Wondering what to watch this weekend? The final week of October brings some (very, very) long-awaited original releases as well as compelling rewatches to tie in with the last few days of the witching month.
Leading the pack is Wendell & Wild, out on Netflix, which marks the return of stop-motion animation director Henry Selick – known for Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas – after 13 years.
Meanwhile, Korean director Park Chan-wook has some of his famous Vengeance Trilogy made available for viewing ahead of the streaming release of his new film Decision to Leave, as Sympathy for Mr Vengeance lands on MUBI.
Meanwhile, iPlayer releases a whole host of horror films for the Halloween weekend, including William Friedkin’s iconic film The Exorcist, alongside other must-see staples like Spider-Man director Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (which takes a more serious B movie horror tack compared to the goofy horror comedy of Evil Dead 2 and its follow up Army of Darkness).
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Wendell & Wild (2022) - Netflix (pick of the week)
The first feature film directed by Henry Selick in 13 years – his last being Laika’s standout children’s horror Coraline – Wendell & Wild feels like a match made in heaven (or rather, hell) between the acclaimed stop-motion director and collaborator Jordan Peele, who plays one of the title roles alongside comedy partner Keegan Michael Key.
The film begins in typically dark fashion for Selick, as the protagonist Kat struggles with the untimely death of her parents, the sole survivor of a car accident as the family is sent careening into the river off of a bridge.
After a series of stints in juvenile detention Kat returns to her hometown years later, her family’s former brewery now taken over in a ruthless land grab by the company Klax Korp, along with the rest of the town. Her path intersects with that of the demons Wendell and Wild, who have similar problems with authority as Kat, and leverage that familiarity to force her into a contract to bring them into the land of the living.
If that sounds like a lot of plot, it is, and there’s more - Selick’s film is a little rough around the edges in terms of pacing and how it balances its (very worthy) thematic interests in prison reform and authoritarianism. The craft however, is unimpeachable - not just in the gorgeous design of its puppets and stunning practical effects work but also in Selick’s command of the camera in navigating every spooky set: there’s shades of Sam Raimi in his exciting visual flourishes.
And even a mixed bag from Selick outshines much of contemporary American animation: Wendell & Wild is uneven, but delightful regardless.
Also on Netflix: All Quiet on the Western Front, The Good Nurse
Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (2002) - MUBI
After seeing his lurid filmmaking develop into something more romantic in recent years with the likes of The Handmaiden and the recently released Decision to Leave, it’s easy to forget how ruthless the work of Park Chan-wook can be.
The first of his loosely, thematically connected ‘Vengeance Trilogy’ (including his most famous film, Oldboy), Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a darkly comic tale in which no-one is spared.
It begins with a kidnapping - as Ryu, a deaf man, seeks money for his sister, who requires a kidney transplant. Ryu’s boss, Park, has just laid him off, and in order to afford the transplant, Ryu and his girlfriend develop a plan to kidnap Park’s daughter. Of course, such desperately laid plans quickly go horribly wrong.
Throughout, Park’s intensive framing hypnotises as the film spirals into a cycle of violence defined by unsettling, equal-opportunity cruelty. Somehow an underrated entry in the Korean filmmaker’s body of work, one well worth seeking out.
Also on MUBI: Scanners, Suspiria
The Exorcist (1973) - iPlayer
William Friedkin’s iconic horror film is often accused of not being scary enough, but perhaps, viewing it from an age where horror film production has become shinier and more visceral through the progress of special effects, it now houses terror of a different kind.
Instead The Exorcist is a sad, haunting film, full of despair from different angles - from Father Damien Karras's wavering faith, to Father Karras's struggle to maintain a sense of control and fear that nothing can be done about evil.
The taunting demon that possesses the poor 12-year-old girl Regan MacNeil is salt in the wound for many of its characters, through which Friedkin cross-examines Catholicism.
All of that, and it’s also still pretty scary.
Also on iPlayer: Halloween (2019), The Evil Dead, The Babadook