The best Netflix original movies: January 2022 edition
Alyssa Milano in Cheeky.
Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/Netflix
With the year-end deadline for awards review now in our retrospective, Netflix is taking January to calm down and unload some under-the-radar titles that won’t require press junkets and For Your Consideration campaigns. The must-see selection pushes hot buttons with a carnal setup that’s as French as it gets, but this month’s lineup is its own miniature world tour, including a social drama from Indonesia, a Polish gangster epic that plays like Scorsese marinated, and a finely chopped Spanish nightmare. All this, plus a special surprise for fans of Alyssa Milano and/or psychosexual intrigue! Fight the late winter post-holiday doldrums with one of Netflix’s latest original movies, rated in full below:
Long live France, the only country where the following premise might stand a chance: The apathetic Jean-Louis (Laurent Lafitte, who also directed this play adaptation) is surprised to find his heart s Arrested and left him in a suspended state of half-death, the only remedy for which turns out to be to lay eyes on his mother’s pudenda. An oedipal yukfest ensues as he attempts to extricate himself from this predicament by taking a Polaroid of the soldiers in question, his gritty comedy pushed into the realm of genuinely uncomfortable taboo. Lafitte’s sense of humor has one foot in the second and one foot in the sophisticated (the film’s French title is The origin of the world, as in Gustave Courbet’s 19th-century portrait of the vulva of a faceless woman, and opens with an interlude in the cosmos), a tonic combination totally foreign to the tradition of American cinematic comedy. If only for the shock of novelty, it’s a good diversion.
After a few cocktails, a dinner party of thirtysomethings indulge in a little thought experiment. To finally settle the dispute over whether soul mates really exist, a married couple (Flavio Furno and Marta Gastini) pair their single friends in what-if scenarios, some of which see their love take flight and some of which don’t. The idea is that the perfect match is just as much about where we are in life as it is about some inherent person-to-person compatibility – less Mister Right, more Mister Right Now – which overall seems okay, even if that’s not so telling. The point might be better made if director Alessio Maria Federici and writer Martino Coli didn’t drop us on our heads, with an intro announcing “here is our film’s thesis!” and an outro that echoes it with “and that’s our movie’s thesis!” This simple, unimaginative quality extends to the setups too, in that even the segments where everything lines up feel somewhat strained.
It’s somewhere in the 1800s, and a family – father Salvador (Roberto Alamo), loving mother Lucia (Inma Cuesta) and their puffball of a son, Diego (Asier Flores) – has taken stakes in the most sublimely strange corner of rural Spain available. From disturbing mum-made dolls to minimalist scarecrows dotting their farmlands like executions on Golgotha, bad vibes abound and threaten to engulf fragile Diego when dad sets out to find the family of the guy who just killed himself on their forward. It’s another one of those cases where a dysfunctional family transmutes into monster form, which, in this disturbing case, isn’t nearly as exciting as a monster without a foot in metaphorical abstraction. “It’s actually about trauma” has become something of a punchline in the horror world lately, and prioritizing subtext over actual text here explains why.
Deadly illusions, the not-technically-a-Netflick cleared by the service last year in which Kristin Davis played a pocket mystery writer solving an actual murder plot, reportedly did monster numbers; of course, it was only a matter of time before the studio created its own in-house. Another actress known for her television work around the turn of the millennium (this time it’s Alyssa Milano from Charm fame) lands in a similar situation, relying on his instincts as a page-turning scribe to determine who stabbed his sister to death. This is all in the realm of trashtastic, but director Monika Mitchell lacks the sense of irony needed to find the funny in this overheated tangle of illicit secrets, leaving boredom in the vacant space. In this rather milquetoast take on a genre that thrives on the outrageous, we miss the thrills that embrace and rise above the disreputable. Although Mitchell’s plot revolves around the clandestine actions of a cam girl, there’s nothing here that seems off-limits.
A student (Shenina Syawalita Cinnamon) goes out, is too drunk, and discovers the forgotten events of the evening in horror on her phone the next morning. It’s a common occurrence, but in Indonesia’s censored culture, one indelicate and inebriated selfie is enough to get you kicked out of your school and your family. Our daughter Sur puts her feelings of violation aside so she can play detective and figure out how she got out of control, uncovering unsavory plots from her classmates in the process. (Pretty much the same case as Pippa Bianco To share, though the production timeline suggests it’s a coincidence rather than some behind-the-scenes algorithmic jiggery-poker.) The local judging context gives this film an added sense of the stakes, and its Candid treatment of sexual assault is coupled with a critique of the nation’s status quo depicted here. If only the dialogue weren’t so functional and more versed in the awkward inarticulateness of young people, it could have been a plausible and valuable dissection of a social epidemic.
The American indie circuit has given us plenty of sensitive, deadpan dramas about stand-up comedians hiding their neuroses and arrested development behind a crying clown facade, and this Mexican equivalent doesn’t bring much distinction to the act. . Comedian Gabriel Nuncio (playing a fictionalized version of himself, in addition to co-directing and co-writing) faces a litany of mini-crises common to his type: he’s trying to sell a screenplay of a film that no one considers marketable enough to produce, he hits a thing with a stunningly acted iteration of the maniacal pixie dream girl (Cassandra Ciangherotti), a friend wants him to donate his cum. Those familiar with the Mexican comedy scene may make the most of its on-the-fly infiltration of the clique – several rated comics appear as themselves – but the more sensitive side of its coming-of-age schtick is obsolete.
That’s the big conundrum of the gangster movie: starving young directors who grew up in the grip of their cold blood want to create their own, but nothing is less cool than rehashing the greatest hits of previous generations. That Maciej Kawulski’s addition to this crowded underworld comes to us from Poland seems promising and unique, until it’s clear that he’s just making counterfeit branded goods from the United States. Nikodem “Nikos” Skotarczak’s (Tomasz Wolosok) true story, from penny childhood scams to the top of the criminal heap, could have been listed from that of Henry Hill or Frank Lucas or any what a number of stubborn, ruthless crooks who preceded them. The one-night stands with faceless women, the sharp injections of stylized violence, the up-and-down structure – it’s all a track we know too well, even if it’s been re-marked by music by Eastern European clubs.