The Streaming Wars have caused a second casualty. First FilmStruck, and now Quibi. Quibi, which launched in April of 2020, lasted all of seven months before announcing its shut down. Its premise was simple: a streaming service, exclusively for mobile devices, which created original content that could be viewed in both horizontal and vertical aspect ratios. The films and shows would be split into six-to-ten-minute chapters, which was ideal for commuters. Unfortunately, Quibi failed to anticipate that 2020 was the worst year to launch a short-form entertainment platform, and it lost two billion dollars as a result.
But was Quibi’s financial failure indicative of the quality of its output? Not necessarily. When Quibi officially announced its shutdown date, I immediately got the free trial; I had to see, for posterity’s sake, what the service had to offer. As it turns out, it was a very mixed bag, but not without promise; for one thing, almost half the films were directed by women out of the gate, which was super refreshing. Presented below is my ranking of all 16 narrative feature films that were available on Quibi at the time of its demise (I didn’t have time to watch the dozens of documentaries, I’m sorry). As of writing this, you can watch none of them anywhere. It’s a shame; all films deserve preservation.
#16: Mapleworth Murders
Mapleworth Murders, from director Claire Scanlon and co-writers/co-stars Paula Pell and John Lutz, is about a woman who writes detective novels investigating real-life over-the-top murders in a small US town along with her English niece. It has the intelligence of kids programming (think Blue’s Clues), and plays like it too. Except, it also has loads of foul language and truckloads of innuendo. Who was this for??? Its worst sin is that it is criminally unfunny, as in absolute death (save for a precious few extended cameos). I’m sorry, but there’s no way around it: Mapleworth Murders sucked.
#15: Don’t Look Deeper
Don’t Look Deeper, from director Catherine Hardwicke and writers Jeffrey Lieber and Charlie McDonnel, is about a teenage girl living in California in the near future who discovers that she is an android. Now, this film is technically competent, and it has its heart in the right place. But my word, Don’t Look Deeper whiffs it SO HARD. The opening chapters present a metaphor for teenage mental health, but the way it embellishes in images of self-harm is 13-Reasons-Why-level irresponsible. It does try to recover from this as it reveals itself to be a queer narrative, but even then, it fumbles thanks to the mishandling of a trans character. Ultimately, support the cast (except for Don Cheadle and Emily Mortimer; what were they doing?), but skip this film.
Survive, from director Mike Pellington and writers Richard Abate and Jeremy Ungar, is about a young woman who plans to kill herself on the plane ride home from a mental care facility, but is forced to try and survive when the plane crashes in the mountains. Again, it seems Quibi films don’t know how to handle mental health. The opening two chapters’ romanticism of suicidal ideation are incredibly (and needlessly) triggering; I almost quit watching then and there out of respect for my well-being. However, I kept going, and while the rest of the film isn’t as blatantly terrible, it is formulaic as frick, and quite boring. Also, screw the ending.
Flipped, from director Ryan Case and writers Damon Jones and Steve Mallory, is about a middle-aged White couple who, after stealing money from a Mexican cartel so they can renovate the house the money is stashed in, become captive renovators of the cartel leaders’ homes. The best word to describe Flipped is ‘unlikeable’. Our leads are arrogant, ignorant jerks who are casually racist and sexist, and we’re supposed to think it’s…funny, I guess? There are occasional moments of humor, mostly from Andy Garcia, who’s always a good time. But this film is simply too comfortable with all of the stereotypes, including a new addition, the ‘NoHo Hank from Barry’ character, to be worth anyone’s time.
#12: Die Hart
Die Hart, from director Eric Appel and writers Tripper Clancy and Derek Kolstad, is about Kevin Hart attending an “action star school” so he can become a Bonafede action hero instead of a perpetual comedic sidekick. Sadly, Die Hart is also the definition of ambivalent; this film does not know what it wants to be. On the one hand, it is literally about how to do action filmmaking, and yet, the action filmmaking is quite amateur. On the other hand, it’s about Hart trying to grow beyond being a comedic actor, and yet, never once does the film really try to give Hart anything beyond comedic material. Die Hart is an example of the lazy kind of meta-filmmaking; the kind that thinks the gimmick in it of itself is sufficient to center a film around.
#11: Most Dangerous Game
Most Dangerous Game, from director Phil Abraham and writers Scott Elder, Josh Harmon, and Nick Santora, is about a young man who, after receiving a terminal diagnosis, willingly becomes hunted by elite killers in order to ensure an inheritance for his family. Finally, we come to something approaching competence. And by that, I mean to say that Most Dangerous Game is eh, fine. It’s an incredibly average action film, really. Christoph Waltz is giving his classic Waltz, and everyone else is also there. You will never be surprised by Most Dangerous Game. That is all there is to say.
#10: When the Streetlights Go On
When the Streetlights Go On, from director Rebecca Thomas and writers Chris Hutton and Eddie O’Keefe, is about a group of Suburban, mid-90s high school students who try to cope with the mysterious murder of one of their peers. Again, we are presented with a very straightforward narrative, and its earnestness is perhaps its greatest hindrance. But regardless, it’s a good enough story, and the characters hold your attention. The performances are really where the film shines (Chosen Jacobs, Sophie Thatcher, and Sam Strike in particular). Ultimately, When the Streetlights Go On never exceeds expectations. But it does meet them, and for that it should be commended.
Dummy, from director Tricia Brock and writer Cody Heller, is about a screenwriter named Cody who forms an unlikely friendship with her boyfriend (Dan Harmon)’s foul-mouthed sex doll. This is a weeeird one, folks. Dummy is a dirty, dirty film, but it’s casual about it. And thank goodness Anna Kendrick was game, because she rocks this character, managing to make the awkward and vulgar somehow charming. There are some sketchy moments, but on the whole, Dummy is a very smart film about (and from) a very smart woman. Also, fun fact: Since I was not aware who Dan Harmon (the creator of Rick and Morty) was, it didn’t clock for me that this was “autobiographical” until 8 chapters in. I believe my viewing experience was better for it.
#FreeRayshawn, from director Seith Mann and writer Marc Maurino, is about a young Black man who barricades himself in his apartment with his family after being falsely accused by police. I feel so conflicted about this film. In many ways, this film deserves a spot near the top of the list; the performances are the best of any film Quibi made, for one. Stephan James (If Beale Street Could Talk and Selma) is strong, Jasmine Cephas Jones (Blindspotting) is great, and Laurence Fishburne (School Daze) is wonderful. And obviously, the piece is “timely” and “relevant” thanks to its subject matter. But #FreeRayshawn also partly deserves to be at the bottom of this list. The film is written by a White person, something that becomes evident in the last scene. #FreeRayshawn, in its resolution, explicitly states that the solution to police brutality is Black cops, which is just…so wrong. Had the film ended just two minutes earlier, it would’ve been only depressing, and perhaps somewhat cliché. But it ended where it ended. And so we are stuck.
#7: The Fugitive
The Fugitive, from director Stephen Hopkins and writers Roy Huggins, Albert Torres, and Nick Santora, is about a White man who goes on the run in LA after being falsely accused of a terror attack. Alright, from here on out, we have genuine recommendations. As far as thrillers go, The Fugitive is fairly effective. The characters are easy to invest yourselves in, the plot is followable. Now, the film does also fall into several traps of the genre, including the FOURTH example of a generic drug gang run by people of color to appear on this list; Flipped, Die Hart, and Most Dangerous Game had them too, and all were Latinx besides the latter. But despite its disappointing clichés, in the end, The Fugitive will keep you reasonably glued to the screen.
#6: The Expecting
The Expecting, from director Mary Harron and writer Ben Ketai, is about a young woman who, after getting pregnant under mysterious circumstances, becomes suspicious of whether her unborn child is human. Mary Harron (director of American Psycho) once again offers a strong piece of ambiguous horror filmmaking. AnnaSophia Robb’s performance is powerful, and the sense of paranoia that permeates the film is vivid; there are certain moments that definitely stick in one’s skull long after the film ends. Unfortunately, the beats are rather predictable, the ending isn’t very strong, and its handling of the abortion discussion is a bit sketchy. But on the whole, The Expecting is definitely worth your time.
#5: The Stranger
The Stranger, from writer/director Veena Sud, is about a young woman in LA fleeing over the course of 12 hours from a stalker who intends to kill her. If I have one overall critique of the films on Quibi, it is that they rarely make for distinctive visual experiences. The Stranger, however, is an exception to that. Sud has perhaps the most style of any director on this list, and it’s not style for style’s sake. The long, smooth shots drifting through the underbelly of LA make for a very tense film, further helped by great performances. Avan Jogia is a breakout star in this, and I want to see him in many more projects in the future. Originally, this film was to be a 12-hour miniseries, with each episode being one hour in real time; I actually believe the material would have been better served that way, as there are moments where important things get glossed over too quickly. But as it stands, The Stranger still has a lot to say, and it does so intelligently and with confidence.
Royalties, from director Amy Heckerling and writers Darren Criss and Matt and Nick Lang, is about a songwriting duo navigating the music business while trying to maintain their positive relationship. What a fun film! This is the kind of film you watch while doing the dishes; it’s light, sleight, with nary a stress or a fright. But who cares? In a comedy about a songwriting duo, all you need is two leads with chemistry, a handful of fun gags, and some decent numbers. Royalties has all of those things, and then some. Kether Donohue and Darren Kriss are great together, Tony Revolori is lovely as always, and a multitude of neat cameos deliver upbeat laughs and sing witty songs. What more could you ask for? Not much, actually.
#3: Agua Donkeys
Agua Donkeys, from writer/director/star MP Cunningham and co-writer/co-star Jer Jackson, is about two pool cleaners who take it easy and try to win the affection of their coworker. Alright, picture for me if you can the image of extras from a Linklater joint, Jarmusch’s aesthetic, The Dude, and pool water being put in a blender: the resulting smoothie is Agua Donkeys. MP and Jer’s laid-back ignorance is surprisingly endearing, despite their objectification of Jenny (and other women). The ensemble cast that surrounds them is similarly odd but engrossing, and while the film can at times feel the dumbest of dumb, you still end up invested by the time the final moment arrives. Agua Donkeys is a genuinely enjoyable piece of “stoner” comedy, such that you don’t even need drugs to have a good time. I just wish the whole thing hadn’t opened with a homophobic joke.
Wireless, from writer/director Zach Wechter and co-writer Jack Seidman, is about a young man who becomes stranded in a winter storm on the way to a New Year’s Eve party with no charger for his phone, and is forced to reckon with his struggles. Out of all the films on Quibi, this is the only one to take full advantage of its unique platform. You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned since the introduction that Quibi content is viewable both horizontally and vertically. This is because none of the last fourteen films offer different viewing experiences depending on the orientation; they’re still the same movie, with maybe a few alternate angles from time to time for the sake of coverage.
But with Wireless, which was of course produced by Steven Soderbergh, there is a twist: when you hold your phone horizontally, you see the film like normal. However, when you hold it vertically, your screen duplicates the man’s phone screen. It’s a great gimmick to add on top of the spending nearly the entire film in the car (this movie really is Locke meets Searching meets Buried); that alone would be enough to hook me. Thankfully, Wireless also happens to be a really well-made thriller, complete with tension, heart, and a satisfying payoff. If Quibi had endured, these are the kinds of films that would have fulfilled the potential of the platform. It’s sad that this ended up being a one-of-a-kind experience (for the time being).
#1: Home Movie: The Princess Bride
Home Movie: The Princess Bride, from director Jason Reitman (and writer William Goldman, technically), is a remake of the classic 1987 film, shot entirely during lockdown by actors filming themselves with their phones. I wrote a whole article about this film, so feel free to go read it here. But suffice it to say, Home Movie: The Princess Bride is not only the best film Quibi had to offer, it is a better film than The Princess Bride. It takes the unironic straightforwardness of the original and opens it up for re-interpretation after re-interpretation (in the form of 100 distinct performances, all of which I ranked in my article…seriously). Add to that its “home movie” aesthetic, and it becomes something filled to the brim with pure imagination. One of my favorite films to come out of 2020 is the Netflix short Mayroun and the Unicorn; this is the ultimate expansion of its concept. Home Movie: The Princess Bride is how one remakes a classic: through celebration.
Quibi is kaput. Long live Quibi.
Thank you for reading! Did you see any of these films? Comment down below!
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