This month’s picks feature a time-collapsing camera, culinary cultists and a hole to hell.
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By Erik Piepenburg
Rent or buy it on major platforms.
The new year is only days old, but this deeply affecting film is already a contender for my favorite scary movie of 2023. It’s a triumph of low-fi horror and a knockout narrative feature debut from the writer-director Paul Owens, a documentarian.
It begins as Mason, a young artist, returns to his soon-to-be demolished childhood home in exurban New Jersey, where he meets up with his brothers. (Owens and his siblings, Seth and Mason, play fictional versions of themselves, as does their father, Jeffrey.) Wandering the rooms, Mason finds a VHS-era camera, and when he looks through the viewer what he sees isn’t the now but the then: clips from his family’s home movies, taken in the same spots where he points the camera, with his father a prevalent figure. (The home videos are the Owens family’s own.)
Mason is so taken by his supernaturally retro discovery that he starts recording, building a library of memories. But when the camera reveals that a sinister creature lurks in the house, Mason is forced to reckon with ghosts whose haunting days he thought were over.
It’s tough to pin down this spare yet exceptional film because it never stops wrestling: with loss, memory, death, fatherhood. With genre, too, as it intersects science fiction, found footage, experimental horror, documentary. Owens does so effortlessly and assuredly, and the result is singular: It’s analog and futuristic, creepy and sentimental, heart racing and utterly heartbreaking.
Stream it on HBO Max.
Mark Mylod’s revenge thriller squeezes wine from low-hanging grapes: pretentious foodies, precious plating, one percenters. I got drunk on it.
The Projectionist Chronicles a New Awards Season
The Oscars aren’t until March, but the campaigns have begun. Kyle Buchanan is covering the films, personalities and events along the way.
A group of moneyed Americans — including a pompous restaurant critic (Janet McTeer) and a has-been movie star (John Leguizamo) — travel to a remote island to eat a pricey, conceptually audacious meal by the renowned chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) and his devoted acolytes. Clues that something’s amiss come early when the guests meet their hostess, Elsa (Hong Chau, perfection), who’s as severe in her appearance as she is in her hospitality.
But this is no Noma: Julian is a vengeful madman who plans to serve his guests delicious food to die for — then actually kill them. What chef didn’t expect was a surprise guest: Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), in whose cut-the-crap demeanor he sees hints of his own burger-flipping past. Their relationship fuels the film’s punishing final course.
As sinister and crafty as this death-cult horror story is, it’s funny, too; what’s for dessert is as loony as it is monstrous. Privilege, haute cuisine, finance bros: they all take a beating, and the result is a cutting mash-up of “Clue” and “The Exterminating Angel.”
Stream it on Screambox.
Petur (Gunnar Kristinsson) and his wife, Mira (Vivian Olafsdottir), move to the middle of nowhere in Iceland to renovate a guesthouse. He loves the property but she doesn’t, especially when she learns that the previous owners left behind little more than a busted crib.
Things get weird when Petur discovers a hole in the basement that’s been covered by a stone inscribed with a strange script, an object he thinks may have something to do with his wife’s unexpected pregnancy. (His sperm count is low.) But instead of giving birth, Mira lays an egg that cracks open to reveal an adorable human baby inside. She shrugs off the unusual birth, but Petur supposes “that kid,” as he calls his child, might be a demon.
Elvar Gunnarsson’s folk-horror dark comedy is eerie and unashamedly eccentric — an absurdist companion to “Lamb,” Valdimar Johannsson’s macabre parenthood drama that was also set in isolated Iceland. Gunnarsson’s own haunting cinematography and creepy, tinkling score add menace throughout, especially during the film’s deliciously unnerving nightmare scenes.
Stream it on the Criterion Channel.
On a chilly day in 1987, Vivian (Ani Mesa) is surprised when her estranged identical twin sister, Marian (Alessandra Mesa), shows up at their childhood home, where Vivian still lives. What Vivian, a married housewife, doesn’t know is that Marian, a struggling singer, is on the run from an abusive boyfriend (Pico Alexander). Soon, and strangely, the sisters’ identities blur, down to their hairstyles and wardrobes — and that’s when their entwined lives take dark detours.
Erin Vassilopoulos’s feature debut is less a horror movie than a psycho-thriller à la “Blue Velvet,” its spirit guide. It has more style than substance, and I’m not complaining; it’s a throwback to ’80s No Wave cinema, and I’m a sucker for low-budget movies about evil that lurked in Reagan-era suburban America, so it mostly kept me hooked.
The film’s punk charms wore off as the story neared a conclusion with too many mysteries piled up at the finish line. But man, would I love to visit the ghostly 16-millimeter suburbia the cinematographer Mia Cioffi Henry so evocatively summons.
Rent or buy on most major platforms.
Blackouts are plaguing Brazil, and the timing couldn’t be better for a gang of Christian evangelical women who hunt other young women they perceive to be sexually impure, smearing them as Delilahs and recording their post-beatdown vows to accept Jesus.
After being sliced in the face during an attack on a young victim, Mari (Mari Oliveira), one of the gang’s leaders, starts to question her sinner hunting. At a strange hospital where she nurses coma patients, Mari slowly discovers that the Christian community she loves — surprise, surprise — teems with sexual secrets and toxic masculinity.
There’s nothing subtle about this “Purge”-like thriller, written and directed by Anita Rocha da Silveira. Siouxsie and the Banshees’ apocalyptic anthem “Cities in Dust” plays in its opening minutes, and the film ends with a screen-filling brawl between male and female true believers. In the middle, da Silveira’s feminist message toggles between despairing realism and ultra-dark comedy, making for a smart, if repetitive, takedown of religious extremism.
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