This week’s selection of new VOD and streaming releases is inexplicably packed to the brim with a bunch of horror. August: It’s the new Halloween.
From Neil Blomkamp’s supernatural horror thriller Demonic, VFX artist-turned-director Peter Sefchik’s feature debut Behemoth, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, the retro slasher The Last Matinee and more, there are plenty of new premieres this week (Candyman notwithstanding — you’ll have to see that one in the theaters) that’ll leave you gripped to your sofa seat this weekend.
To help you get a handle on what’s new and available — including less gruesome outings like Netflix’s He’s All That and the second John Cena movie of the summer, Vacation Friends — here’s our guide to the movies you can watch on video on demand and streaming this weekend.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprise their roles as paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, the third installment in the successful Conjuring horror franchise. Based on the trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson — one of the most sensational and terrifying cases involving the real-life Warrens — Ed and Lorraine are pitted in a fight for the soul of a young boy that will bring the pair face to face with evil incarnate itself. From our review,
On paper, The Conjuring movies are pretty old hat when it comes to horror, to the point where they almost sound boring. In the least-generous reading, they return to the same “based on a true haunting” fodder that gave us The Amityville Horror and its many imitators. But watch them, and they make a great case for why originality isn’t nearly as important as execution. James Wan, who directed the first two films, is largely responsible for the franchise’s signature look. He brought a decades-long career in horror and a knack for understated imagery to the series’ portrayal of supernatural investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). His talent created a horror franchise that manages to feel richer than most of them, even as it’s continually being mined for spinoffs. Unfortunately, the latest installment, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, lacks both Wan’s direction and the richness that make the first two Conjuring films so enjoyable.
District 9 and Chappie director Neil Blomkamp returns with the supernatural horror thriller Demonic starring Carly Pope (Elysium) as Carly, a young woman who ventures into the mind of her imprisoned mother using an experimental virtual reality therapy and inadvertently unleashes terrifying demons hidden deep within her subconscious. Despite their being black-ops soldiers fighting in the name of God, the movie is an acquired taste. From our review,
Demonic is a frustrating movie, because in spite of all the problems, the world Blomkamp sets up is exciting and original. The idea of near-future exorcisms in a militant sci-fi world, where even the church has a SWAT team, and demons can use virtual reality as a bridge to physical space, is fascinating. The idea of a person being stuck in a coma and forced into a VR nightmare in the name of science is terrifying. But instead of those great ideas, Blomkamp grafts an uninteresting family drama over the top, and then makes the entirety of Demonic about that skin instead of digging into the meat.
Tim Fehlbaum’s sci-fi drama The Colony stars Nora Arnezeder as Blake, the sole survivor of an interstellar expedition tasked with seeding life on a distant planet. Shipwrecked on the long-decimated Earth, she’ll have to decide the fate of the planet’s remaining populace and weigh the very survival of the human race.
VFX artist-turned-director Peter Sefchik’s feature debut Behemoth stars Josh Eisenberg as Joshua Riverton, a biochemist who blows the whistle on his former employer after his daughter develops a mysterious illness presumably related to his work. Confronting his old boss, Dr. Woeland (Paul Statman), Joshua ends up holding him hostage after being near-fatally shot. Now on the run from malevolent forces that seem to hound him at every turn, Joshua’s desperation leads him to increasingly more fraught situations in order to save his daughters life ... even at the cost of his own sanity. From our review:
Remember those ’90s B-movies that used to air on UPN in the early-morning hours, in that gap of time perfect for stoned college students and kids staying up too late? Behemoth has the best and worst elements of those movies, with a skimpy script and thin characters, but also with an urgently conspiratorial tone and a creatively rendered visual world, packed with rotting faces, insect/human hybrids, and blood spilling out of orifices. There’s a monster extending tentacles of barbed wire, animals covered in sores and rotting flesh, wilting plants and withering flowers. Behemoth intermittently reveals its low $65,000 budget with CGI work that’s a little clunky around the edges, and with production design that feels constrained to empty locations and scant extras. But as the sum of its parts, it has a blunt impact.
He’s All That
Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix
Mean Girls director Mark Waters takes on what might sound like sacrilege on paper: A remake of the 1999 teen comedy She’s All That. With TikTok celebrity Addison Rae in the role of the cool kid who needs to remake an “ugly duckling” for her school prom, the movie is just about what you expect — but maybe a little better. From our review:
Waters puts less emphasis on objectifying women’s bodies, a problem that really plagued the original, where the boys talked repeatedly about the quality of the female students’ “tits,” and Laney proved her worth to the popular kids by donning a tight-fitting swimsuit. Instead, He’s All That is centered in Padgett’s taste: The idea of making Cameron hot has less to do with augmenting his physical appearance (though he does get a haircut to spruce up his disheveled look), and more about tapping into the parts of his personality that he keeps buried under his gruff exterior.
Where to watch: Available to stream on Hulu
Shot over the pandemic, and shifted from a theatrical 20th Century Studios release to a Hulu debut, Vacation Friends is one of those cast-in-a-mold kooky neighbor comedies transplanted to an island resort. Lil Rel Howery and Yvonne Orji star as Ron and Emily, a newly engaged couple who befriend a party-hard couple Marcus and Kyla (John Cena and Search Party’s Meredith Hagner) who cliff dive, sip cocaine-rimmed margaritas, and are totally down to swing. When the trip ends, Ron and Emily think that’s the last time they’ll the pair — for the purposes of their own sanity. But on their wedding day, Marcus and Kyla roll up in deranged style, and hijinks ensue. But the kind of hijinks that are pretty comforting and well executed? While not a revelation like Palm Springs was last year, Vacation Friends’ jokes land and every one is doing the (comedic) work. A dumb Adam-Sandler-brings-his-pals-on-vacation-and-films-a-movie-on-the-side vehicle this is not.
No Man of God
Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring) stars in No Man of God as Bill Hagmaier, an FBI analyst sent to interrogate an incarcerated Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) in hopes of unraveling the psychological origins of the killer’s motivations and provide closure for his victim’s families. Over time, a strange and complicated relationship develops between the two that threatens to endanger any hope of Hagmaier’s goals. Based on actual transcripts of interviews between the real-life Hagmaier and Bundy, No Man of God is sure to pique the interest of anyone still sullen over the fact that Netflix never picked up Mindhunter for a third season.
The Last Matinee
Director Maxi Contenti’s retro-slasher The Last Matinee follows a small group of theatergoers who find themselves stalked by a vicious hooded killer during an otherwise innocuous screening of a horror film. Packed with gratuitous blood splatter, gore, and frenetic cinematography, The Last Matinee might be the closest thing to a cross between Goodbye Dragon Inn and Scream ever conceived.
And here’s what dropped last Friday:
The Green Knight
David Lowery’s medieval fantasy epic stars Dev Patel as Sir Gawain, the headstrong nephew of King Arthur who yearns for a great adventure through which to assert his chivalric greatness. After being challenged by the otherworldly Green Knight, Gawain venture forth on a quest that will bring him face to face with ghosts, giants, thieves, and more as he is forced to confront the question of what it means to be great, or simply even good, in the first place. From our review,
You could pause The Green Knight at any moment and discover an image worth praising. The film is a showcase for director of photography Andrew Droz Palermo (A Ghost Story), allowing him to storytell through lighting in ways both deeply effective and breathtakingly immersive. Sometimes it’s both in a single scene, such as the Green Knight’s first appearance at Arthur’s court, where the camera cuts between Arthur bathed in celestial light, Gawain in low light, and Guinevere, soaked in darkness. At other junctions in the movie, shadows overtake the frame, allowing for sharp chiaroscuro shots, while jaw-dropping environments filled with rust-colored fog are frightening as much as they are astounding.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
Robert Schwentke’s soft-reboot spin-off of the G.I. Joe franchise stars Henry Golding as Snake Eyes in an origin story that pits the fan-favorite ninja character on a quest for revenge. From our review,
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is largely a success in that it does a decent job of making viewers forget that cynicism for two hours, while also embracing the absurdity of a narrative universe spun out of action figures. This film isn’t going to sell anyone on a new G.I. Joe movie franchise, but it’s maybe the best possible version of a movie designed to test those waters.
Where to watch: In theaters and available to stream on HBO Max
Hugh Jackman (Logan) stars in Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy’s feature directorial debut Reminiscence as Nick Bannister, a private investigator who alongside his assistant Watts (Thandiwe Newton) specializes in navigating the minds of his clients in search of answers. Think Inception, but less emphasis on corporate espionage and impossible architecture. After crossing paths with a mysterious client (Rebecca Ferguson), Nick’s quest to solve her disappearance morphs into an obsessive odyssey that blurs the lines between past, present, reality, and fiction. For a primer, read our interview with Lisa Joy.
Where to watch: Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video
Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) stars in Leos Carax’s opera drama film Annette as Henry McHenry, a fierce stand-up comedian who falls in love with a world-famous soprano named Ann (Marion Cotillard). The couple give birth to a daughter named Annette, represented by a wooden marionette puppet, and the movie only gets weirder from there. Featuring a screenplay and score penned by Ron and Russel Mael of the band Sparks, Annette has divided critics in a way that sounds absolutely in tune with Carax’s career. From our review:
At two hours and 20 minutes, this musical rambles into curious tangents, few of which pay off in satisfying ways. But the film is never boring, because Carax brings the primal imagination that made his film Holy Motors astounding, and turns it toward the expectations of Hollywood romance. The result is a twisted love child that refuses to sing a sensible song. Perhaps that was the point. Maybe Annette is less a movie and more a mood. Perhaps the bookends that serve to introduce the cast and orchestra intend to urge us to enjoy the experience, and not fret on what it meant. Or maybe Carax’s latest is accidentally indecipherable.
Riders of Justice
Riders of Justice stars Mads Mikkelsen (Another Round) as Markus, a veteran soldier who returns home to care for his daughter after his wife dies in a tragic train accident. When one of the survivors of the accident, a mathematics geek named Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), comes to him claiming there was foul play behind the tragedy, Markus embarks on a vengeful campaign to seek answers and deliver justice to those involved in his wife’s death.
Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix
Jason Momoa (Aquaman) stars in Brian Andrew Mendoza’s action thriller Sweet Girl as Ray Cooper, the father of a young daughter (Isabela Merced) struggling to keep his family together in the wake of his wife’s death. Ray is targeted by assassins after attempting to speak out against the pharmaceutical monopoly responsible for his family’s loss, forcing him and his daughter to go on the run as he attempts to bring justice to those who have wronged him.
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard
Ryan Reynolds (Free Guy) and Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) reprise their roles as professional bodyguard Michael Bryce and professional assassin Darius Kincaid in the follow-up to 2017’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Joined this time by a cast of supporting performances courtesy of Tom Hopper, Morgan Freeman, and Antonio Banderas, the sequel finds Bryce returning to his life as a bodyguard once again, this time for Darius’ equally homicidal wife Sonia (Salma Hayek).
The Water Man
Actor-director David Oyelowo’s directorial debut The Water Man stars Lonnie Chavis as Gunner, the preadolescent son of a Navy veteran (Oyelowo) who embarks on a journey to find a mythic figure with the key to immortality to save his ailing mother (Rosario Dawson). From our review,
If not for the uptempo rhythm, The Water Man’s thin plotting would make it a slog. If not for Oyelowo’s handsomely mounted camera capturing the forest in supernatural blues and reds, the audience’s attention might wander to their phones. Thankfully, the well-executed components support the fairy tale when the tale itself runs short. And so do the endearing performances the new director pulls from the young Chavis and Miller. In the energetically adventurous The Water Man, Oyelowo takes the route less traveled by actors-turned-directors to fashion a highly flawed but promising lesson for dealing with mortality — a moral that will hit very close to home for an unfortunate number of families.
The Girl Who Got Away
The Girl Who Got Away stars Lexi Johnson (The Nice Guys) as Christina, a woman who as a child was was kidnapped with four other girls by serial killer Elizabeth Caufield. 20 years later Lexi is the sole survivor of the four, but when Elizabeth escapes from prison, she’ll have to summon all her strength to protect both herself and her loved ones from the evil to come.