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From Screen to Stream 

Universal Studios offers new releases for those now unable to visit theaters.

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Emma Roberts doing her thing in The Hunt. - UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Universal Pictures
  • Emma Roberts doing her thing in The Hunt.

Like so much in our daily lives, moviegoing has been turned upside-down by the coronavirus pandemic. Theaters around the world have closed temporarily, forcing planned new releases to reschedule for later in the year, and leaving current theatrical releases in limbo. Universal Studios was the first distributor to announce that it would make its now-in-theaters films available via video-on-demand services like Xfinity for $19.99 (as well as the new release Trolls World Tour coming April 10). Here's a look at our reviews of those already-available-to-stream titles.

The Invisible Man 3.5 stars
It's one thing for a horror film to deliver a solid metaphorical exploration of a hot-button issue, but if it doesn't also deliver the genre goods, it's hard to imagine anyone paying attention. Writer and director Leigh Whannell (Upgrade) transforms the classic H.G. Wells story into the tale of Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), who flees in the middle of the night from her abusive boyfriend, optics technology entrepreneur Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), and is told that he subsequently committed suicide—but she begins to believe that he's stalking her invisibly. There's potent material here exploring the post-traumatic stress on survivors of domestic abuse, as well as the gaslighting and victim-blaming that can be part of such scenarios, and Moss makes it all resonate with a ferocious performance. But it never feels like a lecture thanks to Whannell's thrilling direction, which makes remarkable use of the empty parts of his framing, ominous off-screen space and a willingness to take tension-packed silences just a few moments farther than you're expecting. If the final act's overt violence proves less engrossing than the slow build-up, it nonetheless asks you to look at the horror of such abuse right in its very-visible face. (Scott Renshaw)

Emma 3.5 stars
Before smartphones and Instagram, there were OG influencers—and they could be as shallow, overconfident and pejorative as they are today. This new adaptation of Jane Austen's novel brings that sort of modern frisson to the tale of a rich young woman (Anya Taylor-Joy) who amuses herself by interfering in the romantic lives of those around her. Taylor-Joy's Emma is a queen bee with more sting than previous depictions of the character; there's real bite, too, in Johnny Flynn's Mr. Knightley, the family friend who acts (reluctantly) as Emma's conscience. A recurring visual motif by director Autumn de Wilde, of schoolgirls in blood-red cloaks fluttering through Emma's village of Highbury, is a vivid splash of color amid the soft hues of the movie's palette, evoking The Handmaid's Tale in this story's suggestion of women's highest achievements as marriage and baby-making. Yes, there's light entertainment to be had here, including Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy as Emma's widower father. But Austen's wisdom about men, women, life and love takes on a sly, penetrating zing. While comedy of manners might seem like fluff and nonsense, it was—and remains—deadly serious, too. (MaryAnn Johanson)

The Hunt 2 stars
There's something particularly irritating about something that might have been a perfectly good exploitation yarn had it not been wrapped up in a lot of smug posturing about Our Current Political Moment. The much-publicized premise is basically true: A group of wealthy liberals drug and kidnap a dozen conservatives, and let them loose to chase them down for sport. The back-story is only slightly more complicated than that, as director Craig Zobel and screenwriters Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse (all veterans of The Leftovers) are content to draw virtually every one of their characters as a cartoon of either fuming MAGAs or platitude-spewing snowflakes, vaguely connected by some notion of an unnecessary war instigated by confirmation bias. The one exception—audience surrogate Crystal (Betty Gilpin)—seems intended to represent all the "normal Americans" caught between Both Sides extremists, but even she's left as a type rather than a person. Everything that's kind of gruesomely startling about the kickoff of "the hunt" itself, including some familiar faces making surprisingly early exits, is buried in an allegory that's only really fun when it's just-plain-gory. (SR)

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