It’s a brutally terrible week on the new release shelf: the big titles of note are The Girl on the Train (yikes), Keeping Up with the Joneses (yikes again) and The Free World (goodness gracious). BUT HANG ON JUST A DAMN MINUTE. We’ve got excellent indie horror flicks and dramas on Netflix, a terrific (and timely) documentary on DVD, and two A-plus entries in the Criterion Collection hitting Blu-ray.
It Follows: From the opening images of tree-lined streets to the synth score and gliding camera that follows, writer/director David Robert Mitchell wears his debt to Halloween like a badge of honor. But he’s not just making a tribute film; as with Carpenter’s classic, he emphasizes tension over gore and dread over jolts (though there’s plenty of all to go around). And as with the best horror, his story is anchored by real fears — of intimacy, vulnerability, humiliation, and being watched. The deconstructive nature of how Mitchell plays with the promiscuity tropes of traditional slasher flicks is welcome, but at the end of the day, it’s a stylish, effective thriller, coming to a head with a climax of brutal, slow-boil efficiency.
Little Men: Ira Sachs’ pictures work in a beautifully modulated, mellow key; his new film includes the death of a grandparent and the upheaval of two families, but those events are often kept off screen. He’s more interested in tiny, wonderfully observed moments: a woman finishing her cigarette when she knows a dire conversation is waiting at its conclusion, a strong man weeping as he takes out the trash at his father’s wake, the way a tiny slight can compound with ongoing tension and cause a parent to simply lose control. Sachs’ methodology doesn’t always serve his story (there’s one missing scene at the end whose absence is deeply felt, in the wrong way), but it results in a film of real honesty and truth.
ON DVD / VOD
Zero Days: Director Alex Gibney follows up Taxi to the Dark Side and We Steal Secrets with another exposé of our shady government and what they’re keeping from us. The subject this time is the “Stuxnet” worm, a devastatingly effective computer virus allegedly developed by the U.S. and Israel to slow Iran’s nuclear program, and if your eyes are already glazing over, no worries; Gibney not only investigates but clarifies, digging deep into the virus’s development and implementation while keeping his story crystal-clear thanks to straight-talking interviews, helpful graphics, and a style that speaks in the visual and aural language of a snappy techno-thriller. But make no mistake – this is terrifying stuff, particularly at this moment of cyber-warfare, with chillingly high stakes and implications. (Includes director interview and trailer.)
Something Wild: This drama from co-writer/director Jack Garfein is a bit of a case of buried treasure – released to little fanfare in 1961, it was quickly forgotten but subsequently rediscovered a decade or so ago. It’s easy to see why it didn’t land then, but works now; it’s a vivid (often shockingly so) portrait of a young woman’s post-rape trauma, as she tries to wipe the slate with a new home and new job, only to find that she can’t escape herself. The great Carroll Baker (Baby Doll) is uncomfortably convincing in the leading role – it hard not to feel the visceral discomfort of her daily interactions – while Garfein’s direction has the logic and cognitive qualities of a particularly discombobulating nightmare. It’s a movie that moves deliberately and often speaks in a whisper, but it still shakes you up, and good. (Includes new interviews and archival recordings.)
Fox and His Friends: The brilliant Rainer Werner Fassbinder directs, writes, and stars in this 1975 drama as a good-hearted if somewhat slow-witted carny who wins the lottery and finds himself the new-money target of old-money exploitation. Fassbinder takes his customary humanist approach to the story’s gay and working class characters (while also allowing them their moments of cattiness, lustiness, and humor); he makes us sympathetic to this protagonist without pandering. He just falls in love and gets taken for a ride, the poor guy, and you can’t help but feel bad for him, even while seeing what he cannot (or will not) see. Fox is a memorable example of Fassbinder’s sui generis style, which fuses elements of melodrama and neorealism, and as odd and counterintuitive as that mixture sounds, it lands with extraordinary grace. (Includes new and archival interviews and trailer.)