The “52FilmsByWomen” hashtag isn’t a new invention, but in the last few years, and especially 2019, it’s gained increasingly urgent relevance. Created and disseminated by Women in Film, a nonprofit outlet established to achieve parity and transform culture the tag translates into a simple pledge: Watch one movie directed by a woman each week for an entire year. Most years, completing that pledge would be the least one could do. Today, it’s a means of pushing back against rampant gender bias in the film industry.
To help those interested in putting their viewing habits to good use, Paste is highlighting some of April’s best new movies in theaters, as well as on home video, directed by women.
Release Date: April 19, 2019
Director: Laura Steinel
Being a Taylor Schilling character means existing in perpetual frazzled discontent (The Overnight, Orange is the New Black) or functioning as an uptight automaton subjugated by professional demands (Atlas Shrugged, Take Me). In Laura Steinel’s Family, Schilling has to straddle both lines while also missing a purpose, no matter how much her character, hedge fund manager Kate, argues otherwise. She’s a career woman who, having said “thank you, no” to social expectations a long time ago, has only her career, and tells herself that this, like the dog wreathed by flames in the Internet’s most relevant contemporary meme, is fine. Family’s unsurprising thesis is that this is not, in fact, fine. Sticking with one of comedy’s most traditional blueprints—someone who thinks they have it all is taught by circumstances that they actually don’t—Kate’s brother (Eric Edelstein) and sister-in-law (Alison Tolman) call on her to babysit their daughter, her niece, Maddie (Bryn Vale), in a time of utmost need: Her folks need to move grandma into hospice, which means being away from home, which means she Maddie needs looking after. With Family, Steinel makes a tribute to aunties, the women in one’s life who dispense advice whether asked for or not, refuse to take guff and indulge their charges for the sheer joy of it. If Kate can make bank for herself and her clients despite the smog cloud of loathing her coworkers cast about her, then feeding a high schooler and making sure they do their homework, go to ballet and attend school can’t be that difficult. Au contraire: It is that difficult, in part thanks to the Insane Clown Posse. —Andy Crump / Full Review
Release Date: April 12, 2019
Director: Claire Denis
High Life begins with a moment of intense vulnerability, followed immediately by a moment of immense strength. First we glimpse a garden, verdant and welcoming, before we’re ushered to a sterile room. There we realize there’s a baby alone while Monte (Robert Pattinson), her father maybe, consoles her, talking through a headset mounted within his space helmet. “Da da da,” he explains through the intercom; the baby starts to lose her shit because he’s not really there, he’s perched outside, on the surface of their basic Lego-piece of a spaceship, just barely gripped on the edge of darkness. They’re in space, one supposes, surrounded by dark, oppressive nothingness, and he can’t reach her. They’re alone. Next, Monte empties their cryogenic storage locker of all the dead bodies of his once-fellow crew members, lifting their heavy limbs and torsos into space suits, not because it matters, but maybe just because it’s something to do to pass the time, as much a sign of respect as it is an emotional test of will. Monte looks healthy and capable, like he can withstand all that loneliness, like he and his daughter might actually make it out of this OK, whatever this is. High Life lives inside that juxtaposition, displaying tenderness as graphically as violence and anger and incomprehensible fear, mining all that blackness surrounding its characters for as much terror as writer-director Claire Denis can afford without getting obvious about it. Pattinson, flattened and lithe, plays Monte remarkably, coiled within himself to the point that he finishes every word deep in his throat, his sentences sometimes total gibberish. He doesn’t allow much to escape his face, but behind his eyes beams something scary, as if he could suddenly, and probably will, crack. He says as much to Willow, his kid, whispering to her while she sleeps that he could easily kill them both, never wanting to hurt her but still polluting her dreams. He can’t help it, and neither can Denis, who, on her 14th film (first in English), can make an audience believe, like few other directors, that anything can happen. Madness erupts from silence and sleep, bodily fluids dripping all over and splattering throughout and saturating the psyches of these criminal blue collar astronauts, the overwhelming stickiness of the film emphasizing just how intimately close Denis wants us to feel to these odd, sick fleshbags hurtling toward the edge of consciousness. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review
Release Date: April 19, 2019
Director: Penny Lane
It’s somewhat fair to wonder what Hail Satan?, the latest from Penny Lane, would look like if given resources to expand its scope beyond 90 minutes and dig into the problems with reclaiming the word “Satanist” for a cause as noble as that of Salem, Massachusetts’ The Satanic Temple. “Problems” may be a strong word. “Struggle” better applies. The TST’s political, social and humanitarian work, driven by tenets that have literally squat to do with devil worship, do a Crossfit bootcamp’s worth of heavy lifting to give the word a facelift. Whether that’s enough in just six years’ time—the organization was founded in 2013—is for viewers to decide.
Maybe one day, Lane will be gifted with all the time and money needed to sculpt a movie covering the full history of Satanism up to the Temple’s inception. In the meantime, we should all embrace Hail Satan?, arguably the most accomplished film in her already accomplished body of work: To watch Lane’s documentary is to be reminded of what it means to be an American, and her timing couldn’t be more impeccable. Hail Satan? is thoughtful, insightful, and most of all unexpected. When the heart doesn’t swell with genuine patriotic pride at the work the Temple’s doing to clean up a begrimed planet, and also take to task the fundamentalist charlatan swine violating America’s separation of church and state with a smile and an outstretched donation plate, the belly shudders with laughter.
For a movie about subjects as infuriating as right-wing religious “liberty,” Hail Satan? is shockingly funny. But the marriage of sly humor and sharp observation qualifies Lane’s work as more than just amusing and intelligent: It’s absolutely essential. —Andy Crump
Release Date: April 26, 2019
Director: Roxanne Benjamin
A day in the woods should colloquially equate to a walk in the park, but Wendy (Karina Fontes), a summer employee of the Brighton Rock state park, winds up living out the worst-case scenario of even a seasoned outdoorsman: With breathtaking speed, as she gambols about the forest posting informative fliers for hikers, grooving to music on her phone, and generally being carefree, she finds herself lost with only a random corpse for company. Nighttime fast approaches. She has to make do with what meager resources and tools she has and sit tight until morning for emergency services and park rangers to track her down.
Roxanne Benjamin’s Body at Brighton Rock fits nicely alongside other horror films that turn nature into a paranoiac house of mirrors: Backcountry, The Blair Witch Project, Willow Creek, Evil Dead, Killing Ground, Grizzly Park. But her movie also shares common ancestry with straight-up survival movies, where characters find themselves at odds with the elements and do whatever it takes, using whatever knowledge they have, or else be taken by them. In Wendy’s case, she’s got about bupkis, but that’s a big part of what makes Body at Brighton Rock work: Most of us got bupkis. Most of us aren’t Bear Grylls. Relating to Wendy, and to her terror, is easy, and immediate, and lets the movie hook its claws into the viewer with jolting urgency. —Andy Crump
Release Date: April 5, 2019 (Netflix)
Director: Brie Larson
There’s a category of stories that college English professors like to call “fluffy bunny stories.” Break it down like this: There are bunnies. They’re fluffy. They’re cute and happy. End of story. That’s Brie Larson’s shaggy Unicorn Store, her first film as a director, precious to a fault, but nonetheless possessed of winning charm and a surplus of spirit. This movie means well. In particular areas, it actually does well, too, harnessing for the second time this year the chemistry Larson, playing failed artist and unmoored millennial Kit, shares with Samuel L. Jackson, playing the eccentric, pink-suited proprietor of the title’s fantasy creature boutique. (It makes great use of the goofy dad energy Bradley Whitford’s accrued in the current stage of his career, too.) Much as Larson’s workmanship shows at the film’s edges—Unicorn Store is very much the product of a newcomer to the director’s chair—it does drive home thoughtful observations about millennial languor. Dreams are what we’re weaned on by our parents. When we carry those dreams into the future, and when those dreams don’t pan out, the effect is stifling, catching us in a holding pattern right at the line between emerging and actual adulthood. There’s enough truth to Kit’s ennui to carry Unicorn Store above its twee characteristics. —Andy Crump
Release Date: April 23, 2019 (Blu-ray)
Director: Karyn Kusama
There’s a superb 90-minute movie woven through Destroyer’s two-hour run time, tight-knit and tense, free of excess flab and much, much meaner by consequence. We don’t have that movie. The movie we do have is a solid expression of Kusama’s talent (if not quite on the level of to her 2016 chiller, The Invitation). In Destroyer, Nicole Kidman plays Erin Bell, an LAPD detective whose undercover placement during her younger years on the force ended in disaster that’s defined not only her career but her personality nearly two decades later. In Destroyer’s present, Erin looks sandblasted and stretched thin, like leather left to tan for 20 years; she’s cracked and peeled on the outside, but her interior’s worse, crumbled and deprived of compassion since her undercover operation. The film sets her on the path to redemption and perhaps revenge, when Silas (Toby Kebbell), the ringleader of the gang she infiltrated with her partner-cum-lover (Sebastian Stan), emerges from hiding to taunt her anew. His return gives her purpose. Kidman’s performance gives her pathos. Destroyer raises questions of identity that Kusama doesn’t satisfy—is Erin really just the opposite side of the coin from Silas?—but Kidman’s work her holds the movie together. —Andy Crump