Fresh starring roles for familiar faces are in the new release spotlight this week, and though the vehicles vary — a new entry in a horror franchise and a modest, indie character drama — the results are just as pleasing. We’ve also got a controversial new documentary, a horror drama that you might’ve slept on, and a Hitchcock classic, so let’s get to it.
The Monster : This horror thriller from writer/director Bryan Bertino springs from a Cujo-esque premise: a single mom (Zoe Kazan) and her daughter, stuck during a thunderstorm in a car with a flat tire on a road in the middle of nowhere, end up trapped in their vehicle by the terrifying monster outside. But there’s real tragedy and drama happening here; The Monster falls into the proud tradition of horror movies that know there’s nothing scarier than being a parent (a screaming fight between mother and daughter is more unsettling than any of the movie’s monster effects), and it is casually, off to the side, an intense and harrowing portrait of addiction and self-destruction (witness the deep breaths Kazan takes after taking a big swig from a bottle, and before diving in for another). Little flashbacks to those moments cleverly fill in the blanks, making this much more than a horror movie — but it also does that well, with A-plus scares and merciless tension.
Untouchable : It’s easy to frame child molesters as boogeymen no one knows — that’s why so many of the laws intent to stop them focus on residential proximity. But it’s also dangerous to frame them in those terms; the true danger is social proximity, since the overwhelming majority of child sexual assaults are at the hands of someone they know. Such contradictions are at the heart of David Feige’s thoughtful and powerful documentary, which examines the prejudices at the heart of such easily passed, always bipartisan legislation — the effectiveness of residential proximity laws, the effectiveness of rehabilitation, the rates of recidivism, the roots of the common wisdom regarding recidivism — and arrives at some unexpected conclusions. It’s hard to imagine an issue with higher emotional stakes than this, but Feige’s film is clear-eyed, even-handed, and often overwhelming.
ON 4K / BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Halloween: Few film franchises have proven as malleable as the Halloween movies, which have rebooted, ret-conned, and remade so many times, you have to map the damn things out on one of those string-and-thumbtack bulletin boards. So it’s frankly fine that director David Gordon Green (who co-wrote, with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley) decided to throw the whole damn series away and make a direct follow-up to the 1978 original. (I have stronger words for their titling decisions.) Jamie Lee Curtis crafts a spiky, award-worthy take on Laurie Strode, hardened by her years of trauma and fear into a semi-survivalist, while Judy Greer gets the movie’s best single moment as her daughter. It doesn’t all work — the presumably McBride-influenced comic relief moments are too jarring — but when it does, it really cooks. (Includes deleted/extended scenes and featurettes.)
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
The Old Man and the Gun : This gentle, funny crowd-pleaser with a melancholy streak is reportedly the Robert Redford’s final film, and it’s a showcase for his presence: his voice, his grin, and his eyes, those eyes, eyes that have seen some things. He spends a fair amount of the film playing opposite Sissy Spacek, sipping iced tea on her porch or eating pie at the diner, contemplating dashed dreams and looming mortality. There’s such ease and joy of performance in his scenes with her, and Danny Glover and Tom Waits, old pros who have been on camera for so long, it’s like second nature. It’s a lovely picture, and an appropriate send-off for a true legend. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, and featurette.)
Notorious : This 1946 Alfred Hitchcock classic was an early entry in the Criterion Collection’s DVD library — spine number 137, to be precise — and remains one of their best, a first-rate mix of entertainment and film school (the audio commentaries are particularly informative). It’s finally getting the Blu-ray bump, and it looks terrific, while remaining one of Hitch’s best films of the decade. Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant are hot, bothered, and tormented as, respectively, a spy and her handler, who find themselves in a prickly triangle with the Nazi (Claude Rains) she’s to seduce. As usual, Hitchcock loads the film with crackerjack set pieces, none more memorable than the high-wide party shot that reveals, in one virtuoso camera move, the most important object in the room. (Includes audio commentaries, new interviews, featurettes, newsreel footage, radio adaptation, and trailers.)