This week, Prime Video drops two new original releases from director Adrian Lyne and Mariama Diallo, meanwhile, Guillermo Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley gets its streaming release on Disney+, as does Sundance hit Fresh.
Netflix also drops its chilly post apocalyptic actioner Black Crab.
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Deep Water - Prime Video (Pick of the week)
A new erotic thriller from one of the masters of the subgenre Adrian Lyne, Deep Water has practically been mythologised by cinephiles and Ana de Armas fans. On one hand this comes from Lyne’s 20 year absence as a director, on the other it comes from film’s celeb-magazine metatext, having been filmed during the real-life coupling of de Armas and co-star Ben Affleck, who have since split. Well, now it’s here, and it’s far stranger than its salacious and sometimes downright comical marketing would have suggested. The adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel is a lot more constrained than its source, though it relishes a sort of low-stakes gossip mag salaciousness.
Read more: Everything new on Prime Video in March
For starters Lyne and screenwriters Zach Helm and Sam Levinson (the criminal behind Euphoria and Malcolm and Marie) maintain a strange ambiguity surrounding the relationship between married couple Vic and Melinda Van Allen, who in the book have an arrangement that Melinda can sleep with whomever she likes so long as the family remains together.
Watch a trailer for Deep Water
Here it’s never spoken aloud, the nature of Melinda’s relationships remaining figments of Vic and the audience’s imagination. What follows is a series of increasingly hilariously exhausted reactions from Affleck’s character to his continued cuckolding, the director taking their time in allowing the audience’s mind to race with the possibilities of what the hell is going on between these two.
It overextends in this regard, so the very simple answer becomes a little disappointing as a result, but the hilariously intense acting choices (Tracy Letts nearly runs away with it as an obnoxious, nosy screenwriter) make it pretty entertaining viewing regardless on the way to its bonkers, darkly comic conclusion.
Fresh - Disney +
Picked up by Searchlight Pictures ahead of its debut at Sundance this year, Fresh generated a ton of buzz at the indie film festival for its grisly subject matter. After one too many disastrous dates, Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is on the verge of giving up swiping right when the man of her dreams walks into her life. Ironically, in the fresh produce aisle at the grocery store. She and Steve (Sebastian Stan) fall for each other in a big way and two dates later he invites her for a romantic weekend.
Read more: Everything new on Disney+ in March
It’s only when they’re snuggled up in their countryside retreat that Noa realises he has some unusual appetites, to say the least. At the outset, Fresh looks like a cute rom-com, one that shrewdly taps into anxieties which are everyday occurrences for most women.
Morphing into gory horror, the tone turns bleak, but still shot through with the darkest of humour. It’s a nerve-jangler to get your teeth into — and who would have thought Sebastian Stan had such great moves?
Master - Prime Video
The first narrative feature film by Mariama Diallo, Master navigates politics and privilege at an elite university in New England, from the perspectives of three black women in different occupations at the institution — the professor and the school’s first black ‘house master’ Gail (Regina Hall), a teacher Liv (Amber Gray) and freshman Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee). The catch beyond that, is that the university is built on the site of a Salem-era gallows hill, and the school’s past of long-unaddressed racial exploitation, begins to manifest as a sort of haunted house.
But beyond its subjective involvement in its lead character’s perspective of misogynoir in academia there’s little that feels all that striking or unique about Master, which for much of its first half hour unfolds as a glacially paced series of didactic scenes concerning micro-aggressions. Its slightly moody camerawork in its evocation of middle class racism feels incredibly familiar at this point thanks to a solid five years of Jordan Peele imitators and “elevated” horror movies that all reckon themselves the next coming of The Shining.
Beyond that the satire feels watered down and the scares are lacklustre, its various nightmare sequences feeling silly rather than spooky, while the lines it draws between the past and the present feel a little too neat — until its completely absurd final act ripped straight from 2015 headlines.
With its droning score and meandering camerawork Master can feel aesthetically inert as well as narratively.
Nightmare Alley - Disney+
Guillermo Del Toro takes another fantastical trip backwards in time with his remake of this classic noir film. Co-authored with star Bradley Cooper, Nightmare Alley’s lush and seedy production design is enough to make this worthy viewing on its own, all lusciously shot by cinematographer Dan Lausten, reteaming with Del Toro after their hit The Shape of Water.
Cooper stars as the drifter Stan Carlisle, a manipulative con-man working at a circus, who joins up with the equally deceptive psychiatrist Lilith (Cate Blanchett) to con the New York elite out of their cash.
Del Toro’s version of William Lindsay Gresham's 1947 novel takes the long way through the source material but he maintains its acerbic and cynical tone to compelling effect, embracing the story’s darkest impulses as its character’s mind games against each other only continue to worsen.
Also new on Disney+: Alien, Mr Holmes, The Woman In Black
Black Crab - Netflix
Continuing on from a long thread of genre movies on which she made her career, Noomi Rapace heads up the bleak action film Black Crab. Put reductively it’s like the military science fiction version of The Day After Tomorrow, where climate change has accelerated to an utterly apocalyptic scale and left much of the film’s landscape as a desolate tundra.
Read more: Everything new on Netflix in March
Worse still, this film’s version of Sweden has been ravaged by a civil war, and now a band of soldiers/survivors have to head across the ice of the archipelago, entirely frozen in the cold snap of climate change. The incredibly serious, Children of Men-adjacent dystopian tones feel somewhat at odds with the true nature of the mission – they have to ice skate across 100 miles of sea ice to a research base behind enemy lines, “like a crab in the dark” (an actual line).
It’s so incredibly silly, and to play it off in this miserable tone feels like something of a missed opportunity for some delightful camp. Still, out on that ice there’s some pretty image-making that stands out from the oppressive grey colour palettes of its various destitute cities.
Also new on Netflix: IT: Chapter Two, Untouchable