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Posterized May 2018: ‘First Reformed,’ ‘The Day After,’ ‘Tully,’ and More

Written by on May 3, 2018 

“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is a proverb whose simple existence proves the fact impressionable souls will do so without fail. This monthly column focuses on the film industry’s willingness to capitalize on this truth, releasing one-sheets to serve as not representations of what audiences are to expect, but as propaganda to fill seats. Oftentimes they fail miserably.

You can thank Avengers: Infinity War spill over and May’s most anticipated blockbuster Solo (open May 25) for leaving the four week month rather spare where it concerns studio pictures despite being the start of summer. I’d steer clear of the month if I were an executive too—heck, three of the posters highlighted below aren’t even “true” theatrical releases (two hit Netflix with the third making its bow on HBO).

As any cinephile knows, however, there are always a few strong pictures banking on the oft-discussed counter-programming position. So we check out the posters and get excited regardless of needing to navigate through a sea of Disney-backed character sheets assaulting us everywhere we go.

Look familiar?

What May does possess is a healthy number of posters that can’t help but evoke another from the annals of film marketing. While some do so with admitted purpose, most prove to be complete headscratchers. I'[ll give these firms credit and three of these for fall in the former category.

First up is Anon (Netflix, May 4). Let’s be honest: if you have Amanda Seyfried in your movie, you’re putting her on your poster. Apparently, if you’ve used her in one of your past films you call her up for another too. Like In Time, Andrew Niccol is the director of this science fiction starring Seyfried’s bangs. I’m not sure what’s going on with the super-imposed boxes, but I’m sure it’s important.

You can’t blame the designers for recalling Niccol’s past work, especially since this is a Netflix film—a platform that may also have In Time available for streaming by the 4th (a page exists, but it’s blank). That type of brand recognition for the artist is significant. The service doesn’t need posters per se, so creating one must provide purpose even if the result isn’t quite as dynamic as its competitor’s attempts (see the sheet for Sky Cinema at right).

For Life of the Party (open May 11), cold open opts to focus on genre as much as celebrity. They could have just put Melissa McCarthy up there with her graduation cap, but the addition of the tassel as obstacle to vision turns a static, content-driven image into one that’s animated and tone-driven. Crew Creative Advertising did the same with Get Smart a decade ago for identical reasons. This effect of subverting self-serious promotion with visual gag conjures a smile and hopefully helps your brain remember the title. It doesn’t do much on its own artistically, but it does its job.

The poster for Dark Crimes (limited May 11) does neither. I’m not certain as to the motivations of anything on this one besides the decision to fill the frame with star Jim Carrey. Is that slice going three-quarters of the way through the page supposed to signify the “light” and “dark” sides of his mind? If so, why isn’t it separating two distinct expressions? Or maybe his face is good and his head (brain) is bad? At least the “R” is backwards to really show where this film dares to go …

This thing is so innocuous that I just see LA’s Aftermath instead. Aging and grey-bearded actor looking down in profile? Check. Diagonal white line cutting across? Check. But at least this one feels dramatic. It exudes a melancholic sadness by shielding Arnold Schwarzenegger’s eyes and presents context with the “line” being a collision course of two airplanes. We learn something here. All Dark Crimes gives us is confirmation that Carrey does still supplement his painting by acting every once in a while.

And that leaves us with The Cleanse (limited May 4) by Phantom City Creative (when it was still titled The Master Cleanse). It’s a neat image with a little demon dude rising up as a shadow from Johnny Galecki—perhaps the “thing” he must purge from his body. I love the softness of the sheet from its off-white coloring to its almost blurred yet sharply cut font. But I loved this all even more when the firm did the exact same thing with The Void.

I can easily forgive this one, though. Phantom City Creative isn’t some corporate entity slapping photos and text together. It’s a niche, two-person, independent studio that has done a lot of alternative sheets for Mondo over the years and their unique style will of course permeate through the entirety of their work. Is it disappointing that I can’t look at this one without seeing another? Yes. But it succeeds and proves to be distinctly theirs. That’s ultimately what paying customers seek when approaching them for work.

Looking good

There’s a lot to like about Mary Shelley‘s (limited May 25) poster. The crop, the monochrome coloring offset by the brightness of Elle Fanning’s eye, and the blank expression recalling the subject’s most famous creation: Frankenstein’s monster.

But there’s just as much to question. Why fill the title with what appears to be a woodcut illustration from her book? Why split the tagline into three distinct parts despite none of them making sense without the others considering it is a single sentence? Why not use the line “The life that inspired Frankenstein” as the tag (to supply a message) instead of positioning it as a subtitle (to demean observers who do actually know who Shelley was)? This is a good first draft that needed more honing.

The same goes for Gravillis Inc.’s RBG (limited May 4). I like the concept: make a graphic image that embodies its subject without showing the subject. What better way to do this for Ruth Bader Ginsburg than using her trademarked lace collar? There isn’t. But the way it is oriented doesn’t lend itself nicely to what’s around it. The stacked title overpowers in its boldness and the choice to curve the tagline proves misguided in its awkward construction.

The firm’s second design is much better as the lace is allowed contextual shape, the tag is straightened, and the title is adjusted for color, detail, and cohesion. Why is Ginsburg a cartoon, though? I’m not saying we need a photo here, just a more photo-realistic illustration. Here’s all this ornate line work ruined by a simplistic vector portrait sticking out like a sore thumb. It feels like they spent too much time on the bottom and needed to rush to finish the top before deadline.

Cartoon is obviously more relevant when it comes to an anime such as Lu Over the Wall (limited May 11). This simplistic line-drawing aesthetic is the same that the film utilizes—the playful bubble glares a charming inclusion rather than distraction. Boy is it busy, though. I understand wanting to throw in as much as you can, but I’m not sure what it is I’m looking at thanks to too many redundancies.

We don’t need big Lu and tiny silhouette Lu in the title when the title is positioned within her hair(?). That’s a cool stylistic addition when you’re just using the title as a tease or have the title far enough from the image itself to tie them together. I like the upside-down boy at top as a visual contrast and artistic complement, but the dogs are too much. It might be their size, but it feels as though they are drawn in a different style than the humans. And why are there so many umbrellas? I’d rather be given an idea of place than be beaten over the head with a motif that’s meaningless before seeing the film.

The Day After‘s (limited May 11) sheet is for the most part great. It stands apart with its color, staggered title, and unorthodox use of photography. But it’s also somewhat confusing in its visual language by alternating between word and image with laurels, critic quote, and cast/crew seemingly filling in the blanks. With all that excess it can be difficult parsing the main compositional idea of placing a title word in the gap between Kwon Haeyo and whichever woman is left watching him with another. It actually makes it so that we don’t look long enough to even acknowledge this choice.

That’s a shame because I think it really says something about what the film might be. You get the sense of cheating, of Haeyo’s character engaging with three different women at three separate times while another is left alone. Letting his photos change while keeping the women the same is yet another interesting narrative contrast positioning him as the focal point and them the planets orbiting around. I simply wish there was a way to free this dialogue from the business-side so forcefully pushing its way in.

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