For the most part, movie theaters remain closed. Blockbusters are delayed. Drive-ins are having a moment. And with the Covid-19 pandemic still posing a clear threat to Americans, most people are still choosing to watch their summer movies at home.
But even without the usual slate of buzzy summer blockbusters, new movies are coming out every weekend. This week, there are four new — and unsettling — films worth watching. Two horror films put a new spin on old conventions: One’s about mothers and daughters, and the other’s about the dangers of going to a secluded house in the woods. One of the best films of the year, a horror-like story about a menacing, unseen boss, is newly streaming. And a 10-minute short film about the agony and ecstasy of the strange world we’re living in is freely available.
All four movies are nourishing to watch. But if you’re looking for something a little more lighthearted, you can always check out one of the 28 best films from this year so far, or watch one of the extraordinary new releases from earlier this month.
“Disturbing” is not quite strong enough a word to describe Amulet, a horror film about the traumas we keep locked up in our bodies until they refuse to be contained any longer. Written and directed by Romola Garai, Amulet is the story of Tomaz (Alec Secareanu), a former soldier living homeless in London. A nun (Imelda Staunton) helps him find a job in a dilapidated, secluded house inhabited by a young woman (Carla Juri) and, he’s told, her sick mother. But it starts to become clear that something odd is going on. Creepy, bloody, and flat-out weird in places, Amulet is a bold directorial debut for Garai and a disquieting reminder that getting rid of the past is never very easy.
How to watch it: Amulet is playing in select theaters and drive-ins and is available to digitally rent or purchase on platforms including iTunes and Amazon. See the film’s website for more details.
It took more than two years after the story of Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual assault broke for a truly great movie to come out about the case, and Kitty Green’s The Assistant is it. Julia Garner (Ozark, The Americans) plays Jane, a new assistant in the Tribeca offices of a high-powered movie studio executive. The Assistant follows Jane as she makes coffee and copies and also witnesses, to her growing horror, what she thinks might be her powerful boss’s inappropriate behavior. We don’t see the “Weinstein” character directly. Instead, we hear his voice and see his back from a distance; we also see the fear he provokes in his subordinates. He isn’t the point of the story, though. The point, as The Assistant makes blindingly clear, is that he gets away with his behavior because of the people around him. It’s one of the best, smartest, and most gripping films of 2020.
Dave Franco’s directorial debut will certainly make you think twice about that summer cabin rental. (Yay?) It’s the tale of two couples (played by Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, and Jeremy Allen White) who head to a fancy vacation home for a weekend of relaxation, hiking, and maybe some illicit substances. But if horror movies have taught us anything, it’s that you should never go stay at a vacation home in a remote location — especially if someone creepy shows up to let you in. The Rental has a familiar plot with familiar story beats, but it is so well-paced and deliberate, and its cast so good, that even though you know where it’s going, it’s still immensely satisfying to take the journey.
How to watch it: The Rental is playing at drive-in theaters and available to digitally rent or purchase on platforms including Amazon and Apple TV. See the film’s website for all of the options.
In 1518, a mysterious “dancing plague” — yes, an epidemic of dancing — broke out in Strasbourg, Germany. Over three months, the small number of people who began dancing grew and grew until a crowd was dancing frenetically in the town square, some of them collapsing and even dying. Strasbourg 1518 is not about the plague, but it evokes the event beyond just its name. In the 10-minute short, shot entirely in isolation by dancers across Europe and directed by Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin), people dance alone in empty rooms to an intoxicating new composition by musician Mica Levi. A voice intones throughout: “How are you, from 10 to one? Ten to two?” and “Every morning, when I wake up, for 10 seconds I am free.” It’s a bit of performance art that captures the frustrations of being a physical body trapped by a pandemic, but in the way only artists of the 21st century could do.
How to watch it: In the US, Strasbourg 1518 is streaming exclusively on its website.