I must be on St. Nick’s naughty list because he didn’t come through with my Christmas wish for new evil-Santa films. I’ll make the season frightful myself with picks from around the world that include a prude mutant, a vengeful witch, a tortured musician and a demonic dinner.
‘The Deep House’
“Everything’s weird underwater”: That observation from one of this film’s characters sums up the latest eerie drama from the directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, the duo behind “Inside,” a signature film of the New French Extremity, and “Kandisha,” a supernatural thriller and one of my August picks.
Ben (James Jagger) and Tina (Camille Rowe) are a young couple visiting southwestern France, where they befriend a stranger who guides them to a rural area where he says an entire house is submerged in a lake. Eager to make social media content, Ben and Tina put on diving gear, load up with underwater lights and cameras, and take the plunge.
They find the perfectly preserved house but also, mysteriously, a locked gate. Once inside, they discover creepy dolls, a giant crucifix and human figures that are hooded, chained and floating. It turns out that fish aren’t the only ones inside the house with them.
What would be a standard haunted house film is made a stylistic knockout by its underwater setting. Thanks to its director of photography, Jacques Ballard, the slow-mo movement and claustrophobic environs work in sinister harmony.
‘Death to Metal’
Zane (Alex Stein) is having a god awful day. His satanic thrash band Withered Christ dumped him before their gig opening for Grandma Incinerator. Across town at St. Mary’s Church, Father Kilborn (Andrew Jessop) is suspended after complaints about his rant-filled homilies. Facing a crisis of faith, he gets sloshed and has a car accident that launches him into toxic waters, where he turns into a bloodthirsty mutant.
After Father Kilborn goes on a killing spree at the annual Holy Saturday Metal Massacre, he and Zane meet for a screwball theological battle with profane, gory and very silly consequences.
Tim Connery’s low-budget horror comedy is a preposterous and brazenly blasphemous gem for die-hard genre lovers. The film has real underdog charm, thanks to made-by-metalheads humor, better-than-expected acting and a death by cymbals that gets my vote for kill of the year. I loved Liam Brazier‘s animation of a flashback scene in Nicaragua (long story) that looks like a death metal album cover come to life.
I’m a fan of slow-burn horror that generates terror with a crawl, not a plunge. In this shoegazer of a film, the Canadian director-cinematographer Ryan Glover slows a crawl to a creep that left me nicely unsettled.
Catherine (Teagan Johnston), a young composer-musician, is at her aunt’s rural cottage in the dead of winter to work alone on new material and to have her portrait taken by Grace (Jenna Schaefer), a young photographer she eventually falls for. But wait, Catherine wonders: Did the home always have a basement? And who’s the guy on the beach?
It’s not until 40 minutes in that the scary stuff starts to emerge, and when it arrives, in spurts, it’s haunting. A scene in Catherine’s kitchen is maybe the most terrifying two minutes all year.
By taking his time to explore issues of loneliness and isolation, Glover’s film calls to mind the horror-adjacent dramas of Josephine Decker (“Butter on the Latch”). Both directors understand that the tastiest scares sometimes take the slowest to cook.
Glenda (Nia Roberts) is throwing a feast at her chic home in rural Wales for her rabbit hunter husband (Julian Lewis Jones), their self-obsessed sons (Steffan Cennydd and Sion Alun Davies) and friends. Glenda hires Cadi (Annes Elwy), a mousy young woman, to be her second hand for the night. But Cadi isn’t there to just set the table — her mission is more sinister, and has something to do with a mysterious force with roots in the nearby woods.
Five Movies to Watch This Winter
Lee Haven Jones, the director, works wonders with the cinematographer Bjorn Stale Bratberg to depict terrors that move between a chic domestic space, a dreamy green landscape and a nightmarish forest. The result is a folk horror film from the pages of Architectural Digest. The movie gets nonsensical at the end — I’m still not sure who was on who’s side — but it looks great doing so.
After goons beat him up for unpaid debts, Hemant (Saurabh Goyal) escapes with his pregnant wife Sakshi (Nushrratt Bharuccha) to their driver’s rural hometown, where the sugar cane fields, superstitions and traditional beliefs about gender are all sweeping.
Hemant eventually heads back home, leaving Sakshi in the village with her driver’s wife (Mita Vashisht), who cautions Sakshi to avoid the woman in a red sari and the three children who keep asking Sakshi to play. Does Sakshi listen? No. Does that unleash grotesque visions and lots of wandering through mazes at night? Yep.
There’s much to admire in Vishal Furia’s supernatural soap opera, a Hindi remake of his Marathi horror film “Lapachhapi” (2017). A feminist message urging women’s self-determination is a welcome one. I loved how the towering sugar cane entraps characters in a menacing natural landscape. High fives for making the child actors look like extras from “Dawn of the Dead.”
But the film’s overcomplicated story and reliance on standard supernatural stuff — spectral visions, hallucinatory nightmares, jump scares — didn’t keep me fully on edge.