It may be Ominous October, but this month’s picks for streaming titles have more than just horror fans in mind.
A film that itself defines the term “delightfully strange,” Penelope is a film that is simultaneously cliche and unconventional, taking the “cursed descendant” fairy tale trope and merging it with a campy critique of celebrity culture. While it is never meant to be particularly probing, it is both charming and engaging, with some nice implicit statements about human dignity for social misfits. Leads Christina Ricci and James McAvoy are a great fit, and a 110% committed Peter Dinklage rounds out a quirky film that makes a great date-at-home movie.
Stranger Things S2 (Netflix, coming October 27)
The first season of Stranger Things is something of a marvel, perfectly capturing the eerie spirit of 1980’s horror-tinged science fiction, with a touch of government conspiracy and small town crime drama. It’s amazing that all of these things work together, but they do, with a journey-to-faith framework that’s not terribly unlike a journey from atheism to faith, a theme not uncommon in otherworldly science fiction. I’m very interested in where the creators will take this vision next, and what the implications of the Demagorgon coming to our world will have for a worldview that incorporates the supernatural. For more on why Stranger Things is worth your time, check out our review of season one.
Arrival (Amazon Prime / Hulu)
When a genre is as old and well-established as science fiction, certain subgenres and genre tropes can begin to become cliche and dull. Among the many subgenres of science fiction, the alien invasion film is such a well-established narrative, to call it beating a dead horse would be to approach a sarcastic understatement. But be that as it may, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is a fantastic film, which may eventually come to be regarded as a masterpiece. It has a unique mythology to it that aids the ethical contemplations of the film, returning the genre to the thematic thrusts that made it so great to begin with. Giving too many details here would get us into spoiler territory, but the film ultimately comes to a conclusion that has a lot of applications for the Christian, including apologetics. And the journey to get there is as fascinating as any.
TV movies and miniseries can be a bit of a risk to dive into, especially when they’re adaptations of a beloved property like Alice in Wonderland. But in the case of Syfy’s Alice, there’s quite a bit to love. Updating the story to both modernity and adulthood, the story takes a lot of liberties – but they are liberties that, in many ways, embrace the thematic vision of Lewis Carroll’s story. Even the elements that seem a bit more far-fetched, such as the tea shop being a drug ring, have their inception in the common cultural implementation of Alice in Wonderland, even if they may not be based on the interpretation that Lewis Carroll himself intended. It is a rather odd interpretation of the story, but one that gives the character Alice agency and depth, and diving headfirst into the theme of “escaping,” giving Alice a tendency to run from difficult relationships that makes leaving the world of our reality that much more meaningful.
It may sound like a superhero franchise for The Satanic Temple, but the actual Hellboy is anything but. Focused on a literal demon-child snatched away from Hell, the beginnings of Hellboy strike an interesting dialogue into the debate of nature vs. nurture, and give some real force behind the idea of freewill. The film also benefits from director Guillermo Del Toro’s very distinctive style, which accentuates the darkness behind the story with a modernized gothic aesthetic, but never quite loses itself in the darkness to the point of becoming gloomy and overly cynical (I’m looking at you, Zack Snyder). The set up alone makes it worth watching, but Ron Pearlman really brings this character to life, and the film manages to have fun with the material, as well. With a reboot of the franchise coming soon, this is the perfect opportunity to see what about this story makes it worth revisiting.