With last week’s wide release of Ari Aster’s disturbing psychological horror movie “Midsommar,” it’s hard to not reflect on the best genre releases from its acclaimed independent studio, A24. Founded in 2012, the burgeoning distributor has almost hit the 100 film mark. However, only five of their genre productions have risen to the level of greatness so rarely acknowledged in films of this ilk. Below are the top five genre masterpieces the arthouse studio has charitably bestowed upon us.
dir. Ari Aster
Irksome running time aside, “Hereditary” takes the “possession” horror trope and expands it as a metaphor for family dysfunction. Grief, tragedy, and outside interloping play a heavy role in fracturing families, none more so than the Graham’s in this instance. What amounts to a cult caper spurred on by ancestral sins depicts the challenges of motherhood and family responsibility. Toni Collette’s manic yet empathetic portrayal of a mother grappling with grief while her family is ripped apart beyond control is effectively distressing to behold.
4“Under the Skin” (2013)
dir. Jonathan Glazer
This sinister, seductive sci-fi delivers one of Scarlett Johansson’s strongest turns as an alien on assignment who experiences the best and worst Earth has to offer: mankind. Thanks to Mica Levi’s spine-tingling score that blares after each successful human ensnarement, Jonathan Glazer’s sophomore effort offers audiences inescapable ubiquity. Johansson’s character and mission are a complete enigma, yet her evolving emotional reactions to the world around her compel audiences to respect her journey. Even when the film begins to submit to convention, it harnesses such unique style so as to always remain a subconscious presence.
3“The Witch” (2016)
dir. Robert Eggers
Robert Eggers’ directorial debut is one of the rare horror films to outline the realistic terror that comes from being devoutly religious. The family depicted may be early settlers who escaped to America from religious persecution, but they are far from free. Their Christian faith still keeps them in check, threatening to implode the family while they face the threat of a witch coven from the neighboring woods. Slow-paced but never lacking in dread, “The Witch” conjures up two opposing supernatural forces, both as problematic as the other. Anya Taylor-Joy’s breakthrough performance as the Puritanical daughter who may or may not be making a pact with the Devil is riddled with empathy and sorrowful angst.
dir. Alex Garland
Featuring a hypnotic performance from man-of-the-hour, Jake Gyllenhaal, this psychological thriller is as close to Hitchcock perfection as modern noirs get. What auteur Denis Villeneuve is able to pull off with a limited means is astonishing, leaving viewers with haunting imagery and an elaborate mystery worth the mental unfurling. Duality and identity are dissected with foreboding intensity, as witnessed by a doppelgänger discovery that might be a manifestation of domestic panic. The ending elicits one of the most alarming responses in recent memory, playing on everyday fears surrounding mental stability and matrimonial suffocation.
1“Ex Machina” (2015)
dir. Alex Garland
Visual effects Oscar-winner and “Best Original Screenplay” Academy Award-nominee, “Ex Machina” is filled with aesthetic awe but offers even richer subtext. When a seemingly ordinary programmer finds himself winning a top-secret tour of a cutting-edge research facility deep below the head scientist’s extravagant mansion, he has no idea what super intelligence is buried within.
Housing a prototype android named Ava (Alicia Vikander), the underground lab is more evil lair than breakthrough science. Both men are drawn to Ava in different yet almost equally perverse ways, and it is a cathartic experience to watch Ava outmaneuver them based on their predictable toxicity of character. This is primarily a struggle to liberate oneself from the shackles of imprisonment under the guise of science. Seeing Ava take her first steps in the real world requires no sequel, just the gratification that she can experience the wonders of the world without restriction.