Is it something in the air? The latest movies have left me wanting.  REUNION, a horror film out of New Zealand, starring Julia Ormond is one of the dreariest movies I’ve seen in a long time. Her character is living in a big, gloomy house stuffed with repressed memories and her aging husband, catatonic and in a wheelchair, locked away in a musty bedroom. Her estranged, troubled, and pregnant daughter (Emma Draper) arrives as mom’s packing to move, sealing up boxes full of the dark detritus of this family’s hidden, messed up lives.

Minute by tedious minute, secrets seep out as the daughter flashes back to her childhood, wandering from room to room, unsealing box after box, while a carpenter/friend randomly hammers his way through the place searching, perhaps, for the reason he’s in this movie at all. The confusing twist ending involves a series of gruesome scenarios and icky images I wish I hadn’t seen, and made me not want to think anymore about this or any other family reunion. My overall experience? Imagine wading through a greasy stain on the surface of a swamp that slowly spreads dragging you under. Now streaming (no pun intended) on demand.

BLISS: Not quite. The premise was engaging and the opening scenes had me going. We meet Greg at work (Owen Wilson) who is obsessively drawing a dream house, a woman, and a landscape he’s never seen before. He can’t focus on anything else, not his work, not his family. He may be in the middle of some kind of breakdown. Or not.  The next few scenes are riveting; something out of the ordinary happens and he then meets a woman named Isabel (Salma Hyek) in a bar.

The rest of the film we are left to wonder what is real, what is not, sort of like this past year. Is this a game? A computer-generated fantasy? A mental collapse?  A drug-induced hallucination? A dream?  As the film strung me along, I enjoyed not knowing where this was all headed. But gradually I felt like the film didn’t know either, and a bizarre cameo by Bill Nye the Science Guy didn’t help. Gradually I arrived at a set of conclusions that were much less intriguing than promised. The ending gradually evaporated like so much water on a lukewarm stove. The action wasn’t fantastical enough to dazzle; not insightful enough to offer a new take on life as we know it; not exciting enough to elicit the adrenaline rush of a movie like, say, THE GAME; not revolutionary enough to come anywhere near the seminal mindblower that was THE MATRIX– which it clearly mines.  Most of all, Wilson and Hayek have zero chemistry and their characters were off-putting. The relationship didn’t sustain any emotional suspense, so I was not invested in the outcome by the time I got there. Now streaming on Amazon Prime.

That brings me to the best film I’ve seen lately, though not one of his best– Denzel Washington in THE LITTLE THINGS. Washington plays Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon who’s seen better days. He’s packed on some pounds and barely speaks beyond a mumble as he goes through the mundane rituals of his now lower-profile job. But it’s clear he’s laboring under the load of something in his dark past, when a series of serial murders comes to his attention on a trip to L.A.

He meets the young hotshot detective on the case Jim Baxter played by Rami Malek, and there’s an immediate push/pull in their relationship. It’s an inspired pairing, both of these actors know how to suggest deep reserves of tension, and keep it simmering. Washington has a scene speaking to a corpse that had me hanging on every word.  Add to the mix Jared Leto as a cold-eyed, stringy-haired repairman, and we’ve got all the makings of a real thriller. The film is heavy on atmosphere as we follow these detectives who have now bonded on the trail of a brutal killer.

Let me just say that I love the notion of little things tripping one up. I’m a detail person and the idea that a brilliant killer could still unwittingly betray himself had me on the lookout for every subtle clue, every telling phrase, sidelong glance, loose end or hole in a story. I wish there had been more for me to discover and less that was simply revealed.

Let me also say that I wish filmmakers (writer/director John Lee Hancock here) would stop fetishizing the brutalizing of unsuspecting young females by continually making them the victims of police procedurals. This premise is part of a much larger problem, but here it’s an indicator of how the film falls short. The casting and performances outstrip the plot, which is reasonably suspenseful and atmospheric, but derivative. Can’t talk about the ending, beyond saying that it speaks, wisely, to the dark and unsettling times in which we live, the elusiveness of easy answers, and collective guilt.  Released simultaneously by Warner Bros.Pictures theatrically, and on HBO MAX on January 29.