Another month, another Sunday, another Blood Red. You’d think we’d try to be thematic and center this month’s entries around movies with mothers, right? Heck, we could do Mother’s Day, Goodnight, Mommy, and Psycho right off the top of my head. But that of course would imply a level of foresight and preparation that would go against everything we’ve done for this column so far. Besides, I literally just remembered that it was Mother’s Day as I was writing this, so really I’m thinking about all the trouble I’m going to be in when I come to my wife empty handed. That’s the real horror, folks.
So in the meantime let’s take a look at three recent films streaming on Netflix, the MOTHER OF ALL STREAMING NETWORKS (see? Thematic!) that are more than worth your time. Zombies, psychotic killers and bargains with the powers of evil are all here in Train to Busan, Hush, and Starry Eyes.
It’s easy to call Train to Busan “Snowpiercer meets 28 Days Later/World War Z” but it’s also damn accurate, not only in terms of plot (massive virus outbreak turns anyone infected within seconds into a snarling, flesh-eating maniac, folks on-board a cross country train try to survive) but in the skill and characterizations director Yeon Sang-ho brings to the story, and the ridiculous amount of fun the film has with its concept.
The first hour of the movie is absolutely fantastic, as we get introduced to the major players on the train by small gestures and inane conversation that beautifully capture and set up the inevitable conflicts and relationships that build over the running time. When shit goes down – and it goes down fast – you know everything you need to without folks coming out and saying it. The zombies are very much in the vein of the sprinting ghouls in the aforementioned movies, right down to the wall of bodies and in one brilliant sequence, a carpet attached to the end of the train. Director Yeon Sang-ho gets some great mileage out a couple of key visuals: bodies dropping from helicopters only to sit up and keep going, broken limbs thrashing about as the monsters dash toward their goal. There’s always a sense of things unleashed when you see folks outside mainstream Hollywood take up this conceit, and it’s always refreshing. Come for the gore, stay for the fun – this is a bloody delight.
Train to Busan is available to rent and purchase now, and can be found streaming on Netflix.
How do you put a fresh spin on the home invasion sub-genre? Well, since blindness was already covered by Wait Until Dark let’s go with deafness. Hush, directed by Mike Flanagan (Occulus, the supposed really fun Ouiji prequel) and written by Flanagan with his wife, Kate Siegel who also stars in the film is a tight, methodical cat-and-mouse thriller that has some truly memorable and disturbing moments as well as a terrific lead performance. Coming from Blumhouse Productions the budget is tight but Flanagan makes excellent use of his limited means to craft a lean and mean little film.
The story is paper thin, but then that’s all it has to be: Siegel plays Maddie Young, a writer who has been deaf since a teenager living alone in the woods as she gets over a relationship (as you do). Her friend stops by to return her latest book, asking how she’s able to come up such an unexpected ending. Maddie replies that she can think up and shuffle through all the different permutations of a situation until she comes up with what she needs.
If you guessed this would come into play in the film’s climax, pour yourself a drink.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter. When things get down to brass tacks and a masked figure shows up with Maddie’s impaled neighbor, the fact that Maddie doesn’t hear the screams of agony intrigue him, and the terrorizing commences. If I have one complaint, the films makes a mistake in so soon having the killer unmask: once we have a face things become more rote. Having his face (and lips) present does allow for the two to more directly interact, but I wish they had kept the mystery longer, especially since you learn nothing about the killer you didn’t already know when the mask was on.
The real surprise here is Kate Siegel as Maddie, who shows equal parts vulnerability and toughness in her role. She’s captivating to watch on the screen, and her decisions owing to her established writerly credentials keep things from getting too silly in the decision-making department: everything Maddie does makes sense, and there’s actually very little that relies on the fact that she cannot hear as the killer stalks her through the house. More kudos to Flanagan who creates a great sense of space in what is essentially a feature length bottle episode.
Hush is available to rent and purchase now, and can be found streaming on Netflix.
A real short one here: I can’t recall the last time I saw the Faustain legend played with such a piercing eye to reality. The story of a woman willing to do anything for a shot at stardom has been done to death, but what makes Starry Eyes stand is the exceptional performance of its lead, Alex Essoe as Sarah, who even before the deal is made shows some unhinged behavior that speaks to what women go through not only in Hollywood, but in workplaces all over. Noah Segan from Deadgirl (and man that’s a difficult horror I recommend as well) lends some sincerity to his role as the cliche writer who has a part written for Sarah, and the performances across the board are good, but it’s Essoe who shines throughout. Trigger warning to folks who have a thing for hair: Essoe pulls off some insanity that had me wondering how committed she was to this role…maybe too committed?
There’s also some interesting commentary on the state of stardom and movies now versus the idealized version of Hollywood in its heyday, and when Starry Eyes moves from this to the more standard horrific sequences, it never loses sight of where its characters are coming from. Moving from the satire of working at Taters, a Hooters-like establishment to the casting couch sequence which starts as one nightmare and slowly morphs into another this is a slow burn that makes the most of a small budget to speak to a larger horrific theme.
Starry Eyes is available to rent and purchase now, and can be found streaming on Netflix.
Independent horror has really been on a roll in the last few years. Forget the mainstream big budget pablum the multiplex is feeding you – head to your local streaming services and find some of these festival favorites. You won’t be disappointed.
Until next time, keep it Blood Red.