The great thing about Netflix is that it gives you a lot of TV and movie watching options. The bad thing about Netflix is that it gives you…a lot of TV and movie watching options. So many that it can be overwhelming. I’d guess around ninety percent of our time spent on Netflix is scrolling through thousands of movies and TV shows, before finally deciding on something three hours after you’ve first logged on. The aim of this column is to provide easily accessible Netflix suggestions based on a different focal point each week.
BLUE RUIN (Jeremy Saulnier, 2014)
Jeremy Saulnier’s taut and deliberate revenge thriller posits that just because you have the urge to exact revenge on someone, doesn’t mean it’s as easy as picking up a gun and popping a cap in the bastard’s head. In most revenge movies, the protagonists make it look like peach cobler on a sunny day but in Blue Ruin, the act of revenge actually feels like a chore, with the protagonist bumbling through the act even though his motivation is as pure as the best Columbian marching powder you can find. Newcomer Macon Blair as a wannabe Charles Bronson is an acting revelation, giving one of the most underrated performances of 2014. All of this makes for the most innovative revenge movies I’ve seen in recent years.
COMPLIANCE (Craig Zobel, 2012)
In Compliance, director Craig Zobel shows the dangers of always following the rulebook and the extent to which some will go to obey authority, even if said authority is merely a voice zapped in from a telephone wire. During a busy day, straight-edged fast food manager Sandra (the terrific Ann Dowd) gets a phone call from a police detective telling her that one of her employees has stolen money from a customer. Taking place mainly over the course of that day and within the cramped confines of the fast food restaurant’s shady stockroom, Zobel establishes an unnerving atmosphere of impending doom. As the movie races on, things get increasingly uncomfortable. Because of Zobel’s exotic histrionics, the viewer is unquestionably fated to experience a gut-churning emotional response. In fact, you may find yourself yelling at the characters on screen, criticizing their actions and claiming that you would handle things differently. But would you? If you were in the exact same situation would you make better decisions? It’s these questions (and others) pertaining to ethics and human behavior that make Compliance most fascinating.
THE DEN (Zachary Donohue, 2013)
Before Unfriended (review here), there was The Den, a little seen horror/thriller taking place primarily from the point of view of a computer screen. Elizabeth (Melanie Papalia) is a graduate student researching online social interactions through The Den, a social media site similar to Chat Roulette. One day, however, things take a very wrong turn and Elizabeth finds herself stalked by an violent internet predator. Director Zachary Donohue reinvigorates both the slasher and the found-footage genres, while also highlighting the vulnerability we face while surfing the web. It’s a strange new world out there and that random stranger you’re conversing with online just might be a psychopath capable of causing real harm to you. Log off whilst you can.
THE HUNTER (Daniel Nettiheim, 2011)
Willem Dafoe (Platoon) gives a gripping, unassuming performance as Martin, the mysterious hero at the center of Daniel Nettiheim’s quiet, intriguing debut film. We don’t learn much about Martin, except that he’s a hunter who’s hired by a biotech company called Red Leaf to go up in the rugged terrain of Tasmania to try and find and collect DNA samples for a Tasmanian Tiger, long believed to be extinct. The Hunter is a slow burn of sheepish nature and the ending is a little underwhelming but Dafoe is just so damn compelling in the leading role that the movie’s faults don’t matter much in the end.
IN THE HOUSE (Francois Ozon, 2012)
Who would have thought that ACT writing could make for such absorbing movie fare? Fabrice Luchini plays Germain Germain, a jaded writing teacher who takes an interest in the daily compositions of one of his students Claude (Ernst Umhauer). French director Francois Ozon crafts a superb feature about obsession, blurring the line between fact and fiction and above all, the enormous power prose can have over an individual. With references to famous literary figures like Gustave Flaubert and numerous conversations about the process of writing, In the House will surly appeal to writing geeks but even non-writers will find themselves being pulled in by the cinematic spell Ozon casts. Overall, In The House is one of the more original, compelling thrillers to come out in recent years and one well worth a test drive.
THE SACRAMENT (Ti West, 2013)
Indie horror director Ti West delivers his best film to date with The Sacrament, [Editor Note: Nope! The House of the Devil is still better] a found footage horror movie about two Vice Magazine journalists documenting the goings-on of a mysterious cult housed in South America. While the movie gets off to a slow start it eventually picks up steam, building to a climax that’s absolutely devastating. The Sacrament is a refreshing change of pace for the found footage genre, with West opting for a more cerebral thriller as opposed to relying on gore and cheap jump scares. Major props should also be given to Gene Jones (the blubbery gas station attendant in No Country for Old Men) as the charming and terrifying Jim Jones-esque cult leader.
SIDE EFFECTS (Steven Soderbergh, 2013)
I’m not quite convinced Steven Soderbergh is done with directing feature films but if he is, well, he sure goes out on a high note with Side Effects. A twisty thriller in the vein of Hitchcock, Soderbergh’s film is never what you think it’s going to be, constantly changing form and swallowing entire genres in its all-absorbing path. At first it plays out like a sappy Lifetime drama about depression, before morphing into an expose on the pharmaceutical industry and then finally into a murder mystery. Any more description than that and I would be doing you a major disservice, so I’m just going to urge you to click the play button. You won’t be sorry you did.