I've found a couple more Netflix titles disturbing of late. You know, in a good way.
I've learned that for horror films to be most effective for me, it helps if I watch in the dark without distractions, other than the nagging demands of my brain for sleep.
So propped on my pillow with my iPad recently, I screened In Fear and Mr. Jones, both 2013 releases.
Modestly budgeted, they made great use of suggested peril and creepy atmosphere to give me a shiver. The storylines are quite different. The buttons they push are similar.
In Fear, from Ireland and featuring Downton chauffeur Allen Leech, had the biggest impact. Ever get lost on a road trip? The film suggests one of the worst possible scenarios for what might happen when an Internet printout map fails you.
Of course there's no mobi coverage once Tom and Lucy (Iain De Caestecker and Alice Englert) leave the main road and follow the signs toward the inn they're seeking. Soon they're driving in circles, and as darkness settles, they grow increasingly nervous while their situation seems to grow more and more bleak.
Occasional stops, to don parkas or make other car checks, begin to suggest someone might be lurking in the shadows.
The ambiguity, for me, produced a growing sense of unease mingled with flashes of real eeriness as a figure in a white mask lurked in the shadows, never quite fully defined.
Tom and Lucy aren't quite as interesting as characters as Leech's Max, who might be a savior or might be more sinister, and the tale may wind up in familiar territory for horror viewers, but the journey's dark and chilling enough to make the trip worthwhile.
The first hour or so of Mr. Jones also delivers some chills coupled with an intriguing premise tied to a Lovecraftian dreamscape.
Another young couple here, Scott and Penny (Jon Foster and Sarah Jones of Alcatraz), head to the wildness to work on a documentary. That sets up found footage possibilities with one twist. Scott's rigged his camera for a FaceTime-like view of the operator's face.
Shocked expressions mingle with what the camera's main lens sees. Just as Scott's plans and inspiration begin to crumble, he stumbles on odd nature sculptures by his neighbor, a shadowy and trench-coated figure who never quite comes into focus. Makes him scarier, just like the guy in white mask, though he prefers black.
Penny recognizes the sculptures as the work of Mr. Jones, an unknown artist who once shipped nine of his odd totems to various art dealers and others across America. Clearly she and Scott have stumbled on his studio.
Scott heads to New York to conduct interviews with Mr. Jones authorities including David Clennon who plays a gallery owner, recipient of one of the first sculptures. A more cynical recipient warns strange things transpire once a sculpture is received.
Meanwhile Penny's exploring Mr. Jones' studio and taking note of new work plus strange nooks and crannies. She gradually develops a theory that Mr. Jones sculptures may have a purpose.
When Scott returns, things begin to get more and more surreal. Whether it's because he's stopped taking medication or because something mystical is afoot, the final third of the film kind of explodes into an open-to-interpretation excursion.
Does the conclusion live up to the tantalizing possibilities the mysterious sculptures pose? Perhaps not. Maybe the last half hour's a little too overwhelming, but the building creepiness and the intriguing look of a scene created in Mr. Jones' underground lair kept me engaged for much of the film's length.
Above all, in spite of my jaded and desensitized perspective, a few ripples of fear crept through me. That made the films stand out.