Nothing threatens the discoverability of an underrated film more than a massively marketed (and invariably inferior) franchise title. The month of August was understandably dominated by discourse surrounding the hotly-anticipated Game of Thrones spinoff House of the Dragon, and the big-budget Hindi flops Laal Singh Chaddha and Raksha Bandhan. So, it’s understandable if things got lost in the noise.

This month’s list includes two terrific new Malayalam films, a handful of dark comedies that were all overshadowed by Netflix’s Darlings, and a nightmare-inducing horror movie that you won’t be able to shake off. You can check out our lists of top underrated picks from January, February, March, April, May, June and July by clicking on them

Not Okay — Disney+ Hotstar

The title card for Not Okay.

It’s frankly surprising that even after at least three performances that could easily be described as ‘star-making’, Zoey Deutch is still very much the underdog that she was five years ago. The satirical black comedy Not Okay — directed by the very talented Quinn Shephard — gives her a gloriously unlikeable character to sink her teeth into. And as the hungry-for-fame protagonist who pretends to be a survivor of a terrorist attack to gain social media clout, Deutch is as dependably good as ever.

Paka (River of Blood) — SonyLIV

paka

The title card for Paka (River of Blood).

Essentially a retread of the same Biblical themes that formed the core of the recent Netflix thriller Thar and director Jeff Nichols’ startling debut Shotgun Stories, Paka is one of two Malayalam language films on this month’s list. Directed by Nithin Lukose and produced by Anurag Kashyap, Paka tackles themes of patriarchy and violence, and effortlessly switches between magic realism and stark brutality.

What Josiah Saw — Available to stream in the US on AMC+ and Shudder

what josiah saw The title card for What Josiah Saw.

An unsettling Southern Gothic saga about generation trauma that could give last year’s star-studded The Devil All the Time a run for its money, director Vincent Grashaw’s film is a slow-burn descent into madness that ends just as unpleasantly as it begins. It isn’t for everybody, but it isn’t trying to be either.

Bad Sisters — Apple TV+

bad sisters The title card for Bad Sisters.

Another month, another Apple title that must be included on this list only because it’s an Apple title. Years from now, 2022 will go down as an astonishing year for the struggling streamer, which continues to produce breathtaking entertainment that simply refuses to travel outside the negligible audience that has access to its library. It’s clear by now that the Ireland-set dark comedy isn’t quite the crossover hit for Apple that Severance and Ted Lasso became. But what makes this scenario all the more annoying is that the much inferior Netflix film Darlings is being paraded around like it is the definitive dark comedy about vengeful women. It isn’t.

Spin Me Round — Available to rent and purchase in the US on Amazon, Apple, Google; also streaming in the US on AMC+

spin me round The title card for Spin Me Round.

An odd romantic thriller that bears the difficult-to-define directorial stamp of Jeff Baena, Spin Me Round is many things. It’s at once a lush tribute to old-fashioned romance novels, but also, for a moment, a sharp indictment of the kind of culture that enables the systemic abuse of women. Over a short-ish career comprising just five films, Baena has already established himself as a master of tone (and probably the world’s biggest Aubrey Plaza fan). Spin Me Round is an acquired taste, but well worth sampling.

Malayankunju — Amazon Prime Video

malayankunju The title card for Malayankunju.

A gloriously inventive experiment, Malayankunju pushes the boundaries of what can be achieved in mainstream, star-driven cinema by challenging the audience to care for a character so unlikeable he makes Mogambo seem like Mr India. Almost for fun, screenwriter Mahesh Narayanan — who previously collaborated with star Fahadh Faasil on the equally ambitious CU Soon and Malik — deliberately backs himself into a corner that only he can write himself out of. The allegorical film isn’t merely a survival thriller/redemption tale, it also offers quiet commentary on climate change, patriarchy, and caste discrimination. In a way, Malayankunju is a reminder that despite deep-rooted differences, we are all still capable of caring for others. What a noble notion.

Vengeance — Available to rent and purchase in the US on Amazon, Google, Apple, etc

vengeance The title card for Vengeance.

Writer-director BJ Novak’s feature directorial debut is a slick social satire that blends black humour with Western scope. Produced by Blumhouse, it wouldn’t be a stretch to describe the ambitiously genre-fluid film as Novak’s attempt at replicating Jordan Peele’s career trajectory. Like Peele’s movies, Vengeance has important things to say about American society. It also features a couple of particularly excellent supporting performances by Boyd Holbrook and Ashton Kutcher, and despite its unsatisfying ending, you can’t accuse Novak of pulling punches.





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