Blumhouse has been here before. The horror giant last tried to meld their open-ended horror development with a series of 90-minute films on Hulu. While they produced a fairly large quantity and did so quickly, few struck high marks, and none have particularly stayed in the conversation. While the Into the Dark series tapped into the very real potential of the streaming horror space, those growing pains have productively led to a second venture, partnering with Amazon. The Welcome to the Blumhouse series, once again, features roughly 90-minute horror and thriller pictures, each with high-concept material to play with. While the films still feel like they have been produced for the segmented market, unlike Blumhouse’s big-money theatrical releases, they have made a different appeal. This time, they’ve given diversity center stage and optioned four decent-to-middling tales of anxiety and dread. These stories are not only made by diverse crews but manifest cultural ideas that make their releases feel better earned. With the present tetralogy, Blumhouse has matured its market and can give each film a greater push than before, with four further entries coming sometime next year.
The best of the Blumhouse bunch, Black Box leverages its high-concept with a modicum of horror know-how. A man has survived a brutal car crash and is left with no memory and fragments of a past life. He undergoes an experimental treatment, utilizing a specially developed virtual reality box that lets him slip into past memories and engage with the life that was once his. The thing is, all the memories are faded, the faces of the people in them contorted and disjointed. He cannot see anyone for who they truly are. This mystery plays into an intriguing twist and a special little father-daughter act. Given my own personal experience of comas and a longterm struggle to reengage with memories lost inside it, these topics deeply move me, likely beyond the scope of their text. Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour formally moves from his work on shorts into debut feature direction with relative ease, utilizing his actors well, and creating a fair memory-bending horror film. His deceptions are well considered and the use of an all-black cast memorable, to achieve a different effect than the status quo. A perfectly fine little horror outing.
Identical twin brothers Elan Dassani and Rajeev Dassani tell a generational story about horror being passed down from mother to daughter. A distinctly Indian horror story, it earns points on the basis of fresh representation. The premise of Evil Eye suggests women must stick together — that there will always be another generation of young men looking to exploit and harm women — perpetuated in the same ways throughout history. While it’s novel and becomes an anxious-fun romance all on its own, the horror of the situation never quite lands. The film admits all of its tricks before it gets to them. Showing all of its cards as it goes, the film constantly broadcasts what it’s about to do, vacuuming out all of the tension it could have built.
The Lie seems to have slipped into a kind of release hell. It’s been kicking around for a couple of years, now finally reaching an audience through this Blumhouse initiative. It’s an immensely awkward concept thriller with one trick up its sleeve. A young woman and her friend are on their way to a camp excursion when there is a terrible accident. We’re able to guess very quickly what the film is up to, and while some cleaner writing could have saved the picture from the fate of its singular gag, it lands plainly and without much effect. It’s the kind of film that ends and we wonder where the time has gone, and it leaves our minds just as quickly as it entered.
Zu Quirke’s Nocturne is a twisty mystery-thriller from the debut director. It’s the most stylistically assured of the bunch. A young woman enrolled in a classical music institute makes an allegorical deal to replace her skilled sister. Nocturne features fine acting, as Sydney Sweeney and Madison Iseman turn in solid performances. As the motto of the collection goes, it’s perfectly fine, and just barely enough to justify a feature. These slim selections suggest a captive horror audience for small genre experiments. That totally exists and there’s plenty of space for new ideas, especially from new voices, but doesn’t each film leave the lingering question, what if these talented voices were instead given larger projects, and such an initiative weren’t simply tied to the second tier of work? Each is an almost, but enough of an almost, that the directors may find their select followers, willing to engage with diverse specificity and watch something new. Ideally each of these result in new work for their directors and create a larger picture of a small movement with the second helping of horrors next year.