A24: New Eyes on Old Tales

In recent time major motion pictures have been in the shadow of itself. Movie franchises are the rule of the spring/summer docket.  Coming to a multiplex near you is a sequel, prequel, live-action remake, and a soft or hard reboot of your favorite movie series, whether you like it or not. Half a billion dollar epics that more often than not turn into fiery balls of box office failure (I’m looking at you Zach Snyder). On the other side of the coin the Associated Foreign Presses realm of finding the next statue worthy masterpiece falls into a similar redundant if not predictable formula. The ballots are dominated by shoe-ins and Oscar baits that critically are good but also pander to the expectation of winning awards.

Because of this all too often stifled Hollywood mindset many jaded audiences have turned to the independent circuit to find fulfillment on their silver screen. In recent years, one of the most refreshing production company’s has been A24 Films.

Coming from Oscilloscope laboratories, a distribution company created by Beasty Boy MCA, David Fenkel founded A24 back in 2013 to be a mean through which artists and director could get their unique ideas out. Back in 2012 he said to Variety:

“We see an exciting opportunity right now for movies in the domestic space especially given all the new ways to target moviegoers and the changes that are happening in the marketplace.”

With this attitude in mind let’s look at the top five examples of great cinema that’s not just grade A but A24…

The Witch

Released in February earlier this year, The Witch breathes new life into a genre of horror that since the ‘-sploitation’ era of the 70s has been abundant in hyper-sexualization, but low on genuine respect for mythos. Director/writer Robert Eggers crafts an old school drama that takes place in a horror setting. This is only the case because the story elements take hold of the viewer so hard that the shocks and scares seem almost secondary in nature, enhancing the path the story builds rather than making the gore or seduction scenes the focal point. The Witch portrays a colonial family, after being kicked out of their Puritan Community, trying to subdue the virgin territory of America in the midst of lies, a downtrodden aspect in faith, and, of course, the Witch. Working in tandem with a starkly realistic farmstead is characters’ use of original English dialect, which the film boasts is from original colonial manuscripts and diaries, creating an authentic visceral experience

As for the title character, it’s an ambiguity whether the real witch is out in the woods waiting within the woods, or hiding inside the family itself.

Ex Machina

Almost 100 years after Fritz Lang’s Metropolis we see the fruition of machine turning indistinguishably into a human being. Domhnall Gleason’s Caleb Smith is ignorant but willing to visit the mad scientist Nathan, played by Oscar Issac, in his hidden mountain laboratory by a lucky draw at his office. This time Frankenstein’s castle is updated into a new age, silicon valley-esque recluse that creates the allusion of a Steve Job’s announcement. Bound to the moniker of Frankenstein we see Nathan’s the Doctor to Alicia Vikander’s Monster/Ava the AI relationship get overhauled with cat and mouse ploys and deceptions rather than play by numbers escape and restrain scenes leading to an all too familiar rioting, torch carrying villagers third act. The crux of the film doesn’t focus on guns blazing action but rather works as an introspective character study. This shines the light of HEL on both human and non-human alike. On this point, Ex Machina shows up its direct competitor in the robot sci-fi genre of that year, Chappie. Whereas Chappie tried a more bombastic search for humanity through the South African band Die Atwoord fell short in an area that It’s director Neil Bloomkamp previously made easily relatable (District 9).

The Lobster

Blazing into a new territory of noir if not anti-romance, the Lobster is humorless yet full of levity, dark but with glimmers of honesty and hope. Colin Farrell stars as a man, after losing his relationship, must legally go to ‘The Motel’ in order to be paired up with another company before thirty days. If he doesn’t find someone within that month the legal punishment is being turned into an animal. With this premise in mind the next two hours are an deep look at the combative nature of western societies take on love. Why is it that we find the necessity to have a partner and for better or worse? Narrated as what sounds like a memory by Rachel Weisz, the Lobster is reminiscent of ideals of George Lucas’ restricted love by come to fruitious through our own societies’ impassions and apathies.

Green Room

One of the more recent titles under the A24 flag and released before the untimely death of its star Anton Yelchin, Green Room stands as a visceral, one-room thriller.

Utilizing a minimalist set, Green Room harkens back to a Tarantino Asthenic similar to Reservoir dogs. This isn’t only the obvious case of a first time director trying to limit the location budget but also from a skilled filmmaker understanding how to relegate specific feeling to the geography within a film.  Not only keeping the action in one mental arena, forcing a sense of intimacy that exasperates cabin fever. With co-stars Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat and a break away performance by Patrick Stewart Green Room is an escape film that shows hints of salvation only after the gun smoke clears and the black lights turn off.

Swiss Army Man

Majestically Paul Dano clings to the necktie of Daniel Radcliffe, riding him perpetuated by gastric juices, like a jet ski back to home and safety. That’s just the first five minutes of Swiss Army Man. It is a story with very loose plot but makes up for it in massive character development both for the living and the dead.

Written as a loving pet project by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, Swiss Army Man takes the mystic of a ‘road back home’ tale and turns it on itself by begging the real question of any journey, why am I going back and what am I going back to.

Swiss Army Man shows the juxtaposition of a useful dead man and useless living man and finds a semblance of real humanity somewhere in the middle.

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