Two flicks I recently dove into and have to share (ETA: both are currently available through Netflix):
Hush (2016): The “lone woman up against a knife-wielding psycho” template is pretty paint-by-numbers at this point, but writer-director Mike Flanagan’s film delivers a greatly entertaining and tightly edited cat-and-mouse. Amping up the suspense is the isolated cabin setting (naturally) and the protagonist’s deafness (think about how much better your chances of living would be if you could just hear the leaves crunching under the killer’s feet or, say, on your stairs). Kate Siegel, who also co-wrote the film with Flanagan, is instantly engaging as Maddie, who’s resourcefulness and drive are the only chances she has of making it out alive. For 81 minutes, it packs a hell of a punch. [Oh, and the cat lives. Because I know some of you will worry and she goes missing for most of the film. Not a spoiler.]
The Making of a Lady (2012): I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this period piece but that turned out to be for the best — this is one of the most effective, suspenseful films I’ve seen in ages. Based on The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett (also of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess fame), it was originally aired in Britain on ITV and some of you may have caught it on PBS in 2014.
What initially comes across as a period romance quickly gives way to increasing uneasiness and tension. The widowed (and childless) Lord Walderhurst (as played by Linus Roache) isn’t necessarily looking for a wife, but without an heir, and a very determined aunt (Joanna Lumley!) pushing every available young lady on him, he’ll have no peace until he gets one. And since he’s not interested in the candidates before him (an “insipid” British debutante and and an American he “can’t bear”), he decides that his aunt’s recently sacked personal assistant (companion? whatever the 1901 equivalent of “runs your errands and has to laugh at your jokes” job would be) is the best woman for the job. Emily Fox Seton (Lydia Wilson) is a well bred but broke women whose options are running out.
His out-of-nowhere sales pitch/proposal to her was pretty much, “You understand what this would be. ... And I would leave you alone.” In other words, she knows the part and they’re both a bit desperate.
While she doesn’t exactly leap at the chance to become a Marchioness she is soon whisked away to his rural estate (more isolated than poor Maddie in “Hush”). From then on, it’s pretty much down hill for poor Emily.
There’s the distant, creepy, butler. The unhelpful housekeeper. The looks exchanged among the staff. The secret passage. Walderhurst’s insistence that Emily learn to swim. A falling-down stone structure on the estate with an old baby’s crib abandoned in the corner (If that ain’t universal short-hand for “you in danger girl”, I don’t know what is). By the time Walderhurst is ordered back to India, you realize Emily is gonna be surrounded by a bunch of shifty-eyed judgey-judgertons in the middle of nowhere for who knows how long. To her rescue, though, are her sickly cousin-in-law and his wife, who show up to take care of Emily at Walderhurst’s request while he’s away.
He wasn’t kidding when he told Emily he would leave her alone.
The rest is a tense nail-biter of “Oh my god, why haven’t cell phones been invented yet?!”