October is horror movie season, but there’s no reason to watch “Hocus Pocus” for the umpteenth time when there are newer offerings available. This year, several of the major horror film festivals across the U.S. were forced to cancel their physical gatherings, but they’ve joined forces to create a single virtual festival event loaded with promising new work from around the world. Running October 8 – 11, Nightstream represents the collaborative programming efforts of Boston Underground, Brooklyn Horror, Overlook, and Popcorn Frights Festival. The supersized curatorial effort has yielded an international lineup of genre efforts that include some favorites from earlier the festival season as well as many discoveries.
Launching as New York Film Festival’s virtual edition winds down, Nightstream is another example of ongoing efforts to replicate the festival experience in these stay-at-home times. The program opens Thursday with the world premiere of the Hulu Original production “Run,” which stars Sarah Paulson in a thriller about a wheelchair-bound teenager. It also features a 20th anniversary “American Psycho” event with Mary Harron in conversation and a “Dinner With the Masters of Horror” conversation featuring Mick Garris and some unannounced guests.
Go here for more information on how to purchase passes for the festival. Here are some of the most intriguing horror films (or, in some cases, horror-ish) on offer.
The basics: set in the kind of glamorous mountain mansion that never seems like anyone’s actual home, we’re first introduced to flinty filmmaker Allison (Aubrey Plaza), who is visiting the makeshift artist retreat on the recommendation of a pal. It’s run by — and owned by and lived in — flirty Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and his pregnant partner Blair (Sarah Gadon), who are amusingly ill-suited for any kind of professional endeavor (and also, maybe each other). From the start, the trio makes for an engaging set-up in Lawrence Michael Levine’s Sundance hit, as battle lines and alliances are drawn and re-plotted over the course of one off-kilter day and a particularly boozy night. —KE
“Bleed with Me”
In a year that has proven tough for breakouts, Canadian filmmaker Amelia Moses is working overtime: Her first two films are both premiering on the festival circuit. “Bleed with Me” hits Nightstream not long after “Bloodthirsty” played at the virtual edition of Fantastic Fest; together, the two movies point to a strong new voice in atmospheric horror. “Bleed With Me” unfolds with your typical cabin-in-the-woods backdrop, as introvert Rowan (Lee Marshall) spends a weekend in seclusion with her outgoing pal Emily (Lauren Beatty) and her boyfriend Brendan (Aris Tyros). Just as Rowan and Brendan develop an unexpected chemistry, she starts to witness strange and unsettling forces invading their abode. As the boundary between real and imaginary events grows uncertain, “Bleed with Me” enters into an ambiguous arena of subjective storytelling certain to lock audiences into the same unsettling arena as its protagonist. —EK
Let’s get the obvious hook out of the way: “Honeydew” stars Sawyer Spielberg, AKA the son of the world’s most famous working director, in his feature debut. But there’s more to anticipate about the haunted directorial debut of filmmaker Devereaux Milburn, which follows a young couple who find shelter in the home of a possibly deranged old farmer and her oddball son. This is familiar horror territory — crazy families and people trapped in their home have been in vogue since the “Texas Chainsaw” days — but the minimalist approach suggests a keen awareness of how to build dread out of a single setting and the uncertainty surrounding the events in question. The movie, which was originally set to debut in the midnight section of the since-canceled Tribeca Film Festival, naturally unfolds in a rural setting where there’s nowhere to hide. From there, it blends a series of dark comic twists with a fun penchant for survival story tropes sure to thrill the virtual Nightstream crowd. —EK
At heart, Zoé Wittock’s “Jumbo” is a pretty straightforward dramedy about a single mother (the great Emmanuelle Bercot) struggling to accept the woman her daughter has become. On its surface, however, this pleasantly delirious feature debut is the story of a young loner named Jeanne (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” breakout Noémie Merlant) who develops a deep psychosexual attraction to the tilt-a-whirl ride at the rundown Belgian amusement park where she works. The attraction is so deep, in fact, that Jeanne orgasms at the thought of jet-black oil jizzing out of its metal parts and enveloping her nude body like the symbiote from “Venom.” The film that Wittock builds out from that premise winds up splitting the difference between “Terms of Endearment” and David Cronenberg’s “Crash” in a way that’s often sweet and surreal (but never sinister), as the first-time director essentially borrows an ultra-familiar premise and coats it with the candied shell of something you’ve never seen before. It’s a wild ride you won’t regret taking. —DE
Noah Hutton’s feature debut takes place in a “parallel present,” but nothing about clever sci-fi dramedy “Lapsis” feels that removed from the contemporary world. Smartly weaving together questions of corporate greed, a cheeky bitcoin stand-in, and social justice issues that don’t feel shunted in just to be “timely,” “Lapsis” is as much about the tightly constructed world Hutton has created as the one his audience lives within.
Schlubby leading man Ray (Dean Imperial) — a supporting character accuses him of having a “70s mobster vibe,” and that’s not far off — serves as our window into the world of “Lapsis.” A regular Joe adorned in aviator glasses and polyester shirts, Ray works a blue collar job in Queens, and knows the world is starting to move past him, but his resistance to change has kept him stagnant until personal issues force him to embrace a technological revolution. A new encryption technology called quantum has rocked the stock market, and it’s starting to have many other applications. Hutton’s world-building takes flight once Ray adopts a new career that forces physical labor on a suffering population of independent contractors with zero benefits, setting out into a brave new (and often, very boring) unknown, and unfolding a clever mystery while he does it. —KE
“Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist”
Alexandre O. Philippe is quickly becoming the ultimate interpretive filmmaker: “Doc of the Dead” delved into zombie culture, “78/52” dug deep into the shower scene of “Psycho,” and “Memory: The Origins of Alien” explored just that. Now he takes on one of the successful modern horror of all time with a little help from the man behind the camera. Now 85, the prolific Friedkin speaks at length with Phillipe for this incisive deep-dive into the complex set of influences behind this disturbing meditation on faith, family, and the instability of human nature. It’s a welcome look back at a movie that continues to shock and mystify audiences decades later, guided along by a man whose insights into his work have only grown more sophisticated with time. —EK
Courtesy Venice Film Festival
Surrealist French director Quentin Dupieux never fails to come up with ideas as inspired as they are wacky. From the killer-tire premise of “Rubber” to the haunted jacket of “Deerskin,” Dupieux’s movies excel at blending goofy concepts with sudden bursts of violence and disturbing twists. “Mandibles” appears to be no exception: This sleeper hit from the fall circuit (it premiered in September at Venice) revolves around a conspiracy thriller derailed when two bumbling anti-heroes discover a giant horsefly and decide to train it to commit heists for them. Yes, seriously. Roll with the weirdness that Dupieux offers up and you never know what kind of wonderful oddities he might offer up. “Dupieux has an airy disregard for how a chase thriller or a horror movie is supposed to proceed,” critic Nicholas Barber wrote for IndieWire in his review. “He buzzes around wherever he wants to go. The buddy comedies of the 1990s were rarely as refreshing as this. But then, they rarely had any humongous insects in them, either.” —EK