel, which ramps up the class-conscious revolutionary rhetoric in an expanded story about a near-future America where one night a year all crime is legal for 12 hours.

The Purge: Anarchy opens this Friday everywhere. My review is at PopMatters:

 In the first film, the ridiculous rationale left open the suggestion that the Purge’s real purpose was even uglier. What if the big night isn’t a means to purge unwanted impulses, but rather, a way to get rid of unwanted people? In Anarchy, the politics read loud and clear. Sergeant and his carload of charges face down everyone from flamethrower-wielding ATV rednecks to storm troopers cruising around in armored big rigs and nihilist skateboard punks with ghostface makeup and machetes…

You can see the trailer here:

Screening Room: ‘The Exorcist’ and True Evil

Turns out that besides being a young preacher, scourge of the empowered classes, and essayist whose words could scorch the hair right off your head, James Baldwin was also a crack film critic, when he wanted to be.

devilfindswork1In The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky pulls out a choice quote of Baldwin’s from his mostly ignored 1976 book The Devil Finds Work. Here, he writes about one of the decade’s two most influential horror films (the other being Halloween, just as trashy but not given as much critical deference at the time):

The mindless and hysterical banality of evil presented in The Exorcist is the most terrifying thing about the film. The Americans should certainly know more about evil than that; if they pretend otherwise, they are lying, and any black man, and not only blacks—many, many others, including white children— can call them on this lie, he who has been treated as the devil recognizes the devil when they meet.

It’s one of the reasons people hate critics, and why at least some critics (of a level with Baldwin) can actually be construed as necessary to the culture. Few people want to think about the evil that surrounds them every day; they’d rather go to the cinema and be treated the indulgent thrills of imaginary threats (demons, and the like).

The critic who reminds us of our short-sightedness is rarely rewarded for doing so.