Over the past few years, indie film studio A24 has taken over the independent movie zeitgeist, and certainly captured the love of the NYU community to the point where everyone is convinced that they are, indeed, Lady Bird in real life. The A24 at NYU screenings are usually packed, too. The studio’s popularity is clear, which is exactly why the Arts Desk is ready to make everyone mad by getting into the underrated and overrated of its oeuvre. This is Unpopular Opinions: A24 Films.
To put it simply, “Hereditary” feels like three separate movies: a family drama, a horror movie and a weird-wave camp film. Three movies that, if made on their own, would be inherently well-received. However, when sloppily blended together, we get a sour outcome that is confusing and underwhelming with a downright laugh-inducing conclusion. On its most shallow level, the film is a tragic family drama about loss and individual methods of grieving. Upon the brutal death of her daughter, Annie (Toni Collette) spirals into self-imposed isolation and an obsession with her art (including making a clay replica of her daughter’s accident), while her son Peter (Alex Wolff) becomes delusional and slowly unravels, haunted by the guilt of killing his sister. The film would be impeccable if it flowed with this narrative consistently. However, director Ari Aster weaves elements of horror throughout it, which make the storyline a bit foggy. This isn’t a bad thing — it is typically commendable when a director leaves the narrative up to interpretation. However, sometimes the elements of horror seem comical, unrealistic and slapstick when paired with drama (see: my theater erupting with laughter as the ghost of Toni Colette floats up to a treehouse). — Nicole
Let’s take a trip back to the early days of A24 when it was only an unknown indie distributor with a cool logo animation. Some of its best work exists in its pre-Oscar phase, namely 2014’s “Locke.” Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a construction site manager who is forced to leave an important project to tend to his pregnant mistress who is about to give birth. The film follows his conversations over the course of a car ride with his mistress and family members, including imaginary interactions with his deceased father. Yes, this is just 90 minutes of Hardy driving a car and his life falling apart through phone conversations, and it stands as one of the best films in A24’s pantheon. The film is an intense character study of a guilt-driven person whose physical journey across a highway is a facade for his attempts to get emotional closure with his loved ones, despite having to awkwardly deal with all his problems over the phone. As Locke grows closer to understanding himself and repenting for everything that he has done, he also loses everyone close to him in the process. Hardy shows why he is one of the best actors of our generation with a commanding performance that overshadows the likes of Saoirse Ronan from “Lady Bird” or Mahershala Ali from “Moonlight.” As the only main actor who appears on screen, he had the toughest challenge of needing to carry the entire film on his shoulders, and he does it effortlessly. “Locke” is a niche drama that falls in line with the usual A24 brand, but my biggest fear is that the film, and especially Hardy’s performance, will be forgotten in the coming years. — Guru
“It Comes at Night”
I’m usually a sucker for A24. It’s distributed so many of my favorite movies from the last few years — “Moonlight,” “Hereditary,” “Green Room,” “Under the Skin,” “Ex Machina,” the list goes on. The studio has good taste, what can I say? Or at least it usually does. But the 2017 horror flick “It Comes at Night” is a definite miss for me. I’d seen writer/director Trey Edward Shults’s debut feature, “Krisha” — a unique kitchen sink family drama tinged with elements of horror, with a cast made up mostly of Shults’s non-actor extended family — and I was excited to see what he’d do next. Unfortunately, “It Comes at Night” is a bleak, unsubtle mess of a film. Set in a secluded forest house in the aftermath of an apocalyptic epidemic that has apparently ravaged the country, the film opens as Paul is forced to kill his father-in-law, who has contracted the disease. We watch as Paul, his wife Sarah and their teenage son Travis continue to go about their isolated existence — until trouble arrives in the dead of night. The film got positive notices from critics — I’m guessing at least partly due to its superficial similarities to another A24 horror movie, the vastly superior “The Witch” — but it left me cold. There’s a better-told movie here somewhere, one about family, tribalism and what we’re willing to do to survive in an impossible situation. But the film’s weak story, in particular its disturbing and upsetting but ultimately meaningless ending, makes whatever the film’s point is supposed to be hopelessly muddled. — Alex
“The End of The Tour”
No contemporary literary figure has as large a cult following of self-proclaimed intellectuals as David Foster Wallace. To mention “Infinite Jest,” a ubiquitous touchstone among modern literature, is to commit the un-Wallace-ian sin of intelligence signaling. To attempt to portray Wallace in a film panders and exploits this crowd of dude-readers. Naturally, this biopic, starring Jason Segel, left many unsatisfied. Certainly Wallace was a man worth meeting and he probably did deliver a massive cache of lines ready-made for script dialogue. But familiarizing yourself with Wallce is an experience better left off-screen. “The End of The Tour” was evidently made for those who have already bought deeply into the DFW experience, of whom there are many. Good friend Jonathan Franzen once wrote in a reminiscence on Wallace that, “The people who knew David least well are most likely to speak of him in saintly terms.” Perhaps if “The End of the Tour” had been authorized by the Wallace Literary Trust and obtained the support of the resources of his personal effects and of the people that knew him best, it could have manifested as an intimate portrait of a complicated figure, rather than as a groveling tribute. Or perhaps it would’ve been better to not make a David Foster Wallace movie at all. — Dante
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