Editor’s note: We need your help! Support content like this by becoming a Reader member here.
What’s more fun than a trilogy you assemble yourself? The correct answer is “Hugging a family member without fear that your touch could infect them with a deadly pathogen.” Still, finding three streaming movies that weirdly go together is arguably the second safest way to have a good time right now, after “nap until phase 3 vaccine trials are over.”
Three new sci-fi/horror-adjacent films recently dropped that weirdly explore oddly similar themes about the horrors of immortality/mortality and how empathy is the only way to fight the bogeyman. In the spirit of 2020, let’s start with the sad one!
Relic (Available via most streaming rental services)
Although possessed of less baba and zero dook, Relic does follow in The Babadook’s footsteps. It’s an Aussie horror flick that offers a metaphor as explicit as can be metaphored.
When grandma Edna (Robyn Nevin) goes missing, daughter Kay (Emily Moritmer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) move into her place and look for her. Edna suddenly returns, but she ain’t right. What follows is a grief-laden exploration of dementia as a literal monster and the pressures and perils of what different generations of women “owe” one another.
Writer/director Natalie Erika James and cowriter Christian White somehow timed their film about compassion towards the demons faced by the elderly to a moment in history when we seem to have stopped giving a shit about old people. Too literal to be a parable, Relic uses the horror genre as the social magnifying glass it can be, demanding that we see the shared humanity in those who are suffering around us.
Oh, and if COVID didn’t already have you decontaminating your domicile like a proper lunatic, Relic’s copious mold will get you scrubbin’ bubbles. So it’s good for your emotional growth and your hygiene!
Grade = A-
The Old Guard (Netflix)
A squad of immortal mercenaries are being hunted by big pharma while also adding a new recruit to their team. Is that silly? Yes. Does it feature Charlize Theron whacking bad dudes across the face with a colossal axe-type weapon? Also Yes! Does something real bad happen to the evil pharma boss? My lips are sealed, but Martin Shkreli voodoo dolls can take some time off!
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood and writer Greg Rucka—who also penned the comic this was adapted from—deliver an oddly sentimental, deceptively thoughtful film that remembers people actually like to see and follow the action in an action movie. Weird, right?
Editor Terilyn A. Shropshire and cinematographers Tami Reiker and Barry Ackroyd don’t cower behind shaky-cam or epileptic editing but compose simply impeccable fight sequences. Meanwhile, Prince-Bythewood gives us the first comic book team that actually feels like a family. And all of this is set in a story that emphasizes how caring for others and doing what’s right sets off ripples that are felt for millennia.
Were it not for its wholly inappropriate, incredibly distracting, poorly chosen, Europop-trash soundtrack, it would have been as flawless as Charlize Theron whacking bad dudes across the face with a colossal axe-type weapon!
Grade = B+
Palm Springs (Hulu)
Of all the Groundhog Day riffs, Palm Springs is the first to allow JK Simmons to hunt another man for sport. Finally!
This timey-wimey rom-com sees Andy Samberg as Nyles, a narcissist in need of a haircut, who gets trapped in an infinite time loop after stumbling into a magic-laden cave. When Sarah (Cristin Milioti) gets accidentally sucked in as well, the two repeat the same day together until the inevitable happens: She learns quantum physics, and he learns he’s an asshole.
Writer Andy Siara and director Max Barbakow deliver absolutely nothing new. But they deliver on every cliched expectation with clever and quirky humor. This, while condemning callous, me-first behaviors that don’t consider the implications of personal actions on others. Totally unrelated, but wear a mask out there folks!
Samberg remains charming, even if the “reforming manbaby” trope feels like it’s been stuck in a recycling time loop itself. Milioti is less endearing, although perhaps that’s what happens to the female lead when your rom-com has very few women behind the scenes…
Palm Springs is ultimately a wholly endearing diversion perfectly suited for a year where we all feel like we’re living the same day every goddamn day.
Grade = B+
Other critical voices to consider
Austin Collins at Vanity Fair says Relic exposes the problems with “elevated horror.”
Sherin Nicole at Idobi describes Old Guard as “deeply human and circumspect.”
Adrian Gomez-Weston at The Cinema Soloist points out how Palm Springs tackles the big questions.