Netflix’s newest film, Bird Box, was supposedly a smash hit. The notoriously tight-lipped streaming service proudly reported the film had reached over 45 million streams, the first time they have openly declared any site metrics. This led to Twitter questions about completion rates, watch time, and more. On top of that, the conspiracy theories began to flow about Netflix paying people to tweet memes about the film, or that they were employing bots to help with their marketing. In the year of our Lord 2018, we are now seriously concerned about companies paying people to secretly make memes. This is a lot of attention, conspiracies, and fixation on a film that is really just OK.
Black Mirror has tapped into our fears of the looming power of technology: cell phones, virtual reality, constant surveillance, it has addressed it all. But many of those episodes address a not-so-distant future. What about the technological fears happening now? Daniel Goldhaber’s film, Cam, addresses our current fears in the digital age, using the perspective of a cam girl who has had her identity stolen.
Lola is a cam girl who aspires to be in the Top 50 performers on her cam website. For those unfamiliar with camming, it is when someone, usually a woman, holds sex shows via webcam. Lola has devoted customers who tip well and even get private Skype chats for the right price. She works hard and has cultivated an online persona and aesthetic that she believes will get her to the top. But, just as she’s hit her stride and on track to hit that coveted top 50 spot, someone steals her account. What comes next is an increasingly bizarre journey to get her account back and find out who did this to her.
Sex workers in horror are treated like trash. They are extras to be thrown away, women to be punished for their overt sexuality, and scantly-clad figures to be torn apart. However, Cam succeeds in humanizing sex workers and showing them as hard-working people, mostly in part to Isa Mazzei’s involvement. Mazzei, a former sex worker, wrote the film and used many of her own personal experiences with camming for inspiration. This is not a film that demonizes sex work or tries to show Lola that she needs to stop doing it for some kind of retribution. Rather, it shows the reality of profession that is rarely seen in horror, or any genre of film really. Instead of sensationalizing her work or exploiting her body, the film presents her work as a job, something she’s doing for money and how she gains control over those watching her to rake in tips.
After 40 years of waiting, seeing the words “Netflix presents…An Orson Welles picture” is incredibly surreal. The excitement that came with discovering that The Other Side of the Wind was to be completed for this year, was like seeing an article about lost silent films that were found in someone’s barn after believing they would be lost forever. Now, one of Welles’ last big pictures is available to everyone with a Netflix subscription.
Welles was an auteur who was always experimenting with new ways to tell a story. This is seen most famously in his first film, Citizen Kane. The director perfectly utilizes all the stylish camera techniques used at the time and puts them together to depict the rise and fall of the world’s biggest business magnate, Charles Foster Kane. Where the narrative is concerned, it doesn’t stay on the traditional paths that Hollywood storytelling walked on up to that point. It’s not linear or chronological — instead, it relies heavily on flashbacks and several narrators to express different points of view and recount different parts of Kane’s life. If The Other Side of the Wind proves anything, it’s that Welles never stopped experimenting.
Jeremy Saulnier is known for violence, from his 2013 film Blue Ruin to 2015’s Green Room. His films are relentless, bloody, and exhausting. But his most recent film is another creature entirely. Hold the Dark, released on Netflix, is a slower, quieter meditation on violence that explodes into something weird and fascinating. It appears to be a simple man versus nature tale, but becomes a story motivated by revenge and a deranged sense of justice.
Hold the Dark, based on William Giraldi’s novel of the same name, follows wolf lover and author Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) as he travels to Alaska. Why Alaska? He receives a strange letter from Medora Slone (Riley Keough) about a wolf who took her child away. It is a strange, almost cryptic letter, but Core still decides to help the grieving woman before her husband, Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard), returns from war. What Core finds in the Alaska village of Keelut is something much bigger than a hungry wolf. He finds grief, anger, frustration, and vengeance.
Keough delivers a chilling and unsettling performance as grieving Medora. She sets the tone from the very start as her low voice reads her letter to Core. Sadly, she disappears too soon into the film. I found myself missing her unnerving stare and strange sayings. However, Skarsgard delivers on the unnerving stares. He is absolutely terrifying in this film, despite barely saying a word. He is a silent force, stalking the cold Alaskan night with a gun and crossbow.
The setting of Hold the Dark is central to the film’s meditation on violence and pain. The Alaskan wilderness is harsh and freezing. It is wild, relentless and doesn’t care about a human’s need for heat. The humans that call it home are reflecting the natural world in their own actions. The vastness of the wilderness, and what it holds, is just as terrifying as human’s capacity for violence. Continue reading “Searching for Justice in ‘Hold The Dark’”
Netflix favorite Shannon Purser is back as a leading lady in Sierra Burgess is a Loser, the streaming service’s latest rom-com after a summer full of hits. With Purser as the titular character, the film follows the teenage writing prodigy as she tries to survive her final year of high school while being an outcast. She’s got wicked wit, a great best friend and parents that love and support her. But, like many of us at that age, her body image and fear of being rejected create limitations. So when the cute jock Jamey, played by Twitter’s latest boyfriend, Noah Centineo, pursues her via text message under false pretenses, Sierra takes it as opportunity to let a boy get to know her without the risk. It may play as predictably as most rom-coms, but the cast still charms.
After delivering a series of awful originals this year, which include The Cloverfield Paradox, Mute, and The Kissing Booth, Netflix finally delivers with Alex Strangelove. A touching film that hits familiar John Hughes-esque territory, but delivers a raunchy, comedic and heartwarming story of self-discovery.
The film follows type-A nerd Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny), as he navigates the “savage kingdom that is the modern American high school.” He meets Claire (Madeline Weinstein) and they become best friends, start their own web series, and eventually, they start dating. This is where the familiar “You’ll be the laughing stock of the school if you don’t lose your virginity!!” flashbacks kick in, and just like every teenager, Alex is going through the same pressure. But things get complicated when Alex meets the charismatic, gay Elliot (Antonio Marziale), who sends Alex down a rollercoaster of sexual discovery and acceptance.
Netflix’s thought-provoking and controversial series, 13 Reasons Why, returned for a second season after its popular first. In the premiere season, the thirteen episodes were structured around the thirteen taped recordings the late Hannah Baker, played by Katherine Langford, left behind before committing suicide, each explaining why thirteen of her peers receiving the tapes were the reason she decided to take her life. This time around, there are no more structurally-convenient tapes and the show uses the testimonies made during the case surrounding Hannah’s death as the new guide. The latest episodes do a great job of encapsulating where each character ends up following the aftermath of discovering the tapes and Hannah’s death, but major missteps take away more attention.