Blumhouse Productions is mainly known for producing small budget horror hits like the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, “Insidious” and “Sinister.” Founded in 2000 by Jason Blum, the company now has 20 years of experience under its belt and shows no signs of slowing down – but it has pivoted a bit.
Within the last half decade, Blumhouse has broadened its scope to include the kind of film capable of earning a Best Picture nomination, from horror thrillers like”Get Out” to dramas like “Whiplash” and “BlacKkKlansman.” The transition has solidified Blumhouse as a prominent film studio with some weight to throw around, using the funds generated by the mass-produced horror flicks to bankroll the more prestigious projects.
With that success comes the opportunity to explore new ideas and forge new paths in the horror landscape that the studio has been able to dominate over the past decade. One way of doing that is to showcase talented, up-and-coming filmmakers who have big ideas but no platform, and in the era of coronavirus and closed theaters, Blumhouse has innovated once again.
The studio curated a list of four films from a group of eclectic and overlooked artists, and the result is “Welcome to the Blumhouse,” four straight-to-Amazon movies capable of providing suspense, mystery, and a little bit of horror.
Blumhouse is obviously known for its horror films, and with these movies coming in prime “spooky” time, it’d be easy to assume these would fit the company MO. Well, check your spooky expectations at the door. The two films I’m covering today are not necessarily “horror” films, but they both toe the line of horror, with one leaning a bit darker than the other.
“Evil Eye” Review
First up is Elan Dassani and Rajeev Dassani’s “Evil Eye.” The film is about a superstitious mother convinced that her daughter’s new boyfriend is the sinister reincarnation of a man who tried to kill her 30 years ago. Sounds Blumhouse enough, right?
That logline may appear to be the horror-thriller we would expect, but it’s not. The story takes from two points of view – the mother, Usha (Sarita Choudhury), who lives in Delhi, India, and her daughter, Pallavi (Sunita Mani), who is living in New Orleans. Usha is always trying to arrange a relationship for Pallavi, interrogating her daughter about her love life in hopes she’ll settle down with a nice Indian man and start a family. Pallavi doesn’t want anything to do with “the old ways” and is instead set on finding love on her own.
Originally written as an audio drama by Madhuri Shekar, this is obviously a very personal and specific story weaving in elements of Indian religions, customs and folklore. There is a supernatural element dealing with the reincarnation, but it’s pretty unfocused and plays second fiddle to the domestic and familial aspects of the story.
It’s very encouraging to see the freedom these artists were given to make a film with their unique voice, but unfortunately, the execution is abysmal. The small budget is felt in every frame. Starting with the direction and going all the way down to the acting and locations, it all feels very “student film.” The line readings from the actors are wooden and uncharismatic, and the directors did nothing to add to the story in any visual sense. The script is the biggest disappointment, though, considering the entire film leads up to a confrontation that literally only lasts 45 seconds.
There’s nothing here that sets this film apart from any other Lifetime movie of the week. Avoid this one.
“Evil Eye” is available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video beginning Tuesday, October 13.
But fear not! There are two films being released.
The second film is “Nocturne,” the story of Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) and Vivian (Madison Iseman), twin sisters who are incredibly gifted at playing the piano. They attend a prestigious arts high school for classical musicians and while Vivian enjoys the accolades of being the best in school and a future at Juilliard, Juliet is feeling the effects of living in her sister’s shadow.
Juliet is tired of being overlooked, as she works equally as hard as her sister but isn’t given the same opportunities. The recent tragic death of a fellow student, Moria, weighs heavily on everyone at the school. While some mourn the loss, her mysterious death also means that the most coveted concerto piece is available once again – and everyone wants it. Juliet uncovers Moria’s notebook and begins to feel a sinister presence encroaching on her life.
This is when the film really finds its footing and begins to channel that signature Blumhouse horror vibe. It plays with the audience in inventive ways and raises a number of questions. Is Juliet literally making a deal with the devil to become a better piano player, or is it just the stress and pressure finally catching up to her? Sweeney’s portrayal of this torn character is pretty impressive – think Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” by way of Natalie Dormer in “Game ofThrones.” There is a cunning deceptiveness underneath the fragile artist.
The story explores some dark areas while Juliet gets deeper and deeper into her obsession. Zu Quirke shows great prowess as a director on her first feature, delivering some stunning images that are equally beautiful and horrific. The use of light in a few key scenes really sets the mood and elevates the horror. Quirke also wrote the script, again lending to Blumhouse’s decision to let the artists take control of their work.
“Nocturne” is absolutely the best of the two films and a solid horror/thriller. At a scant 90 minutes, it will make a great addition to your spooky season film list.
“Nocturne” is available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video beginning Tuesday, October 13.
For better or worse, the voices of the artists who made these films are clearly heard. Regardless of quality, Blumhouse’s decision to utilize these anthology-type stories to help underrepresented and minority voices be heard is commendable. With four more films in the same vein set for 2021, I can’t wait for more.
Film critic and member of the North Carolina Film Critic Association.