SALOUM. Precipitation, early dusk and fattening pumpkin spiders can only mean one thing: Fall is here and with it, Spooky Season. My brother already has Halloween decorations up in his lawn, after all. So I was excited to note the release of two buzzy genre movies this week on Shudder, the well-curated, horror-focused streaming service (it also helped justify my subscription, though at only $6 per month, Shudder is a hearty deal for anyone with scary movie predilections).
Saloum is a tightly paced, focused, supernatural action-thriller that punches well above its budget (a good companion piece for this year's unexpected Movie of the Summer, Prey). Congolese director Jean Luc Herbulot leaps right into the fray with stylish verve, channeling the visual panache of '90s Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, while putting a colorful stamp of his own on it.
We're introduced to Bangui's Hyenas, a trio of infamous mercenaries, in the middle of a messy operation extracting a drug lord during a coup attempt in Guinea-Bissau. Narrowly escaping in a bush plane, they're forced down mid-flight by fuel loss and must improvise, making their way to a small resort along the Saloum river in Senegal.
Trying to get fuel and repairs while staying incognito as gold miners, the mercenaries must contend with a person who's deaf and mute and knows their true identity, and the arrival of a police investigator. Meanwhile, it becomes apparent that Chaka (Yann Gael), the Hyenas' de facto leader, had ulterior motives for visiting the small resort and its proprietor. His actions cause a chain reaction of mounting horrors for the Hyenas, the resort's guests and the surrounding fishing villages.
Sharp, funny and pointed, Saloum leans heavily on the charm of its leads, who are impeccably stylish and badass. Their tight bond and Chaka's motivations are surprisingly touching, exploring generational trauma and the costs of vengeance. It's refreshing to have a non-Eurocentric spectral threat and, while the movie borrows from Westerns and other classic American genres, it's a unique and exciting melange.
Saloum left me wanting more. If we can't escape the wholesale franchising of every intellectual property, we could do a lot worse than more stories of Bangui's Hyenas. 84M. STREAMING
SPEAK NO EVIL. This grim little character examination revolves around perhaps one of the most terrifying aspects of our existence: social interactions.
Bjørn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch), a seemingly well-adjusted Danish couple with a young daughter, hit it off with a Dutch couple while they're all on holiday in Tuscany (must be nice). Back home, and adjusting to the fall season, they receive an invitation from the couple to visit their countryside home for a weekend.
While they're hesitant to impose and not entirely comfortable with spending so much time at the home of people they don't know well, they agree to visit, taking the eight-hour ferry and drive to Holland to the home of Patrick (Fedja van Huêt) and Karin (Karina Smulders).
Through the evening and next day, all goes seemingly well but there are some hints at trouble in the Dutch home. Patrick insists that Louise, a vegetarian, eat the wild boar he's cooked and becomes very short with Abel, their troubled son.
Patrick and Karin's behavior continues to push Louise and Bjørn past their comfort zone, and when Louise wakes up early morning to find Agnes, their daughter, asleep in Patrick's bed, she insists they leave.
This sets up a confrontation where Patrick and Karin insist their cultural differences and insensitivities were honest mistakes, and Louise and Bjørn reluctantly agree to stay for the rest of their trip.
If Saloum's mythos was supernatural and new (to me), Speak No Evil's was otherworldly in more familiar ways. The discomfort of social interactions without boundaries, spiraling toward horror, seems remarkably apt for our time. So, too, are the themes of patriarchy on the nuclear-family level; Bjørn's grappling with his role as a husband and father, and his ability to overlook the increasingly dire warning signs — and pleadings of his wife — to follow a charismatic leader to his own doom.
Bjørn's inaction, even in the face of indisputable truths, is a reflection of our impending climate crisis, our tipping toward fascism, our global pandemic, and the nihilism and defeatism predating on our societies. Speak No Evil's power lies heavily in frustration, and it's the same feeling many of us are experiencing on a global scale as we scream at the people in charge, those who could help, who could do something. Anything.
Some of Speak No Evil's allegory is heavy handed, and close reexamination reveals some plot holes and inconsistencies, but that's beside the point. It is a well-crafted, brooding vision of social terrors come to life, of toxic relationships, of the secrets our friends and neighbors hide, and the lies we are willing to convince ourselves to believe.
The only thing scarier than having houseguests is being one. 97M. SHUDDER, STREAMING.
Grant Scott-Goforth (he/him) is a fan of beer, music, movies, art, animals, bikes and rivers, all in shuffling order.
AVATAR 3D (2009). It's like the blue cat people with boobs are right there with you. PG13. 301M. BROADWAY.
BARBARIAN. AirBnB nightmare with Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård and Justin Long. R 102M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
BULLET TRAIN. Five killers zip through Japan on the same rails. Starring Brad Pitt, Joey King, Sandra Bullock and Hiroyuki Sanada. R. 126M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
CLERKS 3. As Tom Cruise returns to the cockpit, so too, writer-director Kevin Smith returns to the counter. With Ben Affleck, Justin Long and Sarah Michelle Gellar. R. 115M.
DC LEAGUE OF SUPER-PETS. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Kate McKinnon voice superheroes' best friends. PG. 106M. FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
DON'T WORRY DARLING. A 1950s utopian community gets almost as weird as the off-screen drama. Starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles. R. 123M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
DRAGON BALL SUPER: SUPER HERO. The anime saga continues (dubbed or subtitled). PG13. 100M. BROADWAY.
THE INVITATION. A young woman (Nathalie Emmanuel) visits the estate of newly connected relatives only to discover they're a bunch of bloodsuckers. PG13. 104M. MILL CREEK.
JAWS 3D (1983). We're gonna need bigger glasses. PG. 130M. BROADWAY.
MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU. Animated prequel with the chaotic little henchfolk. PG. 90M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
NOPE. Strange things are afoot at a California ranch and Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya witness them in this Jordan Peele sci-fi thriller. R. 135M. BROADWAY.
PEARL. Ti West's freaky horror prequel to freaky horror X, also starring Mia Goth. R. 102M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
SEE HOW THEY RUN. Murder and mystery hold up the filming of a movie in 1950s London in this comedy starring Sam Rockwell and Pearl Chanda. PG13. 98M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (THE MORE FUN STUFF VERSION). Like the Snyder Cut but without the heartbreak. PG13. FORTUNA.
THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER. More Norse space-god action from the Marvel universe, with Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman doing couple-matchy capes. PG13. 119M. BROADWAY.
TOP GUN: MAVERICK. Tom Cruise returns to the cockpit with a note-perfect work of pure energy that sidesteps thorny politics for the pure physicality and mental plasticity required of a modern fighter pilot. PG13. 137M. MILL CREEK.
THE WOMAN KING. Viola Davis flexes on us all as general of the 19th century all-female army of West African kingdom of Dahomey. With Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and John Boyega. PG13. 134M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre (707) 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.