September brings a lull in the action at the movieplexes and arthouses. It’s a perfect time to catch up on movies that may have slipped under the radar. Here are four such films. One is a reboot of a literary classic, another is an origin story about an indelible sci-fi adventure hero, and two are frightening reminders that Halloween is around the corner.
BEAST: The most frightening scene in Michael Pearce’s spellbinding “Beast” comes when Moll (Jessie Buckley) unleashes her rage at her tormentors, like a vengeful banshee. Moll, in her late 20s, is treated like a disobedient child by her family, so it’s no surprise when she rebels by taking up with the charming, enigmatic Pascal (Johnny Flynn). Against this tense backdrop, a serial killer of young girls is terrorizing Moll’s island community. The script blends horror, romance and psychodrama in unexpected ways, and Pearce stages the scariest scenes in prosaic settings — a clothing shop, a church, a pub. The serial killer angle turns out to be a MacGuffin, and there are cracks in the plot, but “Beast” is a riveting thriller of primal intensity.
HEREDITARY: Writer-director Ari Aster’s brilliant horror thriller “Hereditary” is more fun and entertaining than any other movie released this summer. The plot is deceptively simple. Annie Graham’s (Toni Collette) eulogy for her mother gets things off to a weird, disquieting start. The death seems to have shaken the brittle harmony of the Graham family — husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), sullen teen son Peter (Alan Wolff) and creepy daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). The suggestive supernatural elements take a nasty, perverse turn when Annie meets a strange spiritualist (Ann Dowd). The movie unleashes its full battery of scares after a seance. The unseen — and, more dreadful — the half-seen forces are shocking. It’s so powerful, you’ll want to ask, “What is that in the corner?”
THE SEAGULL: Director Michael Mayer takes his shot at Anton Chekhov’s classic drama about moral bankruptcy and unrequited love and just misses. Mayer and writer Stephen Karam compress Sidney Lumet’s 144-minute 1968 version into 94 minutes of tight closeups and a trivial flashback structure, yet nearly pulls it off, thanks to a fine ensemble of American actors. The crude Russian accents notwithstanding, there is no denying the great Annette Bening is flawless as the vain, selfish actress Irina Arkadina, or the larger-than-life presence of Brian Dennehy as Irina’s cranky, melancholy brother Sorin. Bening and Dennehy get excellent support from Saoirse Ronan as an aspiring actress and Corey Stoll as a novelist whose popularity outstrips his talent. The film’s inherent comedy is stifled by Mayer’s tense, grave approach.
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY: Or “How I Met My Wookie.” The latest tale from long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away presents Alden Ehrenreich as young Han Solo, a street thief who, through a string of complications, enlists to become a pilot but washes out and ends up in the infantry (the movie is set before there were any star wars). Through another series of complications, he goes to work in the black market and runs afoul of kingpin Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who is after a cache of the precious but unstable fuel Coaxium. Ron Howard, who finished the film after the original directors left the project, directs with his usual smooth proficiency. “Solo” is a competent heist film set in space. Anyone hoping for the wry, grouchy rogue Harrison Ford made a household name will be disappointed.