Under The Radar: Significant Other, Cabinet Of Curiosities, And More Spooky Stories From October

(Welcome to Under the Radar, a column where we spotlight specific movies, shows, trends, performances, or scenes that caught our eye and deserved more attention ... but otherwise flew under the radar. In this edition: Maika Monroe shines in the surprisingly thoughtful "Significant Other," Guillermo del Toro invites us into a new nightmare in "Cabinets of Curiosities," and "Barbarian" makes its streaming debut in all its gonzo glory.)

Happy Halloween, folks! In just a few short hours, spooky season will have come and gone as we barrel full steam ahead towards the year-end holidays and the onset of winter (in this hemisphere, at least). But before anyone starts taking down their giant skeletons and replacing them with Christmas lights, giant Santas, and other yuletide décor, have you considered that we don't have to let the end of October dictate the end of our horror marathons?

November may be upon us, but this past month has boasted quite a few fascinating debuts for those still in the mood for a scare or two. Our last installment of "Under the Radar," if you remember, focused on three bite-sized indies with blockbuster aspirations that packed a much larger punch — partly thanks to releasing during a largely spectacle-less September. This time around, we're shining a light on a few choice horror-themed gems that had their theatrical or streaming debuts within the last four weeks. Genre junkies usually have a habit of staying on top of these sorts of titles and keeping them on their radar when others may not, but this month's edition has a mix of one truly underseen experience, a highly-anticipated Netflix anthology series from one of our greatest living directors that deserves all the attention it gets, and a smash-hit horror flick that is about to get a second breath on streaming.

So without further ado, here are three of my spookiest picks from October.

Significant Other puts love to the test

It'd be easy to look at a movie like "Significant Other," currently streaming on Paramount+, as another quiet relationship drama between two people loaded with emotional baggage and who embark on a woefully ill-advised trip that tests their love to the limit ... if it weren't for that inauspicious meteor streaking overhead in the opening scene, indicating a downright fantastical twist.

In some ways, knowing right away that there's something sci-fi afoot in this otherwise meditative tone poem almost does the film a disservice. Think of how, ideally, we wouldn't have even known that this year's "Prey" was a stealth "Predator" prequel and instead experienced the surprise of a lifetime when that grounded, simple story of a young Comanche woman suddenly turned into a fight for survival with one of the most famous sci-fi villains of all time. While the stakes aren't quite as high in "Significant Other," writer/director duo Dan Berk and Robert Olsen manage to make this work by maintaining an impressive focus on the central relationship of the story — even as they have their cake and eat it, too, with constant foreboding teases of a mysterious entity in the woods haunting their every step.

In actuality, the film feels like the second in a hypothetical trilogy of movies (after "Watcher," which I wrote about in a previous installment of this column) where actor Maika Monroe portrays someone placed in extreme circumstances to fully push her relationship with a significant other (hint, hint!) to the breaking point. Part introspective drama, part unnerving thriller, and part otherworldly fable along the lines of "Men" or "Annihilation," "Significant Other" tackles fascinating ideas about love, anxiety, and whether our past will always dictate our future. The answers it comes up with may surprise you.

Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities creeps under the skin

Every episode of "Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities" (you can check out Chris Evangelista's review for /Film here) begins with the brilliant filmmaker putting on his best Rod Serling impression, speaking directly to viewers to explain the upcoming story as if we were guests in the confines of his own private theater. His impassioned and flowery little monologues perfectly set the tone for each chapter of the Netflix series, adding a fittingly personal touch to this fascinating, meticulously curated collection of oddball stories and horrific parables from some of the most exciting directors in the business.

Though some episodes are rather more straightforward than others, all share the same spirit of the macabre that Guillermo Del Toro has spent an entire career exploring. The unique strategy to release two episodes per night offers an opportunity to find the thematic connections between each pair, turning what could've felt like a series of one-off anthology stories into something more meaningful — like a wine and cheese tasting where one flavor bounces off and compliments another. In fact, del Toro himself described the entire endeavor as a "sampler," with each new pairing offering up an entirely fresh experience each night. 

In vintage del Toro fashion, however, the comforts of food and drink are replaced by chilling escapades of awful people getting their deserved comeuppance as a result of their own arrogance (and a little assist from the supernatural), alarmingly modern metaphors concerned with mortality and rote consumerism, two back-to-back adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft's work, and a final pair of intoxicating episodes that overwhelm the senses with, alternately, sensory overload hyper-stylization and a haunting tableau of grief and loss.

You won't find anything else quite like this all year.

Barbarian defies expectations at every turn

Some movies unwittingly bite off far more than they can chew, choking on their own ambition and ultimately ending up less than the sum of their parts. Others seem fully aware of their brazenness and steer into the skid, as it were, embracing the chaos of unfettered limitations and simply going for it. "Barbarian" (which /Film's Ryan Scott reviewed here and is currently available to stream on HBO Max) exists on the knife's edge between those two points. Too bizarre and gonzo to be easily forgotten, but too deliciously unpredictable to spoil here, writer/director Zach Cregger's nightmare tableau of an overnight stay at an Airbnb gone horrifically wrong will likely top many end-of-the-year lists as one of 2022's best theatrical experiences.

Part of that charm comes from the fact that the film plays fast and loose with the traditional rules of genre filmmaking. The early portions of the film are perhaps its most conventional (though that's not to say it's ineffective — just the opposite, in fact), drawing as much tension as possible out of our uncertainties of Bill Skarsgård's Keith and his intentions toward Tess (Georgina Campbell). Once the second phase of the film kicks into gear, the initial drip-feed of steady horror is replaced with a completely unexpected and seemingly unconnected series of vignettes that boast an impressively morbid sense of dark humor (again, no spoilers, but those who have seen the film will know what I'm talking about). The go-for-broke finale subsequently upends any remaining predictions, dragging us kicking and screaming towards a thoroughly grisly ending.

If the film's attempts at social commentary and theme feel a little scatterbrained, that's simply the price it pays for delivering some of the most unforgettable moments of any horror movie in recent memory.