This week in streaming, Netflix adds one of the better American horror films in recent memory, while NOW adds a recent video game-adapted creature feature.
Additionally, MUBI adds the excellent Martin Eden to its service.
Please note that a subscription may be required to watch.
Pick of the week: The Invisible Man - Netflix (29 January)
After taking on sci-fi action and horror in the lean, brutal Upgrade, Leigh Whannell reinvents a classic horror monster with this canny and disturbing modernisation of The Invisible Man. The story takes place in the aftermath of Cecelia (Elizabeth Moss) fleeing the home of her abusive ex (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who eventually takes his own life and leaves her his fortune. As a result she suspects his death was a hoax, and as horrific accidents and strange incidents continue to happen around her, Cecelia has to prove that she is being hunted by a man no-one can see.
Read more: Everything new on Netflix in January
As well as the inspiration it takes from the classic thriller Gaslight, perhaps most striking about Whannell’s take is his emphasis on voyeurism, wielding the camera itself like a weapon against the audience — constantly drawing focus to the conspicuous absence of something in the frame, each wide shot inducing terror simply in how it leads the eyes on a frantic search for the man who isn’t there. Coupled with Elizabeth Moss’s frenzied but nuanced performance, The Invisible Man is one of the strongest horror remakes of recent years.
Also new on Netflix: Home Team, Emma
One Shot - NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership
Led by Scott Adkins, the reigning champ of direct-to-video action, the premise of Tower Block director James Nunn's One Shot is made fairly clear by its title. It's a single-location, tense siege film told in real time, that follows Adkins as he leads a group of Navy SEALs transporting a suspected terrorist from a CIA black site. “We’re on the clock”, he frequently reminds each member of the team, and the film effectively creates a claustrophobic atmosphere through the relentless pacing of its single take photography.
Read more: Everything new on Sky Cinema in January
Like Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, it frankly reveals the casual monstrosity of the US government through the eyes of its operators, some desensitised to the violence they enact, some less so. “I thought places like this weren’t run anymore”, the team’s (moderately naive) government liaison enquires as they’re given an eerily casual tour of the facility, their guide cracking wise about the “5 star Trip Advisor” facilities while walking past black-bagged prisoners.
There are moments that feel shockingly prescient as one prisoner protests that they’re a British citizen – a remark thrown back in their face as they’re told that their citizenship has been revoked, a bleak reminder of the UK government’s recent batch of executive decisions. Its frankness about the evils of the system the protagonists work in is striking but the points it makes, and the changes in characters it inspires, feel a little rote.
But this is first and foremost an action movie, so things quickly go sideways as the facility is attacked, and the government agents begin to reap what they’ve sown. The moment when chaos breaks out is expertly done, slowly ratcheting tension in real time as it plays with the sense that something is wrong. It only gets better as the team gets whittled down, and Adkins gets to show off his action chops alone. It's far more exciting hand-to-hand than when embroiled in gunfights.
Regarding the gunfights, the long take can sometimes cut both ways, as it dulls the impact of some of the action, the camera lethargically roaming through gunfights over characters shoulders, limited to the same bag of tricks where sharp edits and insert shots would handily punch things up. The single take premise mostly acts to draw attention to its elaborate choreography which — to be fair — puts a lot of larger budget Hollywood action to shame with its clarity. Overall, it’s exciting enough and compellingly brutal and it doesn’t take long for a character to speak the title of the movie, always a point in its favour.
Monster Hunter - NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership
People have derided Paul WS Anderson’s videogame adaptations in the past because of their “faithfulness” such as with his raucous Resident Evil B-movies, but truth be told, the director’s formal sensibilities contain the right priorities for something like Monster Hunter.
Starring his wife and muse Mila Jovovich opposite martial arts screen legend Tony Jaa, it’s a film of almost pure physicality for much of its runtime, honouring both the straightforwardness of the film’s title and the action prowess of its two leads. Regarding the former, it’s a work of almost spartan efficiency. Its opening set pieces proving something of a mission statement as it immediately culls its fairly expansive cast of characters in a grisly set piece, then moving swiftly and jovially along from there.
Because of the language barrier between the two leads, all that’s left is to build chemistry non-verbally, and both Jovovich and Jaa accomplish this with charm to spare. At the same time Anderson structures the narrative around familiar videogame logic, complete with distinct ‘levels’ with their own climates and complications and ‘final boss’ enemies, even the “make tools out of monster bones” mechanic from its namesake.
Also new on Sky Cinema/NOW: Supernova
Martin Eden - MUBI
Relocating Jack London’s semi-autobiographical 1909 novel of the same name from 20th Century Oakland to early 20th-century Italy, Martin Eden follows the eponymous young individualist proletarian illiterate sailor, an autodidact who seeks fame as a writer while torn between the love of a bourgeois girl and allegiance to his social class.
Embodied in an excellent lead performance from Luca Marinelli (whom you might recognise from The Old Guard), the contradictions of London’s poor American labourer who finds fame through the ruling classes he despises, matches perfectly with director Pietro Marcello’s beguiling visual sensibilities.
His vision of this Italy is full of fascinating anachronisms, his lush 16mm presentation of disquieting opulence clashes with thorny intellectual questions - exploring the tension between art and political action.
Also new on MUBI: Liborio