100 minutes / available on HBO and HBO Go / 4 stars
Film-maker Miranda July specialises in tragicomic stories about the mortifying things that happen when people try to connect.
Her latest feature, released last year (2020), centres on the Dynes, a family of grifters and thieves. As fraudsters go, they are terrible. Father Robert (Richard Jenkins), mother Theresa (Debra Winger) and daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) are barely getting by.
A chance meeting with a stranger, Melanie (Gina Rodriquez), might change their fortunes while upsetting the emotional status quo of the family.
This might be July's most directly comedic and accessible work - there are no trademark surrealist touches, such as talking cats. It is boosted by a great performance from Jenkins as the blustery patriarch who fancies himself a master manipulator.
The Night House (NC16)
107 minutes / now showing / 4 stars
In this work of psychological horror, Beth (Rebecca Hall) is left alone following the sudden death of her architect husband Owen. The beautiful, isolated lakeside home he designed is her retreat as well as a ghastly reminder of his passing.
When her dreams are interrupted by terrifying visions, secrets hidden all around the house are revealed.
This story blends familiar horror elements, such as the gaslighted wife of the 1938 novel Rebecca (which has been given several film treatments), with a minimalist approach that relies on extracting fear from the unseen and the unknowable - the shadows on the other side of the lake, the void that lies within a grief-stricken soul.
The less-is-more approach taken by director David Bruckner (the 2017 supernatural horror work The Ritual, available on Netflix) relies on Hall's ability to fill in the blanks with her performance, often wordlessly as Beth is alone for a great deal of the film.
The actress makes Beth, a woman forced to shed her innocence when faced with sinister forces, a compelling, relatable presence.
The Medium (M18)
131 minutes / now showing / 4 stars
This supernatural horror work is directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun, who had a hand in helming horror hits Shutter (2004) and 4bia (2008) and the comedy-tinged Pee Mak (2013). Its co-writer and co-producer is South Korean film-maker Na Hong-jin, best known for directing the acclaimed crime thriller The Chaser (2008).
Na's Korean screenplay, which had a Korean setting and characters, became Thai after he decided to go into production with Banjong.
The result of the cross-cultural pollination is this creepily atmospheric story rooted in the animistic traditions of the Isan people of Thailand's north-eastern region.
The film is set up as a documentary, a study of Nim (Sawanee Utoomma), an Isan shaman. She learns that her niece Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech) is showing bizarre behaviour, which at first is taken to mean that the younger woman has the makings of a shaman.
This movie commits fully to its premise. From the first act, viewers are plunged into a world of angry gods and angrier demons, living in a region rippling with primal energy emanating from caves, forests and abandoned buildings.