Whether you’re standing in the theater lobby or curled up in bed, deciding what to watch next is often the most difficult part of any pop-culture junkie’s day. And with dozens of films in theaters on any given weekend, plus virtually endless layers of streaming purgatory to sort through in search of your next binge-watch, there’s more out there—and tougher decisions to make—than ever.
Fortune‘s here to help you navigate the week’s latest offerings, boiling all the entertainment out there down into distinct recommendations: should you see it, stream it, or skip it? Find out below.
SEE IT: ‘The Lodge’ (In theaters, expanding through February)
There’s a haunted quality to Riley Keough, a soul-deep disenchantment she can gather in her shoulders and pour forward through heavy-lidded blue eyes. Her characters are cold to the touch, detached and somewhat alien, miles away from the often grim circumstances in which they find themselves. Check her out in the first season of Starz’s The Girlfriend Experience, bringing spooky focus to the part of a high-end sex worker, or on screen as two very different kinds of den mothers with hidden depths in American Honey and Hold the Dark. Keough’s characters are often terrifyingly unknowable, but the actress plays these ciphers with such intensity that watching her is never anything less than a hypnotic experience.
Keough would have thrived in the silent film era. Her innate magnetism and propensity toward intricate, calculating characters also makes her an ideal match for the horror genre. The Lodge, from Goodnight Mommy codirectors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, offers Keough one of her most chilling roles yet, in a film fiendishly calibrated to reflect its star’s spiritual disquiet at all levels.
Stationed somewhere between Hereditary‘s creeping, trauma-steeped terror and the uncanny aura of something like The Shining, The Lodge centers on Grace (Keough), who’s decided to marry the older Richard (Richard Armitage) after falling for him at some point early in the dissolution of his marriage to Laura (Alicia Silverstone, briefly). The kids, Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), are understandably cold to Grace, even months later. That Grace has an uncertain past with a doomsday cult only makes her more suspicious to Aidan and Mia, and their rightful anger at the way Grace’s arrival wrecked their household is heightened by a cocktail of other, more tangled emotions that come to roost when she’s left alone with them for a few days at a remote cabin.
The less said beyond that, the better. The Lodge is a profoundly despairing piece of work, and its snowed-in premise creates a particularly suffocating atmosphere of dread in which to strand the characters – most of all Keough, whose elusive cool eventually cracks under such subzero conditions. There’s something wrong with their cabin, with the foreboding woods that surround them, certainly with how impossibly dark it seems to get this time of year. But even with a final reveal that leads the film back into more predictable territory, The Lodge is a grim, ghastly thing to behold. It gets in your bones, right down to the marrow, and rattles them.
STREAM IT: ‘Utopia Falls’ (Hulu)
If one was to trace the rise and fall of dystopian YA storytelling across this past decade, the Divergent franchise might serve as the best case study in how it all went wrong.
Divergent, based on the books by Veronica Roth, was higher-profile than most, and its flameout more spectacular; after audiences voiced their disinterest in Allegiant (the third, “Part I”-style installment in the movie series), its fourth and final chapter was unceremoniously paused, delayed, overhauled, and ultimately canceled outright. The dystopian YA genre, at least for a time, appeared to die out.
That brings us to Utopia Falls, a new Hulu series that (at least in its early going) would appear hopelessly behind the ball. Its setup suggests Hunger Games meets The Get Down, or a futuristic Footloose. Three hundred years in the future, in a city called New Babyl, musically gifted teenagers are gathered to compete in The Exemplar, essentially a talent show in which graceful dance routines or soaring ballads are measured against one another for the glory of New Babyl’s messianic founder.
It’s a lighter-hearted riff on this subgenre from the get-go, the stakes for the teen contestants considerably less high than those competing in the tooth-and-nail bloodsport of Panem in The Hunger Games. But Utopia Falls twists by the end of its first episode into something much more tantalizing. After two contestants stumble into a hidden archive of ancient information outside the city limits, they’re greeted by a repository of hip-hop music, an art form frowned upon by the Exemplar’s flashy Authority Phydra. And in a last-minute reveal, the pilot shows us than this archive has a built-in voice, which belongs to none other than… Snoop Dogg.
That’s right: hip-hop serves as the most forbidden and important form of self-expression for Utopia Falls‘ young protagonists, who find themselves the vanguards of a revolution when they bring raps back to civilization. It’s not made entirely clear why hip-hop has been eradicated from New Babyl’s culture, given that its overlords claim to pride themselves on inclusivity in other forms, and most other genres (including soul and R&B) have survived intact. But its rediscovery nevertheless drives the teens at Utopia Falls‘s center to push back against all they’ve been raised to believe, calling into question the hidden levers of power, prejudice, and social control only a select few officials are able to access. The series’ timely exploration, through protagonist Bodhi (Akiel Julien), of how racism can be perpetuated within the confines of a self-decidedly “post-racial” society is particularly fascinating.
There’s a lot nestled into this show’s setup, and Utopia Falls uses its 10-episode structure wisely, teasing out information about hip-hop’s status in New Babyl and the ways in which it gradually begins to radicalize the characters. Issues abound in terms of pacing and plotting, and the series perhaps functions better as an ode to the galvanizing power of hip-hop than it does as a tale of dystopian uprising. But for a subgenre as creatively drained as this, there’s surprising joy to be found in Utopia Falls‘ music-is-the-mission vision of a tomorrow in which sonic self-expression remains as vital a freedom of speech as it is today, and one equally worth fighting for.
SKIP IT: ‘Downhill’ (In theaters)
Even considered in abstract, without the lived-in knowledge of how bad they often turn out to be, Americanized remakes of foreign-language films carry all kinds of troubling implications.
Is Hollywood truly so hegemonic that it has no place for films outside the English language, despite 41 million Americans speaking Spanish at home? Is the “one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles” referred to by the great South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho—four-time Oscar-winning director of Parasite, the reigning Best Picture—too elevated a hurdle for American filmgoers to clear? Or has this always simply been a lie sold by Hollywood, to justify its busy, empty, occasionally lucrative reworking of foreign-language films?
There’s an Oscar Wilde quote for most situations, and one certainly applies here: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” Funny how people tend to forget the second half of that one. Hollywood, too.
This is an admittedly unfair amount of analysis to fling at Downhill, an Americanized remake of 2014’s bracing Force Majeure, Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s darkly comic tale of existential crisis and bourgeois delusion. It’s unfair both because the remake—from codirectors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash—is a symptom rather than the disease, and because the film itself appears frozen in the act of hand-wringing over this exact issue.
In replicating the original’s tale of a family divided while skiing at a luxury resort in the Alps, Downhill casts Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell in the role of the central couple, whose pre-existing tensions are exacerbated by the fish-out-of-water surreality of vacationing in a foreign country. They had issues before they got to the mountain, and those are only accentuated after what first appears to be an uncontrolled avalanche leads the husband, Pete, to hurriedly abandon wife Billie and their kids to certain death in hopes of saving his own skin. Snowmageddon does not come to pass, leaving Billie rightly incensed that her life partner would so blithely turn his back on what they built at the first sign of trouble.
This is more or less as it happens in Force Majeure, with some specific shots restaged exactly. Downhill‘s issue is that it lacks the original’s savage willingness to follow through on what unfolds in that avalanche’s aftermath. Part of this is in the filmmaking. Östlund’s long shots and screw-turning patience behind the camera amplified the audience’s discomfort as they, like the characters, were forced to sit in silence with the fallout of its patriarch’s cowardice. Faxon and Rash, even shaving 33 minutes off the original’s two-hour runtime, restage most of the main sequences in Force Majeure but rush through almost all of them. A key confrontation between Billie and Pete in which Louis-Dreyfus finally uncorks the confusion and rage she’s kept bottled up is the best scene in Downhill, but it’s over far too quickly, the film hurrying along to the next gag without allowing audiences to marinate in the truly horrifying weight of such an outburst.
Faxon and Rash are gifted writers, as their Oscar-winning script for The Descendants made clear, and with an assist from Succession scribe Jesse Armstrong on this screenplay, it’s somewhat shocking that their film is clipped to such a degree. One senses, almost, that in tackling Östlund’s tonal black diamond, they realized they were skiing well out of both their comfort zone—and more importantly, Searchlight’s (which has separately proven how little it understood the high tension and trauma of Force Majeure by slotting its remake for Valentine’s Day weekend). What’s left of the original’s cringe-comedy and marital anguish is watered down, and Downhill seems self-conscious about this. It should be. The adaptation carries itself like a tourist, ungainly and ultimately clueless as to the richer meaning of the filmic terrain it was so eager to occupy.
The best of the rest
Also in theaters, lesbian romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire—one of the most acclaimed films to hit the festival circuit last year—is finally expanding across the country beginning this week. It charts the forbidden affair that erupts between a painter (Noémie Merlant) and the young woman (Adèle Haenel) whose wedding portrait she’s tasked with secretly painting. Set in France in the 18th century, it’s one of the most handsomely composed pieces of period filmmaking in years, even if its themes—of art, desire, queer love, and subjectivity—reach thrillingly into the present. Read our interview with filmmaker Céline Sciamma here.
And what better way to celebrate Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar victory last weekend than by diving through streaming services in search of his earlier work?
Parasite (now available for rent on Amazon) was by no means a one-hit wonder. It’s been said that Bong is a genre unto himself, and his knack for savage, sharp-witted social satire is on full display across his past films.
Check out his directorial debut, dark comedy Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000), on Tubi for free, or on Shudder with a subscription. That’s also the case for monster movie The Host (2006), about a family looking to save their daughter after she’s abducted by a kaiju-esque sea monster. His twisty crime drama Memories of Murder (2003), about detectives racing to catch a serial killer, is streaming for free on a smaller streaming site called Popcornflix, or on YouTube via Viewster’s channel. Shudder also has Mother (2009), a powder-keg drama about a mother struggling to clear the name of her mentally handicapped son after he’s framed for murder.
Bong really broke out into the mainstream with his first major U.S. release, Snowpiercer (2014), now streaming on Netflix. A dystopian thriller in which a class uprising breaks out at the back of a futuristic train as it travels the remnants of a ruined Earth, it stars Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Go Ah-sung, John Hurt, and—in one of many prescient echoes of Parasite—that film’s leading man, Song Kang-ho. Also on Netflix: Bong’s lesser-seen 2017 adventure Okja, about a genetically modified super pig.
More must-read stories from Fortune:
—Contagion writer, scientific adviser reflect on film’s newfound relevance amid coronavirus crisis
—Ava DuVernay on the “radical act” of black love in OWN’s Cherish the Day
—How history-making wins for Parasite and The Farewell can shift Hollywood’s diversity narrative
—Summertime director and cast on crafting a “love letter” to Los Angeles
—The best movies that came out of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival
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