I’m canceling my Netflix subscription. Although its collection of new wave noir is good, it is not infinite. It has taken a long time, but after many evenings of numbed clicking I must accept that I have run through all of Netflix’s programming that is up my alley. And that’s okay—I don’t have a regular television because most programming is not up my alley.
Those of us with niche tastes (I’m into murders, almost exclusively) could be spending our TV-money better elsewhere. HBO is, of course, the high-end alternative of choice, while the free version of Hulu is, I guess, a low-end version. Paying for cable seems like madness to many, but I hear it is still common in many households.
Meanwhile, niche streaming services are catering to the specific tastes that broader television connoisseurship has fostered among the American viewership. Living as we do in the great golden age ushered in by The Sopranos, we expect sophistication and variety in programming. So why do so many of us pay for the same subscription service?
AMC’s horror-oriented service Shudder is $5 per month, squarely in the middle of the market. Shudder’s offerings show that horror takes many forms. The service divides its programming into curated groups. Some are tongue-in-cheek and genre-aware, like Bad Genes and Killer Kids, or Slashics, but others are oriented to the deeper history of the form (Hammer’s Hellions, Bava-thon).
“Bites” is Shudder’s collection of short pieces by new filmmakers, like the 15-minute hairdressing gorefest The Stylist, or the rape revenge fantasy Consommé. In this last film, a woman is attacked in Brooklyn. She wakes up covered in bruises. Via flashback we learn that she was dragged off the street by a man who tries to rape her. She bites his face. The next morning she throws up an ear and some flesh and looks satisfied. Then she flosses her teeth.
Two European television series characterize the programming that Shudder can offer to a person weary of Netflix. Beyond the Walls (original title Au-delà des Murs) is a French miniseries about an alienated child therapist who inherits a spooky house across the street. Once she is there, she hears a rustling in the walls. What lies beyond them is a terrifying universe of her own guilt, and the possibility of redemption from the torment of her own subconscious. It is a deeply moving and beautifully crafted piece that draws upon the vocabulary of horror but is not limited by it.
Jordskott is a new Swedish show in Shudder’s roster. Like Beyond the Walls, Jordskott features a woman protagonist with deep cracks in her psychology. Seven years previously, Eva Thörnblad’s daughter disappeared by a lake. Now she is back in her hometown (the beautifully named Silverhöjd) to investigate both her daughter Josefine’s disappearance and that of another young boy. From these traditionally Scandi-noir beginnings, Jordskott develops into a subtle bodyhorror conflict between the human residents of Silverhöjd and the forest surrounding it.
I recently attended the New York debut of Walter Presents, a new streaming service curated by its founder, Walter Iuzzolino, and pitched as “the Netflix of foreign dramas.” The service is heavily branded around Iuzzolino; the story is that he quit his job to watch television all day, then dreamed up a highly curated service that procures the best television from around the world.
When Walter Presents made its big New York debut with the slightly silly apocalypto-medical thriller Valkyrien, I was dismayed. But Walter Presents has some stellar series, like the French political drama Spin. It also boasts the excellent Dutch crime drama Black Widow. It is an ultra-niche service, with an interestingly personal take on the meaning of the word “curated.”
In the broader world of film, there are several high-quality options to lure you away from Hulu+’s Criterion Collection, or Netflix’s patchy canon. Independent and classic movie specialist MUBI costs $5.99 per month; significantly less than Netflix, but with vastly superior film selection. The concept is that each day a film expert chooses a movie, then subscribers have a month to watch it. So, there are 365 outstanding movies available per year, though not via the traditional access model.
Fandor is comparable to MUBI in the quality of its product. It costs more—$10 per month—but Fandor is “committed to the advancement and preservation of film art and culture, delivering a 50 percent revenue share to [its] films’ rights holders.” Its access model is Netflix-style, with categories to browse and no expiry as with MUBI. Both Fandor and MUBI offer free trials, so think of them next time you are clicking around in exasperation.
Netflix has done a wonderful service to Americans by introducing them to an international pantheon of television and movies. But as that audience grows confidence in their tastes, those tastes will take on distinctiveness and character that cannot be catered to by a single service. None of these niche streaming services are direct competitors to Netflix, because they offer a different product. But I am grateful for a market that is investing in the principle of expertise and curatorship in the traditional sense. Media expand and contract and warp in unpredictable ways: explore this new field while it blooms.