Halloween is around the corner, which means the annual scary film dump-a-thon is on. But don’t fear: These frightening treats will do the trick.
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My pick for the scariest movie of the year is Chloe Okuno’s nerve-shredding feature debut about a young woman who swears she’s being watched and stalked by a man in an apartment building across from hers.
The setting is Bucharest, where Julia (Maika Monroe, so good) has moved with her husband, Francis (Karl Glusman), after he gets a promotion. A killer is on the loose, so it makes sense that Julia has her suspicions about the creep she sees standing at a window seemingly observing her, the same guy she thinks followed her around a supermarket. Is she right? Or paranoid?
Boldly feminist and intensely chilling, “Watcher” is a Halloween movie for people who think they don’t like horror but want to give a really scary and (mostly) gore-free horror movie a shot. (Watch it during the day if you’re antsy.) Okuno dishes out the heebie-jeebies with ruthless precision — watching is like being on a roller-coaster incline and seeing the tracks ahead splinter. Be warned: You may never look at grocery bags the same way again.
Laura (Andrea Riseborough) lives with her husband and teenage son on a quiet street in a small town in Northern Ireland. There’s a new family next door: Marie, her husband and their young daughter, Megan, who reminds Laura of her own little girl, who died in a car crash.
When Marie fails to pick Megan up from school one day, Laura gives her a ride home. But on the way, Megan (Niamh Dornan) asks Laura if she remembers a cemetery — a bizarre question, one of many to come, that makes Laura start to wonder if Megan might be her own daughter reincarnated. Laura loses her grip on reality as she obsesses about who or what is possessing Megan, until a final, jolting twist torpedoes reality.
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Stacey Gregg’s feature debut, which she also wrote, is an intimate psychological thriller that relies not on mayhem but on moments so delicately icy, they should be stamped as fragile. A scene at a playground with tiny feet dangling in the air had my nerves on edge — one of many small but shattering moments that make this film an affecting and effective scare. Chloë Thomson’s cinematography is strange and spectral.
Ulysses (Pepe Soriano) is old, and he’s feeling it. He gets lost in the building where he lives with his nagging wife, Dalia (Marilú Marini), and he can’t remember their estranged daughter’s name.
Late one night, their neighbor Elena (Desirée Salgueiro) frantically bangs on their door with pleas for unspecified help. They refuse, terrified that if outsiders see the condition of their home, they’ll be one step closer to eviction. When Elena winds up dead, Ulysses wonders if she might have been a scared, lost ghost in need. The answer — depicted in touching flashbacks and distorted supernatural flourishes — is heartbreaking.
The writer-director Gonzalo Calzada skillfully weaves together dread and sadness in his haunting Spanish-language ghost story that’s as much about forgiveness and regret as it is about the terrors of aging and our fear of death. (He also directed a shorter companion film subtitled “Where the Elephants Go to Die.”) With one finger, he plucks your nerves and with another he tugs at your heartstrings, which makes this a movie for a great scare and a good cry.
‘Spirit Halloween: The Movie’
It’s not in the same league as KFC’s meta-camp holiday romance about Colonel Sanders. But this family-friendly horror comedy, made in collaboration with the Spirit Halloween retail chain, is delightful.
The film starts in the 1940s when a witch (Michelle Civile) curses and kills an evil codger (Christopher Lloyd!) who wants to take over an orphanage. Fast forward to the present, when his spirit has made its way into the hulking animatronic characters at a Halloween store where middle school friends Jake (Donovan Colan), Bo (Jaiden J. Smith) and Carson (Dylan Martin Frankel) have secretly camped for the night. The kids battle a possessed teddy bear and other monsters until dawn, when Bo’s grandmother (Marla Gibbs!) reveals a prophetic secret.
The director David Poag has said that for his feature debut he wanted to explore what was “most terrifying to our 10-year-old minds.” He nailed it, combining a heartfelt message about the tough transition from tween to teen with the us-versus-aliens spirit of “Stranger Things” and the trapped-in-a-store thrills of “The Mist.” Horror-curious kids 8 to 13 will get a kick out of it.
‘Trick or Treat Scooby-Doo!’
This new animated film made news recently for speaking out loud that which discerning Scooby-Doo fans have known since the series’s first episode aired in 1969: Velma likes girls. The young woman who makes the nerdy sleuth’s glasses melt is the evil-chic Coco Diablo, the exacting head of a Halloween costume crime syndicate.
If you’re a longtime queer fan of the Scooby-Doo franchise, or animation at all, this exchange between Velma (played by Kate Micucci) and Daphne (Grey DeLisle) will be lesbian music to your ears:
“Who am I kidding?” Velma asks, her voice desperate with puppy love. “I’m crushing big time, Daphne. What do I do? What do I say?”
“Just be yourself,” Daphne replies.
Beyond its queer significance, Audie Harrison’s film is my pick for young kids, as long as they won’t be too scared by cackling ghouls, and for nostalgic adults who want to introduce their kids to “The Ballroom Blitz.” Put it on with the family while you’re carving pumpkins or gorging on Halloween’s candy windfall. Or invite friends over for cocktails and homemade Scooby snacks and debate what Velma and Coco would wear at their wedding.