If you’re like me, you exhausted all the interesting mainstream movies on your streaming service about a month into the first lockdown. Luckily, there’s a metric crap-ton of incredible, under-seen flicks under the soil of your streaming service if you do a little digging. So check out these lesser-known movies once you’ve finished binging FBoy Island.
Enter the Fat Dragon (2020)
I clicked on Enter the Fat Dragon in the mood for something so bad-it’s-good. After all, how much mileage can a movie get out of “a guy in a fat-suit doing martial arts?” It turns out, a lot, and Fat Dragon is so-good-it’s-good. The movie’s lean story moves quickly enough that you don’t have time to notice it hardly makes sense, the jokes are actually funny (especially the hilarious send ups of martial arts movie tropes that only fans will get), and the action and fight sequences are as over-the-top and elaborate as Busby Berkeley numbers, but with much more punching in the face. Extra points for being available for free on Hoopla, brought to you by your local library.
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
I first tried to watch this movie when I was 15 and going through a huge David Bowie phase — St. David plays the lonely alien at the centre of The Man Who Fell to Earth — but teenage-me found it tedious and confusing, and I quickly turned it off. I’m happy to report that I was wrong.
While it lacks the special effects and action of most sci-fi, seen through (somewhat) adult eyes, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a hypnotic and haunting rumination on the nature of corruption, alienation, and despair. It hearkens back to an era of film where directors took huge risks trying to create unique and timeless art. The Man Who Fell to Earth doesn’t always succeed, but it comes close, and what more can you really ask for a film you can stream for free?
This micro-budget found-footage horror movie tells story of a videographer who is hired to record the last messages of a dying man (Mark Duplass, in one of the most unsettling performances in horror movie history). As the dying man’s story unfolds, it becomes clear that there is something very, very wrong with him, and it’s not cancer. A testament to the cinematic possibilities of two actors and a cabin in the woods, Creep is a slow-burn masterpiece carefully builds a mood of dread until its inevitable, shocking conclusion.
Jasper Mall (2020)
This quiet documentary is presented without voiceovers or talking head interviews; it’s all slice-of-life footage of the workers and customers who populate a dying mall in Alabama, marking out their days in a gigantic, nearly empty shell that was once the centre of commercial and social life in a small Southern town. If you’re looking for a big dose of poignancy, some insight into the changing face of America, and the heroic struggle of the common man, check out Jasper Mall.
Cannibalism, paranoia, and suburban corruption mark this criminally under-seen dark comedy that mines horror and laughs from childhood trauma and helplessness. Parents’ story of 1950s-conformity-gone-insane asks questions lurking deep in the psyche of every child: What if my parents don’t really have my best interests at heart? And what if they’re so depraved, we don’t even have names for the things they do? Throw in fantastic performances from Randy Quaid (who would have guesses that guy would be so good at playing a white-bread lunatic?) and Mary Beth Hurt, and you have a classic that hardly anyone has ever seen.
If you decide to watch Chocolate (and you should) disregard the film’s incoherent first half-hour. You only need to know this: Zen is a mute teenage girl with an autism-like disorder who spent her childhood watching Bruce Lee movies. When her family is threatened by Yakuza villains, Zen goes ballistic, having gleaned superhuman fighting prowess from all those movies she watched.
Yanin “Jeeja” Vismistananda is a perfect action movie star, and the no-CGI, no wires, no-bullshit fight scenes are breathtaking in their audacity and athletics. These kind of scenes that would be impossible to film in the United States because insurance companies would never sign off on the stunts. If you have a strong stomach, stick around for the post movie blooper-reel of stunts-gone-wrong. Ouch.
I’m a sucker for time-travel movies, and Timecrimes is a particularly good example of the genre. Hector is an average guy in Spain, drowsing through his days renovating the house he shares with his wife. Everything is predictable for Hector until he follows a beautiful young woman to the clandestine time travel laboratory next door. Before long, Hector is mucking about in the fabric of space and time, facing a murderous future version of himself, and potentially ending all existence by creating time paradox that threaten to derail reality itself. Props to filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo, who made a time-travel movie that is totally mind-bending but still makes sense.
This Irish sci-fi/comedy stars Jesse Eisenberg as half of a young married couple hoping to buy a new home. They enter an empty suburban development full of identical “dream homes” and quickly become lost. And then stay lost. For years.
With a concept so huge and preposterous, you’d think there’d be no way the story could have a dramatically satisfying explanation, but amazingly, Vivarium manages it. Equal parts social commentary, unsettling mood, and dark humour, Vivarium is way better than it has any right to be.
Phase IV (1974)
Judging from Phase IV’s poster art and premise, I expected a typical, 1970s nature-goes-crazy flick where mutated ants attack and people run around screaming, covered in insects. But Phase IV is not that at all. It’s way closer to Kubrick’s cold, calculated 2001 than it is to Empire of the Ants or The Swarm. This story of scientists matching wits with a sentient anthill examines the nature of thought, collectivism vs. individualism, and the sheer eeriness of humans facing off against an alien intelligence. All that and mutated ants attacking and people running around screaming, covered in insects. Total win-win.
The Love Witch (2016)
The Love Witch is a film-lovers film. Writer/director Anne Biller uses mid-century costumes, makeup, sets, and techniques to create a lush, technicolor feminist parable that looks like it was made in 1965. If you like badass sorceresses in mod costumes, tongue-in-cheek Satanic rituals, acid-trip freak-out scenes, and wry observations on the Gordian knot of male/female relationships, check out The Love Witch. It’ll blow your mind, man.