Cult film is alive and well, recent years have seen a wealth of memorable midnight movies, eccentric oddities, sleeper stoner comedies, and other “out there” genre films.
Part of the attraction with movies designated with cult status is that they are so very different and much more provocative than mainstream populist fare. The cult film experience differs from conventional cinema by appealing to unique sensibilities, be it the counterculture, genre films, or niche audiences that joyfully indulge in taboo content and proscribed subject matter that deliriously upends convention with razor-sharp satire, exploitation, and/or legitimate ideological dangers or controversial content.
The following list looks at recent cult films from the last five years or so, and be warned; these are movies that foster unhealthy obsession, stylish strangeness, and offer feelings of connection for the bravest or most eccentric viewers amongst us. Enjoy and arrange screenings with your friends ASAP!
10. The Man in the Magic Box (2018)
For North American fans of Polish filmmaker Bodo Kox (The Girl from the Wardrobe ), his 2018 film The Man in the Magic Box, is a very challenging film to track down. While it did the fantastic film festival circuit throughout 2017 and 2018, it’s yet to get any kind of proper release here, and it’s a crying shame.
Unspooling like the bastard son of George Orwell’s dystopian classic “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and Terry Gilliam’s speculative fiction satire Brazil (1985), Kox’s The Man in the Box is a stylish, bleak, comedic, low-budget and high-concept coup de grâce of the dystopian thriller subgenre.
Set in an oppressive Warsaw in the year 2030, Kox wastes little time putting our likeably pathetic protagonist Adam (Piotr Polak) in dire straits. With his memory wiped-out by the secret service, Adam is assigned janitorial duties and a low social ranking but little does he care as he’s soon smitten by Goria (Olga Boldaz), a woman from a higher social class with very dreamy eyes.
When Adam uncovers an old 1950s radio at work he also finds a way to time travel to Communist Poland some eighty years hence and that’s when things really start to unravel.
It’s a twisted love story as well as an artful homage to so many sci-fi favorites (from Spielberg to Tarkovsky and beyond) and it’s also a fine introduction to Kox, a genre director with vision, craft, and a decidedly off-kilter sense of humor.
9. Little Sister (2016)
Writer/director Zach Clark’s fourth feature, Little Sister, is a comedic melodrama with an irreverent spin. A deceptively light (or is it?) and likeable indie that’s overfull with witty aphorisms, sardonic interactions, and odd-yet-amiable characters that, like many films on this list, is destined for cult-like adoration.
Set in Brooklyn in 2008 we meet Colleen Lunsford (Addison Timlin), a young nun estranged from her family. Having received an email from her mother, Joani (Ally Sheedy), asking that she return home to Asheville, NC, because her brother has returned from the Iraq war, where he nearly died and is now disfigured.
Little Sister is a very confident and mature work from Clark, and the digressive plot strands are relishable, as are the laughs they implore. Even though there’s considerable tragedy in Little Sister; Joani is depressed and has survived several suicide attempts; Jacob (Brian Poulson), Colleen’s brother, is terribly deformed and hides away in the family’s guesthouse, when he does venture out he’s mistaken for a monster by a precocious brat; and Colleen herself is at a crossroads she seems ill-equipped to wander. And yet, Clark imbues these histrionic instances with a sense of fun and odd adulation, akin to vintage Hal Hartley.
For all the potentially loaded subject matter, Clark brilliantly displays a diligence to engage and elucidate without didacticism. Little Sister is a droll delight that charms and enchants both the head and the heart.
8. Blue My Mind (2018)
Swiss actor-turned-writer/director Lisa Brühlmann delivers a singularly strange coming-of-age body-horror fantasy for adults in her directorial debut, Blue My Mind. Having made a considerable splash on the genre film festival circuit, this film has a sometimes surreal focus that honestly hones in on 15-year-old Mia (Luna Wedler), the new kid in school whose desires to fit in seem to orbit around wild-child cool-kid Gianna (Zoë Pastelle Holthuizen).
Before long Mia finds that she’s going through more changes than just a new school, a new clique of gal pals, and the no-longer-so-lingering glances of boys, as an overwhelming transformation is finding her body going through radical changes; as if a literal Kraken has awakened within her.
As a dark fairytale of transformation and innocence lost, Blue My Mind is further strengthened by cinematographer Gabriel Lobos’s often elegant lensing and the cold blue aqueous color palette that suggests what watery terrors are to come. Brühlmann’s film may feel like a first outing here and there, but it shows considerable promise and is an often ingenious reworking of a particularly splashy Hans Christian Andersen work. Recommended.
7. The Editor (2015)
Inspired and audacious, The Editor, from Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy of the Winnipeg-based film collective Astron-6, is a brilliant send-up of 1970s giallo cinema. What other film from the last decade has combined kinky sex, tarantulas, aerobics, elaborately violent death scenes, and groovy, synth-driven lounge music?
Capitalizing on a jocular tone that points to the jugular, this film is campy, gory, ill-tempered, and ideal for late night aggregated viewing. Genre linchpin Udo Kier (Blood for Dracula , Suspiria ) adds authenticity to the homage-addled production, as do significant roles from Paz de la Huerta (Enter the Void ) and Tristan Risk (American Mary ).
It’s obvious from what’s on screen that a lot of consideration and care went into this film. The period details are premium, and the formal flourishes are outstanding; from crazy zooms, split-screen frills, and slo-mo froufrou, The Editor overdoes everything with brio. The diehards will canonize it, everyone else might not get it, but that’s how cult films are constructed. Genius!
6. The Ornithologist (2017)
Portuguese filmmaker (and himself a former ornithologist) João Pedro Rodrigues’ fifth feature is a challenging, confounding, and poetic tour de force. The gorgeous widescreen photography from Rui Poças adds layers to the mysterious beauty portrayed onscreen as Fernando (Paul Hamy), the eponymous ornithologist (an expert on birds), finds himself paddling a remote river fjord in search of a rarely seen black stork.
As the film gently unswirls it becomes both a modern-day parable of sexual and spiritual self-discovery as well as miracuously reimagining the mythic journey of St. Anthony of Padua (canonized as the patron saint of lost things and missing people).
“A masterpiece,” wrote Sight and Sound’s Tom Charity, adding that it’s “an extraordinarily rich, unpredictable fever dream.” Don’t miss it.