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    ‘The Lost Daughter’ Review: The Parent Trap

    This dreamy thriller follows an academic with a mysterious past who heads to a beach vacation on the Greek islands.Draped in a pall of melancholy that more than fulfills the promise of its title, “The Lost Daughter” — Maggie Gyllenhaal’s seductive first feature as director — is a movie filled with portents. These start to surface almost immediately as Leda (Olivia Colman), a gifted professor of comparative literature, begins a Greek island vacation, laden with books and scholarly intentions.It’s not simply the bowl of moldy fruit that mars her charming beachside rental, or the moaning foghorn and flashing lighthouse lantern that Lyle (Ed Harris), the apartment’s caretaker, assures her will only be occasional annoyances. That guarantee proves not to apply to the large and rowdy American family who one day invade Leda’s idyllic beach and whose heavily pregnant matriarch, Callie (Dagmara Dominczyk), asks her to move her chair. Leda refuses, and there is a brief, tense standoff; for the first time, we sense something steely and resolute in Leda, who until now has appeared politely agreeable. We don’t know who Leda is, but we are suddenly all in on finding out.Adapted by Gyllenhaal from Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel of the same name, “The Lost Daughter” is a sophisticated, elusively plotted psychological thriller. Drip by drip, a vague sense of menace builds as Leda is drawn to Nina (Dakota Johnson), Callie’s daughter-in-law and the unhappy mother of a fractious little girl.“They’re bad people,” Will (Paul Mescal), the friendly Irish student working the beach bar, warns. Yet watching Nina struggle with her child, Leda’s eyes fill with tears as she recalls her own frustrations as a young mother of two small daughters, now grown. In a series of beautifully shaped flashback scenes, we see the young Leda (brilliantly played by Jessie Buckley) try to work while wrestling with the unending demands of her children and the obliviousness of her unhelpful husband (Jack Farthing). A brief, miraculous escape to an academic conference reveals both the heft of her intellect and the overpowering sexiness of its recognition by a charismatic colleague (entertainingly played by Gyllenhaal’s husband, Peter Sarsgaard).Yet only a superficial reading of “The Lost Daughter” would describe it as a meditation on the twin tugs of children and career. It is, instead, a dark and deeply disturbing exploration of something much more raw, and even radical: the notion that motherhood can plunder the self in irreparable ways.“Children are a crushing responsibility,” Leda tells Callie at one point, Colman’s steady gaze and adjectival emphasis only heightening her character’s allure. In its sly sultriness and emotional intricacy, the movie weaves an atmosphere of unnerving mystery. This is crucially reinforced by Hélène Louvart’s delectable close-ups as she lingers, for instance, on Nina’s appraising glances at Leda, as if sizing up the older woman as a possible ally. But for what?Though Gyllenhaal can at times lean a little heavily on the sinister signifiers — a worm sliding from a doll’s mouth, an errant pine cone crashing into Leda’s back — she is never thematically distracted, emphasizing how women alone are often presumed lonely (by men like the gently intrusive Lyle), or irrelevant (by women like Callie, smugly buttressed by her swollen belly and swarming menfolk). At the same time the movie, as if absorbing Leda’s ambiguities, has an uncertain quality that thickens the suspense. So when Leda does something childish and inexplicable, the possibility of the act also being dangerous feels much more real.Equal parts troubling and affecting, Leda epitomizes a type of woman whose needs are rarely addressed in American mainstream movies. We can dislike her, but we are never permitted to revile her. The film’s empathetic gaze and Colman’s spiky, heartbreaking performance — watch her glow in a lovely dinner scene as she shares intimate memories with Will — tether us to her side. In any case, Leda doesn’t need our condemnation; she’s harboring more than enough of her own.The Lost DaughterRated R for joyful adultery and depressing parenting. Running time: 2 hours 1 minute. Watch on Netflix. More

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    Maggie Gyllenhaal Has Dangerous Ideas About Directing

    Maggie Gyllenhaal has never shied away from difficult roles. The actress has been pushing boundaries for years with performances of complicated characters like an assistant playing sadomasochistic games with her boss (“Secretary”), the daughter of an arms dealer caught up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (“The Honorable Woman”) and a sex worker in 1970s New York (“The Deuce”).But it’s the job of director and screenwriter of “The Lost Daughter,” an adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same title, that may be her riskiest role yet.The film, set on a sun-drenched Greek island, stars Olivia Colman as Leda, a middle-aged literature professor on a solo working vacation who gets entangled with a young mother, Nina, played by Dakota Johnson. As she becomes more involved with Nina and her sprawling family, Leda’s past and the decisions she made as a younger woman seep into the present, with strange and at times deeply disturbing results.Like the novel, the film (which begins streaming Dec. 31 on Netflix) confronts complicated questions that women face at different stages of their lives. At its center is the intensely fraught push and pull of motherhood, but it also touches on ambition, sacrifice, aging and art.Already, the film, which won best screenplay at the Venice Film Festival, has attracted awards-season attention, including a raft of nominations from critics’ groups and others. Last month the film won four Gotham Awards, including best feature. Over a long lunch in the West Village, Gyllenhaal — dressed in various shades of appropriately Aegean blue — talked about being a female director today, taboos around motherhood and what it means to translate Ferrante to film. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.Dakota Johnson, left, and Olivia Colman in “The Lost Daughter.”Yannis Drakoulidis/NetflixWhat drew you to Ferrante?I started with the Neapolitan novels. She was talking about things I had almost never heard expressed before. Oh my God, this woman is so messed up, and then within 10 seconds of that, thinking I really relate to her, and so am I so messed up or is this something that many people feel but that we’re not talking about? I found it ultimately both disturbing but also really comforting because if someone else has written it down, you think, oh, I’m not alone in what I thought was a secret anxiety or terror, or even the other side of the spectrum, the intensity of joy and connection.Then I read “The Lost Daughter” and I thought, what if instead of all of us having that experience of feeling alone in our rooms, what if I could create a situation where it was communal, where these things were actually spoken out loud?The film shows the joy of being a mother but also the frustrations. Why do you think it’s so rare to see that tension onscreen?I think it’s a combination of two things. Partly there hasn’t been a lot of space for women to express themselves, so an honest feminine expression is unusual. But there’s also a kind of cultural agreement not to talk about these things because we all have mothers. We’re all like, I don’t want my mother to have been ambivalent.I just tried to be as honest as I possibly could be. This is about normalizing a massive spectrum of feelings. I think especially for young Leda and for Nina, their desire — their massive intellectual desire, artistic desire, physical desire — it’s bigger than what they’ve been told they’re allowed to have or need, and I definitely relate to that.The scenes with the young children are so powerful. How did they relate to your own relationship with your children?Bianca, one of the daughters of young Leda, she’s like a mind matched for her mother. My children are like that, too. They are the most beautiful challenge to me. Like, wow. I can’t believe you understood that and saw that.Movies don’t often explore the frustrations of motherhood,  Gyllenhaal said, because “we’re all like, I don’t want my mother to have been ambivalent.”Daniel Arnold for The New York TimesThe film can be seen in many ways as a horror film. Was that a choice?I wanted it to be a thriller. The book is not really a thriller, but I amped that up because I thought it would ultimately give me more artistic freedom. I wanted to even dare myself to move it into horror, a horror movie about the internal workings of her mind. She’s not bad, she’s like you. And I liked the idea of having a classic structure to hang my hat on. I have found in the past that I get the most freedom of expression as an actress when there is really clear structure.I’m not sure I’ll do that next time. I was on the jury at Cannes this year, probably two or three weeks after I finished my final mix. Looking at some really, really interesting films, I realized, oh, you can do whatever you want if you’re following something truthful and I don’t think I knew that.What was the hardest part about adapting?I found that adapting actually used a similar muscle to the one that I have used as an actress in terms of taking a text, whether it’s excellent or has got problems, and figuring out the essence of this piece of material. There are some things that are literal, but they’re so strange. Like the line, “I’m an unnatural mother.” That’s just 100 percent Ferrante, a straight lift, but a lot of people told me, take that line out. I also really did do what [Ferrante permitted] and changed many, many things but I really believe that the script and the film are really in conversation with the book.Leda is a writer, and showing her ambition in her early years is a big part of the movie. Did you see “Bergman Island” this year? Both movies wrestle with the question of whether you can fully be a woman and an artist at the same time.I do believe there’s such a thing as women’s writing and women’s filmmaking. There are really interesting feminist women who do not agree with me. I think that when women express themselves honestly, it looks differently than when men express themselves honestly. This is really dangerous to talk about. When I am let loose, given a little bit of money and space to tell the story I want to tell, it’s about motherhood. It is about the domestic, and it does include a lot of scenes in the kitchen. Can stories about the domestic really be seen as high art? Because to me it’s an opera. I do not come from women whose apron strings were tied to the kitchen. My mom is a professional person [Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal is a screenwriter and director], my grandmother was a pediatrician in the ’40s and my great-aunt was a lawyer. I’m educated and I’ve got a professional life, and yet my identification as a mother is a massive part of me.What was it like to work with Olivia Colman?Olivia really didn’t like to talk about much. I wonder, actually, if it’s because it was relatively recently that she got power as an actress, if she feels similarly to the way I feel as an actress, which is it’s very rare that somebody values my ideas. They will say they do, but people are irritated by actresses with a lot of ideas. I’m not an idiot, and so I mostly keep them to myself. I remember asking Olivia if she likes to rehearse, and she said, I don’t, actually, and I totally relate to that.Gyllenhaal on the set of “The Lost Daughter.” She said that as an actress, she found it “very rare that somebody values my ideas.”Yannis Drakoulidis/NetflixWho inspires you as a director?Fellini and Lucrecia Martel, who is also not ever literal. I love Claire Denis, I’ve talked a lot about Jane Campion, and David Lynch. And then I didn’t really work with him, but I did a weeklong reading of a play with Mike Nichols. He loved his actors, and he taught me. I remember reading [in the recent biography “Mike Nichols: A Life”] about him saying, I’m so sorry if you don’t want to shoot “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in black and white. Then you should find another director. I’m going to leave. There were a couple of times with this film where I had to say this is wrong. We were going to shoot in New Jersey, but that was wrong. I’m like, I don’t know what to tell you.The theme of translation is obviously important to the characters. Leda translates Italian literature, but also, you’re translating Ferrante. What does the role of translator mean to you?There’s this little section in Rachel Cusk’s book “Kudos,” which I’ve pulled up a few times because I’ve been thinking about adaptation in general. Here is the quote: “I translated it carefully and with great caution as if it were something fragile that I might mistakenly break or kill.” I loved that. She’s saying when I read your book something was communicated to me that was so valuable that I had never heard spoken out loud before that electrified me, that made me understand something about myself, and I had to hold this idea in my hands and carefully bring it over to the other side. More

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    Hollywood Loves a Monstrous Mommy. Can It Do Her Justice?

    Listen to This ArticleAudio Recording by AudmTo hear more audio stories from publications like The New York Times, download Audm for iPhone or Android.I screened “The Lost Daughter,” Maggie Gyllenhaal’s adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same name, in my living room on a Sunday afternoon. I was on the couch with headphones, and my daughters, ages 6 and 4, were on the floor, fighting over Legos. At one point my younger daughter hit me on the head with a giant stuffed seal. “Watch me,” she yelled. She was going to make soup “out of blood.”It was a distracted form of watching and working, but it is one that after nearly two years of pandemic life feels, if not ideal, habitual. And it was the ideal state to receive a movie like “The Lost Daughter,” which captures with uncanny precision one version of the multitasking mother and arrives on the heels of a year that many women with children will remember as one of the hardest of their lives.The mother occupies a bewildering place in American society, simultaneously omnipresent and irrelevant. Harried moms are enshrined in paper-towel commercials, while our political institutions show a Teflon-like resistance to addressing their material needs. It would of course be impossible for any one work to show this condition, this cruelty, in all its richness and iterations, but American art about mothers is rarely made or received with the necessary asterisk, one that acknowledges the labor of caregiving, the five-alarm fires that are raging in our personal lives and political spheres.“The Lost Daughter” is one of a spate of recent films and television shows that attempt to make audible the scream rising in the throat. It tells the story of an English academic named Leda, played by Olivia Colman in the present and by Jessie Buckley in flashbacks to her life as a young mother, and opens with Colman on the seashore at night. Pain shadows her face and she has what looks like blood on her blouse; she sways and paces before collapsing by the lapping waves. The scene strikes an unsettling note that will thrum for the duration of the movie, which in the present follows Leda at age 47, on holiday on a Greek island. We watch her float in the sea, write and read while she sunbathes, eat ice cream, unfurl into an uneasy relaxation. When a chaotic group — among them a young woman and child — disturbs her idyll on the beach, Leda watches the pair with tenderness and pain on her face.We learn that the large group is a Greek American family from Queens, including the young woman Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her child Elena. Nina triggers overwhelming memories of Leda’s own early years of marriage and motherhood. In flashbacks, we see a young Leda radiating love and frustration as she cuddles her two daughters, plays lacklusterly, throws a doll out the window, withholds a kiss, strikes one of the girls, laughs with delight. In these flashbacks, the camera is close on the little girls, capturing both how cute and defenseless they are, and how exasperating they might be to a parent on the edge of patience and sanity. In one scene, young Leda’s husband, slender and shaggy-haired Jack Farthing, shakes Leda from her focused work under headphones while the girls’ wailing fills their flat. He gestures to his phone call. “It’s Sunday, you’re on,” she whispers furiously. “I’m working,” he says. “I’m suffocating,” she replies. They are both scholars, but his work seems to take precedence. There’s not much money, and he’s often away — an old story.In the present, the older Leda’s relationship with Nina’s family is close, mutually antagonistic and strange. Nina becomes a kind of double to Leda, turning to the older woman for support, though they appear to have little in common. Leda is aloof, independent; Nina is young, tied to a menacing husband, worn out by her daughter. “She won’t sleep unless I’m in the bed with her,” Nina tells Leda. “I’m really tired. I’m like scary tired.” And then Leda tells Nina, and us, her secret: She left her children for a period of time when they were small. A flashback reveals the inciting incident, a trip to a conference where she felt the erotic thrill of both professional and romantic attention, unencumbered by the girls. The note of menace continues unabated until a surprising moment of grace at the film’s very end.Dakota Johnson and Olivia Colman in “The Lost Daughter.”Yannis Drakoulidis/NetflixAs I watched, juggling my own domestic responsibilities with varying amounts of grace, I felt strangely honored by the way the film made space for Leda to make what is undeniably an ugly choice, allowed her to both enjoy her escape and suffer its consequences. Even in my distracted state, it swept in like a stinging breeze off the sea, a cogent, sensuous and provocative work of art that made me reflect on the paucity of realistic representations of motherhood, and the difficulties inherent in creating them.Cinema loves a monstrous mommy. Leda is often rude and unkind, but Colman’s and Buckley’s brilliant performances allow the viewer to inhabit her desperation, rendering judgment irrelevant. And the film’s timing is transcendent, arriving in a moment when the pandemic has disrupted school, shredded an already frayed child-care infrastructure and forced mothers to cobble together care, work with kids on their lap or drop out of the work force entirely. In this moment, there is something cathartic about a mother who says not only, “I prefer not to,” but, “I cannot,” momentarily leaving the relentless work of caregiving to someone else. It’s both a fantasy of walking away and a warning about its costs.The urge to flee is in the air. “Scenes From a Marriage,” Hagai Levi’s remake of Ingmar Bergman’s iconic mini-series, shows a mother and breadwinner, Mira, played by Jessica Chastain, as she takes a temporary assignment in Israel, along with a lover. She is the mother as philanderer and absentee. Mira tells her husband, Jonathan, played by Oscar Isaac, that she will fly in biweekly to see their young daughter, justifying her plan with a note of hysteria in her voice: “Men do it all the time and then, you know, it’s not really a big deal.” Unlike Gyllenhaal’s, Levi’s representation of caregiving is gestural, the child almost always in bed, a suspiciously good sleeper. And unlike Leda, Mira doesn’t make the clean break. What is interesting about the series, stylish and very sexy, is how Mira does manage to live a bit like a man, primarily because of her co-parent, a man who explicitly loves caregiving, and the fact that there’s enough money to ease the difficulty. It’s a fantasy of another kind.A mother leaves in Mike Mills’s new film, “C’mon C’mon,” because her family obligations require it. Mills’s film focuses on the other side of maternal absence: the child, and the person who cares for the child. Viv, played by Gaby Hoffmann, lives separately from her co-parent, who has bipolar disorder, but is obligated to help him through a psychiatric crisis. Joaquin Phoenix plays her brother Johnny, a “This American Life”-style radio host, who volunteers to watch her 9-year-old son, Jesse, while she is away. This is Uncle Johnny’s first rodeo, and he receives parenting instructions from Viv over the phone. The film shows us, mostly through these conversations, that Viv is an involved, present and very real mother (“I [expletive] hate it sometimes,” she tells Johnny, before telling him that he needs to feed Jesse some protein). Upon the movie’s release, I read male critics respectively describe Jesse as “a handful,” his mother as “indulgent.” And yet the movie shows behavior that is fairly standard in terms of child rearing. We see Jesse running away from his uncle in the drugstore and on the street, refusing sleep, rejecting his noodles in favor of ice cream. On the phone with his sister, Johnny laments his inability to control the little boy. “Welcome to my [expletive] life,” she tells him. “Nobody knows what they’re doing with these kids. You just have to keep doing it.”“C’mon C’mon,” black and white and a bit slow compared with the frenetic sensuality of “The Lost Daughter,” mirrors some of its portrayals: It is, in part, about how hard it is to take care of a small person. In contrast to Leda and Mira, Viv represents a perhaps more common version of the absent mother, one who is gone simply because she has to take care of something else. It’s not quite wish fulfillment — Viv has her hands full caring for Jesse’s dad, and she is still phone-coaching Johnny through his babysitting crises — but the day-to-day stuff is, for once, not her problem. I noted with interest Johnny’s recruitment of another colleague as an on-site babysitter, and Johnny’s female co-worker needling him about putting off work.Woody Norman and Gaby Hoffmann in “C’mon C’mon.”Tobin Yelland/A24 FilmsThe film gestures at the deeper systemic struggles of parenthood. Johnny’s adventures with Jesse are interwoven with his work interviewing (real, nonactor) children, whose circumstances are often difficult and remote from his own, including a child who feels responsible for his little sister while their father is incarcerated. The most perverse — and oblique — object lesson comes only in the final credits. The film is dedicated to Devante Bryant, one of the little boys interviewed. The viewer who searches for Bryant’s name learns that he was murdered by gunfire near his family’s house in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans, an area where the average household income is half that of the city’s as a whole. There are American babies much less likely to survive their childhood, American women less likely to survive their matrescence. There are also mothers whose difficult moments, moments like Leda’s or Mira’s or Viv’s, can lead to children being removed from their care. If class and race cannot inoculate women from the difficulties of motherhood, it insulates them from the worst depredations of a cruel country.The recent Netflix special “Maid,” an adaptation of Stephanie Land’s memoir, shows how absence can be forced both by economic conditions and by the state. The series follows Alex, a young white mother played by Margaret Qualley, as she escapes an abusive household with her daughter and navigates the circular logic of American welfare. As she fights her way to stability with paltry assistance programs and cleaning jobs, captions show her dwindling funds, an unusually explicit comment on the impossible economics of American life. In one scene, a social worker explains how Alex can qualify for assistance. “I need a job to prove that I need day care in order to get a job?” Alex asks, incredulous. “What kind of [expletive] is that?”Alex is likable: spunky, funny, scrupulous, beautiful, working on her writing in her rare free time. She is never impatient or unloving with her daughter, a preternaturally placid preschooler. I liked Alex and the show, but was struck by the paradox her character represents, particularly in contrast with Leda and Mira and Viv, who are given the space to be frustrated and miserable, a sort of double privilege of white and comparatively affluent mothers both in reality and onscreen. I imagined how “Maid” would be different if it showed Alex, run ragged from cruel bureaucracy and hard, underpaid jobs, losing her temper with her kid, looking ugly, looking mean. It’s a risk the show doesn’t take, underscoring the challenge of showing the systemic challenges of parenthood alongside the embodied, chaotic act of caregiving and the individual human frailty of mothers. At one point in “C’mon C’mon,” Johnny picks up Jacqueline Rose’s book-length essay “Mothers” from Viv’s desk. “Why on earth,” he reads in a thoughtful voice-over, “should it fall to them to paint things bright and innocent and safe?” Why indeed?Screen portrayals of motherhood that deal explicitly with class are also invariably tied to the raced logic of America. Compare the sunny Alex of “Maid” with Paula, the protagonist Chiron’s mother in the film “Moonlight” — a Black mother, poor and addicted to drugs, presented to the viewer as she appears to her child: untrustworthy, frightening, possessive and cruel. The director Barry Jenkins has spoken of his concern that her character, taken from the autobiographical play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” by Tarell Alvin McCraney, be presented in her full humanity, and she is carefully and empathetically played by Naomie Harris. Yet in the overall context of onscreen representations of Black motherhood, she still falls within what the scholar Nicole Rousseau identifies as a filmic tradition of “survival,” a motif which “illustrates a child attempting to survive a ‘bad’ Black mother.” “Moonlight” is the child’s story, not the mother’s. What might Paula’s movie look like? The love and terror and difficulty and grief of mothering without a safety net, the vagaries of temperament, chance and opportunity.“Maid” is a show with peculiar racial politics: In an effort to subvert tropes, perhaps, Alex’s first gig as a house cleaner is in the palatial home of a Black woman named Regina (played by a compelling Anika Noni Rose), who imperiously asks Alex if she can read. She and Alex eventually become friends, and fearful Regina, about to become a mother herself, asks Alex if she likes being a mom. “I live for my daughter,” Alex tells her. “You can go,” Regina says coolly, and I laughed out loud, annoyed that Alex didn’t use the moment to paint a fuller picture of the experience. She is a writer, after all.Rylea Nevaeh Whittet and Margaret Qualley in “Maid.”Ricardo Hubbs/NetflixWhile Alex is struggling in temporary housing, a court orders her to temporarily surrender her daughter to her boyfriend’s custody. To demonstrate her fitness, she attends a parenting class where a condescending man teaches nutrition to a roomful of mothers deemed lacking by the state. The implication of these scenes is that this is an injustice — Alex knows how to mother (it is her own mother, given space by the show to fall apart, who never learned). Poor women and women of color in America who are good parents are indeed uniquely vulnerable to having their children taken. And yet, the scenes made me think of the online parenting class I am currently taking through my H.M.O., one I tried for months to get into when the pandemic revealed I needed help — an opportunity born of privilege. Mothers around America eagerly scroll digestible TikToks and Instagram memes about how to be better parents. In “C’mon C’mon,” Johnny reads a script for “doing a repair” that his sister tells him to look up online after yelling at his nephew. Everyone benefits from an acknowledgment that raising children is hard work that does not always come naturally.When I watched “The Lost Daughter,” I felt seen by its portrayal of the condition of living simultaneously in joy and desperation, nostalgia and impatience. But I also know that Leda is a mother who looks a bit like me, with work a bit like mine — the kind of work you can do on the couch, lucky work, fulfilling work. Mothering is work, too — lucky and fulfilling, but work nonetheless, made harder at every juncture by a country whose institutions are built around white patriarchy, a country with rampant inequality, no paid leave, no universal child care or health care, no crisis plan beside “figure it out.” We can’t ask any one movie or show to encompass the entirety of a particular human experience. But we can point out what they show and what they obscure about our culture at a moment when the values and requirements of caregivers are argued in the corridors of power. We need more: more help, but also more art — art that is expansive, challenging, fair.Lydia Kiesling is the author of “The Golden State,” a novel. She lives in Portland, Ore. More

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    When Is a Horror Movie Not a Horror Movie?

    When “The Humans” and other new dramas use jump scares and other genre staples, it’s a fair question to ask.A few days before Halloween, the @NetflixFilm Twitter account put out a call: “What movie isn’t technically a horror movie but feels like a horror movie to you?” Included was a photo of a freaky-eyed Gene Wilder in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”Twitter being Twitter, some of the responses were flip, like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Cats.” But there were also heavy hitters like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Parasite.” Children’s films, including “Pinocchio” and “Bambi,” made the cut. It just goes to show, horror is what scares you, not me.Horror has always been an elastic and regenerative genre. It lifts from and melds with just about every type of cinema: comedy, sci-fi, action, romance, fantasy, documentary. Its flexibility extends as far back as the monstrous love story in “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) and as current as the blood-drenched melodrama of “Malignant.”But how do you know if you’re watching a horror movie when there’s no killer or monster, exorcism or blood? It’s a decades-old question that’s being asked about new films that blur the line between a movie with horror and a horror movie.Among them are “The Humans,” Stephen Karam’s darkly comic family drama set during a Thanksgiving dinner; “The Lost Daughter,” Maggie Gyllenhaal’s forthcoming eerie character study of a college professor at a Greek resort who becomes obsessed with a fellow vacationer and her daughter; and perhaps unexpectedly, “Spencer,” Pablo Larraín’s speculative, dream-logic psychodrama about Princess Diana.The film follows an unsettled Princess of Wales (Kristen Stewart) as she spends a Christmas holiday on the precipice of a madness that may not be real. In his review for The New York Times, A.O. Scott called it a Christmas movie, psychological thriller, romance and “a horror movie about a fragile woman held captive in a spooky mansion, tormented by sadistic monsters and their treacherous minions.”Read reviews and these films sound like Shudder originals. In the Times, the critic Jeannette Catsoulis used the words “monstrous,” “despairing,” “eerie,” “sinister” to describe “The Humans,” concluding that the family was stuck in a haunted house. IndieWire said the drama “blurs the line between Chekhov and Polanski — Broadway and Blumhouse,” and is “the first real horror movie about 9/11.” (Two of the family members were at ground zero that morning.) The Guardian said “The Lost Daughter” tells the story of a woman who “haunts the resort like a ghost while other ghosts are haunting her.”For some directors, positioning the word “horror” anywhere near a film they don’t consider a horror movie would be erroneous or provocation. Not Karam. He was riveted by horror movies as a child in Scranton, Pa.; his gateway drug was the Disney ghost story “The Watcher in the Woods” (1980), with Bette Davis as the owner of an English mansion who’s mourning her missing daughter.Now 42, Karam remains a devout horror fan, citing Kubrick and Polanski as inspirations for “The Humans,” which he directed and adapted for the screen from his 2016 Tony-winning play. Karam takes pride in the film’s horror elements because they help viewers visualize “how people are conquering or coping with their fears in a story that’s scary.”“It’s important for me to think of a film or a play or any story I’m telling as having a strong, confident personality,” Karam said in a video interview. “I don’t get bogged down by whether it’s a horror film or family drama because the definitions can upset people who take ownership of what a horror film is.”“The Humans” takes place in a seen-better-days duplex newly occupied by Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend, Richard (Steven Yeun). Visiting from Scranton are Brigid’s working-class parents, Erik and Deirdre (Richard Jenkins and Jayne Houdyshell); and Momo, Erik’s mother (June Squibb), who has dementia. Also joining is Brigid’s sister, Aimee (Amy Schumer), who lives in Philadelphia and is fresh off a breakup with her girlfriend.At the family table there’s turkey and good-natured ribbing, but also difficult conversations about work, love and depression. This is a family filled with love, but also resentment and heartache. Typical Thanksgiving drama stuff.But from the start, there’s an uneasy feeling, as if something terrible is on its way. Parts of the walls ooze and bubble with pustules like growths on a David Cronenberg mutant. There are eerie portraits of spooky people, like the art from a possessed castle in a Hammer Film. Jump scares, loud sounds, darkness, stillness: They’re all heart-pounding. Horror movie stuff.So what is a horror movie? It comes down to intent, said Wickham Clayton, a film scholar and the editor of “Style and Form in the Hollywood Slasher Film.” Horror movies, he said, are about audiences “being uncomfortable, unsettled and disturbed.”Sometimes all it takes is a terrifying antagonist or mood, not an entire movie. Think of Robert Mitchum as a scoundrel preacher in the nightmare fairy tale “The Night of the Hunter” (1955); Faye Dunaway as a toxic Joan Crawford in the darkly camp “Mommie Dearest” (1981); or Robert De Niro as the time-bomb Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver” (1976).Five Movies to Watch This WinterCard 1 of 51. “The Power of the Dog”: More

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    Venice Film Festival: Elena Ferrante, Olivia Colman and Resort Horror

    “The Lost Daughter,” like “The White Lotus” and “Nine Perfect Strangers,” takes its characters on vacation but they’re hardly getting away.VENICE — Are we our best or worst selves when we go on vacation? Sure, these trips are taken with good intentions, but when you’re determined to relax, that determination can look an awful lot like work. Throw in bad weather, a crying child or downed hotel Wi-Fi, and sometimes you arrive back home in a more bedraggled state than when you left.When it comes to chronicling just how easily a vacation can push people to the edge, Hollywood has been racking up a lot of frequent-flier miles lately. The recent spate of film and TV projects about good trips gone bad even led the Vulture film critic Alison Willmore to coin the phrase “resort horror,” a term that could apply not just to M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old,” an actual horror film about rapidly aging beachgoers, but also to HBO’s “The White Lotus” and Hulu’s “Nine Perfect Strangers,” two limited series about punctured privilege in some of the most beautiful getaways on earth.Isn’t that just the way: We’ve been so anxious to leave our homes over the last year and a half, and now Hollywood is telling us that escapism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.This has all been on my mind after spending the last several days at the Venice Film Festival, a place so gorgeous and glamorous that to lodge even a single complaint (about the festival’s obtuse ticketing system, perhaps) makes you feel something like the whining, entitled bro played by Jake Lacy in “The White Lotus.” But many of the high-profile films here have been dabbling in resort horror, too, like “Sundown,” with Tim Roth vacationing in Acapulco — a colleague dubbed it “The Even-Whiter Lotus” — and especially “The Lost Daughter,” Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut and the beneficiary of plenty of Oscar chatter.Olivia Colman, left, and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Venice for “The Lost Daughter.”Yara Nardi/ReutersAdapted from the novel by Elena Ferrante, “The Lost Daughter” casts Olivia Colman as Leda, a British professor who’s decided to take a solo trip to Greece. Upon her arrival, Leda is presented with two potential love interests: Ed Harris, the wiry caretaker for her Airbnb, and “Normal People” breakout Paul Mescal as a flirty cabana boy in short shorts. All that, and she’s staying right by a nice, quiet beach. Sounds ideal!And it is, as the setup for resort horror. Fairly soon, things both big and small start to go wrong: The fruit bowl in Leda’s apartment spoils dramatically, a huge, screeching bug appears on the pillow next to her, and a pine cone is hurled at Leda from the heavens as though the Greek gods had finally found a worthy target for their abuse. Even worse, her quiet beach is invaded by a sprawling, squawking family from Queens that will not leave Leda alone.That brood includes young mother Nina (Dakota Johnson, by now a resort-horror veteran thanks to “A Bigger Splash”) and nosy Callie (Dagmara Dominczyk), who can’t understand why Leda, a mother in her 40s, would want to vacation alone. “Children are a crushing responsibility,” replies Leda, and you can tell she wants to say something even worse. By the time she flees the beach with a doll impulsively stolen from Nina’s daughter, it’s clear that Leda has some issues about motherhood that even a solo trip can’t help but trigger.This, too, has been a recurring theme at Venice: In “Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon,” starring Kate Hudson as a stripper mom, and Pedro Almodóvar’s switched-at-birth drama “Parallel Mothers,” female characters get honest about their lack of maternal instincts in a way that still feels all too rare in Hollywood. But none of those films burrow into it quite like “The Lost Daughter,” where we get flashbacks to a young Leda (played by Jessie Buckley) at wits’ end with her two shrieking daughters. Can the film earn a best-sound Oscar nomination simply for making children’s screams sound so torturous?As I watched Colman come undone on the beach, I wondered what’s behind the recent surge in these bad-trip projects, since they don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. (This Ferrante adaptation even arrives not long after we saw a “White Lotus” character reading her books.) Willmore posited that resort horror, with its wide open beaches and exclusive clientele, is easier to shoot in the Covid era; I also just think that rich people in Hollywood go on lots of vacations. They write what they know!And maybe vacation just presents an irresistible collision of expectations vs. reality, or a crucible where days of self-reflection can take a haunting turn. You know that Leda won’t get out of Greece before she confronts her buried back story, and perhaps that’s the true moral of all these resort-horror entries: It’s natural to want to get away from it all, but don’t forget that a vacation requires you to bring your own baggage. More