Rent or buy it on Vudu
Blasco (Ramiro Blas), a former bullfighter, drives a van that transports people around Spain. He’s a brute who doesn’t like feminists, and that doesn’t sit well with his three passengers on one fateful day: Mariela (Cecilia Suarez), a religious woman who has cancer, and Lydia (Cristina Alcázar), who takes his moody teenage daughter Marta (Paula Gallego), to live with Lydia’s ex-husband.
But Blasko’s macho is the least of the group’s worries. As night falls, they encounter a bubbling organism that spits a small worm into Martha’s finger, and before long, Blasko crashes his van into a disfigured woman standing in the road. As he transports her to the hospital, she spews a translucent slime that turns Mariela into a snarling goblin killer. From then on, it’s a fight between the humans and the evil dregs.
This dark horror comedy from Spanish directorial duo Raúl Cerezo and Fernando González Gómez is more than just a gut-wrenchingly infectious film. It’s also a surprisingly poignant look at how people, especially parents and their children, forgive each other when trauma is a parasite with sticky fingers. I don’t know how much the sloppy make-up effects cost, but the directors are worth the money.
I admired, more than enjoyed, this folkloric horror fable set in the lush countryside of 19th-century Macedonia, where the supernatural and the ordinary share a troubled coexistence.
When she turns 16, a mute girl named Nevena (Sara Klimoska) is taken from her mother by a Freddy Krueger-looking demon (Annamaria Marinka), known to the locals as Old Maid Maria. With merciless cruelty, Maria trains her new child in the ways of shape-shifting, a life that requires Nevena to slaughter the people she wants to become, including a young woman from the village (Noomi Rapace).
Creepy and visually striking, the film moves in a folk horror style that is just on the other side of pretentious. Still, writer-director Goran Stolevski and cinematographer Matthew Chuang have collaborated to make a film about a young woman’s quest for self-discovery that includes beautiful passages of sensuality and joy, but also shocking acts of brutality. There’s also a subversive queerness: as Nevena becomes a handsome young man, she explores the male body and the expectations that come with it.
Clayton Whitmer’s film is a high-spirited and affecting character drama masquerading as an old-fashioned creature.
Ethan (Drew Matthews) is an introverted locksmith who lives alone in suburban America near his brother (Ryan Davenport) and his family. Driving one night, Ethan comes across a deer carcass, and inside he finds a squirming little creature, a cross between a spider and a lobster. He takes him home, where the little boy breaks free from his cage, eventually growing to monstrous size. When a neighbor turns up dead one morning, Ethan has a hunch about who the killer is.
At just under two hours, the film is too long to sustain its macabre ambitions. But it’s a spell weaver. I was particularly drawn to how Whitmer takes the monster metaphor in unexpected directions as he explores what it means to grow up and never leave a small town. Ayinde Anderson’s fine cinematography makes the North Carolina suburbs where the film is set seem humble and eerie.
Stream it on Shudder
This feature film by Nico van den Brink is a conventional supernatural folk horror drama that nevertheless offers a good-night fright and a terrifying ending.
Set in the Netherlands, the film opens as Jonas (Alexandre Willaume) and his team of researchers work near a peat bog where Betriek (Sally Harmsen) lives with her young daughter. They make a strange discovery: the long-dead body of a woman, her throat slit vertically. Meanwhile, Betriek’s father places a sensor in the yard after a crazed man yells “They’re making me do it!” as he attacks the family.
As Betriek and Jonas begin a romance, she tells him that the sinister goings-on may have something to do with a family curse that followed her grandmother’s unsolved murder. She’s right, and the curse has its claws out for her and her daughter.
I don’t quite understand the demonic myth that fuels “Moloch”; it has biblical roots and has something to do with the hungry female spirit. But that’s OK, as van den Brink’s film pulsates with tension and odd scares, like a strange scene in which Betriek encounters a possessed child in an elevator. The great final scene is chilling.
Rent or buy it on most major platforms
Although it borrows from “Ju-On: The Grudge,” “The Vigil” and other horror films, DM Cunningham’s engrossing low-budget ghost story still scares in its own right.
The film opens on a stormy night in a cell as James (Peter Tell) recounts the harrowing events of a terrible day to his prison counselor (Sheryl Despres). Flashing back, James explains that he was a deputy constable who once had to protect a dead body found near a cabin in the woods. He starts seeing red poppies and a woman in a red dress—clues, he says, to why he was there, who the victim is, and what his colleague (Hayley Heaslip) has to do with it all. As he recalls the bloody horrors that followed, we learn that James has been hiding terrible secrets that a sheet can never hide.
From the pacing to the chronology, this film is unconventional; dreams and reality share space in scenes that do not transition from one to the other. But Tell’s darkly comic performance and Cunningham’s adventurous direction make it work. That’s as the film’s many twists and turns—from zombie comedy to sci-fi thriller to Hallmark romance—race toward a confusing finale.