Chloe Okuno's niche is horror. While studying at the American Film Institute, she wrote and directed the short film Slut, about a small-town girl who becomes the target of a serial killer. Last year, she helmed a standout segment in V/H/S/94, about a news reporter who descends into the storm drains in search of the fabled humanoid rat god, Raatma.
Okuno makes her feature debut with Watcher, a psychological thriller that's been six years in the making and finally premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The movie follows a young American woman (Maika Monroe) who moves with her husband to Romania and finds herself increasingly convinced that she is being watched.
Okuno's own genre of choice may be horror — her next film will tell the true story of a serial killer who appeared as a contestant on The Dating Game in the '70s — but she takes inspiration from filmmakers of every genre, from David Fincher to Hal Ashby. Below, she shares with A.frame the five films that have most influenced her.
Directed by: Hal Ashby | Written by: Colin Higgins
My favorite movies occasionally shift, but this movie is probably one of the nearest and dearest to my heart. From the very first shot, Hal Ashby creates a movie that has the darkest sense of humor but also the most incredible warmth, empathy and even optimism about the human condition. It's one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, while also being one of the most heartbreaking. Ashby shoots his scenes with such a sly wit — they are all brilliantly staged and composed to maximize the humor and absurdity of the situations without ever losing an ounce of humanity or emotion in the process.
Directed by: Ridley Scott | Written by: Dan O'Bannon
Alien is the perfect film. There isn't a single frame of the movie that is wasted. It was staggeringly ahead of its time, but also remains completely timeless. It is as effective and frightening today as it was the day it was made. With this movie, Ridley Scott set the standard for horror sci-fi and has made it virtually impossible for anyone to do more than attempt various imitations of his work. Maybe that sounds hyperbolic, but I feel like we all live in the shadow of this movie — and frankly I am thankful for that. Also, Sigourney Weaver's Ripley is one of the greatest characters of all time.
Directed by: Tobe Hooper | Written by: Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper
The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre has an energy about it that can't really be replicated. It has that classic exploitation feel of being both performative and all too real. Some of that probably has to do with the circumstances of the shoot — the scrappy, stripped down production and actors baking in the heat — but a lot of it comes from the creativity and craft of Tobe Hooper and his crew.
There are so many iconic shots in this movie that capture the weird tension so specific to horror movies — the dissonance of something grotesque or horrific but filmed in a way that is still visually striking or even beautiful. Maybe none more so than Leatherface twirling around his chainsaw at dawn. It's perfect, and demented, and entirely singular.
Directed by: Emile Ardolino | Written by: Eleanor Bergstein
B-movies that are popular with women generally tend to get less respect than B-movies that are targeted toward men, but Dirty Dancing is an exceptional movie that I would happily watch literally any time. It's a film that taps into the feeling of being young and in love in a way that feels real and authentic. It allows its heroine to have an actual sexual coming of age story on her own terms after repeatedly being infantilized by her parents and the world at large — and it has an abortion subplot! It's also just joyous, and sexy, and reflects the messiness and complication of the world while still somehow working as a romantic fantasy.
Directed by: David Fincher | Written by: Gillian Flynn
It's hard to choose a favorite David Fincher movie, but this one would be very high on my list. It has Fincher's trademark control and the same cold fury that seems to simmer underneath most of his characters, but, for me, what puts this movie over the edge is the character of Amy Dunne. While it is true that Amy is a murderous sociopath, Fincher and Gillian Flynn give her a level of agency that feels radical and so very refreshing. It's as if Amy Dunne is channeling the rage of an entire generation of victims who had no voice.