Son and Lillith and The Ringmaster are the best new releases you can stream right now

Ominous bloody messages populate "Son," a demonic possession/cult thriller mash-up now streaming on Shudder. - PHILIP DEMBINSKI / SHUDDER
Philip Dembinski / Shudder
Ominous bloody messages populate "Son," a demonic possession/cult thriller mash-up now streaming on Shudder.
3.5 star(s), 98 minutes, Shudder

If you’re not familiar with Irish director Ivan Kavanagh, it’s time to fix that.

I can still vividly recall watching his 2014 supernatural haunting The Canal in a hotel room on my laptop and literally being afraid to turn around if I heard a noise because his impressive ghost story had me so unnerved.

Kavanagh’s latest, Son, now a Shudder streaming exclusive, is another chilling notch in his belt.

Son tells the story of Laura (Andi Matichak), who was raised in and escapes a fertility cult to open the film. After giving birth in a field, Laura seeks anonymity in a small town so she can raise her son, David (Luke David Blumm), while teaching at the local school.

Then one night, Laura hears a strange noise. When she opens David’s door, she discovers him surrounded by members of the cult, and a supernatural force jettisons her from the room. No one believes her, of course, except one young detective, Paul (Emile Hirsch).

Before long, David falls violently ill, and Son chronicles the lengths that Laura will go to both protect her child and to keep her past life buried. It doesn’t help that David needs a very specific medicine to keep his body functioning, the kind of fuel that doesn’t escape notice, especially when it means leaving a trail of bodies.

Son is a fantastically entertaining flick that keeps you guessing throughout as to what might happen next. If there is a quibble to be made, I would have liked to see a little more build-up and even a subtle tease to better smooth the landing for a late-in-the-third-act twist that makes sense, even if it comes to fruition in a clumsy manner. 

4 star(s), 93 minutes, streaming

Lillith is the reason why I review movies.

It’s also why I sift through a mounting stack of new releases each week and suffer through interminable features that simply regurgitate good ideas done much better in earlier films. Lillith is a prime example of stumbling across a diamond in the rough, and proof that director and co-writer Lee Esposito has great things ahead of him.

Lillith is smart, gory and wickedly funny. It also features a fantastic performance by Savannah Whitten in the title role and a brief appearance by Langston Fishburne, son of Morpheus himself. It’s a low-budget, independent that checks all the boxes, starting with a very simple concept: Crushed after discovering her boyfriend cheating on her, Jenna (Nell Kessler) turns to her friends, including Wiccan practitioner Kim (Lily Telford) and goofy Charlie (Taylor Turner), to soothe her heart.

Kim proposes a ceremony to summon a succubus to exact revenge on Jenna’s boyfriend. Of course, no one expects the incantation to actually work, until Jenna encounters a new student, Lily, on campus who is rocking a provocative goth girl aesthetic.

Once Lily, who is fond of citing stories from her childhood, such as the smiting of Sodom and Gomorrah, starts killing and eating their classmates and professors, Jenna, Kim and Charlie scramble to find a way to stop her. Whitten is an absolute riot as Lily. She makes it look effortless when she returns to Kim’s apartment to describe in great detail how she slaughtered Jenna’s boyfriend after biting off his penis.  

“You should have heard the noises he was making,” she says gleefully, moaning “’Oh God, oh God, oh yes," before devolving into a series of blood-curdling shrieks, seconds before asking for a beer because she needs hydration after orgasm.

The practical creature makeup also is highly effective, but the best part of Lillith is how dark and surprisingly brutal it gets once the third act begins. It will catch you off guard in the best way.

Trust me when I say that if you’re scrolling your favorite streaming platform and see Lillith available to rent or own, don’t hesitate.

The Ringmaster
3.5 star(s), 100 minutes, Blu-Ray and DVD

Whenever a movie includes a blurb on the box art comparing it to other past films, it always makes me slightly suspicious.

With The Ringmaster, which hails from Denmark, the box art proclaims that it’s like Hostel meeting The Purge, which is both intriguing and kind of silly given that the two horror franchises are so completely different.

Yes, it’s true that the third act of The Ringmaster does remind you of Hostel: Part II, and maybe one could argue that the nihilism on display might be reminiscent of the wanton unlawful lust that fuels The Purge, but the reality is that The Ringmaster doesn’t need to compare itself to other movies.

Co-writer/director Søren Juul Petersen actually does a great job building suspense, and withholding the grislier moments, until his third act, providing quick teases of what’s to come in the form of flash-forward sequences that find our main heroine, Agnes (Anne Bergfeld), in extreme peril.

Agnes works occasionally at a local convenience store owned by her father. She’s engaged to a doctor. She’s studying for a degree in psychology. And then on the fateful night that unfolds in the movie, her world is flipped when she and another attendant, Belinda (Karin Michelson), find themselves tormented by an unseen foe or foes.

It turns out that Agnes and Belinda have been targeted by a malicious dark web enterprise centered around The Ringmaster (Damon Younger), which allows him to subject innocents to a cruel circus of torture in front of wealthy audience members, all the while streaming to thousands more online.

The Ringmaster is effective with its brutality, and both Bergfeld and Younger bring some noticeable layers to their portrayals of stock characters well-known to horror fans.

I was thoroughly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one.

The Blackout Experiment
2 star(s), 81 minutes, streaming and DVD

Truth be told, the subversive and often vicious subgenre of horror that centers around a group of strangers, or coworkers, or loved ones, being trapped in a room, a building or an island and forced to battle it out in order to survive is in dire need of an injection of originality.

From classics like Battle Royale and The Belko Experiment to inspired failures like The Hunt and The Condemned, there’s been no shortage of carnage, which makes The Blackout Experiment all the more disappointing.

It’s not bad, per se, but it’s not memorable in the least, and it’s one true gimmick, that the men and women who find themselves locked together in a room with weapons, are occasionally plunged into utter darkness every 15 minutes, grows tired pretty quick.

Not to be Overlooked:

Medusa (Streaming): Originally titled Medusa: Queen of the Serpents, this UK import is long on the weird but too short when it comes to telling a proper horror story. In fact, for much of its brief 87-minute runtime, Medusa seems determined not to be a horror movie at all, but instead a slow-moving, well-acted, but thoroughly downbeat examination on human sex trafficking.

Rock, Paper & Scissors (Streaming): Movies don’t get more weird than this offbeat film from Argentina about two eccentric siblings who decide even mundane tasks by playing their favorite childhood contest. All’s well until a long-lost relative arrives, disrupting their cocoon of crazy.  

Incarnation (Streaming): Actually, movies don’t get much weirder than the Serbian time-loop thriller, Incarnation, which is just okay despite being hailed as a mashup of Looper and Source Code on its box art.

Mortuary: Special Edition (Streaming and Blu-Ray): Kudos to MVD Entertainment for unearthing this little-seen 1983 treat, Mortuary, which features an early performance by the late, great Bill Paxton, as part of its MVD Rewind collection.

Also Available as of July 6, 2021: Miranda Veil, Defending Jacob, Ten Minutes to Midnight

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.

This article first appeared in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, an affiliated publication.

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