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: ‘Girl on the Third Floor’ (In select theaters/On VOD)
‘Tis the season for full-body scares, and indie horror producr Travis Stevens’s spirited directorial debut is overflowing with some impressively icky and disquieting ones.
A deceptively layered haunted house movie that’s vicious in its indictment of toxic masculinity (and quite terrifying in its vision of home improvement gone terribly wrong), Girl on the Third Floor follows Don Koch (tattooed ex-wrestler CM Punk, essentially a punk Matt Dillon), a recovering alcoholic whose long-suffering wife (Trieste Kelly Dunn) is expecting their first child. Determined to do right by them both, if for once, Don buys a creaky old house in the suburbs and moves in to set about repairing it. Only problem is, some houses have taken on personalities of their own. This one, warns a mysterious neighbor is “a total bitch.” Adds a local bartender, “that house just seems to be bad news to straight men.”
Both of them, somehow, are underselling it. As Don breaks through drywall and tears up floorboards, the house seems dead-set against his efforts, oozing viscous goo from every cranny and conjuring tiny marbles that roll ominously around the hallways and staircases. Then here’s the not-insignificant manner of a young woman (Sarah Brooks) who keeps showing up in the house to flirt with Don, tempting him back toward his worst impulses.
Stevens—who’s previously produced nasty horror gems like We Are Still Here and Starry Eyes—is familiar enough with this genre that his directorial debut never betrays the mark of a first-time filmmaker. In his capable hands, Girl on the Third Floor shape-shifts as it goes, beginning as a slow-burn spooker—akin to something by recent genre visionaries Oz Perkins (I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House) and Ti West (The House of the Devil)— and gradually escalating into a full-boil, surrealist nightmare that’s more reminiscent of The Fly auteur David Cronenberg’s gloriously gross flesh-rending and Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon’s schlock-shock sensibilities. Even if its setup and script veer close to simplifying Don as just another bad guy in line for his comeuppance, Stevens’ deft touch behind the camera—and the outstanding gnarliness of this haunted house—ensure his DIY nightmare gets under your skin.
STREAM IT: ‘Mrs. Fletcher’ (HBO, premieres Sunday)
Across the past six years, Kathryn Hahn has been hard at work crafting a portrait series of women in the throes of a grand awakening. Her best characters can be broadly described as sexually frustrated, in a way that disguises a richer, soul-deep restlessness. In 2013’s Afternoon Delight, Hahn’s character deals with this by taking in a younger stripper; on Amazon’s I Love Dick, she channels her need for something into obsession with a sculptor (Kevin Bacon) who, on top of being a pretentious lout, doesn’t have the answers she’s looking for.
Mrs. Fletcher—a sublime new series on HBO from novelist Tom Perrotta (Little Children, The Leftovers)—is Hahn’s best showcase to date for this kind of character, whose exploration of sexuality and self is as triumphant and essential as it is messy and challenging. Her lead, Eve Fletcher, still bears the last name of a man she divorced years earlier; it’s far from the only aspect of this woman’s lifestyle that no longer suits her, that she’s since outgrown like a pair of old jeans.
When her high-school jock son Brendan (Jackson White) goes away to college, Eve’s faced with an empty nest and a gnawing, inner vacancy she can no longer abide. You’re “a skinny MILF goddess,” declares her best friend (Casey Wilson). Eve’s not so sure. But the encouragement—coupled with a horrified curiosity around sex she somewhat rekindles after overhearing Brendan denigrate a summer hook-up—leads her to crack open her laptop, where porn clips shoot the single mother through with a tingle of forbidden excitement.
This all sounds a tad leery, but this HBO series is too smart—and Hahn too wonderfully empathetic—to gawk at Eve’s new clandestine activity. It understands, far beyond her surfing the web’s naughtier bits, that this single mother is trying to figure out nothing less than how to live well, utilizing every tool at her disposal. Armed with a newfound confidence, Eve enrolls in a writing night class taught by Margo (Jen Richards, warm and endearing) and attended by Julian (Owen Teague, blessed with remarkably expressive eyes), a quiet former classmate of Brendan’s who was none-too-fond of the kid. There’s an endlessly commendable moment, the last of the pilot, in which Eve sits down in class, Julian watching a little too intently as she slips off a cardigan, sits quietly, then gradually meets his eyes. As directed by Nicole Holofcener (one of four female directors spread across seven episodes), it’s a master class in showing the audience exactly what it needs to see, and not a frame more.
There’s a similar judiciousness to the whole of Mrs. Fletcher, which was originally set for eight episodes and cut its count by one upon realizing a satisfying end to the story had already been reached. Perrotta, serving as a solo showrunner after co-creating The Leftovers for HBO, has an excellent sense for how to gradually shade in the interior lives of these characters, whom he originally created in his 2017 novel. Each episode is only 30 minutes, and not a scene is wasted.
Paralleling Eve’s story is the more distressing tale of Brendan’s first semester at college, as he discovers his good looks and surface-level charm are no longer enough for him to coast to popularity. Much worse, his porn-influenced perspective on love and intimacy simply has no place on a college campus. Unaddressed, that kind of ingrained misogyny turns out to be dangerous for the women he’s around, especially Chloe (Jasmine Cephas Jones, Blindspotting), a young classmate who sees a spark worth kindling somewhere in Brendan. Mrs. Fletcher extends a measure of empathy to Brendan, and White’s sensitive portrayal of this young man on a dark path helps to convey how much of Brendan’s bad attitude is the product of profound neglect—not just on the part of a parent, but a culture.
By the end of the series, it’s clear why Eve and Brendan’s stories are being told in tandem; the two are speaking to one another, as mother and son are both forced to grapple with their own sexuality in a society that’s in some ways (but not all) nevermore conducive to such exploration. They’re both just trying to get it right, and the understated grace of Mrs. Fletcher flows from how much the miniseries around them is aligned with that same mission.
SKIP IT: ‘Rattlesnake’ (Netflix)
Carmen Ejogo toplines this Halloween effort from Netflix, part of its month-long “Netflix and Chills” initiative that’s brought a wildly mixed bag of films and TV series to the prolific streamer. (Marianne, on the TV side, is the best of the bunch, a genuinely unnerving French series that lands somewhere between the jangling dread of Channel Zero: Candle Cove and Netflix’s brilliant Haunting of Hill House. Eli, mostly by virtue of its killer twist, is also effectively goofy-spooky programming. The rest? Not so much.)
Rattlesnake, frustratingly, feels tacked onto the end of Netflix’s seasonal-spooks slate rather than a natural fit for it. Ejogo stars as Katrina Ridgeway, a single mother driving her young daughter Clara cross-country to start a new life when their car breaks down in the middle of the sun-scorched New Mexico desert. When Clara falls prey to a rattlesnake bite, an elderly woman heals her—for a predictably steep price. To ensure Clara’s life is truly saved, Katrina must kill another person: “a soul for the soul,” as the film puts it, while leaving the mythology hinted at by this practice frustratingly vague.
Explanation is not this film’s strong suit. As written and directed by Zak Hilditch (behind the memorably morose Stephen King adaptation 1922, also on Netflix), Rattlesnake is about as bare-bones as they come, moving Kat through an increasingly desperate mission to take a life, any life, in exchange for her daughter’s. Hilditch does stronger work conveying the coarse, elemental nature of the landscape around these characters than he does crafting halfway-convincing dialogue for them. Ejogo, terrific in a recent season of True Detective, has surprisingly little chance to showcase her range with the one-note protagonist she’s been written.
Long before Kat locks onto a domestic abuser (Theo Rossi) as her intended victim, it’s clear where Rattlesnake is going, and a couple of well-staged setpieces—a tense living-room standoff, a chase through scenic rock canyons—do little to distract from the staid, even tedious path of the narrative. This is the kind of thriller where bit players arrive to needlessly verbalize the themes of the piece (says David Yow’s scowling gun dealer, “I wanna know, Katrina Ridgeway, that you’re sure that they got it coming!”) then drift out of the movie like tumbleweed. It’s also the kind of thriller where shots of actual crossroads preface scenes in which Kat is forced to reckon with her own. If the storytelling better defined the curse Kat and Clara fall victim to, Rattlesnake would be easier and more interesting to engage with across an 85-minute runtime that feels twice that. As it stands, the movie’s as parched—of thrills, chills, and basic narrative momentum—as its New Mexico setting.
More must-read stories from Fortune:
—More episodes of Evil and Prodigal Son are coming—but fall TV is missing breakout hits
—An inside look at the Kurt Cobain business
—Shea Serrano on Movies (and Other Things), and why he isn’t fully sold on showbiz
—How your favorite TV shows make it from screen to stage on live tours
—Robert Eggers talks The Lighthouse, The Northman, and… Mary Poppins?
Follow Fortune on Flipboard to stay up-to-date on the latest news and analysis.