Disco dancing robots, giant spiders looming over Toronto, and Scarlett Johansson prowling the streets of Glasgow in a transit van.
The last few years have thrown up some of the most original, engaging and provocative independent and alternative movies in living memory; with Alex Garland’s fiendishly smart sci-fi Ex Machina, Denis Villeneuve’s mind-bending Enemy and Jonathan Glazer’s haunting, atmospheric Under The Skin just three of the films hailed as instant cult classics.
You could add to this the likes of Spring Breakers, Locke, Slow West and The Rover. Such creations really do stick in the mind.
But what you might not know is that all the impact-making flicks mentioned above have been backed, driven or created by one intriguing up-and-coming company.
A24 Films is a production and distribution outfit based in New York rather than flash Hollywood, which should perhaps be a clue to their slightly more distinctive, arthouse approach.
Founded in 2012 by experienced industry figures Daniel Katz, David Fenkel, and John Hodges – previously involved with such acclaimed pictures as The Social Network, We Need To Talk About Kevin, and Safety Not Guaranteed – the trio appear to have brought their knack for spotting, nurturing and working with eye-widening subject-matter and uncompromising, innovative talent into their new venture, with attention-grabbing impact as a result.
A24’s roster varies from horror to sci-fi, from heavyweight drama to westerns, but all seem to follow a compelling and highly successful formula.
Low to mid-budget alternative film with breakout potential? Chances are it’s an A24 movie.
Unconventional and fascinating project starring a household name? Chances are it’s an A24 movie.
Divisive and sometimes controversial subject matter? Could well be an A24 movie.
This is the company that were all too happy to let Kevin Smith turn Justin Long into a walrus, after all.
As someone who found myself captivated, enthralled and entertained by many of the outfit’s flicks, before realising that they had a single production and distribution firm in common, it was a genuine surprise and delight to learn that so many of my favourite cinematic experiences in recent times have been brought to me by one particular company. A company who seem intent on breaking the mould, going against the Hollywood grain, and providing films that are genuinely different from anything else out there.
You hear a lot of talk about how unimaginative and generic modern cinema has become. Yet I am genuinely delighted that I live in age where I can see Scarlett Johansson play a man-hunting alien stalking the streets of Scotland; Jake Gyllenhaal stun us in a surreal Cronenberg-esque tale; and Alex Garland – talented writer of 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Dredd – given free reign to make his directorial debut about an eccentric, oddball billionaire and his ethically complex AI project.
It seems I’m not alone in that feeling, either. Much of A24’s roster has already acquired devoted, enthusiastic fan followings, with future cult status all but ensured as a result.
More importantly, many of these projects have actually received mainstream cinema release and widespread media attention (often due to their eyebrow-raising subject matter), bringing films that would have been unthinkable as major pictures only a few years ago to the masses.
A24 is providing a platform for some of the most fascinating up-and-coming filmmaking talents going to show-off their visions to the world. Garland, John Maclean and Denis Villeneuve – who is now helming the Blade Runner sequel – will all be household names before long, I promise you, and it’s great to see them getting the opportunity to be as creative and unconventional as they like.
A24 is also a hub for veteran oddball directors who have had mixed success in the mainstream previously. Not everyone may love or admire their work, but you can’t deny that Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers was among the most fascinating mainstream releases of 2013, that Jonathan Glazer’s long-overdue return with Under The Skin made one hell of an impact, and that Kevin Smith’s grotesque Tusk – as silly and opinion-dividing as it is – certainly got everybody talking.
At their best, the firm is serving up material that is genuinely Oscar-worthy. Overlooked by the Academy it might have been, but for my money A Most Violent Year, JC Chandor’s tale of a New York businessman fighting to save his ambitions from the nefarious forces of corruption and crime is one of the most intense, striking and magnificently acted dramas I’ve seen in years.
It’s no coincidence I think that my most anticipated film of 2016 is not Batman Vs Superman but an A24-backed indie horror called The Witch. It caused a stir at Sundance, has been picked up by the company for distribution, and looks absolutely amazing.
A24 seem to have an eye for the unusual and the outlandish, yet also for stories and ideas that resonate with film enthusiasts and people at large on a very human level; compelling us from a mere outline of the concept alone.
Through critical praise, word of mouth and the occasional big sleeper hit, A24 are proving that there is still room for alternative visions in mainstream cinema, and that unconventional flicks don’t have to be confined to backwater picture houses and the festival circuit.
As a genre movie fan, and a fan of unusual cinema in general, this is one movie company that I definitely feel are worth championing from the rooftops.
More disco dancing robots, please.