Winter can be an unpredictable season. Some days defy expectations and reach 60 degrees or better (in the parts of the country that actually have a traditional winter, not the fans lucky enough to live in California, Florida, or other more favorable environments) and then some days live up to their reputation, bringing sleet, snow, and the inevitable school closings and delays.
This winter’s horror film line-up is shaping up to be equally unpredictable and tumultuous. Many projects that were scheduled for the months of January, February, and March have since disappeared (The Turning), have questionable release dates (Jacob’s Ladder on February 1st with no official trailer in site), or have been bought up by Netflix for home viewing (Eli). Despite these inconsistencies, there are some firm release dates for horror fans this season, as well as a wide-variety of films to choose from, covering all of the sub-genres of horror, ranging from thrillers to the ever-popular tales of possessed kids.
Escape Room (January 4): Director Adam Robitel (of last year’s Insidious The Last Key) is taking a break from the supernatural to bring horror fans an old fashioned Panic Room type story in the appropriately titled Escape Room (just in case young movie-goers don’t know what a panic room is). The film throws six strangers together in unfamiliar territory with only one choice: work together to survive (and the chances of all six surviving is probably pretty slim).
The “trapped in a house” horror trope is one that has gained popularity as of late, especially after the success of 2016’s Don’t Breathe and most recently, last May’s Breaking In. Escape Room takes the concept in a Saw-lite direction with a game component and the tagline “Solve the puzzle, Escape the room”. The film stars a young adult cast designed to appeal to the same audience that the film is hoping to attract such as Taylor Russel (Lost in Space), Jay Ellis (Insecure), Deborah Ann Woll (Netflix’s Daredevil and True Blood), Logan Miller (Love, Simon), Nik Dodani (Atypical), as well as some slightly older evil masterminds. With a lack of teen-centric horror films over the past few months, Escape Room may benefit at the box office, but it is entering the marketplace with a number of blockbuster holdovers from December taking up screens and consumer dollars. However, the film may appeal to the demographic that goes to the mall to shop, eat at the food court, see movies, and pay admission for actual escape room challenges (no doubt safer than the ones featured in the film). (Rated PG-13)
Serenity (January 25): Serenity is definitely more in the “thriller” category (the term that Oscar voters and critics concocted when Silence of the Lambs swept the Academy Awards in 1992), but it enters theaters with a sterling pedigree. Steven Knight, best known as the writer/creator of FX’s Taboo and Netflix’s Peaky Blinders, enters the director’s chair for this tale of murder, mayhem, and betrayal. The film’s cast is star-studded with Anne Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey, Diane Lane, Djimon Hounsou, and Jason Clarke joining Knight’s noir thriller.
The combination of star power and Knight’s reputation for complex, unique crime dramas is enough to bring astute viewers into the theater, but will larger audiences embrace an R-rated story that promises intrigue that can be found in Knight’s television productions? Time will tell, but you would be hard pressed to find a more “can’t miss” project this winter in terms of the talent assembled for Serenity. The trailer also offers more mystery than most, which again has the possibility to intrigue as well as turn away various audiences. (Rated R)
The Prodigy (February 8): Ready for the obligatory possessed kid movie of the winter? If so, get your tickets to The Prodigy right now! The Prodigy not only offers a possessed, creepy child, but if the trailer is any indication, plenty of jump scares and one major swipe from Get Out (the old man with his metronome instead of Mrs. Armitage’s tea and spoon set). Nicholas McCarthy crosses the pond for his latest film, his first for Orion Pictures, and his first to be released in theaters in the US and worldwide. The film stars Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) in her first horror film and Jackson Robert Scott (last seen as Georgie sliding down a sewer in It).
The Prodigy (not to be confused with 90s techno kings of the same name) enters the schedule as the first (and probably only) supernatural film of the season, so it should be able to attract audiences craving some ghostly scares on a cold winter’s night. The two problems that The Prodigy faces is the fact that the words “Stephen King” or The Conjuring don’t appear anywhere on The Prodigy’s poster (the two sure-fire ways to get mainstream horror fans into theaters) and the release of Happy Death Day 2u which comes out one week after The Prodigy. The film certainly has a chance to make a profit based on an assumed meager budget (no details are currently available detailing The Prodigy’s production costs), but it will have to make that cash faster than the boy running down the hall at the end of this trailer. The film’s MPAA rating also promises “Brief Graphic Nudity” which seems to be an oxymoron, but may help get people into the theater. (Rated R)
Happy Death Day 2u (February 14): Perhaps the one sure fire hit of the season is the sequel to Happy Death Day, Valentine’s Weekend’s Happy Death Day 2u. The original film was a surprise hit for Universal, making over $122 million dollars world-wide on a shoe-string budget (just over $4 million dollars). Tree Gelbman (played by Jessica Rothe) once again wakes up in Carter Davis’ (Israel Broussard) bedroom, and it appears that she is once again caught in the loop. New members of the cast include American Horror Story‘s Sarah Yarkin and Homeland’s Suraj Sharma, as well as many of the returning members of Happy Death Day. Original writer and director Christopher Landon has also returned for the sequel, which should keep the same level of sarcastic humor and scares intact.
Valentine’s Day weekend has become a big one from movie goers (those with sweet hearts and those without) and it is one that studios have targeted in recent years for some of their bigger, pre-summer films. Happy Day Death 2u opens opposite Robert Rodriguez’s anime adaptation Alita: Battle Angel, but Universal is confident with the name recognition of the franchise, the review proof teen audience, and the spotty track record of other recent anime adaptations (such as Ghost in the Shell). Happy Death Day 2u should enter the marketplace with a bang and it should also be one of the biggest (and most profitable) hits of the winter season. (Rated PG-13)
Us (March 22): Speaking of hits, nothing lit the winter of 2017 on fire like Jordan Peele’s debut film Get Out. Get Out grossed over $250 million world-wide and also became a critical darling, garnering multiple award nominations and a win in the Best Original Screenplay category at the Oscars. To say that Peele’s follow-up, Us, arrives with lofty monetary and critical expectations is an understatement. Like some of the best horror films, Get Out captured both horror fans and mainstream audiences and the wait for Peele’s follow up has been at a fever pitch ever since Us was announced.
The film also arrives with a stellar cast, with Winston Duke and Lupita Nyong’o playing two caring, fun-loving parents that get a strange visit late at night from some very familiar people. The trailer plays more like a standard horror film than Get Out, and Us is bound to have people hollering and jumping out of their seats more than Peele’s rookie effort if the short preview is any indication. Again, with expectations this high, there is bound to be some backlash, but it is tough to bet against Peele and an accomplished cast. Look for Us to rack up some serious dollars this winter, even though it opens one week after Captain Marvel (which is riding the hype train as well). If the critical response (Rotten Tomatoes) is anything close to Get Out, Us should play in theaters through April and May, cementing Peele as a true force in modern cinema. UPDATE: The release date for Us has been moved from March 15 to March 22. Us will now premiere as the opening night film at SXSW Film Festival. This also allows the true heavy-weight of the season, Captain Marvel, to play for two weeks with no competition, so it should most likely help Us’ box office debut as well. (Rated R)
We hope you enjoyed our Winter 2019 Preview, and be sure to come back in April for HNN’s Spring edition.