Host (2020)

Where’s it on? Shudder

Films have always struggled to respond to events in ways that feel up-to-the-minute. Even if the production process is unusually quick, the mechanics of distribution tend to be slooow. Meanwhile, the news cycle moves on, and the zeitgeist with it. That’s why watching this Zoom-based paranormal chiller from British director Rob Savage feels bracingly of the moment. Filmed during lockdown and insta-released on Shudder this week, it’s a desktop horror in the vein of Unfriended (2014), unfolding entirely as a Zoom meeting within which a group of self-isolated friends attempt to stave off boredom with an ill-advised lockdown séance. At 56 minutes long, Host has an irresistible B-movie economy, repeatedly pole-vaulting your expectations with its inventive use of the split screen, the appealing chemistry of its cabin-feverish friends, and – you’ve been warned – its facility for finding fresh ways to make you leap out of your seat.

Perfect 10 (2019)

Where’s it on? Selected cinemas nationwide, also BFI Player

Getting a limited cinema release this week, and also available to stream, Perfect 10 is the feature debut of Eva Riley, an alumnus of the National Film and Television School. It’s a modest but resonant coming-of-age drama, very much in the vein of Andrea Arnold but with a compelling specificity of its own. At its centre is Leigh (Frankie Box), a budding gymnast grieving her mother while chafing moodily against most of her peers. We’re in Brighton, or the outskirts of it, and Leigh’s world is about to slide sideways when a stranger turns up in her house – a half-brother she didn’t know she had. Joe (Alfie Deegan) is a child by her father’s previous relationship, and his cool self-assurance is instantly appealing to Leigh, even as his taste for stealing petrol (and worse) begins to lead her astray. Crisply filmed in summer light, Riley’s film is really good on pinpointing that moment in early adolescence when the freedom to make moral choices for ourselves begins to define who we are.

The Saga of Anatahan (1953)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

The latest film to be added to BFI Player’s Japan collection is something of an outlier. It’s directed not by a Japanese filmmaker but by an Austrian, albeit one who’d spent the bulk of his career in Hollywood. The first international co-production with Japan following the Second World War, The Saga of Anatahan was the final film by the extraordinary visual stylist Josef von Sternberg, best known for his series of exotic 1930s melodramas with Marlene Dietrich. Like those films, Anatahan is a project that was hothoused almost entirely on studio sets – the better for von Sternberg to control his shimmering play with light, shadow and pressure-cookered eroticism. It’s the tale of 12 Japanese sailors who are marooned on a jungly desert island for seven years, oblivious as the end of the war comes and goes. A plantation keeper and a young woman are the only other company, the latter’s presence inspiring the men’s sweaty scrabble for supremacy.

The Revenant (2015)

Where’s it on? BBC2, Saturday, 9pm

If this weekend’s oppressive heat starts to get the better of you, there are worse ways to cool off than sitting through this immersively wintry pioneer adventure from Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Leonardo Di Caprio stars as the 19th-century frontiersman who is left for dead after being mauled by a grizzly bear. He must make his way through the hostile Dakotan wilderness in a bid to survive and wreak vengeance on his abandoners. The Revenant won only three of the 12 Oscar nominations it racked up, and there’s precious little thematic meat here to sustain the lengthy running time. We follow Di Caprio’s survival travails as if in an episodic first-person video game, and with roughly the same left to chew over afterwards. But Emmanuel Lubezki’s gymnastic camerawork inspires an undeniable sense of awe amid the natural landscapes. See it, and then seek out Mikhail Kalatazov’s too-little-seen Siberian adventure Letter Never Sent (1960) – the Revenant precursor with camera moves to make even Lubezki weep.

The Driver (1978)

Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Friday, 11.40pm

Before Drive (2011) there was The Driver. Ryan O’Neal plays the taciturn petrolhead who steals cars to use as getaway vehicles in a spate of Los Angeles heists. A highlight of director Walter Hill’s chain of mythic, macho crime films, this 1978 neo-noir is infused with a sort of zen cool descended from Jean-Pierre Melville’s minimalist hitman movie Le Samouraï (1967). O’Neal’s enigmatic motorist is simply known as The Driver, while Bruce Dern is simply The Detective, and their cat-and-mouse chase follows rules that have always existed. Hill’s film is stripped down, nocturnal and gripping in its methods. Watching it today, it feels like the well-spring for so much in today’s crime cinema, from Tarantino to Baby Driver (2017). It’s a film of primal essentials, well worth flicking over to Talking Pictures TV for this Friday evening.

Originally published: 7 August 2020