Unfortunately, winter has come. Since you’ll be spending a lot of time on your couch under a blanket, here are a few Netflix recommendations to pair with the chill.
Trash Fire (2016)
Dir. Richard Bates Jr.. Starring: Adrien Grenier, Angela Trimbur, AnnaLynne McCord.
Synopsis: When a long-estranged family reconnects, the sins of the past threaten to consume them all.
When you’re in the mood for: Dark comedy; slow burn; psychological horror; relationship drama; religious horror.
Owen and Isabel are festering in one of the world’s top ten most dysfunctional relationships. They face a crisis when an unexpected development forces Owen to confront pieces of his past that he’d prefer to ignore. When Isabel pushes him to reconnect with his estranged family, she grows to appreciate his reluctance — the reunion is anything but a happy one. While the film starts off as a dark comedy, Trash Fire starts dialling up the dread once Owen and Isabel reach his grandmother’s house. Adrien Grenier and Angela Trimbur are pitch perfect as the beleaguered couple; they and the rest of the talented cast attack the bitingly funny and absurdly dark script with relish, guided by Richard Bates Jr.’s expert direction. The highly under-rated AnnaLynne McCord is superb as Pearl, pairing an intensely creepy physicality with a perfectly off-putting little-girl voice in an affecting performance. Look out for Matthew Gray Gubler in a small but hilariously deadpan role as Isabel’s hyper-religious brother.
My rating: Loved it.
Boys in the Trees (2016)
Dir. Nicholas Verso. Starring: Toby Wallace, Gulliver McGrath, Mitzi Ruhlmann.
Synopsis: Over the course of one endless Hallowe’en night, two former friends reconnect and experience a night full of near-misses, epiphanies, and harsh truths.
When you’re in the mood for: Drama; supernatural; arthouse; teen drama; coming-of-age.
Ambitious and artful, sensitive and spectacular, Boys in the Trees is a darkly surreal, 90s grunge fairy tale; a coming-of-age adventure embellished by sinister magic and backed by the sounds of Rammstein and Dinosaur Jr. Over the course of one Hallowe’en night, two estranged friends – one a victim of bullying, the other a friend to the aggressors – revisit past fears, rehash future plans, renegotiate their rules of engagement, and return to face the crucial event that struck the killing blow to their early kinship. The film is gorgeously shot and sensitively acted — the adolescent leads demonstrate a masterful grasp of the nuanced subject matter, turning in extraordinary performances and cementing Boys in the Trees as a sorely under-known modern classic.
My rating: Loved it.
Before I Wake (2016)
Dir. Mike Flanagan. Starring: Kate Bosworth, Thomas Jane, Jacob Tremblay.
Synopsis: After the loss of their son, a couple decide to adopt a troubled young boy whose sleep issues threaten to turn into a living nightmare.
When you’re in the mood for: Suspense; supernatural; haunting; family drama.
As with prior films Absentia and Oculus, in Before I Wake, Mike Flanagan explores themes of grief and loss with a supernatural twist. Flanagan is a writer and director whose films are consistently characterized by high production values, slick editing, and, above all, inventive storytelling. To me, he is one of the most promising auteurs working in the genre today. Though Before I Wake is probably my least favourite of his films, it’s still a fine piece of work, with a compelling premise, sympathetic performances, effective scares, and beautiful visuals.
My rating: Really liked it.
Dir. Zak Hilditch. Starring: Thomas Jane, Molly Parker, Dylan Schmid.
Synopsis: After a family murders their unruly matriarch, they realize that they’ve created more problems than they’ve solved.
When you’re in the mood for: Slow burn; Stephen King; folk horror; haunting; animal horror; period.
An engrossing and macabre tale with folk story undertones, centred on the aftermath of a grisly matricide. Intended to simplify and improve the lives of the unfortunate woman’s husband and son, the murder instead leads to a string of very bad luck — and a certain infestation problem. The story sprawls out a little bit after a tight beginning, but a thread of guilt connects the flashbacks, nightmares, and daydreams.
The high production values include a great location and set design. Thomas Jane’s strong, scenery-chewing performance lends the film a measure of down-home grit. Well-paced and cannily-directed, 1922 doles out some chilling and gruesome imagery, especially one early shot in a well featuring a particularly adventurous rat.
My rating: Liked it.