by Anthony Harrison
Netflix holds immeasurable wealth for cinephiles. Those willing to plumb its depths find themselves richly rewarded by unknown films.
I like horror movies of nearly any caliber or quality, but Absentia is really special.
Shot on a $70,000 budget raised via Kickstarter, Absentia continues the tradition of crafting effective horror and suspense on shoestring funds. The film benefits from artful camerawork, economic editing, a minimally moody score and dynamic, natural performances. The relationship between the two sisters (Katie Parker and Courtney Bell) is especially sympathetic.
But the real drive of Absentia relies on the fresh spin on old fears and folklore: abduction, guilt and the troll under the bridge.
2. Troll Hunter
Speaking of trolls, Norway’s Troll Hunter also offers an original look at an ancient legend.
While you can easily lump it into the found-footage horror genre, Troll Hunter defies simple classification. It’s horror, sure, but it’s also fantasy, action-adventure and comedy.
A trio of college documentarians track down a suspected bear poacher named Hans (Otto Jespersen), soon discovering he’s a government employee tasked with hunting and eliminating renegade trolls. Alongside the genuine performances, the movie creates a captivating mythos and universe for Scandinavian trolls and fresh ways of looking at monster movies.
For a reactionary, director John Milius was quite the revolutionary.
Red Dawn and Conan the Barbarian, which he wrote and directed, were enormous hits and maintain cult status. But he also helped pen other classics. Jaws, Dirty Harry and Apocalypse Now — which garnered him an Academy Award nomination — all bear his stamp in some way, whether he’s credited or not.
The outcast of New Hollywood receives just desserts in this captivating documentary mythologizing a complex figure, his rise and fall, and his contributions, featuring interviews from Milius and friends like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
Not bad company for an outcast.
4. The Rabbi’s Cat
If you give a cat a parrot, it’ll learn to speak French, apparently.
French comic book artist Joann Sfar took his graphic novel about a talking cat to the big screen with startling effect. The cat lives in Algiers with his rabbi master and his daughter. In the episodic plot, the cat engages in philosophical conversations on spirituality, reads Stendahl, translates Russian, helps discover a lost world of Ethiopian Jews and pines for his beautiful mistress.
Above all, The Rabbi’s Cat features a truly unique aesthetic — cartoonish yet vivid and realistic in its portrayal of both animals and people.
5. The Good, the Bad, the Weird
South Korea’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird cribs plenty from Sergio Leone’s monumental western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. While alluding to Leone and Western tropes, The Good, the Bad, the Weird remains its own stylish epic.
The three titular bandits (portrayed by Jung Woo-Sung, Lee Byung-hun and Song Kang-ho) race across 1930s Manchuria — oddly reminiscent of the American West — in search of hidden treasure. Jung recalls Eastwood’s stoic cool as the Good, Lee is charmingly psychotic as the Bad and Song turns in an inspired comic performance as the Weird.
A sparkling script and memorable characters make this Oriental western a surefire classic.