What to watch in theaters and stream at home this weekend

March 6, 2020, 4:30 PM UTC
Courtesy of IFC Films; Miya Mizuno—FX; Courtesy of Elevation Picturres

Whether you’re standing in the theater lobby or curled up in bed, deciding what to watch next is often the most difficult part of any pop-culture junkie’s day. And with dozens of films in theaters on any given weekend, plus virtually endless layers of streaming purgatory to sort through in search of your next binge-watch, there’s more out there—and tougher decisions to make—than ever.

Fortune‘s here to help you navigate the week’s latest offerings, boiling all the entertainment out there down into three distinct recommendations: should you see it, stream it, or skip it? Find out below.

SEE IT: ‘Swallow’ (In limited theaters)

There’s no limit to the terrors women face on a day-to-day basis, from the world at large and certainly at the hands of men who claim to love them.

Horror movies have reflected this truth for far longer than popular culture has deigned to publicly acknowledge it, working themes of motherhood, sexual awakening, loss of agency, and the chill of domesticity into all manner of nightmares removed (if only to a degree) from reality.

Swallow, from writer-director Carlo Mirabella-Davis, follows in the tradition of films like Rosemary’s Baby and Safe with its thoughtful, provocative portrayal of a young woman fighting to reclaim a sense of selfhood in a world that’s already shown it will control and predetermine her every action. As we meet Hunter (Haley Bennett), she plays the role of a perfect housewife to her affluent husband (Austin Stowell), whose callous treatment of her suggests a man in search of a trophy rather than a bride. Sequestered inside their sprawling and remarkably cold home in upstate New York, she has no choice but to serve, either by preparing appetizers for dinner guests or twirling dutifully in any number of expensive dresses for the approval of her in-laws, who’ll never grant it.

After discovering that she’s pregnant, Hunter becomes fascinated with a red marble that’s been left out in her home; carefully, she places it in her mouth and swallows it. Later, after it travels through her, Hunter picks her prize out from the toilet, cleans it, and places it on a tray in the bedroom, where it serves as a queasy memento. Soon, it’s joined by other items—a stickpin, a lock, a AA battery, a thumbtack—as Hunter undertakes a daring and increasingly dangerous mission of self-reconstitution.

It’s worth noting at this juncture that Hunter is not set on suicide, despite how self-destructive her addiction—stated to be pica, a real eating disorder that involves eating inedible objects—starts to become. Instead, Mirabella-Davis stages her swallowing of objects as a silent revolt, a way of wresting control back from the rich and entitled monsters invading her space. The strikingly saturated aesthetics of the film, redolent of films by Douglas Sirk, complement Hunter’s profound isolation; trapped within the red-and-blue panels of her impossibly cold domicile, she’s half model in a catalog, half bug in amber.

Mirabella-Davis, who identifies as male, approaches the psychology of Hunter with a bold curiosity that at times reminds of Oz Perkins, another director tantalized by what’s dim and unknowable to him about the inner workings of the female psyche. Bennett carries the ambiguities of Mirabella-Davis’s script in a performance that’s at once formidable and heartbreaking; as Swallow becomes a far different film in its second half, the actress never loses control of her impeccably impassive features or lets us forget Hunter’s under-siege humanity. Swallow may face criticism, understandably so, for its explicit coding of the eating disorder that afflicts Hunter as pica, given that it’s simultaneously implied to be an impulse-response to marital discontent, and thus tied directly to her womanhood in a way the real disorder is not. But the film’s choice to do so allows it to look also at how psychiatric diagnosis, functioning beneath patriarchy, can be just as effective as a tool of oppression as gaslighting or emotional abuse. Living within limits as restrictive as hers, Hunter’s swallowing exists as both liberation and annihilation, conviction through compulsion, a final stand others can’t help but see as a cry for help. If she can’t prevent the world from handling her like an object, she can at least restore a measure of dominance to her consumption of others. It’s a sharp, tricky metaphor, and one that lodges uncomfortably in your throat for days after.

STREAM IT: ‘Devs’ (FX on Hulu)

Alex Garland has emerged as one of the most essential filmmakers of our time, and undoubtedly the most important in the field of science-fiction.

Across his cerebral 2015 debut Ex Machina and gorgeously ambitious 2018 follow-up Annihilation, Garland’s pursued a form of emotional, existential sci-fi storytelling that marries posthumanist speculation to a real preoccupation with human nature. Both films explored creation and self-destruction as natural processes within the individual and the collective; in each, phenomena ranging from the engineering of artificial intelligence to the introduction of alien life proved wholly transformative to any humans factoring into the equation. “It’s not destroying,” as Natalie Portman’s biologist in Annihilation so memorably mused, describing the extraterrestrial Shimmer’s impact on the landscape across which it’s spreading. “It’s creating something new.”

Garland would write Black Mirror episodes if he wasn’t too smart and empathetic for that. Rarely veering into gotcha-isms and chilly twist endings that underscore the often devastating impact of futuristic technology, Garland prefers to pose the big questions, suggesting how they might disturb, rouse, and reform the human psyche, and chart the way such quandaries overwhelm his characters. He’s not much for easy answers, and never one to give the game away.

That brings us to Devs, Garland’s eight-episode series debuting this week on FX on Hulu. Enigmatic and visually mesmerizing in the extreme, it finds the writer-director (who pulled double duty on every episode) turning his reliably perceptive eye on the tech shamans of Silicon Valley. Within the heavily guarded perimeters of his main research facility, secured like a military base amid the California redwoods, thought leader Forest (Nick Offerman, sporting a gloriously sage beard) is developing something new through his company Amaya, a technological breakthrough that remains a mystery to near all of his sworn-to-secrecy workers. Two, Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) and Sergei (Karl Glusman), are dating; and when Sergei is promoted to work on Forest’s initiative, he’s stunned by what he discovers there.

Soon, Lily is forced to go on the run, from both government forces and a chillingly effective fixer in Amaya’s employ. But despite the threats she faces, it’d be dishonest to describe Devs as a true thriller. The mood is heavy and hypnotic, as well as sometimes slow in a way that recalls FX’s similarly mind-bending Legion and Mr. Robot; Garland, in teasing out a complex logic-box of a narrative across eight hours, moves at a pace decidedly unfriendly to modern consumers’ binge-watch viewing patterns. This feels highly intentional; what Devs is really about lingers as one of the series’ overriding mysteries. And as characters debate ideas of free will and determinism, Garland is deliberate about how he works theoretical contradictions into the overarching narrative, challenging the viewer to work out their own existential worldview while considering his.

In much the same manner as Ex Machina and Annihilation, Devs is a series about the art and artifice of creation and destruction, beginnings and endings, as well as the semblances of control we exert over our lives to distract from the fact that so very little is left to us in the four-walled panopticon of modern society. It feels more contemporary than Annihilation, less morally vexed than Ex Machina, and simultaneously like an advancement of the same ghosts-in-the-machine intellectualism both so excelled at conjuring. Devs is oblique and obsession-worthy sci-fi storytelling of the highest order, and that it somehow puts its characters first—despite framing them within a dazzling hall of techno-existential mirrors—speaks volumes about the human heat still rising, however improbably, from Garland’s electric daydreams.

SKIP IT: ‘Run This Town’ (In limited theaters)

It should come as little surprise the lurid details of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s final year in office have finally made their way to the big screen. For those who remember that uncomfortable chapter in the city’s recent history, Ford exists in the cultural memory as a larger-than-life if not wholly mythic figure, his frequently intoxicated and racist antics offset by a gregarious, sometimes endearing persona that made him the kind of high-profile trainwreck you couldn’t tear your eyes from.

Ford’s downfall, hastened by the emergence of a video that showed him smoking crack cocaine, was stranger-than-fiction stuff, which perhaps accounts for why Run This Town—an ambitious but flawed debut by writer-director Ricky Tollman—bills itself as a fictional take on a true story.

And Run This Town certainly takes liberties with the Ford story, most notably in its invention of a cub reporter played by Ben Platt (Dear Evan Hansen), who stands in for three journalists and their dogged efforts to cover Ford’s misdeeds. Platt’s Bram Shriver, a college grad new to fictional Toronto newspaper The Record, is the one to investigate rumors of Ford’s behavior and uncover the existence of that crack cocaine tape. Young, white, and male, Bram spends much of the film bemoaning the lack of opportunities in his failing field; this, coupled with the hapless way in which he approaches his reporting, makes the character a truly unsympathetic creation. Platt digs in, but Tollman’s script still seems to find him more likable than I did. In reality, that now-infamous footage was made public in part due to the efforts of three reporters from the real Toronto Star, who watched the video and broke the story. Conspicuously, the college graduate in the newsroom was not Platt’s upstart but award-winning female journalist Robyn Doolittle.

Erasing Doolittle from the film’s narrative makes for an odd, tone-deaf contrast with its focus on exploring white male privilege and the least savory moments of Ford’s time as mayor, including his verbal harassment of female staffers. Another composite character, played by Nina Dobrev, bears the brunt of his mistreatment, especially during a tough-to-watch scene in which (as in real life) Ford returns to the office in a drunken stupor and lobs lewd comments in her direction.

Stranger still is Tollman’s choice to cast Damian Lewis (of TV’s Homeland) as Ford; the Scottish actor is nowhere near a physical match for the blustering, heavyset politician he’s playing. Consequently, he’s encased in an unconvincing tub of latex that recalls Mike Myers’s Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies, in a manner that might be lightly comical if it weren’t so persistently distracting. Usually a strong performer with savvy instincts, Lewis appears too out-of-breath to convey his usual range of emotions, which sinks the film in moments when Ford’s confronted with evidence of his wrongdoings.

Run This Town‘s shortcomings can be generally grouped under that banner of a writer-director aiming much higher than he’s currently equipped to deliver. Tollman clearly worships at the altar of Aaron Sorkin, and he manages in a few scenes to successfully imitate that West Wing screenwriter’s ratatat dialogue and wiry political wit. But it’s a thin magic trick, and peering closely at the actual content of the conversations (“He thinks I’m speaking Parseltongue.” “That’s because you’re a fucking spin wizard!”) often reveals an unfortunate lack of insight, an overeagerness to sound clever without saying much.

Where Run This Town is much stronger is in its depiction of perhaps irreparably poisoned ecosystems, across both newsrooms and government offices, where those in seats of power feel secure in belittling and terrorizing their subordinates. In Ford’s offices, his special assistant Kamal (Mena Massoud) struggles to make a name for himself and Tollman’s film gestures in the direction of a richer character drama about a son of immigrants enabling an often xenophobic mayor for his own professional gain. When Ford insists on pronouncing his name “camel,” it’s a slight that stings most in its credibility. Though Platt plays his fictional-composite journalist as such a stuttering sad-sack that it’s difficult to muster much sympathy for him, higher-ups played by Scott Speedman and Jennifer Ehle do pick at him with sometimes exceptionally unprofessional cruelty.

Power’s a harder drug than anything Ford was putting up his nose, and it’s especially intriguing to contemplate the character of Kamal, one of several who enabled Ford’s misconduct while insulating him from consequences. In one scene, he speaks with investigators about the video and asks for the chance to clarify the nature of his position within the offices. Officially, he was “special assistant” to the mayor, Kamal says. And, he’s asked, what about unofficially? “Mayor,” he replies. Massoud plays this admission with a guilty pride flickering across his features that, at the last moment, complicates our sympathies. Run This Town is after a lot, and it correctly frames the Rob Ford scandal as an early harbinger of what was to befall American politics in subsequent years: that his story was one of ascendant populism, abuses of power and the villages enabling it, lack of accountability within institutions, and a sputtering news corps’ struggle to keep up with any of it. But ambition only goes so far, and Run This Town simply lacks the screenwriting smarts to keep up with itself.

The best of the rest:

It’s a oddly muted week of premieres for Apple TV+, which rolls out Amazing Stories on Friday. One of the streaming service’s earliest and most-hyped offerings back when Apple first teased its foray into original programming last March, it’s an update of Steven Spielberg’s time-capsule NBC series, which first aired back in 1985. The original—which drew its name from a science-fiction magazine—was something of a star-studded Twilight Zone, cloaked in Spielberg’s already iconic aesthetic of high wonder and pure imagination.

This revival, which Spielberg executive-produced, will premiere a five-episode first season, with five more episodes landing at a later date. Bizarrely, only the first installment, “The Cellar,” was sent out to critics for review; and given that Amazing Stories, by definition, is meant to be consumed as a collection of tall tales, it would be premature to judge the entire revival on the strengths and weaknesses of its first episode out of the gate. Handsome, measured, and small-scale, the episode at least successfully replicates one element of Spielberg’s original formula—star power—by casting Dylan O’Brien (The Maze Runner) and Victoria Pedretti (The Haunting of Hill House) as young lovers out of time in more ways than one. One wishes Amazing Stories could have heeded the warnings of Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone revival by maintaining the original’s half-hour runtime (both updates have stretched episodes out to an hour in length); “The Cellar” moves at too stately a pace, especially before getting to the time-travel mechanics of its main plot, but it’s strongly acted and focused on human responses to the unreal in a way that feels true to Spielberg’s model.

Meanwhile on Netflix, Spenser Confidential (streaming Friday) reunites Mark Wahlberg with director Peter Berg, his chosen partner-in-crime for high-octane tales of macho patriot types battling the odds. Now on their fifth collaboration, the pair take a break from their typically gritty, ripped-from-the-headlines thrillers (see: Lone Survivor, Patriots Day, Deepwater Horizon, Mile 22) to put their stamp on the Boston-bred private eye created by crime author Robert B. Parker. Berg’s direction is kinetic and eye-popping, even if the criminal conspiracy theory Wahlberg’s punch-drunk Spenser uncovers will feel overly familiar to any fans of the genre. Watch for Post Malone in a cameo role as a jailed skinhead who trades barbs with Spenser in the film’s best, perhaps funniest scene.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

First Cow director Kelly Reichardt on 19th-century Oregon and bovine headshots
Alex Garland’s Devs aims to mix quantum mechanics with ‘elegance’
Pamela Adlon wants you to know she has your back
—How the Beach Boys became two separate, warring factions
Contagion writer, scientific adviser reflect on film’s newfound relevance amid coronavirus crisis
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