Every year, the shift into cooler weather comes alongside a shift into a cooler box office lineup: fewer billion-dollar blockbusters, fewer on-screen explosions, and a general trend toward less slashing, crashing action and more intense emotional action. The one thing that really heats up at the box office during the fall and winter season is the awards race: the last quarter of the year is a time for Oscar-bait projects and intense awards campaigning. So today, we start The Verge’s four-part fall movie preview, which will look ahead at the next four months of cinema — from serious dramas to holiday family films, with plenty of stops in the middle for one-off supervillains and space monsters. This isn’t a comprehensive list of releases. We’re focusing primarily on titles of particular interest to Verge readers, with a tongue-in-cheek consideration of what these films have to say about the future of film, awards season, or the world we live in.
First up: before prestige season starts, we first have to stumble through the dog days of September, with the weird dumping-ground mishmash of films that didn’t rate a release during the blockbuster summer months and don’t entirely fit in with the year-end studio strategy. September’s honestly looking a little thin for engaging film, but here are a few titles worth watching out for.
The summary: In this prequel to The Conjuring franchise, the Vatican sends a priest (Demián Bichir) and an aspiring nun (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate a suicide at an abbey in Transylvania. There, they grapple with the demonic force (Bonnie Aarons) who first appeared in The Conjuring 2.
Why Verge readers might care: The Conjuring series has quickly built up its own mini-expanded universe over the last five years. While original franchise director James Wan has since moved on to blockbuster fare like Aquaman, he continues to serve as a producer and writer. (He co-wrote the story for The Nun.) That’s helped ensure that the Conjuring spin-offs largely deliver on the creepy atmosphere and scares of the 2015 original.
Why they might not: Despite Wan’s involvement, not all films in the franchise have been well-received. 2014’s Annabelle was critically drubbed on release, though the prequel Annabelle: Creation fared better.
What it says about the future: Evil never dies, and neither do horror franchises — as long as audiences keep turning out for new installments. Like other shared universes, the Conjuring franchise has been diversified across a number of namesake properties, which offer more opportunities for spin-offs, but also insulates the larger franchise from a single failure. No matter how The Nun performs, it’s safe to assume more films in this series will be on their way.
The summary: A woman named Riley North (Jennifer Garner) loses her daughter and husband in a gang shooting, only to see the perpetrators walk free due to a corrupt justice system. Eager for justice, Riley drops off the grid to prepare for her own brand of justice: taking out the cartel responsible for her family’s death, one person at a time.
Why Verge readers might care: The revenge-movie template has gone through some entertaining permutations over the last few years, from Liam Neeson in Taken to Keanu Reeves in John Wick. But even in those cases, it still boils down to the core trope of a male hero saving (or avenging) a woman. Peppermint flips the script, with Garner taking on the role of the no-holds-barred vengeance-seeker, and the trailer suggests she’s a good fit for the part.
Why they might not: How many ultraviolent vengeance movies do we really need? It also looks like Peppermint is exploiting some particularly well-worn tropes in terms of class and race (picture-perfect upper-middle class white family beset by evil gang violence) that feel particularly tired given the current cultural climate.
What it says about the future: Following in the footsteps of Atomic Blonde, a movie like Peppermint feels like another step on Hollywood’s painfully slow march toward realizing that women can be the leads in movies of all genres, including good old-fashioned action and revenge flicks. Hopefully Peppermint performs at the box office to make sure the people greenlighting films learn the right lessons — or at least have no excuses.
The summary: When a young autistic boy activates a device that draws the alien hunters from 1987’s Predator and its sequels back to Earth, a disgraced soldier (Boyd Holbrook) and a collection of unconventional soldiers (including Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, and Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen) have to fight them off.
Why Verge readers might care: Writer-director Shane Black has a long-standing reputation for scripting fast-moving, breezy, mouthy action films, including Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon 3, Iron Man 3, and The Nice Guys. He’s promised to reinvent the Predator series in an entertaining new way, while sticking to the familiar format that made the first film a science fiction / action classic.
Why they might not: 2010’s Predators, the previous attempt to revive the series, covered its costs, but it didn’t manage much more than that at the box office. Reboot / revival fatigue is strong in the moviegoing populace these days, and for everyone excited about more Predators, there’s certainly another film fan who gags a little at phrases like “edgy new re-imagining.”
What it says about the future: Producer John Davis has already said that this particular Predator movie is designed to set up a trilogy, so if this one does well, brace for a full-scale revival of the franchise. If it does exceedingly well, who knows? Maybe the Aliens vs. Predator series will be back from the grave as well.
The summary: Lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) live in the isolated woods until a deranged cult leader (Linus Roache) becomes obsessed with Mandy and kidnaps her. Red ends up on a murderous rampage of revenge that relies heavily on drug-trip imagery, gross-out gore, and full-on Nic Cage shrieking mayhem.
Why Verge readers might care: It’s a maniacal horror film with some really startling sequences, including a chainsaw battle and an evil biker gang that seems to have been borrowed from a discount Hellraiser movie. It’s also gorgeously shot. Plus: Nic Cage shrieking.
Why they might not: It’s glacially slow at times, drawing on the imagery and pacing of 1970s exploitation films, and spending more time musing dreamily over the woods and over hypnotic, trippy religious conversations than on chainsaw fights.
What it says about the future: This one seems to take place far more in the past, both in terms of setting and in terms of filmmaking style. Much like The Love Witch, it’s a deliberate throwback that re-creates a lot of the era’s worst impulses as well as its best ones. If it says anything about the future, it’s that some filmmakers, like so many artists, worship the past and want to echo it as closely as possible.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls
The summary: After the death of his parents, young Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) is sent to live with his weird uncle Jonathan (Jack Black), a warlock living in an apparently magical house. Unfortunate choices lead to Lewis, Jonathan, and neighbor Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) fighting back a mysterious apocalypse clock and the undead sorcerer (Kyle MacLachlan) who created it.
Why Verge readers might care: The film is adapted from a classic 1973 John Bellairs children’s book that’s made entirely of weird, unsettling quirk. It’s spooky in all the right ways, with a cast of unusual characters and a plot that doesn’t follow the usual Chosen One fantasy tropes. The adaptation is directed by Eli Roth, and considering his past horror work (Hostel, Green Inferno, Knock Knock), it’s always possible he’ll give this the unsettling air it deserves.
Why they might not: The trailers make it look like another splashy, effects-driven attempt to capture the Harry Potter market. This version of the story looks loud, goofy, and exceedingly familiar.
What it says about the future: The wave of genericized versions of popular children’s books (from the Narnia Chronicles films to Bridge to Terabithia to The Spiderwick Chronicles) appeared to peak a decade ago, but, clearly, it hasn’t entirely died. And depending on how this and the latest Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film do, it may even be coming back.
The summary: “There’s two types of people in this world. People that have come to terms with privacy is just dead. Then there’s the old people that are still trying to fight it.” That’s one of the four teenage girls at the heart of the black horror-comedy Assassination Nation. It’s about how a small town falls into extreme violence after a malicious hacker reveals the population’s private data and sets them against each other.
Why Verge readers might care: It’s explicitly meant as a funny but intense cautionary tale about privacy issues, online communication, the internet age, social media, and the assumptions we make about data safety.
Why they might not: Some people don’t like the sight of blood? Honestly, it’s hard to imagine Verge readers not having some interest in this title, unless they’re just burnt out on teen-girl stories or The Purge-style violence, or they object to the hugely over-the-top tone here. Or possibly if they’ve read early reviews out of Sundance, which suggest this film starts out as a smart, ambitious satire and devolves into a predictable bloodbath.
What it says about the future: If the movie makes a splash at all, expect the mass media to refer to “Assassination Nation-style data breaches” for a while whenever some high school has to deal with hacking issues.
Hold the Dark
The summary: After several children disappear in the Alaskan wilderness, supposedly taken by wolves, an expert (Jeffrey Wright) is brought in to investigate. He rapidly gets drawn into a much more complicated and bloody local drama.
Why Verge readers might care: Hold The Dark is one of Netflix’s bigger film projects this fall. It’s the latest from breathtaking indie writer-director Jeremy Saulnier (Murder Party, Blue Ruin, Green Room) with a script from his frequent collaborator Macon Blair (director of Netflix’s I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore). Saulnier hasn’t made a dud yet. His films are taut, tense, and surprising, and this one looks like it rides the line between psychological horror and murder mystery. Jeffrey Wright’s non-Westworld career has been similarly worth noting, and here, he looks like he’s playing to some of the same tension and internal division he explores on that show.
Why they might not: Netflix has purchased or produced some quality original movies, but so far, its splashiest big-name titles — films like Bright, Special Correspondents, Anon, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, all featuring major Hollywood players — have been pretty flat and disappointing.
What it says about the future: Netflix is reportedly planting somewhere in the area of $7 billion in original content in 2018, up from $1 billion in 2017. This is likely to be the year that decides whether the streaming service is seeing enough gains to justify investing that heavily in content creation, or whether it should dial back. Given the press and praise Netflix’s original TV series have been getting in contrast with its movies, dialing back on films in favor of shows seems like a logical move if the service wants the most bang for its buck. But press or awards attention for a project like this could shift the tide, so it really depends on whether Netflix can start getting more positive reactions to its film projects.
Monsters and Men
The summary: In the aftermath of a white cop’s fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in Brooklyn, three characters — a black policeman, a bystander who recorded the killing on his phone, and a promising high school athlete — all sort out their feelings about the situation, and try to balance their social responsibility with their personal needs.
Why Verge readers might care: Police violence against unarmed black civilians is a major social problem, and it’s one of many current issues that’s become so polarizing that it’s hard for any side to hear each other over the shouting. Monsters and Men is an unusually low-key drama that attempts to consider all sides of the issue, including the pressure the black cop (BlacKkKlansman star John David Washington) feels to support the police force, and the reasonable fear the bystander (Anthony Ramos) experiences about possible police retaliation if he gives news sources access to the video. Writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green takes all their concerns seriously and considers how their choices might affect their families. He never suggests there are easy answers, and he steers the story away from the usual prestige-drama shouting and histrionics.
Why they might not: In an environment where we’re learning about real shootings every day, some people aren’t going to want to relive their feelings through fiction.
What it says about the future: As technological and distribution changes make it easier for anyone to make a film and get it into the world faster, expect to see even more acceleration of the cycle that brings stories from the news to the big screen. Hollywood traditionally lagged years behind the news cycle, but indie films are progressively addressing up-to-the-minute social issues closer and closer to their inception. And even-handed films like this one represent a new approach that’s less about cheap, loud drama, and more about winning hearts and minds on both sides of a contentious issue.
A Spider-Man spin-off, two major horror revivals and a minor one, and Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, in our early preview of October’s biggest titles.