We’re covering the last two weeks since I had a brief break last week. It’s a really strong moment for new series by women covering several different platforms – but with a trio premiering on Showtime. Let’s get straight in since there’s a lot. New shows come from France, the UK, and the U.S., while new movies come from France, Germany, and the U.S.
Shining Girls (Apple TV+) showrunner Silka Luisa
Elisabeth Moss stars as a woman who’s shifted between realities since an attack years before. She learns about a murder that’s linked to that assault, and partners with a reporter to investigate it.
Showrunner Silka Luisa also wrote and produced on “Strange Angel”.
The First Lady (Showtime) directed by Susanne Bier
Viola Davis stars as Michelle Obama, Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford, and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt in a series that leaps between time frames to reveal the influence of three former First Ladies. The series also stars Dakota Fanning, O-T Fagbenle, Aaron Eckhart, Kiefer Sutherland, Ellen Burstyn, Jackie Earle Haley, and Kate Mulgrew, just to name a few.
Director Susanne Bier won an Oscar for Best International Film (at the time Best Foreign Language Film) in 2011, for the Danish “Haevnen”.
The Man Who Fell to Earth (Showtime) co-showrunner Jenny Lumet
Based on the 1963 novel, “The Man Who Fell to Earth” follows an alien with a mission to become human and seek out someone who can save his species. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Naomie Harris, Bill Nighy, and Kate Mulgrew star. Ejiofor stars as the alien Faraday, but the series may also serve as something of a sequel to the 1976 film starring David Bowie: Nighy plays the alien that Bowie once did.
Jenny Lumet showruns with Alex Kurtzman. Lumet has written and produced on “Star Trek: Discovery”, “Star Trek: Picard”, and “Clarice”.
A student grudgingly joins her high school track team. It’s not all bad, though. She’s had a crush on one of her teammates for a long time…though training draws her closer to another.
The cast here is remarkably strong, with “Girl Meets World” and “Snowpiercer” actress Rowan Blanchard, Auli’i Cravalho (the voice of Moana), and Isabella Ferreira, who stole scenes as the lead’s cynical younger sister in “Love, Victor”.
“Crush” director Sammi Cohen is a longtime College Humor director and editor.
An Amish man goes to Berlin to discover his roots and face a choice about what kind of life he wants to lead moving forward. Can’t find a translated trailer on this one, but the film itself has a subtitled option.
The German comedy is directed by Mira Thiel, whose career has bridged fiction series and documentaries.
A couple detox from all things digital in a remote town, but things quickly devolve into chaos.
This is the first film Debra Neil-Fisher directs, but you’ve almost surely seen her work before. A sought-after comedy editor, she edited the first two “Austin Powers” movies, all three “The Hangover” films, the 2020 “Sonic the Hedgehog”, and “Coming 2 America”.
Last week’s entry in this feature was postponed due to the Black Lives Matter protests. They’re still ongoing, so I don’t want this to distract from them. Please support them, follow them, and pay attention to them.
Some of these films do tackle other fights that intersect with BLM and these protests. The first entry concerns the actions of Border Patrol and ICE, which are policing agencies that have similarly broken the law. They’re operating concentration camps and in one case, are actively using industrial detergent to gas detainees into worsening health and lethal consequences.
How to go from that to talking about a film about a dog is difficult, but platforming the work of women is something that is still an ongoing project. I don’t want to lose sight of any of this, which can be difficult when things are so overwhelming. It’s important to still be pursuing and building support for all of these fights.
The Infiltrators (digital rental) co-directed by Cristina Ibarra
Cristina Ibarra is a documentary filmmaker whose work has been featured on PBS’s venerable “P.O.V.” Her co-director here is Alex Rivera, who has focused on narrative filmmaking. The result in “The Infiltrators” looks like a unique blend of each, dramatizing events while simultaneously contextualizing them with real footage in a documentarian framework.
Here, undocumented youth get themselves detained by Border Patrol so they can help other detainees who are already imprisoned reach out for help and legal aid.
As I said in my intro, that this comes out in the wake of news that ICE is essentially gassing detainees en masse using industrial disinfectant only makes it more pressing. Immigration detention centers now amount to extermination camps; let’s not pretend anything else.
Born in Evin (digital rental) directed by Maryam Zaree
“Born in Evin” refers to the literal birthplace of director Maryam Zaree. Evin is an Iranian political prison. Zaree’s parents were imprisoned there for opposing the theocratic regime that took over after the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
(It’s important to recognize the climate for this was created in large part by the previous U.S.- and U.K.-backed coup that overthrew democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953.)
Many who opposed the new theocratic regime of Iran were imprisoned, and Zaree was hardly the only baby born at Evin. She was brought to Germany at two years old by her mother, while her father remained in prison. “Born in Evin” tells the story of generational and cultural trauma, of coping with it and carrying forward the resistance it must teach.
Zaree herself has acted in a range of German films, and this is her feature-length directorial debut.
I don’t afford this policy for many actors, but I unquestionably trust Elisabeth Moss’s choice in projects. She’s arguably made the best choices of any Millennial actor. A lot of that is – of course – what she then brings to those projects.
Back on “The West Wing”, she was thought of as the one part of a great ensemble who couldn’t act, but who we liked anyway. Yet if you looked at that ensemble today, she probably stands as the best and most versatile actor of the bunch outside of Martin Sheen. Her career is one of grounding high-concept projects across countless genres. She hooks viewers into the emotional reality of difficult ideas and strange worlds; she conveys emotionally stepping into someone else’s shoes the way few can. If she’s leading a project, it’s worth watching.
A lot of that is talent and hard work. Some of it is working with 100% of the talent pool when it comes to directors. She works with women directors reliably, something that can’t be said for most actors. It’s in an actor’s interest to seek out and work with the full range of talented directors. Someone who only works with 50% of the talent pool that’s out there isn’t going to find the working relationships that draw the most out of their own talents.
An actor who rarely works with women directors is limiting their own choices and their own growth. Hell, anyone who rarely seeks out women coworkers and superiors (or Black, or LGBTQ ones, or whatever the case may be), is limiting their own ability at the work they do.
Moss’s ability to ground project after project is due to her incredible talents, yes. Her consistent ability to do this across such a seemingly unlimited range of projects and perspectives owes something to her decisions in working with a wider range of directors and writers. Any actor can ground the right project once or twice. Someone who does it with a nearly impossible consistency is doing it in part because she is seeking out projects and fellow artists who come from every perspective.
Director Josephine Decker is an arthouse director’s arthouse director. She’s perhaps best known for meta-perplexion “Madeline’s Madeline”.
The screenplay is adapted by Sarah Gubbins from the novel by Susan Scarf Merrell.
You can watch “Shirley” with a Hulu subscription. You can also rent it from Amazon Prime, Google Play, or YouTube for $2.
Judy & Punch (digital rental) directed by Mirrah Foulkes
This is the kind of off-kilter, macabre (vengeance?) film that’s right up my alley, particularly with an actor of Mia Wasikowska’s calibre leading it. Obviously, it’s tackling themes of domestic violence, but it’s hard to tell where it will take it. The world of the film seems to mix fairy tale, period, and anachronistic filmmaking together.
It also marks a leap in the career of Mirrah Foulkes from actor to director. She’s well known for roles in Australian television and BBC productions, particularly in the original “Animal Kingdom” and “Top of the Lake”. This is her first feature.
Marona’s Fantastic Tale (virtual theatrical) directed by Anca Damian
It’s strange how we can talk about cultural loss, genocides, we can take action regarding ongoing racist brutality, and we can more or less hold it together. Then we see an animated movie about dogs and we break. How does that work? Is it a screwed up failure of our priorities?
I’ve spent the week calling DA’s and mayor’s offices asking about police brutality investigations, writing action items, calling my governor’s and senators’s offices, consulting on potential threats people face. I write something about it all, and I might break in the moment after the words are out. I might cry to my computer before recollecting myself. I might stave off fear at the end of the day by curling up in bed and watching a familiar sitcom.
But I watch an animated trailer about a dog’s life and the waterworks start going. I know the work I put in; I haven’t screwed up my priorities. Part of the role of pets as our companions in life is that they become our safe space. They ease the times we feel shitty and helpless. They love us regardless, they help us make it through. Pets are a symbol of an innocence we can’t often see in the world around us, and they’re an endless well of renewal for a hope that gets worn down every day. I can’t always afford to cry when I’m doing activist work. I can afford to at home in a safe space with my dog. I don’t know exactly what that says.
Anca Damian is a Romanian director who’s helmed both animated and live-action films, both fiction films and documentaries. “Marona’s Fantastic Tale” has been picked up by GKids at least for its American virtual theater release.
A virtual theatrical release is a way of still supporting independent theaters while the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping responsible people at home. The cost of a movie ticket is split between the distributor and theater itself – just like if you were going physically to that theater. Just select the local, independent theater you want to support when purchasing your ticket.
Here, that means you can rent “Marona’s Fantastic Tale” for $10 on GKids, and you have 3 days to watch it.
Curon (Netflix series) co-directed by Lyda Patitucci
This is a 7-episode Italian series based on a legend about the submerged town of Curon. Flooded towns always make for good horror settings – here, it was submerged as part of a hydro-electric dam project.
Another favorite horror trope of mine is the doppelganger. The church tower is the only part of Curon still above water. Supposedly, you can hear its bells ringing in winter. The legend is extended in the series to say that when you hear them ring, your death is coming and your double emerges from the lake. Good times.
The series follows a pair of teens doing what teens do best in horror series – uncovering hidden secrets while making poor survival decisions. Of course, they have a good motive – their friend Anna is missing.
Lyda Patitucci directs with Fabio Mollo. This is her first project as a director, but she’s got a very solid history on Italian TV shows with high production values (“The First King”, “Italian Race”).
You can watch “Curon” with a Netflix subscription.
Becoming Who I Was (digital rental) co-directed by Jin Jeon
A young Indian boy is believed to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan Buddhist monk. He doesn’t have a place in his own village, but the monastery that may accept him is barred behind mountains and a Chinese government that views Tibetan Buddhist monks as symbols of resistance and unrest. It sounds like the set-up for a pointed narrative film, but this is actually a documentary.
It spans eight years of young Padma Angdu’s life and that of his caretaker, Urgyan Rickzen, through their attempt to reach Tibet. I’m not trying to be clever by using the word “attempt”. I honestly don’t know how it ends.
Jin Jeon is a documentary producer and director who’s worked in South Africa and South Korea.
You can rent “Becoming Who I Was” from Amazon Prime for $3.
The Deeper You Dig (digital rental) co-directed by Toby Poser
This is a unique independent film made by a family. Toby Poser, husband John Adams, and daughter Zelda Adams also play the lead roles.
Poser and John wrote and directed together, with Zelda as assistant director. Poser produced, John did the music and editing, and John and Zelda shared cinematography.
Now when you talk about family-made films, you don’t expect Dario Argento-esque abduction mystery with a supernatural bent. What’s impressive is that it doesn’t exactly look homemade. At least in the trailer, there are complex shots and solid acting.
Indie has lost a lot of its meaning over the years, with studio-driven arthouse films composing most of what we refer to as indie filmmaking today. In fact, horror is one of the few genres where true indies and family and community filmmaking still thrive. Much of this is due to still being able to crack into the genre with a very low budget. Much of it is due to horror often still being driven and celebrated as a local affair. This enables movies that push boundaries and don’t play it safe – they’re exactly indie filmmaking, not just something that emulates it.
Miss Snake Charmer (Hulu, Tubi) directed by Emalee Arroyo, Rachael Connelly Waxler
Yeah, I don’t know what to do with this one. It’s a documentary about a beauty pageant that involves killing and skinning rattlesnakes as one of its competitions. The winner gets to spend the rest of the weekend standing in rattlesnake pits at the World’s Largest Rattlesnake Roundup. Much has been documented in the past about the cruelty of the event.
I don’t want to frame it as the documentary endorsing any of this. It may or may not; I haven’t seen it yet. This is both Emalee Arroyo and Rachael Connelly Waxler’s directorial debut.
You can watch “Miss Snake Charmer” with a Hulu or Tubi subscription. You can rent it from Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, or YouTube for $4.
Searching Eva (digital rental) directed by Pia Hellenthal
This documentary follows a sex worker named Eva Colle. It seeks to examine modern sexual autonomy. The general consensus from everything that’s out there seems to be it’s “hard to pin down”.
This is German director Pia Hellenthal’s first feature. The trailer here is cut down a touch from the original, which features a lot of nudity – and frankly, I have no idea on WordPress’s hosting policies on that, so you get the (barely) SFW trailer here.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Hulu) directed by Marielle Heller
You could previously rent Marielle Heller’s biographical drama centering on the friendship between Fred Rogers and Lloyd Vogel. This is the first time it’s available on subscription services, though.
Heller herself is rarely mentioned as one of the most promising up-and-coming film directors, yet her last two films have earned Oscar nominations. She directed “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”, which earned Oscar noms for Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, while “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” earned Tom Hanks his first nomination in 19 years.
You can watch “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” with a Hulu or Starz subscription. You can rent it from Redbox for $1.80, or from Vudu for $5.
Can You Hear Me? (Netflix series) created by Florence Longpre showrunner Julia Langlois half-directed by Miryam Bouchard
This Quebecois series actually has two seasons out already, but Netflix has only just picked it up so U.S. viewers can see it. Unfortunately, finding a correctly translated English trailer for this has been difficult, so I hope some of you know French. (It’s frustrating when streaming services can’t manage this for series that do have English subtitles.)
“Can You Hear Me?” is a dramatic comedy that follows three women who live in poverty. Florence Longpre is both the creator and one of the writers and leads. It’s also of note that half the episodes are directed by Miryam Bouchard, who’s helmed a great deal of Quebecois TV in recent years.
You can watch “Can You Hear Me?” with a Netflix subscription.
Lenox Hill (Netflix series) co-directed by Ruthie Shatz
Ruthie Shatz and Adi Barash have worked as co-directors on a few medical docu-series now. Their previous shows “Ichilov” and “Ambulance” have centered on Israeli hospitals, but “Lenox Hill” focuses on Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. It follows four physicians: two brain surgeons, an ER doctor, and an OBGYN.
You can watch “Lenox Hill” with a Netflix subscription.
If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.
Your stalker is invisible. They can interfere with your life. They can let you know they’re there without ever hinting it to anyone else. They can track you. They can ruin the relationships you have with your friends and family. They can make you feel reaching out will put others in danger. They can make people disbelieve that you’re even being stalked in the first place. They can make you disbelieve yourself. None of this is science-fiction. This is the reality we live in.
Read up on the women stalked and harassed through Gamergate – Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, Anita Sarkeesian, just to name a few. Groups including the alt-right use sites like 4chan, 8chan, and especially Kiwi Farms to stalk, harass, doxx, and threaten women. Stalking of one target is often coordinated across multiple people to cover multiple bases: physical proximity, social media, financial security.
How can a modern movie about stalking engage this while still being at its core a traditional horror movie? I’ve worked with groups that research and collect information about stalkers, and the bulk of this is a paper chase. It’s about vetting information, tracking clues back to who someone is, how dangerous they are or have been, what communities they’re part of and how dangerous those are. What resources do they have? What’s their physical access to their target? What’s their notional, or social online access? You can make a paper chase into a horror movie, but you may lose the brunt of something you’re trying to communicate along the way.
How do you create a metaphor for a stalker who can terrify you, but who for all intents and purposes is invisible because of the tools they use? You can just make them invisible. You can have them sit in the chair in the corner, like your phone or computer might, having access into your life. You can have them follow you unseen, just like cheap spyware a cyberstalker can employ. You can have them hear all your conversations, just like bugging tools that can be installed remotely on your devices.
When you’ve worked with stalking victims, hearing the phrase, “I think they can hear my conversations,” is reasonable. What I did was research, not tech, so it often meant getting them in contact with specialists in removing spyware from personal devices.
When you don’t know the extent to which tools like this can be simply employed, hearing that phrase will make you think the person being stalked is overreacting, losing their hold out of fear. What is very legitimate in their life becomes an outlandish and emotional overreaction to you.
They may even explain that the stalker has contacted them in disguise and made references to private conversations. When you look at the email they’re referring to, you might just see an ad, a newsletter, a piece of phrasing that’s just a coincidence. The person being stalked sounds even more as if they can’t be believed, despite what they’re referring to being very real.
This is designed. It’s had evolutions, iterations, and now that stalkers and cyberstalkers have places in which they share knowledge and experience, where they can find someone else to help them cover their deficits in certain ‘skills’, stalking has become a skill share community.
If that’s frightening, it’s because it is. I’ve been stalked. The first time was 19. The most recent time was 2017 and may still be ongoing. It sucks. It’s disempowering. The solutions to it are sometimes chaotic and rely on systems of response and community response that haven’t been reliably realized yet.
That’s a lot of words about what “The Invisible Man” intersects without talking about the movie. It’s all to say that, as a metaphor, the invisible stalker as a concrete presence in a horror movie feels disturbingly real. It feels relevant. It feels honest.
“The Invisible Man” isn’t a paper chase movie about proving the man exists. It’s a horror movie that’s just as much about a community erasing and disbelieving the stalker’s victim as it is about her and him going toe to toe.
“The Invisible Man” is a conventional B-movie that’s so good at what it does, it’s better than most A-movies. That still means it relies on a number of B-movie conventions. There will be a moment or two where you might start doubting if you have to think about a precise mechanic too long. The movie tends to know this, rushing you into the reaction to it as quickly as possible.
Two things make this approach work: the first is Elisabeth Moss’s performance as stalking target Cecilia Kass. It is rare that you get a central performance in this type of film that’s this nuanced and that speaks to the subject at hand in a deep way. Most horror movies relying on slasher tropes use the central (usually woman) figure to communicate desperation and a lack of answers. When they begin to fight back, it’s as if something clicks and they shift personality into someone who’s strong. That has its value as a storytelling device.
Yet the reality is that someone who’s already strong can be overwhelmed by a stalker. They have answers, but the community around them frustrates those answers. The community around them replaces the victim’s desperation with their own determination for normalcy. When the victim is recognized as beginning to fight back, it’s not because something’s clicked and they shift personality. When they begin to fight back, it’s only because they’ve been fighting back this entire time and part of that fighting is to get the community around them to recognize reality. What flipped personality wasn’t the victim; it was the community.
It’s comforting to imagine that moment a community finally recognizes the problem is the moment when a woman began fighting back. After all, how could the community have known before that moment? That tells a lie, because the victim was fighting the whole time. It’s just that the community around them would rather not acknowledge that what the victim’s been fighting back against is – in part – the community’s own resistance to recognize what’s happening.
“The Invisible Man” has a strong sense of this, and while there are extremely tense horror set pieces, it at least leaves many male-oriented tropes behind. Cecilia is fighting the whole time, in so many different ways. In this case, she’s trying to escape a controlling and abusive ex everyone else thinks is dead. It’s the community around her that – despite knowing what she’s already gone through – cannot manage to believe her. They support her, but only to a point, and they’re willing to break that support and stop listening to her far too quickly. There’s no point in the movie when a switch flips and she begins fighting back. She is doing it from the very first scene.
That’s what makes “The Invisible Man” different and tense. Even when the writing falters or a set piece arrives just a hair too coincidentally, it’s all played with a forthright determination to show Cecilia fighting back. She doesn’t have to grow into it. She just has to overcome a world that would rather erase her as an inconvenience than recognize what she’s fighting against.
The second part of what makes this all work is the direction. I can’t help but wonder how certain things might play differently if it were written and directed by a woman. That said, director Leigh Wannell has a keen sense of presenting terror. The pacing, both through cinematography and editing, are patient. The sound design ratchets up the tension unbelievably.
Scenes are allowed to breathe and develop. This is a film with a dozen Chekhov’s guns – elements you notice that you know will be relevant later on. It also has a lot of plot progression that you’ve seen in a film before. There isn’t a surplus of red herrings and misdirection. What you guess is going to happen in terms of a jump scare, chase, or horror element in a scene usually happens. “The Invisible Man” shows that this can still work well if you can be patient about them and time them right. Horror can be a lot like comedy this way – you may know the joke, but if it’s told really well, the director will still get the reaction they want out of you.
Being able to do this with patience, and with the priority on Cecilia (and thus Moss’s performance) allow the film to steer clear of feeling derivative. Its sci-fi elements are also introduced slowly and in a way that feels believable within the film’s world. Wannell also wrote the screenplay and it’s not up to the level of the performance and direction, but when the performance and direction are this good they make up for more than enough.
Does it Pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
This section uses the Bechdel-Wallace Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women in film.
1. Does “The Invisible Man” have more than one woman in it?
Yes. Elisabeth Moss plays Cecilia Kass. Harriet Dyer plays her sister Emily Kass. Storm Reid plays Sydney Lanier. Renee Lim plays Doctor Lee in a brief role.
2. Do they talk to each other?
3. About something other than a man?
Yes. Cecilia and Sydney talk about Sydney’s future academic plans. Cecilia and Doctor Lee talk very briefly about her health.
Obviously, that’s not a spectacular amount of women talking to women. The movie often focuses on Moss acting opposite (and often around) someone who’s invisible. Moss is in every scene, and many scenes involve very little talking.
The cast is small and the story keeps things very tight on the main players. Almost the entire film centers on Cecilia avoiding or running from her stalker. That also means that most of the conversation in the film is about the stalker and her situation.
The film could have done better here.
How does it do when addressing modern concepts of stalking?
I can speak to how “The Invisible Man” engages this, up to a point. It feels honest and needed. It feels cathartic. I remember as I walked out I began to hug the wall for no reason. I met someone’s eyes in a car in the parking lot when I glanced up. Before I knew what I was doing, that sensation of measuring my own safety and assessing everything around me returned. The film had obviously triggered me and my experiences being stalked more deeply than I realized. It took part of the day to shake off, but at the same time it felt somewhat cathartic.
I’m not upset that that happened. It needs to activate those things in order to tell its story and engage its subject in a way that feels honest.
At the same time, I’m a man. When I go to others and talk about being stalked, I don’t encounter the same obstacles or resistance in people believing me. Therefore, its honesty about a woman being stalked is a core piece in “The Invisible Man” that I can’t speak to. Even when a threat made me feel alone, I still had greater access to others’ belief and the resources and community that belief allowed. Society still treated me and my engagement of that threat differently. The people around asked what aid I needed and suggested recourses. I had options that helped blunt the effect. While it was still isolating and there were moments and situations where I felt unsafe, I’m a man. Even strangers will stop and listen to me if I need help in public. When I was being stalked, others were willing to listen. Were I a woman, I don’t know that they would have done the same.
Additionally, when I worked with people who were stalked in order to research their threat, I was the resource. I wasn’t going through their experience and there was specific training to make sure we didn’t start trying to inhabit their experience. We were most useful if we were able to avoid becoming anxious ourselves.
My being able to say it creates both a metaphorical and literal plot about being stalked that feels accurate is limited by not having gone through the experience as a woman. I can say that many aspects of this feel like they’re handled well, particularly in Moss’s performance of carrying trauma even as she fights back against a stalker and community erasing her. Nonetheless, I can’t speak for whether these aspects when covering the experience as a woman are handled as well, so take that assessment with a grain of salt.
The film may be triggering at points if you have been stalked or threatened. Horror is my favorite genre and it’s taken me a while to grow comfortable with it again. It actually felt like something of a step to watch a horror movie about being stalked, something that I’ve avoided for more than two years.
It may also be triggering in other ways. Some fight scenes are essentially representations of domestic abuse, and plot elements refer to sexual violence.
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