It’s been a while since I’ve shared some capsule reviews, but October, as promised, has been a stacked month for movies. Today I’m catching up with five direct-to-streaming releases, including a couple picks for Halloween (Disney Channel’s “Under Wraps” remake and Netflix’s slasher “There’s Someone Inside Your House”), the thrillers “The Voyeurs” and “The Guilty,” and the Mélanie Laurent-directed “The Mad Women’s Ball.” I also recently checked on “Diana The Musical,” a filmed version of the upcoming Broadway show of the same name, which might be of interest if you’re prepping for “Spencer” to finally start rolling out in theaters next week- but if you ask me, you’d be best just waiting for that latter movie. You can find my reviews of all those movies below.
“THE VOYEURS” (Amazon Prime Video)
“The Voyeurs” is a throwback to the ridiculous erotic thrillers of the 80s and early 90s, in both the best and worst ways possible. Written and directed by Michael Mohan, the film stars Sydney Sweeney and Justice Smith as Pippa and Thomas, a fresh-faced young couple who have just moved into a new apartment together. On their first night in their new place, they notice that they can see into the window of their neighbors in the building across the way. They become caught up in the relationship between the couple, who they nickname “Brent” (Ben Hardy) and “Margot” (Natasha Lou Bordizzo). Brent is a professional photographer, and Thomas and Pippa see him sleeping with his models while Margot is out during the day. It’s when Pippa attempts to interfere that things start to get way out of hand. The first 45 minutes or so of “The Voyeurs” are pretty much what you’d expect from a story made in the same vein as something like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” or Brian De Palma’s “Body Double.” It doesn’t take long after that for the movie to go off the rails in a spectacularly bizarre fashion, piling on twist after twist and really going for the soap opera drama as these characters circle closer and closer to each other. It certainly isn’t the sort of movie that should be taken seriously, and if you don’t, it’s possible to have a good time with it. And Sweeney’s bold lead performance is good. “The Voyeurs” is the sort of movie that isn’t really made much anymore, even if it mostly reminds the viewer of its far superior inspirations. Sure, the majority of these characters’ problems could be solved if they just closed their blinds, but where’s the fun in that? After a year where we were all mostly stuck inside, the obsession with the world outside our windows is more understandable than ever. Runtime: 121 minutes. Rated R.
Director Mélanie Laurent’s period drama “The Mad Women’s Ball” is freaky, but only vaguely in a supernatural sense. Set in Paris in the late 1800s, the film follows Eugénie (Lou de Laâge), an intelligent young woman from a well-to-do family who claims to see dead people. Her father commits her to an asylum, where it quickly becomes clear that even in this hospital for women, it’s a man’s world. The male doctors take advantage of their patients, sometimes horrendously so, and they make the women working under them complicit. This is most apparent regarding the head nurse, Geneviève (played by a steely Laurent), whose initially stern attitude toward Eugénie softens when she realizes that the woman is not, in fact, hysterical (she might also have a dead sister she wants Eugénie to help her communicate with). “The Mad Women’s Ball” may have been based on a novel by Victoria Mas, but it’s inspired by history— even the ball of the title, a garish soirée where all the patients don costumes and their doctors get to parade them about, was a real event. In this world, any time a woman steps outside the boundaries of convention (in Eugénie’s case, she likes to read, and will venture out to bars on her own to do so), she is deemed mad and locked away. Laurent’s film is rather meandering, and toward the end especially it drops a lot of ideas without giving all of them the thought they deserve. But it’s still a powerful portrayal of the challenges women face when they enter male-dominated spaces; they are humiliated, they are abused, and they are locked away. Laurent’s film gives these so-called mad-women of history a voice. Laâge turns in a strong performance that exhibits fortitude even in her character’s most fragile moments, as does Benjamin Voisin as her caring brother. Runtime: 123 minutes. Not rated.
“THE GUILTY” (Netflix)
I haven’t yet seen the original version of “The Guilty,” a critically-acclaimed 2018 Danish thriller. But I can say that the American remake, directed by Antoine Fuqua from a script by Nic Pizzolatto and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, is sorely lacking. Gyllenhaal plays Joe Baylor, a former LAPD officer relegated to working in a 911 call center while he awaits a hearing about an unspecified incident he was involved in off-duty. Joe is estranged from his wife, who won’t allow him to see or speak to their daughter, and his frustration at his current situation is evident in the surly way he handles his callers. But then he receives a call from a woman named Emily (voiced by Riley Keough) who claims that she has been abducted and is in a van on the freeway, and Joe jumps right back into officer mode as he tries to help her. The film is set entirely within the confines of the call center, quite a departure from the typical large set pieces of Fuqua’s action films, but the director manages to maintain a pretty consistent air of tension. And outside of a couple of bit players who drift in and out of his orbit, Gyllenhaal is the only actor onscreen for the duration of the film. He turns in a great performance that conveys the urgency of the situation when all we can see is him and all we can hear are voices on the other end of the phone line. His initially gruff, verging on uncaring attitude regarding his work naturally shifts over the course of his conversations with Emily, ending with a turbulent emotional breakdown as he tries to save her while also coming to terms with what he did in the past. Often, however, the aspects of the story involving Joe’s hearing feel like an unnecessary interruption to the rest of the proceedings. And a couple of attempts to comment on the current state of policing in America are too rushed through to have much impact. “The Guilty” is worth watching for its heart-breaking finale and Gyllenhaal’s performance, but like a lot of American remakes of foreign films, it doesn’t have a whole lot else to offer. Ethan Hawke Peter Sarsgaard, and Eli Goree are among those voicing characters on the other end of the phone. Runtime: 90 minutes. Rated R.
“UNDER WRAPS” (Disney Plus)
The Disney Channel Original Movie “Under Wraps” is the first to be a remake of another Disney Channel Original Movie, the 1997 spooky season family favorite of the same name (frustratingly, this version is not streaming on Disney Plus for me to be able to point you all in that direction). The original version is, in my humble opinion, an undisputed classic, with a sense of humor and big heart that still holds up today. The remake follows the same story beats, and while it’s more silly than funny, it provides enough tame chills and adventure to entertain a new generation of fans. The story centers around Marshall (Malachi Barton), Gilbert (Christian J. Simon), and Amy (Sophia Hammons), 12-year-olds who, in the days leading up to Halloween, discover a mummy in their neighbor’s basement and bring it to life. They befriend the actually not so menacing creature and call him Harold (Phil Wright), but they need to return him to his resting place before midnight on Halloween or he will no longer exist. Meanwhile, the group is pursued by a batch of criminals who want to capture and sell Harold. “Under Wraps” is a pleasant if forgettable watch to get you into the Halloween spirit, and it does at least have a heart. The relationship between the three friends and Harold is nicely established, with each kid having a distinct personality: Marshall is obsessed with monsters, Gilbert is scared of them, and Amy is infinitely more mature than both of them. And in between all this, Marshall is struggling with the fact that his mom is moving on with a new boyfriend, adding another layer to the reasoning behind him getting so close to Harold. Runtime: 91 minutes. Rated TV-Y7.
“THERE’S SOMEONE INSIDE YOUR HOUSE” (Netflix)
The opening of “There’s Someone Inside Your House” may feel familiar to you, especially if you’re a horror fan. A high school jock enters his house, situated in rural Nebraska. No one else is home, and as he talks to one of his friends on the phone and wanders through all the rooms, he soon becomes aware that there is someone else in the house with him. If you have any sort of familiarity with the genre, you’ll know that this guy isn’t going to make it; his murder by a masked killer is strongly reminiscent of Drew Barrymore in the opening of 1996’s “Scream,” but with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek, contemporary twist. As he begs for his life, the boy tells the killer he can give him his Venmo, send him whatever money he wants. Unfortunately, the meta sense of humor that is present in a movie like “Scream,” nor the confined nature of the story suggested by this opening or the film’s title, aren’t to be found in the rest of “There’s Someone Inside Your House,” which becomes a fairly dull and predictable slasher despite its attempts to do something different. The killer stalks those who have secrets, intent on exposing them to the entire town, and even wearing a mask in the likeness of the person they are about to kill. The protagonist is Makani Young (Sydney Park), who recently moved from Hawaii to small town Nebraska to live with her grandmother and finish high school, but she is no saint; Makani has a dark secret too. Park and the rest of the young cast do a good job, and there are plenty of brutal kills to satisfy slasher fans, but this take on a killer who is driven to murder based on perceived moral failings is too derivative and plodding. It never gets more exciting than its clever opening. Runtime: 96 minutes. Rated TV-MA.