Beth (Niamh Carolan) spends her days — or is it nights? — patrolling her small Canadian town where sunlight no longer exists and where zombielike humans called strays wander the snow-covered streets. To fight malaise, townspeople are supposed to take happy pills, but Beth has stopped doing so, apparently immune to whatever is causing her neighbors to turn rabid. As she increasingly has nightmares about a pustule-covered version of herself who turns people into strays, Beth starts to wonder if she may be the affliction’s cause — and cure.
Much like “Shifted,” another recent Canadian gem, John Barnard’s film is an intimate and eerie study in pandemic-era isolation and its long tentacles. A horror-science fiction hybrid that would make David Cronenberg proud, this film works its magic in slow burn style, buoyed by Barnard and Carrie-May Siggins’s finely-tuned and humane script, and Markus Henkel’s cinematography that makes Winnipeg, where the movie was filmed, look like a haunted Arctic.
This charged morality tale from the director Andrés Farías Cintrón takes place as a hurricane is about to strike the Dominican Republic. As thunderclouds approach, the mysterious death of Renato (Richarson Díaz), a young poet, upends the lives of three strangers: Sera (Sarah Jorge León), a disenchanted young woman who is set to marry into the political class; Pérez (Félix Germán), a veteran investigator who knows — as we do — that Sera is no innocent; and Renato’s boyfriend, Lubrini (César Domínguez), who performs at a pocket-size cabaret as the drag queen Candela, “the Caribbean Pearl.”
Based on a Rey Andujar novel and adapted by Cintrón and Laura Conyedo, the film takes an unflinching look at what it means to survive in a dog-eat-dog world in which almost anything — sex, privacy, vengeance — is up for sale, and those who are too poor or not white enough to hustle may end up dead. Cintrón seamlessly shifts between the three characters’ perspectives with piercing dark humor and deep tenderness, especially when it comes to Perez, who hopes working on the case will patch up his relationship with his estranged daughter, Yajaira (Judith Rodriguez Perez), a friend of Lubrini’s.
The final minutes took a turn that I found hard to swallow. But for neo-noir fans, and for those who like their horror on the thriller (and queer) side, the film will set you on edge.
‘Everyone Will Burn’
In 1980, the residents of a small Spanish town decided to sacrifice a baby to prevent the arrival of the apocalypse. Forty years later, payback hits like a slap to the face when a little mud-covered girl foil the plans of María José (Macarena Gómez) to jump off a bridge. María José suspects this little demon with the power to set people afire may have something to do with her own son who ended his own life after being bullied for having a crush on a boy. She’s right, and the girl, who calls María José her mother, has a prophecy-fulfilling plan to right the wrongs María José has endured from local holy rollers for too long.
That’s the setup to David Hebrero’s barnstorming supernatural revenge drama that’s fueled by shocking punches of violence and fiendish dark humor — like what Satan would do with a Douglas Sirk weeper. Or an Almodóvar melodrama: Hebrero’s world is a maelstrom of torrid catfights, bloody smeared-makeup meltdowns and foxy men doing terrible things. The film drags in the final stretch as it becomes excessively supernatural, but the road there is paved with camp horror gold.
The writer-director Ricky Umberger is a Maryland-based filmmaker who makes microbudget found footage horror movies. A stickler for the genre’s conventions, his films convincingly answer questions — like, why is this being documented? — that other found footage directors ignore. The audio isn’t always crystal clear but boy, does it work. Sometimes what you can’t hear is more sickening than what you can.
His latest film checks all those boxes in terrifying ways. It’s an anthology of three shorts from different decades — all shot in varying qualities of tape. The shorts are framed by a story, set on Halloween 2020, about two teenage brothers who break into an old government facility and find a disc that seems to contain secret evidence of evil on earth.
The best film goes first: It’s about a father-daughter camping trip that goes horribly wrong at the hands of a creepy-looking park ranger and, in a spine-chilling scene, living sand. The alien invasion second film is an effective but too-cartoony nod to the 1989 proto-found-footage movie “The McPherson Tape.” The trilogy wraps with a bang in a ghoulish and raw haunted house tale that’s also my first, and hopefully not last, found footage horror movie experience set among the Amish.
A horror comedy with Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase would once have been box office gold. But Peter Lepeniotis’s goofball zombie movie, based on R.L. Stine’s book, didn’t make a peep over Halloween, and I can see why. Its charms, like its makeup design, feel charmingly homemade.
Aykroyd stars as Len Carver, a famed horror director who hasn’t made a movie in decades. When he debuts his new release at a theater in quaint Carverville, the town that idolizes him, it unleashes a supernatural force that turns Carvervillians into zombies. To the rescue comes Mike (Marlon Kazadi), a teenager who works at the theater and who, with help from an oracle played by Chase, fights the undead.
I’ve got three Gen X-er reasons this mindless good time is worth watching. It’s a terrific pick for tween horror fans, not usually the audience for this column. Horror-loving adults (and Aykroyd and Chase completists) will enjoy watching it with those tweens and explaining what a film projector was. And Bruce McCulloch and Scott Thompson of the Kids in the Hall have delightfully stupid small roles.