Join us weekly as Rotten Tomatoes reports on what’s indie features are streaming. From promising releases by new voices to experimental efforts from storied filmmakers – or perhaps the next indie darling to go the distance for end-of-year accolades – we will break it all down for you here each week.
This week in our Indie Fresh List, we have a 70’s crime thriller, a drunken dark comedy, a mindbending relationship thriller, and a heartwarming documentary about kids writing to Santa. In our Spotlight section, we bring back Kindred along with a new interview with the film’s director, Joe Marcantonio. In our Indie Trailers section, we have new clips featuring The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby, Shia Labeouf, and Jason Segel.
I'm Your Woman (2020)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Rachel Brosnahan stars in and produces the new ’70s crime thriller I’m Your Woman. Co-writer and director Julia Hart (Fast Color) is at the helm of this tale about a young woman married to a gangster who is then forced to grab her baby and head out on the run when he double-crosses the wrong people. This opening night selection from the 2020 Ameican Film Institute Film Festival is a gorgeous and stylish throwback to thrillers like The French Connection and Klute, and Brosnahan is brilliant in it. “The full gangster’s moll experience… but it drastically reorients this traditionally male genre to a female experience, and the result is something illuminating about the genre itself.” writes Katie Walsh of The Tribune News Service.
Available now in select theaters and on VOD.
Black Bear (2020)
Aubrey Plaza takes the lead in another indie stunner with Black Bear, in which she plays Allison, a woman who journeys to a remote lake house to visit friends who have inherited a family retreat and escaped their life in the city. Battling writer’s block, Allison uses her time there to manipulate the troubled couple and conjure up the inspiration for her next semi-autobiographical work. Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon join Plaza with riveting performances in the mind-bending thriller; Matt Oakes of Silver Screen Riot writes, “With such fantastic performances and a bold commitment to defiant storytelling, it’s impossible to ignore the twisty, reckless ambition on display here.”
Available now in select theaters and on VOD.
Another Round (Druk) (2020)
A 2020 selection from both the Toronto International and Cannes Film Festivals, as well as Denmark’s newly announced entry for the 2021 Academy Awards, Another Round is a dark comedy that will leave you smiling drunkenly through tears. Mads Mikkelsen turns in a hilarious and tragic performance in what Lewis Knight of the Daily Mirror calls “a riotous and thoughtful study of alcohol consumption that balances comedy and character study, anchored by a versatile lead performance from a top-form Mads Mikkelsen.”
Playing select theaters on December 4th and available on VOD December 18th.
Dear Santa (2020)
For over 100 years the Operation Santa Claus program of the United States Postal Service has sorted hundreds of thousands of letters to Old Saint Nick. Dear Santa, a perfect tearjerker doc to get you in the holiday spirit, pulls back the curtain on the long-running program to give voice to the countless government employees who literally help make dreams come true and spotlight the grateful children who get to keep believing in miracles. Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter writes, “Dear Santa delivers a desperately needed dose of holiday cheer during these troubled times that will leave even the most Grinch-like of viewers bathed in their own tears.”
Available now in select theaters and on VOD.
Rosemary’s Baby and 1944’s Gaslight combine in this new horror tale from first-time director Joe Marcantonio featuring stellar performances from newcomer Tamara Lawrance and Killing Eve‘s Fiona Shaw. A young pregnant woman plagued by disturbing hallucinations begins to suspect the family caring for her has nefarious intentions for her unborn child. “With impressive, nuanced performances all round, this is a film that grips throughout despite its slow pace. You may decide early on that you know where it’s going, but the ending still makes an impact,” writes Jennie Kermode in Eye for Film. We recently chatted with Marcantonio about the film, the horrors of parenting, and what is on his Indie Fresh List.
Jacqueline Coley for Rotten Tomatoes: Is it better to do horror right now? It seems like horror as a genre might be a bit pandemic proof.
Joe Marcantonio: Kindred is a film that skirts many genres — there are funny bits, scary bits, thrilling bits, elements of suspense — but it isn’t a horror film in a traditional sense. There are no jump scares, maniacs, or monsters. I was inspired by the films of Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho, and the way that South Korean cinema manages to mix genres in really interesting and unique ways. Just look at how hard it is to categorize a film like Parasite.
Having said that, it’s clear that times of uncertainly or national trauma always seem to serve as a catalyst for interesting horror films. The Great Depression spawned Frankenstein and The Mummy in the ’30s, about the fear of the unknown. McCarthyism spawned Invasion of the Body Snatchers, about the potential infiltration of an insidious force. The Vietnam War spawned Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Exorcist, all about the breakdown of traditional family values. The War on Terror spawned the term “torture porn,” when there was so much talk about torture and whether it is ever justifiable. And recently the “Fake News” era seems to have produced recent films like His House and Saint Maud that have escapist fantasy elements yet deal with truth and lies. I guess Kindred potentially falls into the same camp. Watching scary films that reflect the society in some way enables people to experience their fears in a safe space, to feel scared or terrified yet retain some control. It acts as a catharsis at times of uncertainty.
Many have made the obvious Rosemary’s Baby comparisons, but what is it about motherhood and horror? Why can it twist into something terrifying so easily?
I remember how helpless I felt when I was first left at home in charge of my son, and how freaked out I was to be responsible for keeping such a vulnerable creature alive. We’d had a home birth, and when the midwife left and my wife was resting, I stood in the kitchen, holding him, not knowing what to do. The level of vulnerability and uncertainty was overwhelming, and if you add the anxiety and terror involved, it is very fertile ground for horror.
To be totally honest, the truth is that a lot of the characters in the film are reflecting my own experiences as a parent. There is a monologue that Margaret gives about her regrets as a parent, and there is an uncomfortable amount of truth in there about my feelings and mental health concerns in the wake of my daughter’s birth. It’s slightly traumatic for me to watch as, it feels very exposing and raw, but it’s probably my favorite scene in the film.
Talk about casting Tamara. So much of the film falls on her reaction, and was it always intended to have a Black female lead?
The script Jason and I wrote was always non-specific about race, simply because we were open to all possibilities. In the end, we cast Tamara because she was the best actress we saw, not because she was the best Black actress we saw. Maybe I was being naive to what some people’s reactions to that choice would be, but I’m very glad we picked her. She’s really terrific, a superb actor and a wonderful person. Race is such a prevalent talking point in the USA at the moment (and it’s an issue in the UK too), so I totally understand people reading a lot into that decision, but the film was always intended as one about the British class system and inherited wealth, rather than one about race. Margaret would hate anyone who tried to take her son away, whatever they looked like or race they were. Because of the decision to cast Tamara in the role, we’ve had a lot of comparisons to Get Out, and seem to have caught the ire of some reviewers who think that we were jumping on some kind of bandwagon, or attempting to copy that film in some way, but that was never the case. We do feature an old-fashioned teacup in Kindred, as they do in Get Out, but that’s only because the film is set in the UK and we drink a lot of tea! Margaret wouldn’t be caught dead drinking from a mug; it’s far too common.
The house is a big part of the drama of the film. How did you find the perfect location?
For a variety of reasons, we decided to shoot the film in Ireland, and their political history means that there were a lot of manor houses built by the English “landowners” that were initially installed by Oliver Cromwell and his cronies. But after Irish independence, a lot of the large houses were burned down or fell into disrepair. In England, a grand house like that would have a car park and a cafe, and they’d charge you a small fortune to walk around and look at the paintings. But their outlook on these things is different in Ireland, so we had a few good locations as options.
The house was always intended to be a character in the film, and I had a clear image in my mind about the kind of place we had to find. We found a few okay options, but kept hearing whispers about a place called “Stradbally.” A few people even suggested we shouldn’t go and look at it because of the associated cost problems; it is so far from Dublin you need to put crew up in hotels. But we drove out to visit, and as soon as we saw Stradbally Hall, I apologized to my producer because I knew this was the place and his job was going to get a lot harder. An upside to its remoteness is that not a lot of other people have shot there — I think the only shoot was a couple of scenes in the Lassie movie back in 2005. The guy who owns the house is called Thomas — coincidently, that is the same name as Jack’s character in the film. It felt like a sign.
The place looks haunted on its face. Did you feel that in real life?
It’s definitely a slightly spooky place. Most of the strange paintings and taxidermy in the film were actually situated around the house; boxing hedgehogs, foxes, ferrets — it was all quite odd. The owners are a friendly family with young kids, and they live in a small, modernized part of the house, but one member of the family still lives in that larger part of the house, and every now and then he’d unexpectedly walk past in his dressing gown and give you a bit of a fright.
What is on your Indie Fresh List — what independent films are you watching, or what are you watching in general?
I really enjoyed His House and Saint Maud — they are both genre films, and they feel very considered and cinematic in their approach. They avoid the “kitchen sink drama” feel that a lot of independent British films fall into. Parasite and Uncut Gems are my favorite films of the last year or so, and I just rewatched both series of Succession, which is so well written it makes me queasy.
Kindred is available now in select theaters and on VOD.
A fictional re-telling of a famous night in history when Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Muhammad Ali, and Jim Brown met up after Ali was crowned the Heavyweight Champion of the world in 1964.
Thumbnail image by ©Momentum Pictures