The Ritual just arrived on Netflix US on February 9, 2018, after general release in the UK and Ireland last October. It’s directed by David Bruckner (The Signal, 2007, and the “Amateur Night” segment in V/H/S, 2012) and co-written by Joe Barton and Adam Nevill. Nevill wrote the fantastic novel of the same name (2011). (Aside: go and read the novel.) Since I loved the novel, I’ve been following the film with anticipation, and so part of me expected disappointment as I began it as soon as it was humanly possible for me to do so on the day it arrived on Netflix. I was not disappointed. Far from it. In fact, The Ritual is my favorite horror film of 2018 so far.
The Doll, which was released in December 2017, is the second horror film written and directed by Susannah O’Brien, president of Sahara Vision Productions. O’Brien’s first horror film, Encounter, was released in May 2016, and she has a third film, Hallucinogen, due for release imminently.
The Doll is set in motion when two men, Andy (Anthony Del Negro) and his roommate Chris (Christopher Lenk) order a Russian escort from a distinctly shady website. This brilliant maneuver is supposed to make Andy’s girlfriend Shannon (Isabella Racco) jealous so she’ll come back to him. (The fact that Shannon walked out on Andy because he was making out with two women in their pool doesn’t seem to occur to Andy and Chris, who are immediately revealed as not the smartest tools in the toolbox.) Anyway, the Russian woman knocks at the door and Chris and Andy are suitably impressed by the looks of Natasha, played by the so-called “human Barbie,” Valeria Lukyano. Natasha doesn’t just look like a Barbie, she acts like one too, engaging in strictly minimal communication. And even though they supposedly think she is an actual human, Chris and Andy treat Natasha disconcertingly like a doll. “Where shall we put her?” asks Andy. And they proceed to put her in the attic–over and over. Happily (for this viewer at least), Natasha may not talk much, but she is handy with a knife. The plot thus follows her killing spree (which she engages in for reasons which are entirely obscure), intertwined with the much less interesting drama of Andy and Shannon’s love life.
Directed by Craig Anderson, Red Christmas premiered in Australia in the summer of 2016 and became widely available in the US (on DVD and streaming) in October 2017. When I say that Red Christmas is disturbing—even unpleasant—I’m in no way saying you shouldn’t watch this film; indeed, it seems poised to become a holiday classic. It’s disturbing and unpleasant in the way horror films should be, and it joins a pantheon of similarly disturbing holiday films, not least Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974) and Silent Night, Deadly Night (Charles E. Sellier, Jr., 1984). To the extent that horror films make manifest what we repress and deny, the holidays (which demand extra helpings of repression and denial if mass mayhem is to be avoided) are undeniably ripe for the most disturbing of horror films. Enter, Red Christmas.
There is a special challenge in generating a successful sequel. You have to delicately balance the desires and demands of your fans, while also giving them something new. In season two of Stranger Things, The Duffer brothers deliver a beautiful follow-up that is, arguably, even better than the first season. As any tantalizing finale should, the first season of Stranger Things left us with a myriad of lingering questions. “Is the gate to the Upside Down still open?” “What happened to Eleven?” “Where are the kids numbered 1-10?” “Oh God, is Will vomiting inter-dimensional slugs into his sink?” “Will Dustin’s teeth finally come in?” Blissfully, these questions are all answered by the end of the first episode of season two; there aren’t many resolutions we must await. We begin almost a year after Will’s rescue from the Upside Down, and Eleven’s apparent disappearance into it. Back in Right-Side Up Hawkins, things are relatively quiet. Naturally, our characters are still dealing with some fallout from season one. Will is plagued by periodic “episodes” that seem to transport him, psychically, to the Upside Down. Every night for about 350 days, Mike tries to contact Eleven via his walkie-talkie. Hopper is visited by a reporter investigating the conspiracy surrounding the disappearance of Barb Holland, before he’s called about an attack on local crops that make pumpkins look suspiciously like hatched xenomorph-eggs.
Critics are in the process of hammering Dean Devlin’s cli-fi action / horror film Geostorm (2017)—and one of the most damning charges has been how stupid it is. “The stupidest film I have ever seen,” claimed Mark Kermode, tweeting “I have seen Geostorm. My brain is now cowering in a dark corner of my head and refusing to speak to me.”
I did not, for the most part, experience Geostorm as stupid. As a long-time fan of disaster movies, part of me actually enjoyed it. More than that, though, I was disturbed by the relentlessly dangerous message of Geostorm—and I say that recognizing that director Dean Devlin had nothing but good intentions. In an interview, Devlin describes talking with his young daughter about climate change, trying to answer her anxious question: “Why aren’t we doing anything about it?” He goes on to say that Geostorm emerged from that conversation: it’s a “cautionary tale—a fable. What could happen if we wait to deal with this.”