Join us weekly as Rotten Tomatoes reports on what’s indie features are streaming. From promising releases by new voices to experimental efforts from storied filmmakers – or perhaps the next indie darling to go the distance for end-of-year accolades – we will break it all down for you here each week.
This week in our Indie Fresh List, we have a high school horror-comedy, an apocalyptic dark comedy, and a heartfelt documentary from a filmmaker about her father’s dementia. In our Spotlight Section, we bring back a found-footage horror film from Shudder with a new interview with its director, Rob Savage. In our indie trailer section, we have new trailers from films featuring Riz Ahmed, Steven Yeun, Stanley Tucci, and Colin Firth.
Featuring two of the most compelling young actors working in Hollywood today, Charlie Plummer and Katherine Langford, Spontaneous is a bloody horror-comedy that charges anyone watching to “cease the day.” Mara and Dylan are two unassuming high school seniors who are left dumbstruck when their fellow classmates start to spontaneously explode. Faced with their impending demise, the pair begin to question what they want in life and who they want to be with in their last moments. Terry Mesnard of Gayly Dreadful calls Spontaneous “a teenage romance that tries to find meaning and love in strange and unusual times where violence can explode in a moment’s notice.”
Save Yourselves! (2020)
In an effort to unplug and be present, a phone-obsessed millennial hipster couple head off to a remote getaway in the woods moments before an alien invasion. Completely cut off from the world, the pair bumble along as if nothing has happened until they hilariously discover they have secluded themselves at the start of the apocalypse. Another impressive debut from the Sundance Film Festival, Save Yourselves! is a darkly comedic take on the end of the world that Staci Layne Wilson from We Live Entertainment calls “a throwback to an Atomic Age sci-fi cautionary tale, but with a thoroughly modern Millennial twist and a zany dose of droll comedy.”
Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020)
Kirsten Johnson, best known for her docu-memoir Cameraperson, which centers on her long career as a cinematographer, channels the grief and pain of her father’s dementia diagnosis into a hilarious and tear-jerking docu-drama. In Dick Johnson is Dead, Johnson dramatically stages her father’s death in multiple outlandish scenarios while eulogizing the man and his final fight to remember who he is and those he loves. Stills Fresh at 100% following its Sundance debut, the film is what Dan Kois of Slate called “a testament to the power of talking forthrightly about death with those you love. It shows how death may never lose its power, exactly, but you can make yourselves partners in the process, not victims of it.”
Streaming October 2nd on Netflix.
As if the current state of things wasn’t terrifying enough, Shudder films and director Rob Savage recently released a new quarantine horror tale that is as innovative as it is terrifying. Filmed remotely via zoom, the film follows a group of spirit chasers who perform a seance that inadvertently unleashes an unspeakable evil upon them. Using straight-to-camera shots of the actors as they are terrorized by demonic forces, Savage stitches classic horror elements and internet creepy-pasta with practical effects to create a new flavor of suspense. “One of the most uniquely ambitious horror movies to come along this year, and it serves as an excellent reminder of the power of great genre storytelling,” according to Heather Wixson of Daily Dead. Rotten Tomatoes recently sat down with Savage and asked him about his quarantine inspiration and how he worked with the actors to heighten the scares.
Jacqueline Coley for Rotten Tomatoes: Did the pandemic wholly inspire the piece or did you adjust a previous idea?
Rob Savage: Making a truly scary haunted house movie has always been on my bucket list, but beyond that, I had no basis for Host. At the start of lockdown, everyone was sarcastically talking about the possibility of a movie shot entirely on Zoom — we were all expecting it, and nobody was looking forward to it. All of my closest friends work in the film industry, and we were already hanging out over Zoom almost every day. We just felt like, “Why not us?” When I had the idea of making a Zoom-based feature, the first person I called was Jed Shepherd, who I’ve worked with on a number of shorts. We threw some ideas around, but didn’t land on anything concrete. When I woke up the next morning, I had a text from Jed. Two words: “Zoom Seance.” It really was as simple as that.
What was it like setting up the effects with the actors?
The very first stunt we filmed, which involves someone crashing down from the ceiling and splatting on the floor, was particularly tough. Not for me — I was sitting at home in my dressing gown — but for our stunt co-ordinator Nathaniel, who was performing the gag. He was suspended by a rope, having to hold a plank position for up to three minutes while a scene played out beneath him. Then, he would be released and would free-fall until, at the last moment, a mechanism would kick in to soften his landing. The very last take, the one that we used in the film, we dropped poor Nathaniel but the mechanism didn’t kick in. He slammed to the floor like a sack of potatoes, thankfully didn’t die, and absolutely made the shot.
What is the biggest challenge or unforeseen benefit of directing via Zoom?
Initially, I was very nervous about the process of filming remotely, but ultimately it felt very similar to working on a normal set. As a director, you have to learn to be concise and clear with your direction, and while the energy was different because we were in separate locations, it was a really exciting and creative process. The main perk was when I had the realization that, by filming remotely, anyone with an internet connection could be part of our movie. With everyone on furlough, we were able to rope in some amazing collaborators to help elevate this film beyond what could have been achieved under normal conditions.
As a “Shudder obsessive,” talk about getting them involved?
When we started pitching the film to companies, we received a huge amount of interest — this was peak lockdown, and it really felt like we might be locked down for the rest of the year. We had offers from several places, but Shudder immediately felt like the right fit. Not only did I love the work they’d been doing prior to Host, but they allowed us to stream direct to our intended audience: horror fans. We’re huge horror fans, and the question we would ask ourselves throughout the process was always “What’s the film I would want to watch during all this madness?”
What is on your Indie Fresh List, or what are you watching in general?
The last film I watched was The Painted Bird, which astonished and traumatized me. I also caught up with Mark Jenkin’s Bait, which was totally singular.
Besides your film, what is the perfect quarantine horror viewing?
My ultimate comfort film is Evil Dead 2. If I were forced to stay inside forever and only watch one movie on repeat, it would be that!
Host is available to stream now on Shudder.
Steven Yeun stars as the father of an immigrant family who relocates to Arkansas in hopes of a better life.
Riz Ahmed stars as a drummer who struggles to find purpose after he suddenly loses his hearing.
Thumbnail image by ©Bleecker Street Media