The Undiscovered Gems Of Netflix Streaming

There are literally tens of thousands of things to watch on Netflix. Most of them not very good! If only there was a human video clerk, like the olden days, to help you find the most awesome, most obscure films on Netflix streaming video. Say hello to the Netflix Video Clerk.

You can’t call an algorithm an asshole.

It used to be, if you had just seen something and wanted to pick up another film in the same vein, maybe something a little off the beaten path, you’d talk to your friendly neighborhood video store clerk. These were the guys who knew most every faded, dust-covered tape they had, and they were happy to steer you towards something interesting and unfamiliar, whether it be a foreign film that bypassed your area’s theaters or a forgotten bit of genre sleaze given a second life on a burgeoning new format. Those guys and those stores are gone now, yet there’s still plenty of work to be done — the rise of streaming video has resulted in the unearthing of a staggering amount of forgotten, underloved cinema. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the darker corners of Netflix Instant. Their library is vast and daunting, filled with a striking number of films previously unavailable since the heyday of VHS. And to sift through it all, they’ve got algorithms, bits of code that relate titles you might be interested in to titles you’ve liked.

Thing is, though, while that code can tell you that you might find a particular film interesting, it can’t tell you why. It can’t champion that film, argue passionately for it, tell you exactly how gorgeous or exciting or chock fulla boobs it is. And if you end up hating that film, you can’t mouth off to the algorithm, aside from logging a one-star rating and maybe writing a review that no one’s going to read anyway. There’s no conversation. The personal touch, she is missing. I aim to put it back. Somebody has to be The Guy Behind the Counter. I think I can be that guy.

If you want a horror film with personality: Pontypool (2009, Bruce McDonald)

“Mrs. French’s cat is missing…” So many zombie movies have slithered from the digital pipe in the last year that it’s natural for the genre to be suffering burnout. How, then, to revitalize it? Let’s see… what if the infection was not physical but mental, coded in language and how we process it? That’s the hook of the terrifically creepy Pontypool, a film that lets chaos spin from the mere act of speaking. Stephen McHattie, with his gloriously gravelly voice, plays a no-bullshit radio talkshow host whose snowy Monday morning goes from bad to disastrous when folks in his tiny Ontario town of Pontypool start acting a little odd. Seems there’s something multiplying in their brains, making them act violently towards others — could it be related to the muttered, repeated mantras they all seem to have?

McDonald and writer Tony Burgess let this build slowly, like a virus taking hold; more importantly, the two take the irrational nature of the premise and expand it until it’s the whole point, the problem and the solution — fight repetition with repetition, violence against the flesh with violence against language, the unexplainable with the deliberately scrambled. It’s a thriller for both the senses and the mind — a clever conceit exploited for both the sinister and the darkly humorous, where a conversation can turn from everyday to dangerous with a mere repeated word signaling oncoming derangement. At the center of it is McHattie in a deliciously curmudgeonly turn, quietly frightened yet still willing to rip into a corker of a joke if he can make one (“Do we really want to provide a genocide with elevator music?”). So much at the base of the horror genre is about terror of that which we can’t understand. Pontypool perversely offers us the horror of understanding too hard.


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