‘The Sadness’ and ‘Umma’ are the best new films you can stream at home right now

But, if you’re finally venturing out to the movie theater, don’t miss Alex Garland’s ‘Men’

click to enlarge 'The Sadness' is the goriest, craziest, political protest ever filmed and disguised as a viral zombie pandemic thriller. - PHOTO VIA CHRISTINE RAMAGE/SHUDDER
Photo via Christine Ramage/Shudder
'The Sadness' is the goriest, craziest, political protest ever filmed and disguised as a viral zombie pandemic thriller.
The Sadness
4.5 star(s), 99 minutes, Shudder

It comes with complete surprise that I can tell everyone that “The Sadness” is one of the best horror/zombie/viral outbreak/batshit bonkers movies ever made.

“The Sadness” makes pretty much every extreme film before it look tame in comparison. I haven’t been this giddy about a stomach-churning cinematic experience since I was blown away by “A Serbian Film.”

The gore is next level, and rivals the early, unrestrained work of filmmakers like Jackson and Raimi, in creating a sense of awe that is amplified and exaggerated to delirious heights. There are certain specific sequences that will leave even the most hardened horror fans gasping.

But what elevates “The Sadness” to that rarified air of an elite few films is the social and political commentary on display, which I have to believe is a direct and full-throated response to how many countries responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Sadness” envisions the kind of pandemic horror that I feared most when news about coronavirus first began circulating. It portrays a scenario that isn’t implausible because the main monsters at its heart aren’t zombies. They think, they speak, they desire to hurt and they burn with an unquenchable fire to procreate, which in turn fuels some of the movie’s most unsettling imagery.

“The Sadness” is a mirror reflecting our current world climate where anger and fear have reached a rapid boil. It’s protest by horror. A Dylan anthem soaked in entrails and steaming in the sun.

Seek it out. Champion it. Just don’t ignore its message because we’re not out of the woods yet.

click to enlarge Horror Movie 101: Never, ever go exploring the creepy cellar alone at night. - PHOTO VIA SONY PICTURES
Photo via Sony Pictures
Horror Movie 101: Never, ever go exploring the creepy cellar alone at night.
Umma
4 star(s), 83 minutes, Streaming, Blu-Ray and DVD

“Umma” is a revelation, a ghost story steeped in culture and formed by tradition, about mothers and daughters and the damage that one can inflict on the other, both intentionally and unknowingly. Writer-director Iris K. Shim delivers a knockout with her debut feature, and Sandra Oh offers one of her best, most impactful, performances yet.

Now in theatres and streaming

click to enlarge Alex Garland's 'Men' is a giant mind-screw that plumbs the depths of gender politics and toxic male behavior. - PHOTO VIA A24 FILMS
Photo via A24 Films
Alex Garland's 'Men' is a giant mind-screw that plumbs the depths of gender politics and toxic male behavior.
Men
4 star(s), 100 minutes

Usually, by the time a director gets to their third feature film, viewers and fans have an idea of what to expect.

Usually.

But when you’re talking about writer-director Alex Garland, it’s fair to say we don’t know shite, which is part of the magic of “Men,” Garland’s incendiary, gore-soaked and truly thought-provoking body-horror-exploration of grief, gender politics and toxic masculinity.

In fact, and this is not hyperbole, I cannot remember another movie ever that stuck in my craw and haunted me the way that “Men” did. I literally came home from a screening and immediately got online to begin researching the symbolism behind much of the film’s central imagery. I scoured entertainment news for interviews with Garland. And I sat with my discomfort as if I had eaten a piece of rotten fruit that kept festering in my gut for days.

“Men” is the story of Harper (Jessie Buckley) and James (Paapa Essiedu), a young married couple whose union has been marred by violence and control. When Harper tells James that she wants a divorce, James weaponizes her decision in the most profound and awful way possible, simply to crush her, because he can.

To claw her way back from the brink of utter despair, Harper seeks a retreat in the English countryside at an idyllic village where she can rent a palatial manor to spend some quality time alone.

Once there, however, Garland turns Harper’s getaway into a quick-boil descent toward madness that will leave keen-eyed viewers shook and uncertain as to exactly what they’re watching.

It’s difficult to say much about “Men” without spoiling the bulk of the best visual traps that Garland sets. Suffice to say, David’s selfish and casual misogyny triggers a cavalcade of increasing dangerous encounters between Harper and the odd residents of the village where she chooses to clear her mind and commune with nature.

It’s tempting to label “Men” as an exemplary slice of folk horror not unlike “Midsommar” or “The Wicker Man,” but that would be doing Garland a disservice. There’s so much more at play here, despite the obvious nods to the Green Man and pagan rebirth rituals.

I will offer this one tidbit and tease, from an interview that Garland did with Fangoria prior to the film’s release.

Without giving too much away, Garland posed a very astute rhetorical question in the interview, which I will paraphrase: Does Harper see all men as being the same, even though they’re not, or is it that she’s blind to the fact that all men are the same?

Whichever answer you decide upon once you’ve experienced “Men,” I can promise you that it won’t be wrong, just like I can guarantee you won’t look at yourself or others quite the same after the lights go up and the screen goes dark.

click to enlarge It's fair to say that we have officially jumped the shark on having youngsters like Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) stand facing the camera and manifest powers by screaming. - PHOTO VIA KEN WORONER/UNIVERSAL PICTURES
Photo via Ken Woroner/Universal Pictures
It's fair to say that we have officially jumped the shark on having youngsters like Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) stand facing the camera and manifest powers by screaming.
Firestarter
1 star(s), 94 minutes

Here’s what you get when you wait 38 years to remake a subpar Stephen King adaptation of one of his earliest novels, which most of us have forgotten anyway: A fantastic synch soundtrack by John Carpenter and his son Cody.

That’s it. That’s all there is to recommend in this misguided, unintentionally hysterical excuse for a remake that repurposes the original theatrical poster, and wholly cribs from a host of better properties that have been released since the 1984 Drew Barrymore original.

The new “Firestarter” opens with a solid dream sequence followed by an eye-rip-mutilation within the first five minutes. And then things start to fall apart. The first sequence to show off pyrokinetic pixie Charlie’s powers is both cool and a bit much. Not for nothing, Ryan Kiera Armstrong isn’t awful as Charlie, but there’s nothing here to distinguish her from Barrymore, and with the first display of her pew-pew fire-making powers, the immediate impulse is to not only compare Armstrong to Barrymore, but more to consider her in contrast to other adolescent female heroes like Eleven in “Stranger Things.”

Speaking of “Stranger Things,” this new iteration of “Firestarter” makes you truly appreciate how such shows can do many of the exact same setups and look cool and actually build suspense without coming off as hokey and redundant.

In short, if you are a fan of the original film BUT you have spent nearly four decades bemoaning the fact that Barrymore’s Charlie didn’t belch fireballs like a pint-sized dragon child or just immolate cats for no reason other than she could, then the 2022 “Firestarter” should be must-see appointment viewing. For everyone else, avoid, avoid, avoid.

Other new releases currently streaming

The Twin
3.5 star(s), 109 minutes, Shudder
Now on Shudder, “The Twin” is a haunting supernatural tale of loss, regret, grief and despair, wrapped tight in folk horror tropes that work effortlessly to create a chilling, thrilling watch.

The Cursed
3.5 star(s), 111 minutes, streaming, Blu-Ray and DVD
As werewolf movies go, writer-director Sean Ellis provides a thrilling slice of period horror wrought with menace and infused with gypsy lore and magic. It’s a solid viewing experience that doesn’t hold back when it comes time to showcase some grisly practical effects.

click to enlarge Retro-slasher 'Night Caller' gives new meaning to the phrase, just take a little off the top. - PHOTO VIA 123 GO FILMS
Photo via 123 Go Films
Retro-slasher 'Night Caller' gives new meaning to the phrase, just take a little off the top.
Night Caller
3 star(s), 84 minutes, streaming

Genre director Chad Ferrin has the kind of IMDb portfolio that immediately tells you what to expect with film titles like “Easter Bunny, Kill! Kill!” and “Exorcism at 60,000 Feet,” but his bloody homage to the golden age of slasher films, “Night Caller,” is actually much more watchable than one might imagine. It doesn’t hurt that Ferrin’s key protagonist, Clementine (Susan Priver), is a late-night phone psychic with a legitimate gift for second sight. And, believe it or not, Bai Ling delivers one of her best performances, ever.

click to enlarge Kudos to Tom Holland for making 'Uncharted' far more entertaining than expected. If only they could convince this guy to star in a superhero film. - PHOTO VIA SONY PICTURES
Photo via Sony Pictures
Kudos to Tom Holland for making 'Uncharted' far more entertaining than expected. If only they could convince this guy to star in a superhero film.
Uncharted
3 star(s), 116 minutes, streaming, 4K Ultra-HD, Blu-Ray and DVD

As video game adaptations go, “Uncharted” is a surprisingly solid turn that benefits from Tom Holland’s white-hot streak of late. Despite never having played its source material games, I didn’t feel lost in trying to identify with the characters, and I also didn’t feel overwhelmed with too much exposition by the movie’s creative team.

click to enlarge Pro tip: Never, ever, perform a seance to summon an immortal swamp mermaid. Trust us, bad things happen. - PHOTO VIA GRAVITAS VENTURES AND KAMIKAZE DOGFIGHT
Photo via Gravitas Ventures and Kamikaze Dogfight
Pro tip: Never, ever, perform a seance to summon an immortal swamp mermaid. Trust us, bad things happen.
Erzulie
3 star(s), 86 minutes, streaming

Somewhere, probably in an alternate dimension very similar to our own, there is a kickass horror/superhero/supernatural mash-up movie about a vengeful and immortal swamp mermaid succubus named Erzulie.

However, in our dimension, on this planet, director/co-writer Christine Chen’s “Erzulie,” which also is about a vengeful and immortal swamp mermaid succubus, is actually a head-scratching, what-the-fuck viewing experience that’s equal parts ridiculous, campy and howl-worthy, yet completely watchable for its undeniable car-crash charisma and complete ignorance of its own limitations.

This isn’t a movie to seek out when you’re wanting something intense and good; “Erzulie” is the movie you rent VOD when you’re having a bunch of friends over to drink and smoke medical marijuana and play live-action MST3K while watching.

See for Me and Home Sitters
3 star(s)/2 star(s), 92 minutes/85 minutes, Shudder/Streaming

“See for Me” is a Canadian home invasion thriller focused around Sophie (Skyler Davenport), a former professional skier who has since lost her vision, but still manages to serve as a professional house sitter. Upon arriving at her latest gig, Sophie has to elude, evade and ultimately eliminate a group of dangerous men who break into the house for a fortune kept in a safe.

“Home Sitters,” a French import, centers around a young female house sitter who finds herself targeted by a gang of mercenaries as they try to remove a specific item or items from the estate. It’s a bit convoluted in its attempt to logically explain why and how all this is happening, which doesn’t help viewers much at all.

What elevates “See for Me” to a more satisfying watch is its clever use of technology, including a phone app that puts blind customers in touch with an online technician who use the customer’s phone to see what they’re trying to do. Thankfully, for Sophie, the technician she reaches, Kelly (Jessica Parker Kennedy), proves to be incredibly resourceful in helping Sophie avoid capture and also fight back with more force than expected.

Outer Range and Night Sky
2.5 star(s), 45-50 minutes per episode, Amazon Prime

If you’ve yet to take a chance on two recent science-fiction series to debut on Amazon Prime, here’s your word of warning for both “Outer Range” and “Night Sky.”

They’re good, and watchable, with “Outer Range” benefiting more from star Josh Brolin’s taciturn performance as Royal Abbott, a Wyoming cowboy who risks everything, including his family, to protect his own origin story as well as a mysterious hole that opens on his land that might be a portal through time. The problem with “Outer Range” is its pace, and its steadfast refusal to offer much in the way of backstory and/or explanation.

“Night Sky” has its own twin powers in Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons as Irene and Franklin York, but its narrative thrust, at least early on, feels much more contrived with nosey neighbors threatening to expose the York’s own mysterious secret, which just may be a portal to another planet in another galaxy far from Earth.

Cursed: Collector’s Edition
2.5 star(s), 97 minutes, streaming, Blu-Ray and DVD

How difficult is it to make a good werewolf movie?

Way back in 2005, when Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson reconnected almost 10 years after “Scream,” it was very clear that their misguided second go-round had suffered as a result from lofty expectations, i.e. everyone thought it was a no-brainer to reteam two horror legends for a fresh take on lycanthropy.

The reality, as evidenced by the unrated director’s cut, is that “Cursed” suffered from much more, yet the unedited and expanded practical gore effects by Rick Baker and Co., remain a highlight.

“Cursed” opens exactly like “The Lost Boys,” before spinning off into a rapid-fire, sped-up version of a CW pilot where so many characters are introduced and so many celebrity cameos (Milo Ventimiglia, Nick Offerman, Scott Baio) are trotted out, that it’s frankly next-to-impossible to keep up.

In addition to “Lost Boys,” the film also totally rips off “An American Werewolf in London,” which is odd to imagine how Baker felt about that.

“Cursed” doesn’t do anything with care, or patience, or apparent knowledge of how screenplays are supposed to work, much less werewolf movies in general.

Within minutes, the movie hands viewers two newly bitten werewolves, brother and sister (Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg), with zero buildup. It’s so immediate that it almost gives you whiplash.

What’s worse is how “Cursed” cribs from the “Scream” franchise that spawned it, using red herrings like there was a fire sale to try and keep viewers unsure as to the identity of the big bad wolf wreaking havoc in Los Angeles.

It’s also a lazy movie that over-exaggerates everything, right down to a high school wrestling practice where Eisenberg squares off against Ventimiglia with zero training or experience and immediately starts to use professional wrestling moves like a suplex without the scholastic coach losing his mind.

click to enlarge Ron Perlman stars in 'There Are No Saints.' True story, we didn't make it far enough into the film to actually see him on-screen. - PHOTO VIA PARAMOUNT PICTURES AND SABAN FILMS
Photo via Paramount Pictures and Saban Films
Ron Perlman stars in 'There Are No Saints.' True story, we didn't make it far enough into the film to actually see him on-screen.
There Are No Saints
2 star(s), 105 minutes, streaming

Violent, bloody, and testosterone-fueled, “There Are No Saints” is reminiscent of the action movies by Robert Rodriguez from the early 1990s without benefit of a mega-watt talent like Antonio Banderas to carry viewers over the plot holes. It’s not bad, it’s just not really much of anything outside of its quest for revenge.

Licorice Pizza
1.5 star(s), 133 minutes, streaming, Blu-Ray and DVD

Does anybody remember the joy and anticipation that used to accompany a new release from Paul Thomas Anderson? I can’t be the only one who stood in line opening night for “Magnolia” simply because of how magnificent “Boogie Nights” had been, only to walk away preaching about Anderson’s skill for dialogue and his ability for pulling next-level performances from established actors.

That said, the sheen is gone, the luster has faded, and all we’re left with is “Licorice Pizza,” which somehow, inexplicably, got nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards despite being an absolute narrative mess.

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but encourage viewers as strongly as possible to avoid.

click to enlarge This just in, this is not the Jersey Devil. It's actually some guy from Craft Services who stole a Jersey Devil costume. - PHOTO VIA UNCORK'D ENTERTAINMENT
Photo via Uncork'd Entertainment
This just in, this is not the Jersey Devil. It's actually some guy from Craft Services who stole a Jersey Devil costume.
Reed’s Point
1.5 star(s), 76 minutes, streaming and DVD

Oh look, another thriller trying to capitalize on the Jersey Devil urban legend. Avoid unless you love bad acting, unintentionally funny practical effects and narrative disassociation.

click to enlarge This photo from 'Wyrmwood: Apocalypse" is really good. If only the same could be said about the movie. - PHOTO VIA XYZ FILMS
Photo via XYZ Films
This photo from 'Wyrmwood: Apocalypse" is really good. If only the same could be said about the movie.
Wyrmwood: Apocalypse
1.5 star(s), 88 minutes, streaming, Blu-Ray and DVD

Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner’s 2014 debut, “Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead,” was a blast of unexpected zombie mayhem. Sadly, their follow-up sequel, “Wyrmwood: Apocalypse,” is not nearly as good.

click to enlarge For those keeping score, this is not 'Room 203.' It's actually the basement below Room 203. And yet, bad things still happen. - PHOTO VIA AMMO ENTERTAINMENT AND VERTICAL ENTERTAINMENT
Photo via Ammo Entertainment and Vertical Entertainment
For those keeping score, this is not 'Room 203.' It's actually the basement below Room 203. And yet, bad things still happen.
Room 203
1.5 star(s), 104 minutes, streaming and DVD

Oh look, another supernatural thriller about unsuspecting people moving into a haunted apartment where one of them immediately becomes possessed by an evil entity and goes on a deep-dive bender of awful behavior before anyone can figure out why. Avoid.

click to enlarge A mother goes searching for her child in the middle of a viral outbreak in 'Virus:32,' now streaming on Shudder. - PHOTO VIA CHRISTINE RAMAGE/SHUDDER
Photo via Christine Ramage/Shudder
A mother goes searching for her child in the middle of a viral outbreak in 'Virus:32,' now streaming on Shudder.
Virus: 32
1.5 star(s), 90 minutes, Shudder

This Argentinian import, which borrows liberally from “[rec]” and “28 Days Later,” is a fast-moving thriller with better characterization than most movies of this sort, yet it also doesn’t really do anything distinct enough to distinguish it from every other viral infection/contagion/crazed zombie flick that’s come before it.

click to enlarge There isn't a whole lot that happens in 'They Talk,' but this fully engulfed nun appears during the best parts of the movie. - PHOTO VIA UNCORK'D ENTERTAINMENT
Photo via Uncork'd Entertainment
There isn't a whole lot that happens in 'They Talk,' but this fully engulfed nun appears during the best parts of the movie.
They Talk
1.5 star(s), 96 minutes, streaming

“They Talk” presents an interesting and original take on paranormal hauntings using EVP (electronic voice phenomena) in a unique way that we haven’t really seen before. Imagine Brian De Palma’s “Blowout,” only with ghostly voices of victims instead of a gunshot to a tire.

The problem with “They Talk,” though, is that very little happens for a good 50 minutes other than viewers watching the lead, Alex (Jonathan Tufvesson), who looks oddly like a pirate, slowly going insane because of some occult shit that he witnessed as an orphan in a creepy orphanage as a child, even as every woman he comes in contact with tries to bed him immediately.

“They Talk” is the kind of movie where Alex’s girlfriend steps on a piece of glass and he rushes her to an emergency room, rushes into the lobby and proclaims, ‘Help, she’s hurt! It’s serious!’

“They Talk” is the kind of movie where characters shout at air for no reason: ‘What do you want from me?’ ‘Tell me what to do!’

“They Talk” is the kind of movie that goes fully off the rails after 70 minutes, only to throw in a HUGE swerve for no real reason, and then time-jump seven years into the future to showcase another HUGE twist that comes with zero explanation.

click to enlarge (L-R) Ursula Brooks and Derwin Jordan play a political activist and First Amendment attorney, respectively, who flee a right-wing civil war in 'Deep in the Forest.' - PHOTO VIA SABAN FILMS
Photo via Saban Films
(L-R) Ursula Brooks and Derwin Jordan play a political activist and First Amendment attorney, respectively, who flee a right-wing civil war in 'Deep in the Forest.'
Deep in the Forest
0 star(s), 80 minutes, streaming

OK, look, I am the least PC-leftist-pie-in-the-sky Liberal you’ve probably ever met. I believe in truth, honesty and doing right by all people, not just those with money or privilege. But I also understand that the rabid froth of a world which we now live in finds great humor and release in imagining an existence where every tree-hugging, rainbow-catching, abortion-protecting Democrat was suddenly removed from the planet.

I get it. No one is perfect. We’re all never going to agree. But what’s the point of turning ideological division into blood sport if you can’t even construct an intelligent and original narrative to frame the Dems great downfall?

“Deep in the Forest” is not the first film to try and articulate the failings of left-leaning voters. “The Hunt,” which was released several years ago to great controversy and little return, was a woeful and lazy attempt at political satire that fell flat before the opening credits finished scrolling.

But as bad as “The Hunt” was, “Deep in the Forest” is worse. It imagines a world not unlike our own current pants-on-fire reality where civil war breaks out, aided by a totalitarian president and an extremist Congress, and martial law is put into effect for anyone who identifies as blue. To that end, a local liberal community association becomes targeted, which results in its handful of members being spared from detainment and being snuck to an isolated mountain cabin retreat.

Once there, as any second-grader might imagine, the gaggle of Democratic stereotypes completely and immediately devolve into savages.

Ha ha ha ha ha. Yawn.

Also available as of June 7, 2022

“The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue 4K-Ultra HD,” “After Blue,” “Keeping Company, “The Prey: Legend of Karnoctus,” “Scare Zone,” “Trip,” “The Eden Theory,” “Cordelia,” “Faye,” “A.K. Tolstoy’s A Taste of Blood,” “Machination,” “The Last Victim,” “Breath,” “Troppo,” “Dead by Midnight Y2Kill,” “Children of Sin,” “Rogue Cops and Racketeers: Two Crime Thrillers by Enzo G. Castellari,” “V/H/S 94,” “Father of Flies,” “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein UHD,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Godforsaken,” “Let the Wrong One In,” “The Long Night”

About The Author

John W. Allman

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films...
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