Five horror movies to stream now
By Erik Piepenburg
Because last month’s picks took a deep dive into depravity, this time I’m (mostly) sticking to low-gore, less-scary horror movies that won’t keep you up at night.
I’ll start with the most unhinged, low-budget and controversial movie on my list. It’s directed by Rob Savage, whose terrifying “Host,” about a bonkers supernatural Zoom call, was one of my favorite films released within the first year of the pandemic. (Don’t confuse this “Dashcam” with another recent and terrific film of the same name.)
Here, musician Annie Hardy stars as Annie, a MAGA, anti-vaxxer host of a livestream show. She travels from Los Angeles to London to visit her ex-bandmate and winds up livestreaming a maelstrom of carnage and demonic possession. Shot in an explosive found footage style, the film slowly builds until its first moment of violence, and then never slows down. It’s a raucous counterpoint to the stillness that made “Host” so effectively disturbing.
Your tolerance for Annie the character — an obnoxious American troll — will depend on your tolerance for Hardy herself; I enjoyed her buffoonery and hated her character’s selfish politics. The film has divided horror fans over the question of whether or not Hardy shares her character’s conservative opinions, and if it should matter. For a vulgar bonus, don’t miss Hardy’s rap during the credits.
(Rent or buy on most major platforms.)
‘The Killing of Two Lovers’
Niki (Sepideh Moafi) and her husband, David (Clayne Crawford), have decided to take a break from their rocky but still-loving marriage. Their four kids live with her, and he’s moved in with his ailing father not far away in their small rural town.
When Niki starts seeing another man (Chris Coy), David fears his relationship with Niki and their kids is in peril, and he’s not wrong. Those loud, disorienting sounds we hear — thumps, squeals, lashes — are more than signs that David’s emotional state is crumbling. They’re warning signs of darkness to come.
I hope writer-director-editor Robert Machoian doesn’t mind that I’m including his low-budget, slow-burn indie on this list, since it’s not horror in a traditional sense.
But I don’t know what else to call it when the movie begins with a heart-pounding tableau of a man aiming a gun at sleeping people, ends with the same man bloodied in a brutal attack and is otherwise filled with scenes of heartbreaking tension. That’s horror to me, just over a low flame that never turns off. Crawford is devastating as a loving father slowly inching toward his breaking point.
(Stream it on Hulu.)
What happens when trauma shows up at your front door with a handsome face? That’s the question that drives this compelling Canadian indie from writer, director and actor Mark O’Brien.
The film opens as Frederic (Henry Czerny) and Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk) mourn the death of their young adopted daughter. One night, Frederic, a former priest, hears a noise outside their home, and there he finds an injured young man named Aaron (O’Brien) who says he’s lost.
But it turns out that Aaron’s destination was their home all along, and he’s on an unearthly spiritual mission with Frederic in his sights. “Be careful what you wish for,” one character warns Frederic. “But be certain what you pray for.”
O’Brien has made an intensely intimate supernatural film that feels like it was directed for the stage. (He has said he was influenced by Bergman and Haneke.) Long scenes of dinner table talk may test viewers eager for action.
But the conversations about faith, punishment and guilt make clear why the film won best screenplay at last year’s Fantasia Film Festival. Scott McClellan’s black and white cinematography is a striking visual companion that makes rural Newfoundland and Labrador look beautiful and sinister.
(Stream it on Arrow.)
Watching this ridiculous film was an unexpected guilty pleasure. Even better, it’s free, and best enjoyed on a Friday night over pizza and Lime-A-Ritas.
Jennie Garth — my girl Kelly from “Beverly Hills 90210” — plays Joan Miller, a professor of English literature who moves with her teenage daughter, Lily (Devin Cecchetto), to Pennsylvania for a teaching job at Eastern Hemlock Community College.
Lily’s anger over the move subsides when she meets Derek (Ehren Kassam), a curly-haired boy who loves John Irving novels but is even more into “Zenith,” a book that he and his friend Violet (Kayleigh Shikanai) say will change Lily’s life. But when mysterious accidents start happening, Lily and her mom start to wonder if “Zenith” is a self-help book or a demonic instruction manual.
I must give thanks to director William Corcoran and writer Adam Rockoff for giving me the high-school sex-cult book-club movie I wish I’d had when I was 16. It’s the first horror film I’ve seen that includes both a feminist defense of Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” and a discussion of Baudrillard’s nihilism.
(Stream it on Tubi.)
‘The Fall of the Queens’
Two teenage sisters, Juana (Malena Filmus) and Mara (Lola Abraldes), live in a rural country home with their emotionally unstable aunt, Inés (Umbra Colombo), who keeps bees for her struggling honey business (and who’s also having an affair with a local.)
When the girls’ cousin Lucio (Franco Rizzaro) comes to stay, things take an unexpected turn. It’s summer after all, and Lucio is handsome and flirtatious. He likes to rap, smoke and, at Juana’s request, drop his towel after a shower. But when their friendship becomes a jealousy-fueled romantic triangle that pits sister against sister, the results turn deadly.
Lucas Nazareno Turturro’s Spanish-language film is best for horror fans who like their drama soapy, and who don’t mind waiting until the final stretch for something grisly to happen. Still, the story calls out for more sinister contours and a darker visual vocabulary as it explores rage, resentment and female sexuality — like what directors Josephine Decker and Lucrecia Martel have done when they’ve explored life’s darker corners.
(Rent or buy it on Vudu.)