Swallow it down (what a jagged little pill)

In which I take a break from the horror with some horror.

How’s everyone doing? I’m just going to go ahead and assume you, too, feel a sense of dread and anxiety best articulated by the GIF of Dorinda Medley saying “not well, bitch,” because it’s simply more comforting to imagine that we’re all spiraling together. (Don’t panic! I don’t want anyone to panic. I don’t think panic is helpful. Preparedness, though, is fantastic. Can’t recommend it highly enough! I feel like I’m getting off-track.)

I’ve been watching a lot of horror films, because that’s when I do when the world is terrifying. And also when it’s not, but it does feel more soothing when I’m especially freaked out. Horror has always been a tremendously effective outlet for our anxieties — there’s a reason so many people are tuning into on-the-nose choices like Contagion and Outbreak right now. Me, I prefer slightly more escapist entertainment, with the knowledge that the scary shit onscreen, whether or not it has anything directly to do with my current fears of infection and societal collapse, does offer some kind of catharsis. Maybe it can help you, too.

Here are a handful of horror films I watched recently and either really dug or mostly liked. If I had to provide a unifying theme, I’d probably default to my best Saoirse Ronan as Jo March voice and say, “women.” (Also: one-word titles? Call it a trend.)

Bliss

Dezzy (Dora Madison) is an artist in search of creative inspiration when she gets fucked-up on a hallucinogenic drug that has her craving human blood. A trippy, chaotic, relentlessly bloody mess, Bliss has a music video aesthetic that I’d normally find grating but that works exceptionally well here. It helps that Madison is so good as Dezzy, making the character feel real whether she’s being a strung-out asshole or chewing someone’s fingers off. The practical effects are great, ensuring that the carnage is equally grounded. I’m not exactly a gorehound, but I’ve talked a lot about how artful gore can elevate a horror film — this is a great example of that.

Stream it on Shudder.

Sweetheart

Jenn (Kiersey Clemons) finds herself stranded on a desert island and thinks she’s alone until she has a run-in with a humanoid sea monster. This is another movie where the lead performance is the primary reason it works as well as it does: With all due respect to the legitimately great creature effects, Clemons is the real star here. If Sweetheart falters, it’s in the third act, which (vague spoiler alert) brings in the added element of shitty men and gaslighting. And while I am all about exploring that terrain — particularly in horror — it feels weirdly tacked-on here. Still worth watching for Clemons, that monster, and a couple instantly iconic shots.

Stream it on Netflix.

Harpoon

Jonah (Munro Chambers), his best friend, Richard (Christopher Gray), and Richard’s girlfriend, Sasha (Emily Tyra), are trapped on a boat together. That’s about it, plot-wise, but this thing takes some serious turns. You can probably tell pretty early on that it’s going to be another exploration of toxic masculinity and male entitlement, and it is absolutely that, but I still never really knew what was going to happen next. My major issue with Harpoon is in its sneering, tongue-in-cheek tone — like, I get it, and it’s fun for a while, but by the end I just wished it had been dialed back a bit. I also could have done without the Brett Gelman narration. Still, it’s a nasty little dark comedy with some solid performances. You could do a lot worse!

Rent it on Amazon.

Swallow

Hunter (Haley Bennett), neglected and unappreciated by her empty shell of a husband (Austin Stowell), develops an unusual desire to consume inanimate objects. It’s funny, I didn’t really intend for these films to be thematically linked — they’re just the last four horror films I watched, presented in order. And yes, I realized they were all about women, to some extent, but I think they’d actually make for a pretty compelling marathon. As with the vampirism in Bliss and the sea monster in Sweetheart, Haley’s pica is a metaphor, baby. And a fairly obvious one at that, but god, Bennett is so, so good, and the film as a whole is really stunning. Like, unbelievably beautiful, given that it involves a woman eating and shitting out sharp objects. Weird and haunting and oddly cathartic. Don’t miss it.

Rent it on Amazon.

Photo via IFC Films.