Inhospitable ghosts, a kid werewolf and Japanese zombies make up this month’s scary picks.
By Erik Piepenburg
Stream it on Shudder.
The writer-director Stewart Thorndike wrestles with ghosts in her new slow-burn haunted hotel film.
Ghosts as in spectral humans, like a little girl with disintegrating fingers, who spook the Red Roof-style motel that Ruthie (Gayle Rankin) inherits from her grandmother. Ghosts as in the emotional traumas that haunt Ruthie and the guests — her partner, Cal (Hari Nef), their friend Maddie (Rad Pereira) and Maddie’s guest, Fran (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) — who join Ruthie at the motel to determine its fate. Then there’s the phantom of “The Shining,” a film Thorndike aspires to summon, down to the creepy joggers who might as well be Kubrick’s menacing girls in grown-up athleisure wear.
Together, these spirits join forces in an unsettling and moving film about motherhood and bad memories, one that won’t so much grab you by the throat as squeeze your hand. Thorndike sustains an eerie mood throughout, but wanders off course as the stakes become fuzzy in the final stretch, when a hospitality expert (Molly Ringwald, wonderful) appears to Ruthie, and a chain saw roars to life.
The film gets big assists from Jason Fakler’s minimalist score and Grant Greenberg’s cinematography that washes the Ithaca, N.Y., hotel where the film was shot in despairing hues.
Stream it on Hulu.
Mark Jenkin’s unnerving folk horror fable joins “Skinamarink” and “The Outwaters” in this year’s thrilling class of experimental horror films that give fear a form. Enigmatic and nightmarish, the film is about a woman known only as the Volunteer (Mary Woodvine), who spends her days alone on an isolated island off the British coast where she’s charged with tending a terrain that seems to be overtaking her emotionally and physically. Did I say alone? The strange figures who haunt the landscape suggest otherwise.
Jenkin shot on a gloriously textural 16 millimeter, and uses many of the hallmarks of experimentalist cinema, like repetitive cuts and a warped score, to unsettle a sense of place and time. Figuring out what it adds up to — a purging of personal traumas? a feminist response to misogynist evils? both? — is the fun of watching this singular and lush but demanding movie that may test some horror fans’ patience and desire for plot, so if it’s a clearer and cleaner scare you want, look elsewhere.
Stream it on Screambox.
In this penetrating Japanese film about loss, grief and self-forgiveness, the director Keishi Kondo paints a tortured picture of Miyabi (Kaho Seto), a divorced woman who at night works as a call girl, even as she mourns her young daughter who one minute was tending to plants on the family’s apartment balcony and in a flash, disappears.
Miyabi has a new boyfriend (Ryuseigun Saionji), but their spark is flickering, which is why she’s drawn to the attention showered on her by one of her clients, Oka (Satoshi Oka), a mysterious photographer. Miyabi agrees to let Oka take photos of her, and their sessions become a therapeutic way for her to process grief. But as Miyabi’s grasp on reality loosens with each portrait, their macabre photo shoots take her on a darkly supernatural trajectory.
Kondo is both a precisionist and a full-throttle abstractionist; one minute he fills the screen with emotionally chilly drama and the next with expressionistic images of cocoons and bubbling landscapes. Moth motifs get heavy-handed as Miyabi’s sorrow transforms into psychosis, but all is forgiven when the film so seamlessly blends a sensory visual experience with a moving study of a mother’s anguish.
‘Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead’
Stream it on Netflix.
Akira (Eiji Akaso) hates his job, so the zombie apocalypse that hits Tokyo could not be better timed. “I don’t have to go to work anymore!” he exclaims on a rooftop as a band of the hungry undead grab for him from behind a gate. That charmingly irreverent set up is what fuels Yusuke Ishida’s zombie comedy, a live action adaptation of the eponymous manga.
The film’s subtitle refers to Akira’s list of “100 Things I Want to Do Before Becoming a Zombie,” which includes riding a motorcycle (check!) and putting things in a shopping cart “without caring about price,” a cinch considering his supermarket is empty save for the zombies that the eager-beaver Akira, who played American football in college, easily outmaneuvers.
The silliness that made the film so charming in the beginning becomes tiresome as the story moves away from Akira, a delightful protagonist, and instead relies on extended cat-and-mouse scenes that add little more than new characters. By the end of two, too-long hours, the walking monster shark (long story) and a heavy-handed message about individuality — which may delight teen fans — I was worn out.
Rent or buy it on major platforms.
If there’s a common denominator in horror, it’s the word don’t. Don’t go into the basement. Don’t enter the woods. And don’t mess with mothers, and that goes double for moms of monsters.
In Jacques Molitor’s werewolf drama, the monster is Martin (Victor Dieu), one angry little boy. After he bites another kid, Martin’s mother, Elaine (Louise Manteau), takes him to his dead father’s Luxembourg estate where the boy’s grandparents don’t know she or Martin exist. The grandparents waste no time folding Martin into what his grandpa calls “a very old hunting family,” one that makes Elaine feel like an outsider, especially when she’s shocked to watch her son transform into a wolf. From there, the film stumbles as Molitor tries to figure out where to go next, and I wish the answer hadn’t been to blow the whole thing up.
Werewolf movies have been queering horror since Lon Chaney Jr. got hairy in “The Wolf Man” in 1941, and this is a small effective addition. Any parent who has ever loved a child who’s different will appreciate the story of a mama-bear protector and her young boy’s monstrous coming-out.
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