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40 Films to See This Summer

Written by on April 19, 2018 

Hereditary (Ari Aster; June 8)

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The recent surge of a particular brand of arthouse horror, favoring tension- and character-building over blood-fueled gonzo insanity, has found at a home in A24 with the likes of The Witch, It Comes at Night, and even Yorgos Lanthimos’ recent features. Their latest in the genre comes with Hereditary, the directorial debut from writer-director Ari Aster, which–as the title suggests–is less haunted house horror and more about the terror tied with psychologically-taut familial relations. Not unlike Robert Eggers’ Sundance sensation, Aster displays proficient skill in eerie tone-setting, elaborate production design, and the type of scares that will leave a pervasive imprint on the mind, even if the underlying mythology gets over-complicated by the finale. – Jordan R. (full review)

En el Séptimo Día (Jim McKay; June 8)

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Discussing the ways in which fiction films shift between their linear, wholly narrative impulses and something approaching ethnography is among the most illuminating aspects of movies so deeply tied to a specific time and milieu. En el Séptimo Día, written and directed by Jim McKay, is particularly upfront about this. Near the beginning of the film, a set of onscreen text locates the events of the narrative as Sunset Park, Brooklyn in the summer of 2016, discretely divided into the days of a single week (beginning on Sunday) and the following Monday. With the sole exception of one shot — a cybercafé in Mexico — the movie never leaves this setting, exploring the seemingly endless maze of streets and the establishments and restaurants just off the beaten path with careful detail and an almost unerring eye. – Ryan S. (full review)

Under the Silver Lake (David Robert Mitchell; June 22)

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After his hit horror thriller It Follows, which packed an unceasing sense of dread, director David Robert Mitchell is back with a film that looks to be an altogether different outing for the director, stylistically speaking. Clocking in at 2 hours and 20 minutes, the mystery romance follows Andrew Garfield’s character Sam who goes on a personal quest to track down a missing woman (Riley Keough) in a music-filled Los Angeles, complete with hidden clues everywhere… or so he thinks. With a vibrant color palette and an off-kilter comedic-meets-romantic vibe, there’s the feeling of an Inherent Vice-meets-David Lynch-meets-Richard Kelly influence, and we can’t wait. – Jordan R.

Damsel (David and Nathan Zellner; June 22)

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Two men sit on a bench in the vast desert of the American west waiting for a stagecoach that’s nowhere to be found. One, a grizzled preacher (Robert Forster), is fed up with the ways of the great unknown and headed back east; the other, Parson Henry (David Zellner), is headed west and eager to start a new life. “Things are going to be shitty in new and interesting ways,” Forster’s character warns the newcomer, dashing his hopes that what awaits isn’t the land of his dreams. For the beautiful Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), however, this terrain is far more dangerous. Surrounded by desperate men at every turn, the mission of the west is not just to survive, but live by her own romantic means. – Jordan R. (full review)

The King (Eugene Jarecki; June 22)

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Note: Previously premiering as Promised Land at Cannes last year, here’s an excerpt of our review of what’s now titled The King.

A title like Promised Land can be appreciated for its duality: primarily meaning a land of promise but also, in another sense, a land that was promised. We’re talking about the United States of course, or rather filmmaker Eugene Jarecki is in his latest documentary. It’s an abstract road movie, fueled on disillusionment and rock and roll, and one that attempts the quite ambitious task of sketching out a narrative line to link the rise and decline of the nation with the rise and decline of Elvis Presley. If Jarecki struggles a little with this alchemy at times it is because Promised Land is essentially three movies in one: a detailed account of the King’s career; a loose account of the last 80 years of American politics; and a musical performance film. It can be a little jarring to shift between those gears but the director has form with this kind of sprawling state of the nation documentary (as seen with The House I Live in) and manages to keep things running along smoothly. – Rory O. (full review)

Leave No Trace (Debra Granik; June 29)

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Early scenes of Leave No Trace feel like The Road. Not the movie adaptation, but Cormac McCarthy’s book, which evokes familial intimacy to an almost harrowing degree. Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire. In setting, this is that story’s pre-apocalyptic mirror, with a father and daughter living in the woods instead of a father and son wandering a wasteland. Here there is good earth instead of ash and striking greenery instead of gunmetal, and the lead characters have willingly separated themselves from civilization instead of being violently torn from it. But the central parent-child bond is of the same species, and the movie’s quiet study of it delivers similar heartbreak. – John F. (full review)

Custody (Xavier Legrand; June 29)

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It didn’t win the Oscar for best live action short in 2014, but Xavier Legrand’s Just Before Losing Everything was by far my favorite nominee. Discovering his debut feature Custody was constructed as an expansion of that story therefore made it a must-see. The short is soon revealed as a prequel, its look at the fallout of domestic abuse hopefully in the rearview considering Miriam Besson (Léa Drucker) readies to plead her case as to why her now ex-husband (Denis Ménochet’s Antoine) shouldn’t retain custody of their son Julien (Thomas Gioria)—his sister Joséphine (Mathilde Auneveux) recently turned eighteen and is free regardless. But while the evidence seems to prove Miriam’s case, a father’s love trumps a lack of concrete proof of his terror. The threat he poses, however, remains very real. – Jared M. (full review)

Winter Brothers (Hlynur Palmason; June TBD)

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It opens in darkness — the beams from headlamp flashlights and sparks of metal on rock our only points of illumination. This is the oppressive environment holding the over-worked and under-paid miners while their boss sits in his factory office without a care as to who the men in his employ are besides a social security number. They let off steam with a bottle of homebrew alcohol to cut the monotony of their daily routines before returning to their respective trailers back in town that barely deserve the label shelter. It’s a futile existence that simply churns along with little in the way of excitement besides the possibility of a cave-in risking each of their lives. So when someone falls ill and the system is altered, everyone takes notice. Writer/director Hlynur Palmason puts us in this dark and aggressive locale to ensure we know these men to be hard-workers with little time for nonsense. – Jared M. (full review)

Life and Nothing More (Antonio Méndez Esparza; June TBD)

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Antonio Méndez Esparza’s sophomore feature is a social realist triumph, and one of the year’s true hidden gems (it came and went quickly during the fall festival circuit, where only a handful of critics caught it). Taking place in northern Florida, it follows single mother Regina (Regina Williams, one of the year’s best performances) as she tries to hold down a job at a diner, deal with her rebellious teenage son, and raise her four-year-old daughter while trying to stay afloat. Esparza directs with a simple approach, keeping the camera locked down and providing brief impressions of his characters’ lives to evoke the daily struggle of their existence (the editing, using elliptical cuts to emphasize the way characters inhabit spaces over temporal concerns, is phenomenal). Despite having no distribution at the moment, Life and Nothing More achieved an Independent Spirit nomination for Williams, a deserving nod for best actress and hopefully a chance for a distributor to help get this film seen so it can receive the praise it deserves. – C.J. P.

Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley; July 6)

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Sorry to Bother You is a bold debut–in every sense of the word–for rapper-turned-director Boots Riley. There are truly radical, thrilling ideas both in the script and on screen, and also his boldness sometimes undercuts the character- and narrative-building aspects as we jump from compelling idea to idea. Mixing the droll comedy of Office Space with the race-backed satire of Putney Swope, and adding an imaginative dash of Michel Gondry (who gets a parody shout-out in an animated bit), at least something in Sorry to Bother You will surely strike a chord with any viewer, even if it doesn’t fully cohere. – Jordan R. (full review)

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