What did the Polygon staff spend their weekend watching? Whether it’s the latest virally popular Netflix series, discovering an animated gem, or educating ourselves in older genre classics, most of us find something worth recommending before we head back to work.
And as usual, the answers range widely, as some people check out what’s new and popular on streaming services, and some return to past favorites. So here’s what we’re watching right now, and what you might enjoy watching as well. Head to the comments to drop in your own recommendations.
After a brief hiatus, my quest to watch scary things that don’t totally scare me continues with Jennifer’s Body. I’ve heard many good things about this movie, and how it slowly found a following after being maligned when it came out. I’m pleased to report that Jennifer’s Body was exactly the delightfully campy feminist black comedy I thought it would be — and also a wonderful snapshot of 2009 high school life.
Megan Fox, of course, obviously kills it (ha) as the newly demonic Jennifer who hungers for flesh to keep herself beautiful and desirable. But the part of the movie that really floored me was the complicated, deep friendship between Jennifer and Needy (Amanda Seyfried). Look, as a former teenage girl, I can attest to the absolute devastation that comes from these sort of toxic friendships, that mix of love and hate and envy and obsession. Jennifer and Needy’s relationship captured all of that nuance — with the added complication of Jennifer being a flesh-eating demon.
Gory without being gratuitous, sexy without being degrading, empowering without being pandering, Jennifer’s Body is a hell (ha ha) of a good time and somehow just the movie I, as someone who went to high school in that era and is still unpacking all the mixed messages about female friendships and empowerment packaged to me then, needed to see this weekend. —Petrana Radulovic
Jennifer’s Body is available to rent on Amazon.
What else we’re watching...
This 1987 horror film opens with a disclaimer: “During the film you are about to see, you will be subject to subliminal messages and mild hypnosis. This will cause you no physical harm or lasting effect, but if for any reason you lose control or feel that your mind is leaving your body — leave the auditorium immediately.”
From there, it’s 80 minutes of aggressive, mind-boggling slasher horror. Anguish, from Spanish director Bigas Luna, opens with a movie theater audience settling in for a different movie: The Mommy. That horror movie stars Poltergeist’s Zelda Rubinstein as a concerned mom who hypnotizes her son (Michael Lerner) into becoming a serial killer who steals eyeballs. But as the audience watches The Mommy play out, become entranced by repeated phrases, spinning hypnosis wheel, and the pounding soundtrack. Are they losing their minds? Are we? Anguish quickly becomes one of the more disturbing pieces of pop entertainment that’s ever leaked into the mainstream, using the arsenal of cinema to unnerve. Fun? Maybe not. But something to write home about. —Matt Patches
Anguish is available to buy on Amazon.
For five years The Babadook has been one of those movies that I know I should watch, but just never quite got around to it. I didn’t really start getting into horror until 2015, so I just missed the hype surrounding it when it hit theaters in 2014. I finally watched it this weekend and I am furious with myself that I’ve deprived myself of this beautiful film for so long.
“Beautiful” isn’t a word that applies to too many horror movies, but it’s the first one that comes to mind when I think about The Babadook. Writer/director Jennifer Kent’s feature debut is based on her short film Monster, which was shot in black and white and plays like an homage to the Universal Classic Monster films. The Babadook isn’t black and white, but it might as well be, since Kent uses a very muted palette of pastel blues and pinks and yellows contrasted with the deepest black I’ve ever seen on film.
The story of The Babadook is an overt allegory for grief and trauma. It stars Essie Davis as Amelia, a single mother whose husband died in a car crash while driving to the hospital to deliver her son. Six years later, she’s overwhelmed and exhausted, and her son Sam keeps talking about a monster that he plans to kill before it eats his mom. What’s so brilliant about the film, though, is that the monster isn’t metaphorical. It’s not a shared delusion or a psychic manifestation. The Babadook is a very real being that has made its way into Amelia’s house.
It’s clear from the film that Jennifer Kent loves her monster. The Babadook is just about the tenderest horror movie I’ve ever seen — but that’s not to say it’s not scary. There are some truly harrowing scenes, but by the time things really started popping off, I trusted Kent enough that it didn’t scare me in the way that, say, It Follows did. Or at least I wasn’t only scared — I was also sad and angry and hopeful and relieved all at once. —Emily Heller
The Babadook is streaming on IFC Films Unlimited and AMC Plus (both available as Amazon Prime add-ons.)
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
Most critics trashed Let’s Scare Jessica to Death upon its release in 1971, and today, the film has a paltry 22% Tomatometer rating. To be fair to the skeptics, the movie makes a poor first impression: here’s yet another ’70s horror movie about a young woman who’s mental health sits on the edge of a blade, leaving the audience unsure if the horrific events are real or manifestations from within the mind of our untrustworthy protagonist.
Spare some time. Director John Hancock and lead actress Zohra Lampert collaborate to produce something stranger and vaguer than the film’s countless contemporaries, giving the heroine far greater agency. I found myself asking increasingly bizarre questions, like: Is this a hallucination? Wait, is this a ghost story? No, this must be a vampire film, right? Or perhaps this is a slasher film from the mind of the killer? When the credits rolled, I thought I’d finally solved this little puzzle. But two days later, I’m questioning it all over again.
The film has earned cult status, and its champions include the late Roger Sterling and Stephen King. It’s their praise that got me to watch the film. Because at the end of the day, I trust experts more than a number. —Chris Plante
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is streaming on Criterion Channel.
Over the Garden Wall
No one has ever expressly told me anything about the animated miniseries Over the Garden Wall. I had no idea what it was about, except that it seemed to feature a boy with a pointy red hat who looks an awful lot like he’s evoking Wil Huygen’s traditional garden gnomes. But somehow, this series kept buzzing in the background of cultural conversations. It seemed like people were quietly obsessed with it, and when fall hit, that obsession went into overdrive. So I finally cracked it this weekend, and what a trip it is. Like Infinity Train, it’s surreal and sharp, with 12-minute episodes and a short season that can be binged in a couple of hours. Unlike Infinity Train, it doesn’t have even a minimal lead-up: it just dumps viewers straight into a weird fantasy world, where two lost brothers (voiced by Elijah Wood and Collin Dean) wander a vast woods full of strange people and creatures. It’s a voyage-of-discovery story where virtually every element has to be discovered from scratch, and it’s simultaneously kooky and solemn, haunting and extremely silly. The animation is startlingly lovely. I can see why people get obsessed with this series — it’s so memorable, and there’s so little of it. It’s also clear why it’s a Halloween favorite, given the fall-leaves color palette and the gentle but relentlessly spooky feel. —Tasha Robinson
If you’re reading Polygon, you probably don’t need me to tell you how incredible Rear Window is. But then, I hadn’t actually seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie until Saturday night, when my wife, who had spent the day watching horror movies on cable TV, suggested we watch a Hitchcock film together after dinner. (Sure, Rear Window isn’t in the same ballpark as A Nightmare on Elm Street, but they’re both pretty suspenseful!)
Anyway: Rear Window is a riveting masterpiece, and I loved it for the production as much as the story and performances. The whole thing takes place in the courtyard of a Manhattan apartment complex, for which the filmmakers built a massive set. But everything had to be constructed with the proper sight lines from the apartment of Jimmy Stewart’s L.B. Jefferies, because 98% of the film is shot from within his living room (or looking into it). The brilliance of this setup, as Roger Ebert observed three decades after Rear Window’s release, is that it makes the viewer complicit in Jefferies’ voyeurism — and makes us feel the same fear, guilt, and tension that the character does. Like Jefferies, rendered immobile by his broken leg, all we can do is watch in frustration and horror.
We watched the movie in 4K HDR via Vudu, and that format is absolutely the way to go. Aside from a few instances of soft focus, the impressive sharpness and detail of this release belie the film’s age. The colors are incredible, too: My wife remarked on the vivid Technicolor glow of Stewart’s blue eyes and the fire-engine red lipstick worn by Grace Kelly’s Lisa Carol Fremont. This has to be the best that Rear Window has looked since its debut nearly 70 years ago.
I will say: In 2020, it was very funny to see Greenwich Village portrayed as a middle-class neighborhood, and less so to realize that the only nonwhite person in the entire movie doesn’t even appear on screen (the babysitter at NYPD detective Tom Doyle’s home, who answers the phone when Jefferies calls late in the film, clearly sounds like a Black woman). But hey, that’s 1954 for ya, and it doesn’t make Rear Window any less brilliant. —Samit Sarkar
Rear Window is streaming on Peacock Premium, and is available for digital rental and purchase on a variety of platforms. It’s also available on 4K Blu-ray as part of The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection.