Why on earth does Hulu think these are horror movies?

Clockwise from top left: Arbitrage (Photo: Lionsgate); The Cold Light Of Day (Image: Summit Entertainment); The Catcher Was A Spy (Image: IFC Films); Shirley (Photo: Neon)
Clockwise from top left: Arbitrage (Photo: Lionsgate); The Cold Light Of Day (Image: Summit Entertainment); The Catcher Was A Spy (Image: IFC Films); Shirley (Photo: Neon)

Periodically, The A.V. Club will update the lists of our highest-rated pop culture currently availability via the various streaming services, organized by genre to help our discerning audience get to what they’re looking for as quickly as possible. The best comedies on Amazon, the best genre TV shows on Netflix.... You get the idea. What goes unremarked upon is just how baffling some of these services can be when it comes to categorizing their own offerings. Movies will get assigned a label they have absolutely no business being assigned—somewhere along the lines, either an algorithm or a human went seriously wrong.

So now and then, we like to perform the valuable service of collecting a sampling of the most egregious examples of mislabeled movies to help unwary viewers avoid being hoodwinked by the genre label affixed to them. We also take our best shot at guessing why, exactly, anyone or any code could have mistaken them for something they’re not. This time, we’re looking at Hulu’s deeply concerning inability to separate horror from non-horror. From thoughtful dramas to gentle comedies, none of these movies fall remotely within the vicinity of horror; let’s try and figure out why, shall we?

Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.

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2 / 17

’71

’71

‘71
‘71
Image: Universal Pictures

Our take: “From the moment that Gary is trapped behind “enemy lines” (in a war movie set entirely among residential streets, Liverpool doubles ably for Belfast) ’71 rarely stops for breath; the threat of sudden violence hangs over every mundane conversation, and director Yann Demange expertly sustains the tension, allowing anxiety to build, briefly ebb, and then build again, over and over...The setting may be Belfast ’71, but Demange’s sensibility—first-rate suspense coupled with black-and-white politics—is much more James Cameron ’86.” [Mike D’Angelo]

Why Hulu might think it’s horror: No one’s denying war is hell. But “hell” is a far cry from “horror,” so unless we’re going to relabel every war movie as a horror flick, Hulu is going to have a hard time explaining why it thinks Saving Private Ryan should be on a virtual shelf next to, say, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich.

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3 / 17

Arbitrage

Arbitrage

Arbitrage
Arbitrage
Image: Lionsgate

Our take:Arbitrage stars Richard Gere as a renowned venture capitalist who runs into trouble when his attempt to sell his company—combined with an untimely auto accident—threatens to reveal the financial and personal improprieties he’s tried for years to keep from his wife (Susan Sarandon) and daughter/protégée (Brit Marling). Director Andrew Jarecki means to lay bare the arrogance of the powerful, showing how they make deals based on perception, not reality. He does this via a narrative that unfolds over a few days, neatly making all his points about corrupt institutions.” [Noel Murray]

Why Hulu might think it’s horror: Anyone who lived through the 2008 financial crisis knows what a horror show our rapacious capitalist system can be, destroying the economic fortunes of millions while not a single member of the Wall Street plunderers who caused the downfall was sent to jail. Perhaps a sly Hulu employee is making a subtle point about the need to hold these bastards accountable, lest our country descend further into exploitation? (If so, too late.)

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4 / 17

Before I Go To Sleep

Before I Go To Sleep

Before I Go To Sleep
Before I Go To Sleep
Image: 20th Century Fox

Our take: “Rowan Joffé’s drizzly, workmanlike thriller Before I Go To Sleep turns a ludicrous premise into a fitfully suspenseful, consistently interesting exercise in audience manipulation. Less a cut-rate Gone Girl than a throwback to gothic, mid-1940s women’s noirs like My Name Is Julia Ross, the movie mines common domestic fears—the spouse as stranger, the home as prison—while turning the viewer’s susceptibility to twists into a plot device. It starts as tawdry camp, turns into a canny deconstruction of the same, and then concludes with a saccharine scene that can’t help but come across as a little creepy.” [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

Why Hulu might think it’s horror: The movie stars Nicole Kidman as a woman who, Memento-style, is unable to form new memories. Surely we can all agree that would be a pretty horrifying experience, no? However, this lurid little thriller is also, Memento-style, not anything close to a horror movie.

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5 / 17

The Catcher Was A Spy

The Catcher Was A Spy

Illustration for article titled Why on earth does Hulu think these are horror movies?
Image: IFC Films

Our take: “In a way, The Catcher Was A Spy is the perfect star vehicle for Paul Rudd, who built his career on playing (and parodying) the kind of smarmy guy who can convince anyone of anything with a flash of his perfect teeth. That’s also one of the key assets pro baseball player-turned-secret agent Moe Berg (Rudd) brought to the Allied war effort during World War II—that, and fluency in seven languages (plus conversational skills in four more)...Yet somehow, The Catcher Was A Spy is flavorless and unexciting, thanks to an execution as formulaic as a well-worn copy of The Joy Of Cooking. Director Ben Lewin uses decades-old conventions of both WWII dramas and biopics to unoriginal effect, from a script riddled with manly bon mots that screenwriter Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan, The Patriot), adapting a nonfiction bestseller by Nicholas Dawidoff, could have probably written in his sleep.” [Katie Rife]

Why Hulu might think it’s horror: Could it be that Rudd’s baseball player also secretly moonlights as a serial killer, in much the same way he became a spy? (It could not be.) We’re really struggling to justify this one, honestly. Maybe someone at Hulu accidentally had on Alexa while they were perusing a list of titles, and said, “Ugh, another biopic? What a horror show,” and the personal assistant logged in and adjusted the genre label accordingly.

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6 / 17

The Cold Light Of Day

The Cold Light Of Day

Illustration for article titled Why on earth does Hulu think these are horror movies?
Image: Summit Entertainment

Our take: “Henry Cavill, Zack Snyder’s choice to play Superman, stars as an American businessman who flies to Spain to join his family on a vacation at sea, only to discover everyone other than father Bruce Willis was kidnapped by shadowy forces while Cavill was off for a swim and visit to town. Cavill’s world is shaken even before he discovers that Willis is a CIA operative, not a cultural attaché as he claimed. Spy skills must be passed down genetically, because before long, this average, albeit ripped businessman turns into a Jason Bourne-like superspy as he hunts down the mysterious briefcase (yes, Cold Light’s McGuffin is a fucking briefcase, which provides some sense of the complete dearth of imagination at work) that is the key to his family’s disappearance.” [Nathan Rabin]

Why Hulu might think it’s horror: Maybe someone received the above press still of Cavill tied up and thought, “Oh, does someone get tortured? That equals horror!” Truly, that would make more sense than anyone reading even the most cursory description of this limp thriller and thinking it was anywhere near the horror genre. Or maybe they just saw Willis’ performance. (Ooh, burn! We’ve also got a good one about how those bums in Congress have done it again!)

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7 / 17

The Dinner

The Dinner

Illustration for article titled Why on earth does Hulu think these are horror movies?
Image: The Orchard

Our take: “Here, Paul (Steve Coogan) and his wife Claire (Laura Linney) have agreed to share a pricey meal with his brother, congressman and gubernatorial hopeful Stan (Richard Gere), and his wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall). It would be unfair to spoil their topic of discussion, but let’s just say it involves their teenage sons, who have gotten themselves into… something that must be addressed. Preferably over digestifs. Plenty will ballpark that something before The Dinner gets around to dramatically unveiling it, like Joan Crawford throwing back a metal cover to find a dead rat festering on her plate. Others will just have eaten this meal before.” [A.A.Dowd]

Why Hulu might think it’s horror: Perhaps Hulu has a grudge against Richard Gere, because this is the second non-horror movie where he plays a wealthy schemer to get labeled as such by the streaming service. Richard, what did you do to Hulu? Failing that, we’ve got a dark secret that gets revealed, which is a thing that sometimes happens in horror movies. Unfortunately, it also happens in episodes of Real Housewives, so Hulu’s really stretching with this one.

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8 / 17

Fast Color

Fast Color

Illustration for article titled Why on earth does Hulu think these are horror movies?
Image: Codeblack Films

Our take: “While the story may be flimsy in places, the performances are anything but. In one of the strongest turns in a promising career, Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Ruth, a woman in recovery who used narcotics to treat her frequent seizures—dangerous for her, but also for the Earth, as they spur earthquakes even in the plains. It’s a phenomenon that’s caught the attention of the United States government, which believes Ruth may be the key to saving a planet that now exists without rain. But Ruth isn’t just running from these scientists and operatives. She’s also attempting to outpace the guilt, fear, and self-loathing she’s carried since one of those seizures endangered the life of her daughter, Lila (Saniyya Sidney, from TV’s The Passage).” [Allison Shoemaker]

Why Hulu might think it’s horror: The idea of having an ability so powerful that it can rip holes in the earth is pretty scary, especially when you factor in the whole not-being-able-to-control-it thing. But to automatically classify such a premise as horror would also mean every single X-Men movie, not to mention basically the entirety of the MCU, would count as horror, too—and save for some of the shittier parts of Thor: The Dark World, nothing there is horrifying, outside of the X-Men-adjacent New Mutants. This is just an indie superhero flick, and a relatively charming one at that.

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9 / 17

Gemini

Gemini

Illustration for article titled Why on earth does Hulu think these are horror movies?
Photo: Neon Releasing

Our take: “Plotwise, Gemini is not an especially complicated mystery. It’s more of a mysterious situation and accompanying mood piece...Gemini may take place in a neon-lit Los Angeles and it may involve the semi-glamorous life of a beloved, beleaguered movie star, but the bluster and noise, and filtering thereof, is also the job of assistant Jill (Lola Kirke) in her real life as assistant to said movie star Heather (Zoe Kravitz). It can take a while for someone to realize she’s stumbling through a neo-noir. It can take, say, Jill returning to Heather’s mansion after an early-morning meeting and finding, in place of her boss and de facto best friend, Heather’s lifeless body.” [Jesse Hassenger]

Why Hulu might think it’s horror: The experience of living in Los Angeles can indeed be a horror show, but that alone wouldn’t justify categorizing this movie thusly. And yes, there’s a dead body, but there are plenty of those in war documentaries, too. Maybe someone (or some algorithm) just saw the somber looks on everyone’s faces and decided something not just sad, but scary was happening? If so, time to invest in new facial-recognition software.

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10 / 17

Getaway

Getaway

Illustration for article titled Why on earth does Hulu think these are horror movies?
Photo: Warner Bros.

Our take: “In Getaway, Ethan Hawke races a souped-up Shelby Super Snake around Sofia, Bulgaria, completing Grand Theft Auto-style errands—smash every Christmas decoration in a park, outrun the cops for four minutes, deliver a USB drive—for a mystery man who is holding his wife hostage. Hawke’s passenger is bratty banking heiress Selena Gomez; the Super Snake was her graduation present, and Hawke is instructed to take her hostage after she attempts to steal the car back from him. Aside from Hawke and the unseen mystery man, she is the only other character in the film—unnamed, with a sentence fragment’s worth of backstory and a handful of useful skills...While it’s possible to appreciate this stuff on an individual level, it doesn’t quite add up to an action-movie whole. Consonance is the key to making a chopped-up aesthetic work; without it, Getaway becomes little more than a boneheaded chase flick with unusual camera angles.” [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

Why Hulu might think it’s horror: Hostage. Violence. Together, they can often suggest something horrifying. But this is a straight-up generic action movie, one in which even the normally reliable Hawke seems a bit defeated by the material. It’s anyone’s guess as to where they thought Getaway was even remotely scary; perhaps the disembodied voice of the antagonist got mistaken for the guy from Saw?

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11 / 17

Mother

Mother

Illustration for article titled Why on earth does Hulu think these are horror movies?
Photo: CJ Entertainment

Our take:Mother is a genre exercise that honors convention, yet weaves around it whenever possible. Bong carefully turns Mother into a classic gumshoe tale, with red herrings, interrogations, and moments of sublime suspense. (Bong Joon-ho dearly loves scenes where puddles of spreading liquid provoke deep anxiety.) But the movie is also a superior character sketch, edging us deeper into the heroine’s fears and regrets. Mother is rarely splashy with its style, but the shots are well-chosen—especially the many close-ups of Kim as she begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together. By the time Mother reaches its dreamy, impressionistic finale, Bong has earned every bleary frame.” [Noel Murray]

Why Hulu might think it’s horror: Yes, it’s a murder mystery, but it’s a dark and often suspenseful one. It never does anything to tip over into horror, but this one can at least be plausibly chalked up to “honest mistake.” (And if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re denying yourself a great movie from the now Oscar-winning director of Parasite.)

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12 / 17

My Friend Dahmer

My Friend Dahmer

Illustration for article titled Why on earth does Hulu think these are horror movies?
Photo: FilmRise

Our take:My Friend Dahmer, a coming-of-age drama tracing the struggles of an adolescent Jeffrey Dahmer to fit in at his high school, is going to make some viewers uncomfortable. Some may even lash out against the film, deeming it insensitive toward the families of the 17 men and boys Dahmer raped, murdered, and dismembered before he was apprehended in 1991. And the film does make a bold request of its audience: to try to understand, and even sympathize with, a teenage boy who, at times, seems like any other tortured adolescent—until you remember that he went on to murder 17 men and boys. If there wasn’t a Jeffrey at your high school, the movie implies, you may have been the Jeffrey.” [Katie Rife]

Why Hulu might think it’s horror: Okay, okay, it’s right there in the title. This is a movie about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. But, much like The Phantom Menace, it’s about him as a kid, long before any of that terrible stuff happened. So while this technically isn’t a horror movie—it’s a coming-of-age drama—we’ll allow the misfiling, although anyone renting it expecting scares should be forewarned.

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13 / 17

Operation Finale

Operation Finale

Illustration for article titled Why on earth does Hulu think these are horror movies?
Photo: MGM Pictures

Our take: “Indeed, only the A-list cast distinguishes Operation Finale from your run-of-the-mill TV movie, for which it could otherwise be easily mistaken. Ben Kingsley has been here before, having played a similar (but fictional) role in Roman Polanski’s Death And The Maiden (1994), which at least has some real juice to it; as Nazi Adolf Eichmann, he relies heavily on the bland self-possession with which the man conducted himself during his televised trial, achieving accuracy at the expense of drama. Oscar Isaac, playing the film’s ostensible protagonist, has been handed so many generic lines and situations (including a tepid semi-romance with a fellow agent played by Mélanie Laurent) that he often comes across like a glorified extra—if you caught a minute or two of his performance on cable, you’d assume it must be a tiny role from his pre-stardom period, before filmmakers began tapping his natural charisma. Hell, this is a movie that somehow manages to make Nick Kroll boring.” [Mike D’Angelo]

Why Hulu might think it’s horror: A recurring theme among Hulu’s problem of mis-categorizing dramas as horror seems to involve a certain keyword: Nazi. This is a real problem the streaming service is going to have to correct, unless they want to start receiving irritated emails from viewers asking why Jojo Rabbit is listed under the heading of “Horror.”

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14 / 17

The Quake

The Quake

Illustration for article titled Why on earth does Hulu think these are horror movies?
Photo: Magnet Releasing

Our take: “As you might expect, The Quake is not as good of a disaster movie as its predecessor, The Wave. Critical acclaim for a disaster flick is rare, though, so we shouldn’t hold that against it. What we can hold against it, however, is making us wait 70 damn minutes—roughly 70 percent of its running time—before getting to the actual earthquake. There’s nothing wrong with setting the table; done well, it can even be enjoyable, as in this movie’s predecessor. But that movie knew why it existed, and didn’t wait long before arriving at the fireworks factory. Not only is the setup here a lot less enjoyable, it gets bogged down in the minutiae of the research, as though anyone gives a shit about building a case for the possibility of a coming earthquake.” [Alex McLevy]

Why Hulu might think it’s horror: There are admittedly some horrific elements to just about any disaster flick. Gratuitous death and violence, moments of emotional button-pushing, tense sequences of survival—these can all be plenty scary. But just as no one’s mistaking San Andreas for some tale of terror, it’s similarly absurd to suggest there’s anything to The Quake that would lead audiences to peer at the screen through cracks in their fingers. If you can watch The Poseidon Adventure, you can certainly watch this.

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15 / 17

Quantum Of Solace

Quantum Of Solace

Illustration for article titled Why on earth does Hulu think these are horror movies?
Photo: Sony Pictures

Our take: “The film feels, to use a phrase one character applies to James Bond, ‘horribly efficient’: It’s dark and exciting, but with little breathing room. Where Casino Royale went the Batman Begins route, figuring out what makes an iconic 20th-century character work and retrofitting him for 21st-century relevance, Forster fails to make Bond’s Dark Knight by deepening the themes and expanding the scale. Instead, Quantum is content merely to be the second episode in what’s shaping up to be a viable series, good enough but disappointing for those expecting greatness.” [Keith Phipps]

Why Hulu might think it’s horror: Come on, now. This is a freaking James Bond movie. There are no excuses to be made, here. This is just an appalling error, somewhat akin to calling My Girl a snuff film. Sure, it’s not one of the better Bond movies, but this seems like an extreme punishment for that.

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16 / 17

Shirley

Shirley

Illustration for article titled Why on earth does Hulu think these are horror movies?
Photo: Neon

Our take: “This is as Gothic of a story as any Shirley Jackson wrote, a fairy tale about a beautiful, intelligent young woman who gets tricked by treacherous men into becoming the servant of a dreadful witch. But in this version, the witch is also the heroine’s only friend. Shirley’s sharp tongue and interest in the occult have made her a pariah in Bennington, and Stanley’s fragile ego leads him to treat his more successful wife like a child. But Shirley’s imprisonment in the gloomy farmhouse where most of the film takes place is largely self-imposed. Rose is stuck there by larger societal forces, and the more time she spends with Shirley, the more she learns to twist her unhappiness into morbid fascination. Together, they peer over the edge, titillated by the oblivion that seems to be the only escape from the frustration that defines their lives.”

Why Hulu might think it’s horror: Ah yes, the terrifying hell of a dysfunctional relationship. While some people might see this or Marriage Story and crack a joke about what horrors they contain, to place it on a shelf alongside Hellraiser II is a bit of a stretch. Yes, Shirley Jackson wrote some Gothic horror, but a movie about her life does not therefore become horror by default.

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17 / 17

Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.