In our new film column, Edwanike Harbour makes three streaming picks from acclaimed director Antonio Campos, which are all currently available on Netflix.
If you’re anything like me, there’s been minimally one constant fixture in your life that you never envisioned yourself being without—the movie theater. Whether it’s a mega cineplex that allows one to lounge slack-jawed in front of a 70mm screen or gripping the edge of the seat in a tiny art-house theater, I always knew I could count on the ultimate form of escapism by immersing myself in some celluloid therapy. That is, until 2020 yanked that silver screen joy right out from under us, leaving us stuck at home with everyone else wondering if it is worth spending $30 to stream the live-action Mulan. (Spoiler alert: it isn’t!)
In this new film column, “Lucid Streaming,” I’ll point you to noteworthy films across the various services out there, with an eye toward deeper entries in various directors’ work. I chose to start on that old standby Netflix, with a focus on the consistently rewarding work of Antonio Campos.
Although it takes place in rural Ohio, Campos’ recent The Devil All The Time (2020) may in fact be the definitive Southern Gothic film. Due to the cultural similarities, fans of William Faulkner will be right at home. Stylistically, it is a Altman/Short Cuts-like drama that shows the separate yet intertwining lives of sinners and saints in the town of Knockemstiff. Only, the line between sinner and saint is razor-thin and not always so clear. The devil, however, is clearly busy, as nothing is impervious to his temptation. The film examines a lecherous Midwestern preacher preying on underage girls and a corrupt sheriff working side-by-side with criminals while he’s on the take. It’s not hard to see how the collective American unconscious springs from the well of religious delusions and other magical thinking that clouds an otherwise rational mind. But The Devil All The Time does not preach to the viewer about morality. Rather, it shows humanity at its gory core and highlights its most base, primary motivations. With source author Donald Ray Pollock serving as the film’s narrator, the tale convincingly examines blind religious faith in a country that destructively takes Biblical allegories literally.
Next, there’s a sleeper hit in 2013’s Simon Killer, the brooding character study of a mysterious lothario roaming the streets of Paris. Wunderkind Brady Corbet plays the titular character—a young, handsome, and recent graduate who’s retreated to the city of love after a painful break-up in the States. Between moping around and clumsily flirting with random women on the street, he also checks in with his mother and aggressively sends messages to his ex back to let her know that he has supposedly grown and changed. Eventually, Simon meets a prostitute (Atlantics director Mati Diop) with whom he starts a relationship. Campos directs their encounters with a wild passion and imbues them with a certain Parisian sexuality. As Simon’s once innocent veneer begins to fade during their time together, though, it becomes clear he may be running from more than a break-up back home. Campos further excels at intuitively dialing things back before delivering an unexpected gut punch, as Corbet deftly delivers in his portrayal of Simon like a timid child seething with an unplaceable, implacable rage.
Lastly, there is Campos’ Afterschool (2009), which takes a voyeuristic look at the pernicious underbelly of a wealthy and private boarding school and its residents. Cameras and recording/security devices are so commonplace now that we hardly think twice about them. As this technology was gaining popularity in society in the mid-late 2000s, we hadn’t quite understood the full potential of its misuse, or rather the unhealthy preoccupation many of us now have with glowing handheld screens. Indie darling Ezra Miller plays Robert, a socially maladjusted teenager who is discovering both his love of video editing and other aspects of his budding sexuality. Beneath the beautifully manicured lawns and ivy-covered walls lurks several other dark secrets about the student body at this paean to the one-percent. After Robert witnesses the death of two ubermenscher twin girls at the school, he is tasked with editing a video tribute that will be displayed to the entire student body including the girls’ parents. As the story unfolds, the level of rot and villainy that surrounds Robert at this institution is revealed; but, the film also begins to strip away the layers of Robert’s identity and loyalty as well. By watching these events through the lens of a disturbed teenage boy, it removes the filter of all the pretense surrounding the school while revealing some universally nasty truths.
Check back in with us in January for another edition of Lucid Streaming, and feel welcome to reach out with your suggestions.