Over the past several years, Blumhouse Productions has been the force behind a number of horror films with a sense of diversity rolling down the backbone of their creation.
In 2017, openly gay-writer director Christopher Landon provided the company with one of their biggest hits, the fun Happy Death Day, a Groundhog Day take-off with a healthy body count and one of the creepiest killer masks in a long while. This film spawned a 2019 sequel, Happy Death Day 2U, that happily saw the return of Tim Bauer, a minor yet very significant gay character in the universe of this swiftly blooming franchise. (A third movie in the series is now in the works.)
Blumhouse's Truth or Dare in 2018 again yielded huge box office receipts and helped reverse the course on a sexist terror film commonality. Since the '80s slasher boom, the genre has been notorious for featuring its actresses in various states of undress. Here though, the camera's eye found its most gaze worthy target in co-star Tyler Posey. Hot off his success in Teen Wolf, the handsome actor is the object of both female leads' affections and is the only one in the cast to shake his toned buttocks for the audience's favora seemingly innocuous feat, but actually a very significant one.
This past winter, Blumhouse's Fantasy Island, a horror-tinged reimagining of the classic '70s series, also acknowledged the importance of the LGBTQIA community by making Brax Weaver, one of the film's major characters, a well-adjusted and much-loved gay man. By the end of the film, Brax, played by popular comedian Jimmy O. Yang, was revealed to be the latest incarnation of one of the series' most iconic characters, a noteworthy occurrence for a dual minority personality in a major league release.
But now with two female filmmakers, a Black screenwriter-director and a twin Indian brother team helming their latest horror offerings, Blumhouse is filling our Halloween baskets with the tastes, textures and visual experiences of different cultures, often revolving around the participants' deepest fears and most haunted realities.
Black Box: With this, the most fully realized of the four films, Emmanuel Osei-Kuffor creates the tale of Nolan (a multi-leveled Mamoudou Athie), a photographer whose life has changed irreparably since a car accident robbed him of his wife and all of his memories. Cared for by Ava (the irreverently adorable Amanda Christine), his grade school daughter, Nolan finally agrees to a controversial treatment program when he realizes that he is continually putting their relationship in jeopardy with his mood swings and absent mindedness.
Run by Lillian (a chillingly observant Phylicia Rashad), a brilliant researcher, the unorthodox therapy activates the participants' brain waves via the attachment of the titular black box. Continually haunted by a dream-spread, scramble-boned figure and some emerging remembrances that don't seem to be his own, Nolan is soon fighting for his very existence.
Nicely referencing Mary Shelley, the original horror femme goddess, by bringing shades of Frankenstein-style experimental psychosis into the mix, Osei-Kuffor builds his world here with precision and a tight sense of pace. He also gladly introduces this genre to one of its previously unknown necessities. We need more of Rashad playing dynamically mysterious figures in dark gothic set-ups, pronto!
Evil Eye: From her home in Delhi, India, Usha (the subtly insistent Sarita Choudhury) learns of her daughter's new romance with a well-to-do bachelor (mysteriously confident Omar Muskati). After years of trying to set up Pallavi (sincerely defiant Sunita Mani) with a variety of men, everyone assumes that this occurrence will fill this meddling matriarch with happiness. Instead, Usha, who barely escaped from a violently obsessed suitor many years earlier, is filled with a sense of dread. Eventually, Usha begins to believe that her daughter's new love is the reincarnation of her obsessed ex, but is unable to convince anyone else of her suspicions. Naturally, like any protective parent, she eventually decides to take matters into her own hands.
Directors Elan and Rajeev Dassani imbue the film with a rich look at the celebrations and customs that highlight Usha's world and bring a calm and steady eye to the Lifetime television esthetics of the piece. (Not a diss, by the way.) More than anything though, the two allow Choudhury to quietly and ferociously command the screen, allowing for an all too rare phenomenona middle aged Indian actress at the heart and center of a familial horror piece.
Nocturne: In House of Psychotic Women, her study of the persona of the neurotic woman in genre film, author Kier-La Janisse paints insightful portraits of how women on the verge are treated in celluloid fantasies and how those perceptions often bleed into real life. Juliet (the nervy yet passionate Sydney Sweeney) in writer-director Zu Quirke's Nocturne could fit right in with the characters that Janisse wrote about in her acclaimed tome. Suffering from severe anxiety and exponentially diluted by the knowledge that her sister is the true talent at the arts school that they attend, Juliet withers in silence. The chance discovery of a fantastical book left behind by a deceased student changes her world, though. Suddenly, her talents swell and as a series of mysterious accidents cancel out her rivals, Juliet's world expands with possibilities.
After being tapped to play the showcase piece at the school's penultimate event, things begin to shift once again, and it looks, as with the others before her, the book may spell her downfall after all.
While this project ultimately lacks the singular edge and rich atmospherics of pictures such as Let's Scare Jessica to Death and Black Swan, Quirke does effectively use a patina of yellowed textures to color in Juliet's maddened state and sensitively highlights the frustrated ambitions that dog her central character. Indeed, with her roots stretching back to characters like Carrie White and Rosemary Woodhouse, Juliet is also a relatable figure for the LGBTQIA communitya group of individuals who must always be at the ready to fight for the things that many in the world want to consistently deny them.
The Lie: Rightfully revered for her work on The Killing, director-writer Veena Sud works magic with her cast in this moody, twisted crime drama. As the parents of a teenage girl who confesses to the murder of her best friend, Mireille Elos and Peter Sarsgaard do intricately anguished work under Sud's multileveled guidance. Sud also brings a strong sense of mysterious dread to the proceedings. The family's truths seem ready to change on a dime as events unfold, and Sud takes the audience along for the ride.
I wondered, though, if this film, based upon the popular German produced Wir Monster, might have worked better with a more observationally European touch. Sud dives so deeply into the interior lives of her characters that the twist ending comes off not only as situationally ludicrous, but possibly nonsensical considering what has come before. Keeping the characters at more of a distance may have helped pull off this magician's parlor trick with a bit more finesse. Still, even viewers who aren't familiar with her other work will recognize Sud's toned gifts here, despite this misstep.
Black Box, Evil Eye, Nocturne and The Lie are all exclusively streaming, as a part of the Halloween event Welcome to the Blumhouse, on Amazon Prime.