Double features are great. You watch one film, and then you watch another? Sign me up! Every time I’ve seen two movies right after another in a cinema, it’s been great. (Except when I had to sprint from The Handmaiden to Raw. I am not a man made for sprinting.) But I find they’re even better when there’s a throughline connecting the two films, so, y’know, here we are.
Check these double features out if you like movies. If not, suggest them to your friends who do like movies as a power move. Either way, read on.
Hereditary (2017) / Horse Girl (2020)
No matter how good your parents are, there’s probably a part of you that fears becoming them. It’s not (usually) that they’re bad people, or even necessarily that they’re not the kind of people you’d like to be when you grow up: it’s a more fundamental threat. By some theories of mind, learning that we’re separate beings from our mothers is the first step to developing a personal identity and a sense of ourselves as individuals. But even if you don’t buy that, the idea of becoming our parents flies in the face of our sense of free will by burdening us with an inherited destiny. That fear can be even more acute when mental illness seemingly runs in the family.
Hereditary, the debut film of horror prodigy Ari Aster, and Horse Girl, the latest off-beat dramedy from weird guy Jeff Baena, are thematically similar and stylistically divergent explorations of this common fear that each make it feel fresh and visceral in their own way. Hereditary follows stressed mother and miniaturist Annie (Toni Colette) as she deals with her complicated feelings of grief after the death of her neglectful and abusive mother. Horse Girl follows craft shop employee and horse enthusiast Sarah (Alison Brie, who co-wrote the screenplay with Baena) as she tries to come out of her shell while dealing with increasingly disruptive sleepwalking episodes. I don’t want to give too much away about either, since they both take some pretty wild turns, but I was struck by how both view the world alongside and through the eyes of their protagonists. What’s real and unreal in the world of the film – especially as they reach their respective climaxes – is very unclear, forcing us to empathise with characters we might not if we had to view them from the outside.
How to Murder Your Wife (1965) / A New Leaf (1971)
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau formed one of the greatest comedy partnerships in film history, but they were also separately among the finest actors of their generation. That rarely resulted, for whatever reason, in many moments of symmetry in their careers. Lemmon started out in comedies and war movies, Matthau in dramas and westerns. Lemmon had a big sex comedy phase, Matthau had a big “adaptations of plays” phase. Lemmon did more dramas about aging and fatherhood in his late career, Matthau did a run of thrillers.
The obvious exceptions are How to Murder Your Wife and A New Leaf, two very different comedies on the topic of wife murder. The former, starring Lemmon, is a pretty good mid-60s comedy about a newspaper cartoonist who drunkenly marries a strange Italian woman he doesn’t immediately click with and starts writing slapstick fantasies of killing her into his comics, only to end up on trial for her murder when she disappears. Like many comedies of the period, it’s kind of an overstuffed mess and lacks teeth, but it’s still a lot of fun / has Jack Lemmon in it. A New Leaf, starring Matthau, is one of the many masterpieces of Elaine May, a black comedy about a rich toff facing impending bankruptcy who conspires to marry and then murder a wealthy heiress in order to maintain his lifestyle. Though they ultimately land in a similar place, the differences in style and theme (especially A New Leaf’s brilliant class humour) make the double feature feel like watching the changing of the guard as the last gasps of Hollywood’s Golden Age gave way to the New Hollywood of the young auteurs.
Häxan (1922) / The Witch (2015)
Häxan is a silent documentary – to the extent that documentaries existed as a distinct genre in the 1920s – about the history of witchcraft, directed by the Danish filmmaker Benjamin Christensen. It’s a really fascinating film for a whole host of reasons, not least that it’s just very good. The scenes are almost all what we would now call reconstructions of alleged occult practices, sometimes shown twice to cover both the superstitious and scientific interpretations of events, predating The Thin Blue Line’s use of the same techniques by some sixty-six years. The practical effects and monster makeup are top-notch, several of the performances are incredibly moving, and its structure foretells YouTube video essays by nearly a century. It’s also shockingly progressive, not just condemning the misogyny of the historical witch trials, but the misogyny of then-contemporary mental health “treatment” that frequently amounted to locking up and torturing women who were socially deviant.
Häxan argues that witches are obviously not real. What The Witch supposes is: what if they were? A very polarising film, The Witch explores the same ideas of superstition, paranoia and misogyny, but from the opposite perspective, following an isolated settler family in early colonial America who lose a child at the hands of a cannibalistic witch. Where Häxan avoids condescending to people in the past by casting a similarly critical eye on its present, The Witch does it by taking their beliefs at face value. It’s a wonderfully unclichéd take on the period and just an incredibly beautiful film besides, with so many marvellous actors – including Anya Taylor-Joy in her breakout role – acting the hell out of a script full of dense period-appropriate dialogue. It’s mad that anyone made it as their first film.
Heathers (1988) / World’s Greatest Dad (2009)
I don’t know what black comedy is if it isn’t Heathers and World’s Greatest Dad. I’ve written before about my love of suicide jokes and these movies are full of them, because their plots both feature non-suicide deaths disguised as suicides. Heathers is a high school movie about jaded popular girl Veronica (Winona Ryder) as she falls out with the titular clique and starts dating burgeoning serial killer JD (Christian Slater). He makes all his kills look like suicides, which causes the school and town to put on huge displays of grief, regret and sensitivity even as their behaviour stays fundamentally cruel and alienating. World’s Greatest Dad is also a high school movie, but its main character, Lance (Robin Williams), is a teacher whose son, played by Spy Kids’ Daryl Sabara, is a rude, disrespectful, aggressive pervert who dies by botched autoerotic asphyxiation. No one – including, it seems, his father and best friend – liked him when he was alive, but he becomes a martyr when Lance forges a beautiful suicide note in his name.
Though they obviously share some creative DNA, their differences accumulate into a fascinating contrast. Heathers is a lot more comedic and fantastical and approaches its story through adolescent eyes. World’s Greatest Dad is a lot more melancholic and grounded and approaches it from an adult perspective. Both have a Ferris Bueller-like escalation of hysterical grief, but Heathers snickers at it where World’s Greatest Dad cringes and ultimately balks. Also, this doesn’t go to the contrast, but Robin Williams delivers one of his finest performances in World’s Greatest Dad and it breaks my heart that more people haven’t seen it.
Bad Genius (2017) / Parasite (2019)
Bad Genius is a 2017 Thai heist film that should have been its country’s submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film but wasn’t. Parasite is a 2019 South Korean thriller that also should have been its country’s submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film but the Academy renamed it Best International Feature Film and spawned a ridiculous controversy about Nigerian films in English not being eligible that almost no one involved thought through at all.
Both are genre films with a twist about poor people running scams and examine class relations in their countries in a way that reveals, in the words of Parasite director Bong Joon-ho, that “we all live in the same country now; that of capitalism”. Both are also very weird. Bad Genius is about students running a cheating ring in a high school, but it’s shot like an Ocean’s Eleven movie and it rules. Parasite takes a classically gothic scenario of servants and masters at odds, transplants it to modern Korea, and then goes to bizarre, dark, satirical places I can only hint at without giving the whole plot away. Most of all, they’re both excellent, some of the best films of the last decade. You absolutely will not regret giving them your time.