Best of the Bleak 2018: 19 killer crime, horror and thriller titles on Netflix streaming and Amazon Prime

best of the bleak 2018 monster at the end of the dream
Standard

Every now and then, there is nothing left and nowhere to turn. No, that’s not the title of Macon Blair’s next screenplayit’s more the reason I created this blog.

I don't feel at home in this world anymore movie with elijah wood and

RE: source material for lame joke in first paragraph.

I was fed up with half-assed Thrillist/Gawker/Paste click-bait lists pointing in the direction of the same 25 indie movies on rotation when all I wanted was a good, bleak diamond-in-the-rough after plowing through seemingly everything on Netflix.

And I was fixated on the fact that these movies align with just a few parametersthose being “grim” and “thrilling.” Horror, crime, Western, I don’t particularly carejust something fucked up enough to give me the vicarious thrill my strange brain needs to cozily drift into sleep. ASMR for the depraved, one might say.

Thus I decided to make a recommendation repository for folks of similar strokes.

In that spirit, the criteria for this list are simple: A.) Anything within the broad categorization of crime, thriller and horror I watched over the last year and deemed recommendation-worthy. B.) Movies and series must be streamable (as of press time) on Netflix or Amazon Prime. C.) I tried to keep it to “lesser-known,” but that means different things to different audiences, and I took a few liberties, mostly in cases where I really dug something. D.) All movies are modern, meaning made in the past couple years. I figure if I go beyond that loosely defined time period, either you’ve already seen it or I’ve already covered it.

If you’re interested in past iterations of these massive streaming bleak-cinema rundowns, check out this list of 26 worthwhile titles and this list of 18 great titles. Hell, some of those films are still kicking around on the Big Two streaming services.

Enough foreplay: Here’s 19 recommended and highly recommended titles for lovers of crime, thriller and horror cinemaalphabetized, graded, denominated by streaming service, and linked in title to my original longer-form posts (where applicable).

Bon appétit.

Bad Day for the Cut (Netflix)In the tradition of sardonically witted, bleak Irish murder films like John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard and Calvary and Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, Chris Baugh’s Bad Day for a Cut (meaning shitty farming weather) might as well be titled “Green Ruin.”

The story centers around oafish mama’s boy Donal (Nigel O’Neill), a mechanic living in the countryside somewhere not far from Belfast. Aging and mild-mannered, Donal is roused from his polite existence when dear old ma is bludgeoned to death in her living room while Donal sleeps off a drunk in his shed. Shortly after, he crosses paths with a thick-headed Polish lad and they drive around in Donal’s candy-paint camper van, exacting revenge on a crime syndicate.

Bad Day doesn’t quite stack up to the three films mentioned earlierdue largely to the Polish kid being a horrible actor and less of a character than an unnecessarily formulaic plot device. But O’Neill’s measured performanceequal parts dry wit, poignant stoicism and brutal avengeris a dynamic spectacle to behold. He’s so perfect in this role that I begin to wonder even if the great Brendan Gleeson (who starred in those three McDonagh films) could have played it better.

In the end, a familiar brand of doomsday wit encapsulated in a story about a man as alive as he is dead makes for a distinctly Irish existential-thriller. And one well worth watching for anyone interested in this burgeoning subgenre.

GRADE: B / B+
IMDb: 6.3

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (Amazon)
Vince Vaughn goes full psycho in Brawl in Cellblock 99
The first thing to know about Brawl in Cell Block 99 is that it’s S. Craig Zahler’s follow-up to Bone Tomahawkhis magnificently brutal directorial debut. The second is that it showcases Vince Vaughn’s best “serious” work in a starring role. That’s not to say his portrayal of Bradley Thompson, an ex-boxer, ex-addict, drug-running manimal whose fury knows no bounds is anything revolutionary. But his presence throughout Cell Block‘s 132-minute runtime is positively commanding.

I should also add that Cell Block is only a “prison movie” insofar as much of it takes place in a prison. It’s really more of a hyperreal character study on psychopathy for entertainment’s sake; a film that despite it’s immaculate, bleak prison cinematography, is more an avenue for primal bloodlust than it is an adherent to any specific genre.

As was the case in Bone Tomahawk (also on Amazon Prime), Zahler delivers a restrained, slow-burn mood piece that perfectly sets the stage for an unbridled and unforgiving climax. Like Vaughn’s character, the action and resolution are larger than life, and purposely so.

GRADE: B+
IMDb: 7.2

The Break (Netflix)Yoann Peeters in La Treve, The Break

With a familiar setup, the Belgian series La trêve (The Break) opens with a crestfallen ace investigator looking for refuge in a small town police department, only to have his broken psyche tested by an unexpected murder.

Our troubled hero here is Yoann Peeters, retreating from something bad that happened in Brussels to his small hometown with his teenage daughter for reassignment. Before Yoann can get settled, the corpse of a promising young African soccer star washes up in the river.

What unfolds is a slow-burn, carefully crafted whodunnit, with Peeters turning over every rotting log in the underbelly of his picturesque town to reveal the brutal truth. There’s also some well-scripted family drama here, as Peeters’ teenage daughter gets caught up in a world of sex, drugs and rock n’ rollcaptured with a lens that is decidedly European about these things. For once, this brand of otherwise-ancillary plot devising is refreshingly honest.

While The Break’s eventual payoff rewards, I’d emphasize that this is of the slow-burn and atmospherically sublime variant of crime dramasakin to all the Nordic Noir stuff I’ll be talking about later in this post. So proceed with a degree of patience.

GRADE: B+
IMDb: 7.8

Cash Only (Netflix)cash only nickola shreli

Blending elements of Mean Streets, Boston gangster fare like Gone Baby Gone, every film in Nicolas Winding-Refn’s Pusher series, Eastern Promises, Spike Lee’s 25th Hour and even the notorious horror flick A Serbian FilmCash Only is a dark foray into one man’s quest to find his own morality, save his family and walk through hell and back in order to do so.

Our main man is Elvis Martini, an Albanian-American Detroit slumlord and single-dad who’s watched his life go up in flames ever since he torched his house for insurance cashbefore checking if his wife was sleeping inside.

The first half of the film slowly acquaints us with the conditions of Elvis’ slum worldfilled with shady dealings, colorful characters and a daily struggle to survive. The second half flips the script with a turbo-charged 24-hour hell ride in which Elvis must come up with a cash grab or face consequences worse than death. The climax here is riveting, and actor Nickola Shreli does some damn-impressive work as Cash Only‘s morally conflicted lead. Strongly recommended for fans of brutal crime thrillers who don’t mind a low budget and some slow burn with a good payoff.

GRADE: B / B+
IMDb: 6.2

Creep 2 (Netflix)
Mark Duplass in Creep 2While no genre in recent memory has reviled me as much as the  self-indulgent emo charade that is mumblecorea product of the Duplass brothersit’s to Mark Duplass’ credit that he’s channeled his penchant for disturbingly awkward characters into the titular “creep” he plays in his horror series (he’s penned both installations, along with help from returning director Patrick Brice).

Following the story of attractive, goth-y video blogger Sara (Desiree Akhavan) who likes capturing “encounters” with weirdos for her failing documentary series, Creep 2 presents a found-footage-style look into a complex and depraved serial killer who has decided to confess his sins. But of course he’s doing it on his own termsin his remote cabin in the middle of nowhere.

As Sara and her host’s relationship grows over the course of the interview, awkwardness and fear build an eerily intriguing tension that clearly has no good end in sight. Creep 2 is actually an improvement on its predecessor. The story is more thoughtfully constructed, the tension more palpable, and Akhavan is a welcome protagonist improvement from Brice, who starred in Creep. But the creepiest thing about this film might just be a lingering full-frontal shot of Duplass. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

GRADE: B / B+
IMDb: 6.4

Cheap Thrills (Netflix)
Pat Healy in Cheap Thrills bloodyImagine if Would You Rather, 13 Sins or Circle were still very entertaining but depended less on the cheap exploitation gimmicks we’ve come to associate with “torture porn.”

The protagonist of Cheap Thrills is Craig (Pat Healy from Ti West’s The Innkeepers), an average joe who walks into a bar after being fired and served an eviction notice on the same day. There, he runs into Vince (Ethan Embry on the career comeback train), a high-school pal and fellow dude in the dumps. This leads to a fateful meeting with a rich playboy (a show-stealing David Koechner) who invites them to entertain his young, model wife (Sara Paxton, also from The Innkeepers) on her birthday. Plying them with coke and primo tequila, he starts pitting the two against each other in games of mental and physical stamina. Of course the stakes get increasingly higher and, well, you can see where this is going…

What separates former-horror-journalist E.L. Katz’s directorial debut from the typical greed/selfishness for cash/survival play that’s come in the wake of Saw is a keen sense of subgenre self-awareness that allows it to double as black comedywhile still delivering all the vicarious thrills of a heightened stakes, blood-spatter shockfest. While I wouldn’t necessarily call this a horror flick, it will probably play best to fans of that genretapping a somewhat similar vein as meta-horror comedies like Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil and The Cabin in the Woods.

GRADE: B+
IMDb: 6.8

Department Q Trilogy (Netflix)
Nikolaj Lie Kaas as Carl Morck in Department Q

In my write-up of the three films (so far) that comprise Danish novelist Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series, I referred to it as  “essentially a very good—albeit slightly slower and more formulaic—mashup of True Detective SE1, The Dragon Tattoo Trilogy and The Killing.”

The main players here are  Carl Morck, a brooding, spiteful alcoholic who seems to be severely deficient in the department of fucks given, and his sidekick Assadan upbeat, devout Muslim cop who blares bass-heavy rap and tells jokes.

Each installment in the grim, atmospheric slow-burn series presents the yin-and-yang pair with a new serial murder case. An impressive roster of recognizable Nordic Noir actorsincluding strong work by the leadstakes DQ beyond your run-of-the-mill detective series, and closer to the standard of the original Danish Dragon Tattoo film trilogy.

Two main things strike me about why the DQ series is so enjoyable. First, it fills a cinematic flat circle: It has much of the entertainment value of True Detective, but without making viewers feel like they need to write a thesis about the damn thing. Conversely, it’s heady enough to not leave that film of time-wasted disgust on my conscience that happens when I sit through two hours of SVU.

The other quality about these films that works to their favor is the same thing that often cheapens this brand of serial cinema: a formula. While that formula may not include meaningful character development, it does deliver the same admirable constants: Two entertaining movie detectives, great ensemble casts, memorable depictions of evil, and the same sublime cinematic lens that made The Killing’s bleak scenery and atmosphere one of its most memorable characters.

Department Q: The Keeper of Lost Causes
GRADE: B+
IMDb: 7.2
Department Q: The Absent One
GRADE: B+ / B
IMDb: 7.1
Department Q: A Conspiracy of Faith
GRADE: B+
IMDb: 7.0

The Devil’s Candy (Netflix)ethan_embry_devils_candy_bloody

I mentioned a few entries back in Cheap Thrills that ’90s high-school heartthrob Ethan Embry looked to be making a comeback. If that’s possible, his career-best performance in The Devil’s Candy might be the turning point.

Embry and Shiri Appleby play Jesse and Astrid Hellmanartsy, metalhead parents who buy a house with an adjoining studio for Jesse to work on his large-scale, death metal-inspired tableaus. Of course the dream home comes with a catchits former inhabitant (a menacing Pruitt Taylor Vince) murdered his parents there. So there’s both demonic forces and a serial killer to contend with in Tasmanian writer/director Sean Byrne’s long-awaited follow-up to The Loved Ones.

In his portrayal of Jesse Hellman, Embry comes across as a Christlike figure touched with a little Rust Cohle. (Both he and Appleby are phenomenal here.) At the expense of sounding artsy fartsy, I personally loved Byrne’s commitment to not pigeonholing or satirizing an unconventional style of parenting. And I think that’s worth pointing out, as Embry’s transformative performance would not be nearly as effective without Byrne’s well-fleshed-out attention to character. At the very least, it grounds the film in a humanity that makes the terror even more palpable.

Devil’s Candy also features a full-throttle heavy-metal soundtrack that echoes Byrne’s bleak, moody cinematography like a primal howl. Many horror fans will appreciate it for that alone.

GRADE: B+
IMDb: 6.5

Hell House LLC (Amazon)hell house llc clown

DISCLAIMER: At the expense of overhyping, I’m hesitant to say anything about this film. It’s better to go in blind, and just queue it up late at night in a quiet, pitch-black setting. Point being, if you haven’t seen this and you’re a horror fan, skip the next few paragraphs and make Hell House LLC your No. 1 priority. 

Moving on…

If Hell House LLC could swap release dates with The Blair Witch Project, it would be one of the most widely referenced horror movies of the past 20 or 30 years. Sure, you could say that about a lot of today’s found-footage flicks, but there are two reasons I think the hypothetical comparison has merit: 1.) Like Blair Witch Project, and unlike the better found-footage offerings since its 1999 release (Affliction, V/H/S/2, Rec, The Taking of Deborah Loganto name a few) Hell House LLC does not employ any noticeable CGI. 2.) Like BWP and unlike the aforementioned list (and also unlike box-office successes like Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, Chronicle, Quarantine), there is noticeably a next-to-nothing budget for Hell House.

The film starts by interspersing various media documentation of an unsolved tragedy that took place several years back, when a crew of haunted house entrepreneurs set up an installation in a small town 40 minutes from NYC. Then a staff member approaches a present-day documentary crew and hands over tapes of the fateful night and the events preceding it. From here, we get the meat of the film, which unfolds in edge-of-your-seat, terrifying chaos.

While this may sound like a dizzying amount of films within films, it’s actually one of Hell House LLC‘s strongest attributes. Especially for those like myself who rarely get into paranormal films due to their implausible nature. Here, the multilayered testimonials have the effect of making this all feel grounded in reality, which of course is what makes any good horror work.

Hell House LLC came out of nowhere to meI simply stumbled on it in the ether of Amazon Prime, and I was worried that might have been why it blew my mind. But it holds up on a second view, and remains both one of the best low-budget and found-footage horror films I’ve ever seen.

GRADE: A-
IMDb: 6.4

In Order of Disappearance (Netflix)Kristofer Hivju bloody

If “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” doesn’t have a parallel adage about a father unleashing his wrath when his only son is murdered, the  fiendishly bleak In Order of Disappearance by Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland (Department Q: A Conspiracy of Faith) will certainly do.

Stellan Skarsgaard, as brilliant as ever, stars as said father, a humble, understated man who’s just received a “Citizen of the the Year” award before his world is turned upside down by his son’s untimely death.

After a period of grief that leaves his life lonesome and meaningless, he decides to break bad by knocking off members of a crime family run by a volatile “bakery magnate” (Pal Sverre Hagen) who simultaneously is waging war with a Serbian drug gang led by the great Bruno Ganz.

What unfolds is an energetically stylized patchwork of Nordic Noir, black comedy and vigilante justiceall set to the score and structure of a Spaghetti Western. If the comedywhich mostly hits the right noteswere downplayed a bit and the film stuck the ending better, this could be a masterpiece. As is, it’s still the best Norwegian crime flick I’ve seen this side of Headhunters.

GRADE: B+ / A-
IMDb: 7.2

Landmine Goes Click (Amazon)
kote tolordova land mine goes clickWith a premise that might as well be an interwoven riff on Funny Games, Deliverance and I Spit on Your Grave, director Levan Bakhia’s Landmine Goes Click is probably the most disturbing thing I’ve watched since the notorious A Serbian Film.

The story starts with a guy leaving his fiance and best friend standing on a live landmine in the middle of the European Georgian wilderness after being trapped by a sadistic backwoods creep. What unfolds from here is a harrowing game of cat and mouse as evocative in its “revenge porn” as some of the most twisted major cinema to come out of the ’70s (I Spit on Your Grave, The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes). Watch at your own peril.

GRADE: B / B+
IMDb: 6.2

Message from the King (Netflix)message-from-the-king-teresa-palmer-chadwick-bosemanIf Taken were directed by David Ayer and spiked with a touch of noir, you’d essentially have the recipe for the Netflix Original film Message from the King.

Chadwick Boseman (AKA Black Panther) stars as Jacob King, a man from South Africa’s violent Cape Flats who arrives in L.A. with nothing but a wad of cash, in search of his missing sister. As he uncovers the truthbeginning with a sequence where he beats the shit out of Draco Malfoy with a bicycle chainwe begin to realize that this bloke did not cross continents to fuck around.

Message from the King squeaks by with barely enough substanceand some decent side roles from a cast of recognizable B-listersto distract from the fact that, as with Taken, we are here purely for brutal, action-packed entertainment.

On that bloody front, it delivers by the gallon. Greasy Eastern European thugs? Check. Throat-punching and face-stomping? Check. Hyperbolically ominous one-liners? You betcha. (Soundbite: “Whoever you work for, tell them this was a message from the King.”)

To be clear, this is not highbrow shitalthough it’s got a step on Taken in that department and is also significantly more grim. Message from the King is just some damn-good popcorn vigilante justice fare, and Boseman delivers the sweet badass revenge in spades.

GRADE: B+
IMDb: 6.3

The Oath (Netflix)
Baltasar Kormakur in The Oath

Baltasar Kormákur (creator of Trappedsee below) is the main man behind Iceland’s brilliant foray into the landscape of Nordic Noir cinema.

Here, Kormákur directs and stars as Finnur, a brain surgeon whose idyllic life is shattered when his teenage daughter gets mixed up with a scummy drug dealer.

The film’s title and moral conundrum stem from a transformation in Finnur from early-Walter White everyman to “what I do have are a very particular set of skills” Liam Neeson. While the titular wordplay conjuring the Hippocratic Oath is no stroke of genius, Kormákur’s transformative performance is brilliant, and the taut narrative he winds (he also co-wrote the film) is a thing of grimalbeit somewhat predictablebeauty. This is minimalist Nordic Noir at its thrilling best.

GRADE: B+ / A-
IMDb: 6.7

The Salvation (Netflix)mads-mikkelsen-the-salvation-bloody

I had to get at least one dark Western onto this list, and it comes in the form of a revenge tale starring the great Mads Mikkelsen as a Danish homesteader whose life is torn to pieces in front of his eyes as his wife and young son are brutally attacked on a stagecoach.

Several bodies later, our hero is pitted in an all-stakes war against a vile outlaw (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, basically playing Negan from Walking Dead in Western wear) and a cavalry of corrupt townsfolk cowering under his reign. Eva Green also stars as a scar-faced mute with sharpened teeth.

A brutally bleak frontier vigilante justice tale, The Salvation is nothing revolutionarythe plot is as predictable as Morgan’s acting abilities are one-notebut Mikkelsen, Green and a strong side cast make this an enjoyable Western with themes redolent of High Plains Drifter and The Dark Valley.

GRADE: B / B+
IMDb: 6.8

Train to Busan (Netflix)train to busan on netflix streamingIf nothing else, Yeon Sang-Ho’s Train to Busan is proof of two things: That great zombie films can still be made, and that South Korean cinema can do little wrong.

As for its inclusion in this list, I doubt there’s a horror fan out there who hasn’t seen or heard of this. So I’m adding it here mainly for those outside the horror circle who may have slept on this simply due to an unawareness of subtitled, foreign horror. To thee, I say watch thisit’s as accessible a thriller-drama as anything new you’ll find on Netflix.

The story follows an emotionally absent workaholic fund manager who must take his young daughter on a train ride to the city of Busan where she’ll be reunited with her mother. Once aboard the train, a leak at a biotech lab signals the zombie apocalypse. Things go off the rails from there, with a head-splitting thrillride that never lets up.

It’s not that Busan pushes the zombie genre into earth-shattering realms, but everything herefrom the zombie makeup/effects to thrilling gore to production quality is immaculate. Sure, there are the typical tropes you’ll find in any dark South Korean filmheart-wrenching drama between adult and child, a comedically overbearing mother, a mysterious crazy man, a cookie-cutter bad guy, classist warfare, and so on. But that’s all just backdrop to visually stunning, full-throttle zombie mania. And scenes like those with a hundred zombies being dragged by a freight car and a dull-eyed zombie deer reanimating are bound to stick with you long after the drama subsides.

GRADE: B+ / A-
IMDb: 7.5

Trapped (Amazon)Ólafur Darri Ólafssonn in TrappedCreator Baltasar Kormákur’s Trapped is the most expensive and ambitious project in the history of Icelandic cinema. It’s also arguably the gold standard for Nordic Noir filmmakingup there with the Dragon Tattoo and Pusher trilogies, Headhunters and Season One of Fortitude.

Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (the grimy, prophetic meth dealer from True Detective Se1) leads the show as Andri, a detective with the look and softness of an oversized teddy bear, but also the fierce, hunting instincts of a polar bear.

The gist is that Andri must solve a series of murders that start with the discovery of a mutilated, frozen corpse when a freight ship comes to harbor off the coast of his small Northern Icelandic town. An intricately woven, expertly paced, beautifully acted and fully realized grim crime drama, Trapped is the best slept-on series I’ve watched since Happy Valley. Queue it up.

GRADE: A / A-
IMDb: 8.2

The Wailing (Netflix)
Do-won Kwak in the Wailing

There were many points throughout The Wailing where I began to think that this just might be the best dark South Korean flick since the iconic I Saw the Devil. Then there were points throughout its 156 minutes where I wondered if this was really leading anywhere. And amidst these two feelings, there was also just a pure appreciation that something this bleak and well-crafted could go on for so long.

Eventually, of course, there was the inevitable unneccesarily meandering extended narrative and anticlimactic ending—all geo-genre-specific symptoms that plagued another would-be great South Korean horror film, The Host. (Sidenote: South Korean “han” cinema is perhaps my favorite current movement, but the extent to which these films often abandon central plotlines and just wallow in meaningless despair toward the last hour is a cinematic characteristic that almost seems lost in translation).

But what’s it all about, you ask? Well, a bumbling South Korean cop in a mountain village starts noticing a series of murders connected to a skin rash, which, of course, his daughter soon develops. A mysterious Japanese hill-person might have something to do with it, but then there’s other phantoms at play. And shamans. And crazy mother-in-laws. And lots and lots of han.

As a dark, bloody mood piece on that earlier note of “ASMR for the depraved,” The Wailing is some Grade-A shit. Those with less patient attention spans and a need for tidy plot resolution might be less inclined to wade through this one.

GRADE: B+
IMDb: 7.5

-Sam Adams

Advertisements

Streaming Bleak This Week, #4: The Invitation on Netflix

the invitation movie
Standard

While this blog is a recommendation site and I do believe I’ve done my due diligence in that regard over the past few years, my last three picks in this series were, admittedly, an attempt to come up with worthwhile suggestions that I knew the vast majority of you readers wouldn’t have seen. As such, they weren’t all necessarily as savagely palatable as the typical fodder promoted herein.

They Look Like People, Bob and the Trees and We Are Still Here are all indie movies made on a shoestring budget. I think the most famous actor among all three was Barbara Cramptona name only dedicated horror fans would recognize. That’s not to say I think I fucked upI actually really liked all threebut this weekly pick series is an experiment, and your feedback has been hit or miss on said titles. Which means it’s time to recalibrate the meat grinder.

Back to the ol' drawing board...

Back to the ol’ drawing board…

Moving forward, I’m still going to err on the side of lesser-known titles, but I’ll try to keep in mind that I’m one of the few fuckers who’s exhausted the near entirety of everything bleak and horrific worth watching on Netflix. Point being that a hidden gem to me might justifiably be viewed as nothing more than a shiny pebble to you folks out there who have, ya know, lives.

That is why this week I’m going to offer up a really fucking awesome flick that any suspense-horror fan should be able to get behind. So without further adieu…

The Invitation
Michael Huisman (AKA Daario Naharis) hosts a dinner party from hell in The Invitation
Yep, that’s Daario Naharis from Game of Thrones (played in real life by Michael Huisman). See? This movie is already more relatable and less obscure!

The Invitation starts with a grieving father and his new lady going to a dinner party at the house of his ex-wife and her new feller (Daario Naharas, played by Daario Naharas). Actually you might also recognize the lead dude. It took me awhile to place him. At first I thought it was Tom Hardy from The Revenant reincarnated, but then I realized I knew him from … The O.C.

tom-hardy-logan-marshall-green-invitation-revenant

Apparently I’m not the first to notice that Bane has a doppelgänger…

That was another life. Moving on.

Anyway, a big group of folks who were tight two years ago get together. It’s an awkward reunion of sorts as no one’s really seen anyone else since the son of O.C. guy and Liv Tyler-lookalike ex-wifey tragically died in a freak pinata accident. (If there are truly 6 million ways to die, that sure is a motherfucker…)

It’s important to note that this is all taking place at a swank and secluded pad in L.A., which becomes a recurring excuse as to why everyone keeps acting so fucking weird. At one point a character even says of the freaky, culty, hippie-dippy hosts, “Yeah, they’re a little weird. But this is L.A. They’re harmless.” Famous last words, punto. Go ask Sharon Tate.

no more parties in la kanye

“No More Parties in L.A.” The one time Kanye gave good life advice…

One thing I love about The Invitation is how its first half is such a meticulous play between ebbing macabre suspense and one man’s struggles with grief, paranoia and anger. It’s like a delicately wired stage play that could easily go the route of heady psychological flick. Actually, unless you’d seen the previews (I hadn’t), this thing could have unfolded down several genre pathways at that midway markall with complete plausability. I even found myself thinking, Shit, I might be in for one of those moody indie dramas about coming to terms with loss and emotions and stuff.

megan fox tongue on fire jennifer's body

Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body: Never was self-immolation so hot.

With that in mind, director Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Bodystarring Megan Fox and little else) deserves major credit for wielding such multi-layered sleight of hand in such deft fashion. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out exactly what type of film it is, but apropos of my earlier comments, let’s just say that there is nothing unresolved or left to the imagination here.

For comparison’s sake, think of something in the vein of Would Your Rather, Knock Knock and Kidnapped (Secuestrados). Then imagine the grown-folks’ version of Would You Rather, what some elements of Knock Knock would have been like if that movie had a pulse, and what Kidnapped would have been with better direction, a more fully evolved narrative and less torture porn.

All in all, The Invitation serves up the oft-visited “dinner party from hell” subgenre in delectable, ornate and satiating fashion. Look also for a brutally chilling monologue from the great character-actor John Carroll Lynch (who you may remember as Eastman from one of the greatest music videos Walking Dead episodes of all time!).

IMDb: 6.7
GRADE: B+

-Sam Adams

LAST WEEK IN THIS SERIES: They Are Still Here

Brazilian Bleak: Wolf at the Door on Netflix Instant

Standard

If Prisoners met Little Children and were lured into a back alley by Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful, you might have a rough idea of what the Brazilian abduction film Wolf at the Door is about. But even such a miasma of grim, adulterous, child-snatching malevolence would fall short of matching the depravity that exists in director Fernando Coimbra’s 2013 suspense tale.

While this film is not for the faint of heart, it’s also a bit of a departure from the material I typically recommend on this blog. It’s slow-burn suspense at its best—chiller, not thriller; horrific, not horror. It’s also a reminder of how many fantastic, bleak movies are coming out of South America (and often landing on Netflix) without ever getting much of any widespread appreciation (see: Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, Pescador, Carlos).

Essentially, where slum tales like Amores Perros and City of God left off, a new generation of excellently devastating filmmaking is taking place south of the border. So without further ado, here’s the rundown on another black diamond in the rough I stumbled upon deep in the ether of Netflix’s foreign catalogue:

Wolf at the Door
a-wolf-at-the-door-movie-leandra-leal-child
The film begins with a panning shot set to creepy synth music that leads us to the door of a preschool. It’s here that a mother learns her daughter was taken by an unknown woman posing as a family friend. The investigation for the girl is Wolf at the Door‘s narrative premise, but the story unwinds in a much more elegant and mysterious structural fashion than your typical whodunit thriller.

As police investigate, we meet our key players: Sylvia, the slightly clueless neglected wife; Bernardo, the creepy father who’s a slimy John Turturro lookalike; and Rosa, the psychopathic, attractive young mistress who for some unexplained reason is stalkerishly drawn to a slimy John Turturro lookalike.

john turturro Milhem Cortaz lookalike

“Ladies love the creepy teeth, bro.”

What unfolds is a series of Rashomon-style flashback scenarios leading us to the kidnapping and its underlying motivations. The cards are laid out slowly, but the chaos and unsettling psyches of two of the main characters only plummet to grotesquely deeper realms as we get to know them.

Wolf at The Door accomplishes the task of seamlessly humanizing and then dehumanizing what on the surface would seem to be very ordinary people. It also excels as a captivating movie that runs for 101 minutes without really introducing a single likable protagonist.

landra leal sexy wolf at the door

Hell hath no fury like a psychopathic mistress scorned…

Every detail here counts, so I won’t go much further. But if you liked Prisoners (one of my favorite dark thrillers of the past few years) and don’t mind a slower-paced, less Hollywood-friendly suspense flick, Wolf at the Door is up there with other grim, foreign-language abduction tales like Big Bad Wolves and The Silence (both on Netflix, by the way). The performances by Milhelm Cortaz (Bernardo) and Leandra Leal (Rosa) are also insanely good, with both actors exhibiting a diabolical range that catapults an otherwise-solid suspense tale into an unforgettable prism of human savagery.

GRADE: B+
IMDb: 7.5

-Sam Adams

Best of the Bleak: Eighteen Top Lesser-Known Crime, Thriller and Horror Netflix Instant Titles from 2014

Best movies of 2014 netflix instant
Standard

Consider this post a witches’ brew. The contents started as a liquid composed of every crime, thriller and horror feature on Netflix Instant. Then I cranked up the heat and gave it a year-long simmer, meticulously skimming away the fat and nasty bits. After that, I spent the next three months tasting and testing till I finally had a small saucepan of the darkest, most delectable demi-glace. I then took that shit and poured it over the finest unicorn liver and paired it with a nice barrel of chianti. And now… Dinner is served, cabrones!

hannibal lecter drinking

Bon appétit!

Wait. Did you catch all that?

Essentially what I’m saying is that I spent a year combing through Reddit subthreads, countless hours watching every imaginable film and series on Netflix Instant, and three months writing about my favorite lesser-known titles (along with the help of my partner-in-crime, Adam Fox). I’ve now condensed all this research into a list of 18 of the best horror, crime and thriller features that you may have not seen on Netflix Instant.

Are a few things missing? Sure. No list is definitive, and that’s what next year is for. But consider this a damn good menu, with every item coming highly recommended by the chef himself.

Here’s the list, graded and alphabetically ordered, with titles linking back to our initial long-form posts:

MOVIES
headhunters

Blue Ruin
blue ruinBittersweet revenge. That’s what Dwight (Macon Blair), a dumpster-diving hobo, is after when he hears the man who killed his parents is getting out of prison. Blue Ruin delivers as one of the most beautifully shot, darkly comical and poignant films of 2013. If you liked Shotgun Stories or are simply a fan of revenge and vigilante justice flicks, look no further. B+/A-

Fish Tank
fish tankA charming Irishman enters the life of a teenage breakdancer who lives with her drunk mom and foul-mouthed sister in the slums of East London. Michael Fassbender (pre-Magneto fame) provides one of his best ever performances as a boozy savior who seems too good to be true. This film creates a riveting wave of suspense, despite being the only title on this list devoid of much action or overt violence. A-

God Bless America
God Bless AmericaIdiocracy and the 1970 hippie-slaughter-fest Joe meet Network in Bobact Goldthwait’s blacker-than-black satire on American media culture and narcissism. Bill Murray’s brother, Joel, is phenomenal as an everyman who finally hits his breaking point and goes on a monstrous killing spree… inspired by human compassion. B+/A-

Gomorrah
gomorrahFucking hell, this is a bleak one. Director Matteo Garrone takes a page from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s book and intertwines four slum tales, using the gang-ridden streets of Naples as his canvas. Ranked by A.O. Scott as the sixth-best film of 2008, I’d highly recommend this to fans of Amores Perros and City of GodB+

Headhunters
Nikolaj Coster-WaldauThis fast-paced Norwegian thriller tells the story of an art thief who gets in over his head by stealing from a special ops manhunter. Said manhunter is Game of Thrones‘  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who brings all his kingslaying charm to what is perhaps the most throughly entertaining movie I watched all year. A-

In Bruges
in brugesLike I said, “mostly lesser-known” titles. If you haven’t seen Martin McDonagh’s brilliantly wry flick about a pair of hitmen (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) holidaying in the “fucking fairytale” town of Bruges, consider this a must-watch. For those who have seen it, I cannot urge you strongly enough to seek out The Guard, starring Brendan Gleeson as a Bad Lieutenant-esque Irish cop. (I’m quite eagerly anticipating director John Michael McDonagh’s follow-up, Calvary, which hits Netflix DVD queues on Jan. 6). A-

El Infierno
Joaquín CosioThe best lesser-known movie on Netflix Instant. Period. A Mexican man is deported back home from the States, only to find his nation in ruinous drug violence. So what does he do? Break bad and become a narco hitman, of course. Rarely is sociopolitical commentary as entertaining to watch as in director Luis Estrada’s masterpiece. My top recommendation on this list—which would explain why I wrote a fucking novella on it (see link). A

I Saw the Devil
i saw the devilI didn’t write about Oldboy because if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen it thirteen times. I Saw the Devil continues in the tradition of Park Chan-Wook’s gut-wrenchingly violent Vengeance Trilogy and is, with perhaps the exception of Oldboy, the best film made in the landscape of prolific gore-horror that is South Korean cinema. Alongside El Infierno and Tell No One, this rounds out my top three recommendations within this list. A-/A

Let the Right One In
let the right one inThis Swedish kiddie vampire tale makes Twilight look like Sesame Street. If for some reason you haven’t seen this, please do—it’s arguably one of the best horror movies ever made. A

The Man from Nowhere
the man from nowhere
At what what point do I just give up and dedicate my entire blog to South Korean revenge movies? That’s a question this grim story of a mysterious Asian Jason Bourne putting his life on the line to save a young girl brings to mind. While not quite as devastatingly sinister as The Vengeance Trilogy, director Lee Jeong-beom’s 2010 flick is every bit as good—and much more action-packed. B+/A-

Stake Land
stake landAside from Let the Right One In, it could be argued that this devilish, little vampire road movie is the best bloodsucker flick since Dusk Till Dawn. It’s basically a much smarter, more artfully crafted and fully realized version of The Walking Dead. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of vamps, do me a fucking favor and skip that hipster trash that hipster critics are raving about, Only Lovers Left Alive. I consider Jim Jarmusch a god among directors, but that was his most pretentious bit of bullshit ever. On a more upbeat note, keep an eye out for the Iranian flick A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which I nominate for best horror-film title of 2014. As for Stake Land… A-

Tell No One
tell-no-oneMichael Caine named this 2006 French mystery thriller as one of the top ten movies ever made. While I don’t fully agree, I also wouldn’t call that hyperbole. This story—about a doctor who uncovers a secret about his dead wife—somehow manages the task of being both one of the most beautiful love stories and most action-packed thrillers in recent memory. One of my top three picks on this list. A

The Taking of Deborah Logan
the taking of deborah loganThe found-footage genre finds new life in this jump-out-your-seat scary flick about a lady with Alzheimer’s who becomes possessed by demonic forces. While my smug, Masshole co-writer Adam Fox may disagree, I’d easily call this one of the best horror movies of 2014. B+/A-

You’re Next
You're nextAn Australian survivalist chick winds up at the dinner party from hell as a cast and crew of mumblecore jag-offs redeem themselves by creating one of the best slasher films in years. If there was any justice in this world, Dwight Twilley would win an Oscar for “Looking for the Magic”—which director Adam Wingard uses immaculately here.  B+/A-

SERIES
peaky blinders

Black Mirror
jessica brown findlay sings in black mirrorDid I just give a shout-out to Adam Fox? He’s the guy who’s been writing up Black Mirror for this here site. Charlie Brooker’s series of seven (so far) unrelated stories is a menacingly bleak futuristic take on technology, dystopia and human fallibility. So far we’ve posted on Fifteen Million Merits (B+), a glimpse of what happens when The Running Man meets American Idol in hell; and The National Anthem (A-), which deals with a British prime minister deciding whether he should follow through on a terrorist threat to fuck a pig.

Happy Valley
blogIf you haven’t watched Happy Valley yet, perhaps it’s for some of the same reasons that it took me so long to get around to it: The marquee image on Netflix displays an unknown, middle-aged actress in a British cop uniform. Meanwhile, there are several other British series plastered on the same page containing well-known actors in their prime, like Idris Elba, Cillian Murphy and Benedict Cumbertwat. So why should you choose Happy Valley, a show about a small-town detective who gets involved in a high-stakes kidnapping case? Let the record state that I am not comparing it to Breaking Bad… but it is the best show I’ve seen since the best show ever made ended. That’s why. A

The Fall: Season One
The FallThe Fall is perhaps one of the most intelligent cop shows on TV this side of True Detective, and now that Rust and Marty are out of the picture, Gillian Anderson’s lead as icy investigator Stella Gibson is perhaps the best character in the genre. The only downfall of this first season—which trails a sadistic Belfast serial killer—is that it left us with an asshole of a cliffhanger. Quit dicking around, BBC—deliver the goods! A-

Peaky Blinders: Season One
peaky blinders“When you walk through the garden…”. That was the line that Tom Waits opened episodes of The Wire with. “Take a little walk to the other side of the tracks” is the line Nick Cave opens Peaky Blinders with, and his “Red Right Hand” is the best intro song to any show since David Simon’s deservedly heralded series. There’s also a lot of other awesome shit happening here, like Cillian Murphy—as the leader of a Birmingham street gang—slashing people’s faces with razor-embedded scally caps. Blinders isn’t the most highbrow fare, but its first season is one of the most entertaining pieces of television I’ve seen in years. The second season falls a little short, but that’s another story for another time. A-

-Sam Adams

NOTE: A big year-end thanks to everyone who’s patronized this site, commented on it and given their support over the past three months. It means the fucking world. Also, a huge thanks to my man Adam Fox for helping me keep the ship afloat. We’ve got much more in store for 2015!