There’s a thrill that comes from watching a film made by a director who’s at or near the beginning of his or her career and sensing that great things are ahead. Here are some excellent genre films recently made by up-and-comers—and what exciting projects these directors are working on next.
Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook achieved the rare distinction of being critically beloved and disturbing as hell. It’s about a mother and son whose already troubled lives take a turn for the worse when the title creature starts tormenting them.
Kent’s next project is The Nightingale, a drama inspired by Tasmania’s past as both a tough prison colony and a place where indigenous cultures were brutally stomped out (“It’s not a horror film, but it’s a horrific world,” Kent told The Guardian last year.) Kent is also attached to an adaptation of Alexis Coe’s true crime tale Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis, about two young women whose turn-of-the-century romance came to a cruel end, followed by a sensationally public act of violence. As a side note, and speaking of sensational acts of violence, Babadook star Essie Davis recently had a recurring role as doomed actress Lady Crane on Game of Thrones.
Benh Zeitlin’s 2012 debut film—a dreamy, quirky fantasy with an environmentalist message—was met with a near-universal swoon, scoring Oscar nods for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Actress (for nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, the category’s youngest-ever nominee). He first shared details of his next project in 2013, telling the New York Times:
The new film is about a young girl who gets kidnapped onto a hidden ecosystem where a tribal war is raging over a form of pollen that breaks the relationship between aging and time. It follows a friendship-love story-adventure of her and a joyous, reckless, pleasure-mongering young boy as they swirl in and out of youth and as the ecosystem around them spirals toward destruction. We’re working on it all day every day, but as all psychotic adventures go, you know where your destination is but not how long it’s going to take to get there.
If anyone can make that movie, which is now apparently titled Wendy, it’s the guy who unleashed ancient aurochs in the Louisiana bayou. In 2015, Indiewire reported that Zeitlin had put out a casting call on the Caribbean island of Antigua; IMDb has the project listed as in “pre-production,” with a release date of 2017. Going by Zeitlin’s own words, however, there’s really no telling how long we’ll be waiting for this one.
Though Ex Machina was Alex Garland’s directorial debut, the film came after a highly successful screenwriting career (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, Dredd), not to mention a best-selling novel, The Beach, which was also adapted into a movie. So the guy was already a huge success beforehand, though the AI tale Ex Machina was so well-done it still felt like an amazing revelation. (Garland received an Oscar nomination for his script, and the film won for its incredible special effects.)
Up next for Garland: Annihilation, his adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s scifi novel, starringNatalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Ex Machina dancing machine Oscar Isaac. There’s no release date yet, but Garland was working on it last spring and summer, according to these stunning behind-the-scenes photos he shared on social media—which only make us even more eager to see the finished product.
Writer-director Nicolas Pesce isn’t even 30 yet, but his debut—a disturbing black-and-white tale of rural terrors that’s equal parts horror and art film—turned a lot of heads, and not a few stomachs.
His next film, Piercing, might be less gory but it sounds similarly tense, according to Variety:
“Piercing” is based on Ryu Murakami’s 1994 novel of the same name. [Christopher] Abbott plays a man who kisses his wife and baby goodbye, seemingly headed away on business, with a plan to check into a hotel, call an escort service and kill an unsuspecting prostitute. His plan is thwarted by the alluring and mysterious call girl — played by [Mia] Wasikowska — who arrives at his room, leading to a pulsating game of cat-and-mouse.
The report noted that Piercing wrapped earlier this month; so far, no release date has been announced.
In 2014, io9 wrote that Ana Lili Amirpour’s first feature would likely retain the title of “cinema’s only black-and-white feminist Western vampire movie, shot in a California ghost town but with all dialogue in Farsi,” unless the writer-director opted to make a sequel. So far she hasn’t, but Amirpour does have a new entry on her filmography, and it’s due in theaters this summer after debuting in film festivals last year. It’s called The Bad Batch, and it’s a grimy dystopian tale with both love-story and cannibal elements. The cast includes Jason Momoa, an amusingly mustachioed Keanu Reeves, and Jim Carrey.
German writing-directing duo Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s uniquely creepy tale—about young twins who begin to suspect the swathed-in-bandages woman who claims to be their mother might be an impersonator, which turns out to be just one test of reality within the film—was a dreadful delight, if at times difficult to watch.
In April 2016, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Fiala and Franz were heading to Hollywood to make their second fiction film together, and it’s another horror story: The Fortress, about “a group of refugees hidden aboard a container ship who discover their passage to safety is not what it seems.”
Writer-director David Robert Mitchell took an incredibly simple concept—a ruthless monster that looks like anyone and never stops chasing you—and made it totally fucking scary. Up next, in what’s only his third feature, he directs Andrew Garfield and Riley Keough in Under the Silver Lake, described as a “crime noir” set in Los Angeles.
Since his 2011 breakout, missing-person mindfuck Absentia, Mike Flanagan has been making horror movies back-to-back: 2013 haunted-mirror tale Oculus, which elevated him to wider notice; and the 2016 releases Hush, the long-delayed Before I Wake, and sequel Ouija: Origins of Evil, all of which he co-wrote, most often with Jeff Howard. Flanagan’s next directorial effort will also feature a script co-written with Howard, and while a Stephen King adaptation certainly seems in his wheelhouse, it’s not exactly what you’d expect: Gerald’s Game, the tale of a woman (Carla Gugino) whose husband dies after playfully handcuffing her to their bed. Psychological (and other) horrors ensue. Though the novel was previously dubbed “unfilmable,” Flanagan, a lifelong King fan in general and of this book in particular, was up for the challenge. Gerald’s Game will hit Netflix sometime this year, but one very important critic has already shared his opinion.
Production designer turned writer-director Robert Eggers’ debut was one of the most acclaimed horror movies of the decade, launching the career of Anya Taylor-Joy, who also starred in Morgan and was most recently in Split.
In early 2016, soon after The Witch hit theaters, the history-obsessed Eggers said his next project would be a miniseries about Rasputin. But in November 2016, he confirmed to Indiewire that he’d be returning to a project he spoke of soon after The Witch’s 2015 Sundance premiere: a remake of silent vampire classic Nosferatu, a film he’s been a fan of since grade school and plans to approach with the same attention to detail that made The Witch so distinctive.