I am an author and paranormal enthusiast who has published numerous books and articles on the subject of true unexplained phenomena.
Best: His House (2020)
Having previously viewed a number of Netflix features, I went into this one with low expectations. Surprisingly, it turned out to be a taut little horror film with just enough scares to make the occasional lulls tolerable.
The plot centers around a Sudanese couple, played by Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku, who have settled in England after escaping the brutality of their homeland. After applying for sanctuary, they are temporarily relegated to government approved housing where they learn soon enough that they are not welcome.
While the husband, Bol, wastes no time adapting to his surroundings, his wife Rial is like a fish out of water. We learn early on that her lackluster approach to just about everything is rooted in the fact that their young daughter perished during their harrowing bid for freedom.
As dramatic as the story is at times, horror creeps in when the ghost of the child they lost is seen in the house, accompanied by a strange man who they initially believe holds the answers to their prayers.
After seeing the spirits emerge from the walls, Rial becomes convinced that their daughter will be returned to them, but only if they make amends for past wrongdoings. As the couple sink further into the abyss, we as viewers are left wondering if they are simply delusional parents whose judgement has been eroded by grief, or if the otherworldly visitors are real.
As things wind down, we learn that there is more to the couple than meets the eye. When their secret is finally revealed, it is one that few will see coming. Although His House is occasionally bogged down by slow moments, the overall pacing isn't bad. When the scares come, they are often unexpected and well worth the wait. When all is said and done, it is a solid horror film that keeps you guessing till the end.
Worst: The Swarm (2020)
Ugh, where to begin? Movies that rely on humankind's fear of insects have a built-in creep factor that is pretty easy to exploit. Unfortunately, this one is so tedious that even the hordes of locusts that appear on-screen from time to time can't save it.
The Swarm centers around a young widow named Virginie who, after trying and failing at one cockamamie venture after another, decides to farm locusts in order to support her children. The family drama that ensues, while understandable, gets tiresome after a while considering that this is supposed to be a creature feature.
Her endeavor goes south when the buyer she was depending on backs out of the deal due to a poor harvest. Having tanked another opportunity, Virginie is ready to throw in the towel when an accident becomes a game changer.
Following the meeting, she retreats to the locust pen where she suffers a gash on her arm while in the throes of a temper fit. As a result of the mishap, she discovers that the swarm thrive on flesh and blood. With this in mind, she resolves to give them what they want in the hopes that it will pay off in the end.
Although she starts off by allowing the horde to feed from her, Virginie soon realizes that her meager offerings won't satisfy them for long. As you can probably guess, several lives are lost in the locust's quest for food.
While it might sound interesting, it isn't. Unless you want to skip the first hour or so and fast forward to the meat, so to speak, you should probably give this one a pass. For the most part, it is like eating a mud pie; you're consuming something, but it isn't at all satisfying.
Best: Blood Red Sky (2021)
This nifty little horror flick is getting a lot of hype, and guess what? It deserves every bit of it. If you've been searching for a suspenseful story that takes place onboard a plane, highlighted by an infestation of vampires, look no further, you've reached your stop.
Be forewarned, there is a lot going on in Blood Red Sky. When things kick off, we are introduced to an obviously ailing German woman named Nadja who, along with her young son, is headed to the states to undergo some sort of vague medical procedure.
Once their flight is in the air, all hell breaks loose when hijackers commandeer the craft. As chaos erupts, Nadja is shot, and presumably killed, by one of the ringleaders. Later on, when she emerges from the encounter virtually unscathed, we discover that the disease she was hoping to cure is vampirism.
Unfortunately, as things progress, the most vicious hijacker catches onto Nadja's secret. Hoping to gain the power she holds, he incapacitates her and steals a vial of her blood. After injecting himself with the contaminated specimen, he joins the ranks of the undead. Taking full advantage of his newfound abilities, he then proceeds to spread the infection to the passengers.
You'll have to watch this gory thrill ride to find out what happens next. Just know that it is a rare bird indeed. It's scary when it needs to be and human when it counts, making it one of the best films the service currently has to offer.
Worst: Things Heard and Seen (2021)
This one looked good on paper. With Amanda Seyfried and James Norton as the leads, and a supporting cast that includes Karen Allen, Michael O'Keefe and Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham, you would think that it couldn't lose. Regrettably, you would be wrong.
Viewers who enjoy a slow-moving plot that goes nowhere might like this film, and more power to you. For those who expect to be rewarded for the time they invested in the characters, it is a huge letdown.
The story takes place in the late 1970s and revolves around a young family who move from the city to an old farmhouse in the country. The mother, Catherine, feeling alone and out of her element, finds an old Bible that was left behind by the former occupants. After reading the cryptic messages hidden inside, she begins to hear and see things that lead her to believe that she has opened a door into the spirit world.
What follows are revelations involving the fate of the previous owners, adultery, family conflicts, paranormal activity, fraud, murder, and a jumble of other plotlines, none of which are particularly riveting.
Although Things Heard and Seen has the makings of an excellent horror venture, it has far too many irons in the fire, none of which amount to much in the end.
Best: #Alive (2020)
Zombie movies have been done to death, as have stories about pandemics, or so it seemed until #Alive came along and blew that notion out of the water.
The film stars Burning's Yoo Ah-In as Joon-woo, a man who wakes up one day to a world he no longer recognizes. Finding himself trapped in an apartment building that is surrounded by throngs of people infected with a virus that makes them rabid for human flesh, our reluctant hero decides to take action.
The hashtag in the title refers to Joon-woo's attempts to connect with other survivors via social media. Alone and unable to reach his family, this method of contact becomes his link to the outside world.
#Alive is loaded with surprises as we follow Joon-woo and a handful of other survivors, including an unexpected love interest, as they use their wits to avoid becoming the next victims of the ever-growing hive.
Even if you're sick and tired of dealing with epidemics, on film and otherwise, do yourself a favor and give this one a shot; you won't be sorry.
Worst: The Wind (2018)
Movies that take their time drawing viewers in aren't normally a problem so long as they make the wait worth our while. The Wind, try as it might, never manages to bring the story home.
The film begins with a pioneer woman named Lizzie emerging from a cabin carrying the lifeless body of a newborn infant. While it may not be obvious at the time, this will turn out to be the first of many instances that only serve to muddle what might have been a decent plot.
This initial scene sets the stage for a story that continuously jumps back and forth between the past and present. Unfortunately, since the physical appearances of the four main characters never changes, it's almost impossible to know in what time period we have landed.
At some point, Lizzy comes to believe that a mysterious wind that never seems to wane carries with it a demon that stalks the region after the sun goes down. Her husband Isaac, who won't admit to seeing or hearing anything out of the ordinary, accuses her of imagining things.
In all fairness, this effort does contain a few truly disturbing moments, but they are few and far between. Ultimately, the problem with this film lies not with the story itself, but in the manner in which it is told. While some may appreciate the lack of chronology, it will leave others wondering what the heck they just watched.
Best: 1BR (2019)
This feature reminded me a bit of an episode of the series Fear Itself called "Community" in its depiction of how easily the vulnerable can fall prey to wolves in sheep's clothing.
The cast is led by newcomer Nicole Brydon Bloom who does an admirable job of carrying this tense thriller as our protagonist, Sarah. Also on hand is American Horror Story mainstay Naomi Grossman, gracing the screen as one of the many neighbors who are not nearly as pleasant as we are first led to believe.
The crux of the film is that, after moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in costume design, Sarah lucks into the apartment of her dreams, despite the fact that she can barely make ends meet.
Since few things in life ever work out as planned, her dream come true quickly turns into a nightmare when she begins to suspect that some of her fellow tenants are members of a murderous cult. The tension mounts as she learns that her stroke of good fortune was not at all what it seemed.
1BR is a creepy little tale that is filled with unexpected twists and turns. While its run on the streaming service apparently ended the second this article was written, if you happen to find it on DVD, it's certainly worth checking out.
Best & Worst: Hush (2016)
In the interest of full disclosure, I've sat through this movie more than once in the hope that it will get better. Well, so far it hasn't, but there's always next time. For whatever reason, even though the plot has holes big enough to drive a truck through, not to mention an incredibly frustrating target, it is astonishingly easy to watch.
The main character, Maddie, is a writer of horror fiction who, like so many others in the genre, leaves the big city to ply her trade in the quiet countryside. Before long, she learns the hard way that this scenario is a magnet for homicidal maniacs.
Adding to our lead's vulnerability is the fact that she lost her hearing as a child. Although her house in the middle of nowhere has been modified to suit her needs, she finds out soon enough that not every threat can be predicted.
While nothing terribly exciting occurs in the first half hour or so of the film, it does offer a window into Maddie's everyday life. Actress Kate Siegel plays the part convincingly, even though she is not deaf in real-life. Likewise, her friend and distant neighbor Sarah, played by Samantha Sloyan, is believable as a hearing person who is in the process of learning ASL.
Enter our killer, a nameless psychopath who is brought to life by 10 Cloverfield Lane's John Gallagher. While undeniably talented, he is such a thoroughly likable actor that it is hard to take him seriously as he engages in a game of cat and mouse with the slow on the uptake Maddie.
This movie straddles the line between best and worst for a reason. Simply put, it is as good as it is awful. Despite all of the ridiculous decisions made by the killer and his prey, this excruciatingly addictive film still manages to pull you in and hold your interest till the end.
IMDB (Internet Movie Database)