Producer Jason Blum and his production company Blumhouse have become household names among horror fans, and their penchant for producing low-budget hits has resulted in “Paranormal Activity,” “Insidious,” “Happy Death Day” and the acclaimed “Get Out.”
Now, in a perfect pandemic move, the company offers “Welcome to the Blumhouse,” four genre films available to subscribers of Amazon Prime.
The third and fourth, “Evil Eye” and “Nocturne” will drop Oct 13.
The first two, “Black Box” and “The Lie” debuted Oct. 6. Neither totally qualifies as pure horror. “Black Box” is more science fiction, while “The Lie” is mostly a thriller without supernatural elements.
Directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour (in his feature debut), “Black Box” begins with a new father, Nolan (Mamoudou Athie), weeping tears of joy while holding his newborn daughter.
Cut to some years later, and Nolan gazes at photos, apparently trying to make sense of people depicted in them.
His daughter, Ava (Amanda Christine), a delightfully bossy thing, helps get him ready for a job interview. His hand is in a bandage, and there is a mysterious hole in the wall across the room. Something is amiss.
Beautifully told, and doling out details a little at a time, the story in “Black Box” eventually comes clear. Nolan is a professional photographer who has lost his wife in a car accident, while he himself has lost his memory.
After the job interview goes south, he visits Gary (Tosin Morohunfola), a doctor. Gary recommends he see a memory specialist (Phylicia Rashad). She begins virtual-reality-style treatments, wherein Nolan finds himself inhabiting his own memories.
One problem is that no one in these memories has a face. Another problem is that a scary, impossibly bendy human-like thing keeps trying to get him. Then, Nolan finds himself occupying memories he’s never had, in places he’s never been. One suggests he even may have been abusive to Ava.
“Black Box” turns into a seriously demented “Frankenstein”-type story, in which characters try to play God and go way too far.
It requires quite a strong suspension of disbelief, but at least the characters’ motives are pure and make emotional sense, and Osei-Kuffour’s careful, mysterious storytelling keeps a tight grip on things.
If anything, little Christine emerges as the star, smarter and sassier than the adults around her.
Starring: Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad, Amanda Christine, Tosin Morohunfola
Written by: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, Stephen Herman
Directed by: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Meanwhile, “The Lie,” directed and co-written by Veena Sud (who developed the excellent TV series “The Killing”), uses its wintry mood to brilliantly bleak advantage.
A father, Jay (Peter Sarsgaard), drives his teen daughter Kayla (Joey King) through the snow, to a dance camp.
Kayla spots her friend Brittany (Devery Jacobs) waiting for a bus, heading for the same camp, so they stop and pick her up. Brittany flirts a little with Jay, and they stop for a bladder-relief break.
Jay waits alone by the car, but time passes. He goes to investigate and finds Kayla standing on an icy bridge, sobbing, and looking at the lethal river below. Apparently Brittany has gone over, and apparently, Kayla pushed her.
Snatching the only clue, Brittany’s pink purse, Jay decides to protect his daughter above all else and leaves the scene without calling the police.
A distraught Kayla tells her mother, Rebecca (Mireille Enos, from “The Killing”), who is divorced from Jay, bringing her into the conspiracy. Jay becomes a fixture in their house as the trio tries to stick to their story, despite the prying of Brittany’s anxious father (Cas Anvar) and two nosy detectives.
Along with creating such a vivid atmosphere, director Sud builds in honest histories, personalities and behaviors for each character, and coaxes excellent performances from the entire cast.
“The Lie” is a sturdy thriller, starting from the point of an almost perfect crime. There are no witnesses, and no one even has to know that Kayla was ever there. But the cracks emerge a little at a time, along with the suspense. And the ending will likely have some jaws hitting the floor.
Starring: Mireille Enos, Peter Sarsgaard, Joey King, Devery Jacobs
Written and directed by: Veena Sud
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes