For the last few years, Netflix has been steadily pumping out original content – at times releasing some of the most original and engaging shows and films in contemporary media. Luckily, Netflix hasn’t restricted itself, gladly wading into all sorts of genres – which includes horror. Horror is perhaps the most powerful genre around – eschewing easy routes and forcing us to ask questions about the different facets of existence in difficult, painful ways. However, confronting those ideas can also be thrilling, which is what horror understands so well. It confronts any topic – life, the afterlife, love, hate, family, equality, technology etc. – with exhilarating force. Horror is so powerful because it forces you to walk through the darkness of the soul before taking you to the light. All that said, which original Netflix horrors do the best job of carrying out this most sacred of rituals?
Speaking of rituals, the horror genre is replete with a tale of friends who make their way through a forest, only to quickly realize that rather sinister things are happening within. So, why shouldn’t Netflix get to have their crack at the formula? Their attempt is 2017’s ‘The Ritual’, an English horror film about a group of friends who pay tribute to their recently-passed friend by hiking along the King’s Trail path, in Sweden’s Sarek National Park. However, as they move deeper into the forests of the trail, they begin to be plagued by strange occurrences. Runes appear on the trees. Screams are heard at night. The four of them begin to experience hallucinations.
As they attempt to make their way out of the forest and away from their torment, the four hikers find themselves targeted by a mysterious being, with unguessable designs.‘The Ritual’ is a film about being pursued by your own personal demons just as much as supernatural beings. It deals with the idea of being trapped and rendered powerless by your guilt – grief and regret being unknowable terrors as horrifying as any monster could be. Although ‘The Ritual’ is a film made very much in the tradition of ‘lost in the forest’ horror films, the familiarity of the concept doesn’t weaken its impact. The careful direction, startling visuals, and excellent performances help bring the atmosphere of mystery and terror to life wonderfully.
‘Apostle’ is a 2018 Welsh film – an entry to the section of horror featuring small-island communities with wicked goals. The film concerns the efforts of Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevenson) to retrieve his sister from a Welsh island cult, in clear homage to 1973 classic ‘The Wicker Man’. However, ‘The Apostle’ has a few tricks up its sleeves, folding in aspects of other horror genres to breathe new life into the story. As might be expected, Thomas soon comes to suspect that the cult is far from benign – which one might expect, given that it’s a cult.
The film follows Thomas as he attempts to uncover the secrets of the cult, thwart sinister workings on the island, and rescue his sister. It’s a movie concerned with faith, the manipulation of faith, and the absence of faith. Can a lack of faith be used to save those under the influence of a corrupted one? Director Gareth Evans’ particular style – seen most prominently in action film ‘The Raid’ – does a unique service to horror here, rendering scares, tension, and gore in a visceral manner that avoids the overdone schlock of so many violence-based horror films.
Based on the Stephen King novella of the same name, ‘1922’ is a 2017 film featuring Thomas Jane as Wilfred James – a man who makes a drastic decision to protect his future. In ‘1922’, Wilfred James is a farmer who sees his farm as his pride and joy, and will do anything to see it continue to flourish. Eventually, James finds his life on the farm at risk, and commits a life-changing deed to ensure things continue the way he wants.
From there on, James is haunted, literally and figuratively, by the decision he made, and finds himself desperately trying to escape the consequences of his actions. ‘1922’ is a story about being incapable of escaping guilt, and the misdeeds of one’s past. The film’s stunning cinematography captures the lonely expanse of James’ land, contrasted by the claustrophobic atmosphere of guilt that he lives in. Thomas Jane’s contained, intense performance is stellar – bringing a sad, doomed life to his portrayal of a man consumed by his misdeeds.