With a sudden and slightly shocking amount of time to kill, some people are taking to social media to do the pushups challenge. Others, the shots challenge. Me? I’m doing the “watch and catalog every movie I never had the time to watch” challenge. I’ve been digging deep through my streaming platform watchlists and a sleek little spreadsheet I maintain like a bonsai tree to find movies long past their time in theaters, cult classics only available behind a paywall, or foreign films with subtitles that I was always too tired to follow.
As a human collective, we’re going through some strange changes these days. Based on my own experience, the best thing to do is to not just focus on using our newfound time to be productive, but to find joy, too. I love watching—and sharing thoughts about—movies, especially SFF/H. If you do, too, get started with this list, and I hope it brings you a little bit of something good.
Revenge dir. Coralie Fargeat (Amazon Prime)
(TW: Sexual assault)
Every horror fan has a classic subgenre that got them hooked. Mine was not slasher films; I came to appreciate those kinds of horror films much later. Truthfully, I found the flat female characters from the iconic slasher films of the 1980s hard to tolerate. They were all the same, and so predictable, and always kind of milquetoast (or just helpless). After all, violence and cutting people to bits with your razor nails was all about big dick energy, right? Girls can’t do big dick energy…or so we’re told by heteronormative stereotypes.
Upon first watch, the male gaze feels strong in Revenge. There are gratuitous, close-up shots of the female lead in various states of undress; a salacious, lapdance-adjacent scene where said character grinds against one of her boyfriend’s pals; and, most important to the plot, lots of tight pink shirts, pleated miniskirts, and a bubblegum-chewing by the high school cheerleader wet dream type lead. The beginning lulls you into a state of calm; now you’re on your laptop, working remotely, cooking dinner, whatever. And just when you’re about to put everything in the crockpot and forget the movie was even playing, it cracks you square in the face. Everything—everything—changes, not just the tired tropes. The score, the cinematography, it all shifts. You’re watching a different movie. You’re watching an all-out, gore-splattering, slasher flick, and a lady with BDE. And, at a certain point, you realize this, too: she wasn’t ever an object, even in her too-small pink tops, even when every skeezy cishet man stared at her. She was in control the whole damn time.
The Invitation dir. Karyn Kusama (Netflix)
I’ve never been more convinced that a movie took place during Mercury Retrograde than I was watching this one. Miscommunication, paranoia, cults, and ex-fiances create a perfect storm in The Invitation. Invited to his ex-wife’s dinner party, a man is immediately suspicious of his ex’s new husband and her new-found spirituality. As the movie continues, his suspicion grows into paranoia until viewers aren’t sure which characters to trust. Director Karyn Kusama, best known for the cult horror film Jennifer’s Body, takes the doomy, sinister vibe of her more flamboyant movie, strips it down and tightens it into this drama-thriller-just-barely-horror film.
American Mary dir. Jen and Sylvia Soska (Amazon Prime)
(TW: Sexual Assault)
Apparently, according to Rotten Tomatoes, liking this movie is a bit of a hot take. But here’s the thing: when two sisters/co-directors, whose first movie was titled Dead Hooker in a Trunk, make a new movie, how could you not watch?
Maybe this movie is an acquired taste. I happen to think that it’s a radical narrative wrapped in deceptive packaging. On the outside, it’s a campy horror flick. But its humor is blacker than black, its camp is actually extreme body horror, and its plot arc more social commentary than straight gore (though there’s plenty of that, too). It’s one of the most original takes on the classic story of the “good girl gone bad: a med student who, after being the victim of sexual assault, uses her skills to dive into the deep, dark underworld of extreme body modification.
High Rise dir. Ben Wheatley (Hulu, Amazon Prime)
Here is one of those rare films that scratch the itch between commercial thriller and weird arthouse. It’s as brutal as it is smart, with a strong narrative about the horrors of capitalism and consumption. Based on the eponymous book written by the inimitable sci-fi/horror author J.G. Ballard, this movie is exactly what its title indicates, but also one of the most complex films I’ve ever seen. It’s a simple story of a man who moves into a luxury high-rise apartment complex. Living on the 25th floor, he’s sandwiched right between the wealth of the higher floors and the middle/working class on the lower floors—and the escalating conflict between the two groups. In true Ballardian fashion, we watch as major societal issues play out on a micro level… and it is pure genius.
Sorry to Bother You dir. Boots Riley (Hulu, Amazon Prime)
If you’re a fan of hallucinatory books and films like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or The Book of M or even The X-Files (who doesn’t love a little shadow conspiracy and smoke-filled room), you’ll find everything you want in Sorry To Bother You. In a near (or alternate) future Oakland, California, Cassius Green does that thing where he falls upward in a dead end job… from telemarketer to “Power Caller.” But as he reaps the material rewards of his new career, everyone he knows starts protesting his company, and the oppressive system into which it has locked them.
Though this was director Boots Riley’s debut, he’s well-known as a rapper and activist who’s performed with the likes of Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys) and Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), and who was heavily involved in the Occupy Oakland movement (and just endorsed Bernie Sanders for president). This kind of sociopolitical awareness undercuts his directorial debut, keeping the movie firmly grounded and, as a result, makes the frightening, fever dream-y plot seem totally possible.
Resolution and The Endless dir. Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead (Amazon Prime, Netflix)
So: yes, these are two separate movies. Why am I putting them together? Because they are best experienced when watched consecutively, beginning with Resolution. Co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead have a true talent for paralyzing the audience with terror while revealing as little information as possible about what exactly it is we are supposed to be scared of. Most of Resolution focuses on just two men in a cabin, where one ties up the other (not in a sexy way) in an attempt to get him sober (perhaps the least effective method ever devised) and checked into a rehab. Gradually, the two men realize they’re being watched and recorded by a sinister, unseen entity that leaves VHS tapes on their doorstep… except the tapes aren’t recordings of what they’ve done, but what they’re about to do.
In comparison to Resolution, The Endless feels much bigger in scope. Two men seek to reunite with the people who raised them: a religious cult living on a secluded compound. Both have different memories of their childhood and, when they get to the compound, have to reckon with what they think happened and what truly did. Where Resolution is decidedly irresolute, The Endless gives context and clarity to the trippy world in which both films live. The total run time is 205 minutes; not bad if you’re two back to back feature films. And, really, what better time than now?
Lauren Jackson (LJ) is the marketing/publicity manager at Saga Press and Gallery Books. Her primary areas of interest are true crime, horror, Star Trek, and making spreadsheets. Her sun is in Scorpio with a rising sign in Libra and a moon in Gemini, for which she is seeking professional help. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @alsoknownaslj, or on Hinge if your filters are right.