To reflect the uncertainties facing the world in the coming months, this week’s selections offer diverse and interesting depictions of fear and terror. Some are deceptively beautiful, others are shockingly realistic, and one is concerned with fast food delivery.
Here’s to making it through until the credits roll on 2020.
Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (dir: Travis Wilkerson, 2017)
via Grasshopper Film ($4.99 rental)
One of the scariest documentaries I have ever seen. The filmmaker tracks down his own family history in the state of Alabama to investigate a hate crime that his own great-grandfather may have gotten away with. Protest scenes and chants of “say their names” will resonate chillingly for modern viewers.
Michael Curtiz’s adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird plays a significant role, with the character of Atticus Finch posed against that of Wilkerson’s great-grandfather. (In 2015 the literary world had been shocked by Harper Lee’s depiction of Finch, that quintessential American hero, as an unrepentant racist in the newly published 1957 novel, Go Set a Watchman.) Featuring brilliant still shots and photographs with Wilkerson’s crisp narration leading us deeper and deeper, this phenomenal documentary will have the hairs on your skin standing straight up as it creeps along, revealing the terrifying hatreds and ugly secrets that can be found crawling under the surface of America’s false veneer of ‘hope’ and ‘freedom’.
Grasshopper Film is an emerging independent film distribution company.
Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse (dir: Lukas Feigelfeld, 2017)
via MUBI ($9.99/month subscription)
Has a horror film ever looked so beautiful? Hagazussa may not be terrifying in the manner of The Ring or The Blair Witch Project, but it unleashes a terror all its own, enveloping the ethereal beauty of its 15th-century Bavarian setting in layers of evil. Outcast witches, tormented by local hunters and townspeople, take their vengeance by releasing a horrifying plague. Yet amid this cruelty, terror and depravity, Feigelfeld gives us lush cool landscapes of white snow and dark green forests that recall the majestic Czech classic Marketa Lazarová. Unique. Extremely scary.
MUBI is an independent streaming service with a self-proclaimed “ruthless” approach to streaming. They present a new film each day, it lasts for 30 days, and then it goes away.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (dir. David Lynch, 1992)
via The Criterion Channel ($99.99/year subscription)
Suburbia is weird and evil and David Lynch knows it. The diners, the coffee shops, the gas stations, the trailer parks. Telephone wires strung from pole to pole, lined up like crucifixes on your happy little street. In his magnum opus, Twin Peaks, Lynch exposed the ominous creepiness sealed up and convected in small town USA through the story of a viciously murdered local beauty. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is the origin story of Laura Palmer, a happy girl slowly descending into a maelstrom of suburban violence, sex, and evil. Blood-curdling and devastating. (NOTE: I highly recommend you see the first two seasons of Twin Peaks before you watch this film.)
The Criterion Channel is a subscription streaming service from The Criterion Collection offering classic and art cinema; a more refined and adventurous alternative to the corporate streaming services.
Decade of Fire (dir. Gretchen Hildebran & Vivian Vázques Irrizari, 2018)
via Metrograph ($5/month subscription)
The story of the burning of the Bronx in the 1970s is more terrifying and tragic than any horror film. Economic collapse, white flight, government negligence, and the oppression and defunding of Black communities by the city of New York led to one of the most infamous cases of urban decay in American history. Filmmakers Hildebran and Irrizari document the systemic failures of elected officials and higher-ups, a tale that is set on automatic repeat in the United States.
Metrograph is a repertory cinema in New York City, screening rare films from indie to foreign to archival cinema on 35mm.
Pizza (dir. Karthik Subbaraj, 2012)
(free on YouTube)
Horror is lacking in the history of Indian cinema, though there are good examples here and there. But in the 21st century this changed drastically. Karthik Subbaraj’s Pizza is about a delivery boy’s encounter with his boss’s daughter, who is possessed by a demon. Subbaraj’s style is full of zany fun, thrills and intrigue, and viewers with even a slight familiarity with Hindu mythology will especially appreciate the cleverness of this unusual film.
The Popula Film Club brings you worthwhile options to stream, chosen with a view to quality, and to withholding as much money as possible from the oligarchs and monopolists of Amazon, Netflix, YouTube and the like.
Please send your recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line, POPULA FILM CLUB.