Following a frenzy of film festival circuits that have affirmed the favourites for the coming season, John O’Connor overviews the strange films that are generating the most excitement this autumn.
Have audiences grown tired of the blockbuster? The answer remains a resounding ‘no’ and we probably never will. Films released this year including Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid and franchise film Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny are a testament to the enduring appeal of the blockbuster. The comfort which often sets in when viewing an ‘easy watch’ can’t be denied or understated; our minds don’t always need to be overly challenged until the credits roll. However, there is a degree of harm in limiting taste to the ‘easy-watch’ blockbuster film. If you do wish to experience some more of the arthouse cinema that exists beyond the blockbuster, and aren’t sure where to start, there is a selection of upcoming and already released ‘mad movies’ to choose from.
The comfort which often sets in when viewing an ‘easy watch’ can’t be denied or understated; our minds don’t always need to be overly challenged until the credits roll. However, there is a degree of harm in limiting taste to the ‘easy-watch’ blockbuster film.
Fingernails directed by Christos Nikou, which premiered at the 50th Telluride Film Festival in August this year, follows Anna (Jessie Buckley) who has found love through some controversial new technology. The film follows her new role at a love-testing company and explores the relationship between her and Amir (Riz Ahmed), a fellow coworker at the company. There is a problem, however, as Anna isn’t so sure that this man is the right one for her. The technology in this film’s reality is not as far in the future as we think, which means that Fingernails is one of the more peculiar films circulating in film festivals that begs to be discussed when considering how close we are to living in a world similar to that which Nikou imagines. With dating apps becoming a regularly installed tool on digital devices that are monitored and tracked daily, the role of both love and surveillance in determining your perfect makes this movie more relevant and haunting than ever.
With dating apps becoming a regularly installed tool on digital devices that are monitored and tracked daily, the role of both love and surveillance in determining your perfect makes this movie more relevant and haunting than ever.
Premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in January, The Pod Generation directed by Sophie Bartes similarly imagines a not-so-distant future where couples are able to share pregnancies by using a detachable womb, or pod. The film follows a married couple, Rachel (Emilia Clarke) and Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor), as they take part in this new programme that has the potential to make their marriage or unravel it. Bartes takes the audience along the journey of this shared pregnancy and all the twisted turns one would expect. It is a story which hopes to showcase humanity at the pinnacle of technology and its effects on our perception of life and love.
The strangest of the films currently being debuted across the film festival circuit is undoubtedly Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things. The filmmaker has quickly joined the ranks of singular and visionary auteurs such as Guillermo Del Toro and Darren Aronofsky. Lanthimos’s first feature-length film since The Favourite (2019) premiered in September at the 80th Venice Film Festival, winning the coveted Golden Lion in the process. This unorthodox and cerebral modern retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein story is an adaptation of Alasdair Grey’s novel of the same name and stars Emma Stone, in a way we have never had the pleasure of seeing her before. The movie follows the evolution of a reanimated young woman, Bella Baxter, who has been brought back to life with a new eagerness to learn about the twisted world around her and a hunger for her own liberation. Stone is accompanied on-screen by Willem Defoe, as the eccentric doctor who brings her back to life, Mark Ruffalo, in a role that is the closest thing that resembles a ‘love interest,’ and Rami Yousef. Lanthimos has built a career on focusing in on and exploiting parts of our minds that are fascinated with the peculiar and macabre, by blurring the lines between entertainment and discomfort, a line which, filmmakers have discovered, the audience loves to tread. Is our fascination with the peculiar somewhat a cause of Lanthimos’s rising mainstream popularity? With acclaimed films such as The Lobster (2015) and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) garnering critics praise and a cult-like following, it is safe to assume that the blatant madness of Lanthimos’s filmography is the key appeal.
Lanthimos has built a career on focusing in on and exploiting parts of our minds that are fascinated with the peculiar and macabre, by blurring the lines between entertainment and discomfort, a line which, filmmakers have discovered, the audience loves to tread.
But why is it that these films are finding the greatest success at this year's festivals? Is there a part of our mind that is aware that the madness we see on-screen reflects the madness in our day-to-day lives? Our minds will inevitably attempt to draw infinite connections between, let’s say, Lanthimos’s world of sex, corruption and depravity in The Favourite with the world we exist in and those who have and still govern it. Has madness in moving pictures become the most effective way to interpret and dissect the intricacies of our own lived reality? The work of filmmakers including Lanthimos, Nikou and Barthes would certainly argue that these mad movies are the essential mode of film’s ability to produce critique and discourse; in short, there is method to their madness.