Winter Movie Preview 2012: Thrillers & Horror

Winter is a well-known time of year for studio dumps, for action films that wouldn’t make anything almost any other time of year, for Liam Neeson revenge trillers and phoned-in Nicolas Cage performances. With a lack of dramatic offerings and horror films, I’ve combined them together with thrillers to give you nine films that will likely be Winter 2012’s most intense.

The Devil Inside (Jan. 6)

Directed by William Brent Bell
Written by William Brent Bell, Matthew Peterman
Starring: Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Suzan Crowley

Summary: A young woman travels to a hospital in Italy to find her mother, who was taken there years ago after killing three people performing an exorcism on her. In order to cure her, she’ll have to learn more about exorcism and experience the rite firsthand.

The Word: Another exorcism film and another documentary-style horror film — what’s one more? “The Last Exorcism” performed well in August 2010 and the “Paranormal Activity ” franchise is doing better than ever. This one goes much the route of the former with a no-name cast and a relatively inexperienced director in William Brent Bell, who made the video game slasher film “Stay Alive” back in 2006. There’s been a dearth of horror films lately, and they tend to perform decently in the winter months.

My Thoughts: My two cents don’t mean much having never seen a single exorcism film outside of “The Exorcist,” but this does look rather freaky. It should appeal more to the “Paranormal Activity” folks, though I doubt it will even make much more than a quarter of what those films do.


Contraband (Jan. 13)

Directed by Baltasar Kormákur
Written by Aaron Guzikowski, Arnaldur Indriðason and Óskar Jónasson (film “Rekjavik-Rotterdam”)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster

Summary: A former drug smuggler agrees to one last job against his will in order to help his brother-in-law: smuggling counterfeit bills from Panama. But the job puts his wife and kid in harm’s way

The Word: This drug-running revenge thriller is based on an Icelandic film that director Baltasar Kormákur co-produced, starred in and loved so much that he helped remake it for English-speaking audiences. A cast of famous faces familiar to the genre, predominantly Mark Wahlberg, were obviously drawn to this classic “one last job gone wrong” story, so that helps its cause for sure.

My Thoughts: Marky Mark makes for a great protagonist, so despite being a story we’ve seen hundreds of times, the talent suggests something that could pass for entertaining. Each of these stars has made a bad film, so they’re not expert script scouts, but it’s January and the bar is low.


Coriolanus (Jan. 20 – Limited)

Directed by Ralph Fiennes
Written by John Logan, Shakespeare (play)
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Jessica Chastain, Vanessa Redgrave

Summary: A modernized rehashing of Shakespeare’s play, Coriolanus (Fiennes) is a hero of Rome who doesn’t believe in the political system and it leads to bloody riots. He’s exiled and makes plans with his sworn enemy Aufidius (Butler) to conquer Rome and destroy it.

The Word: Fiennes made his directorial debut with this project, which despite great reviews was held from the masses until January. It seems the only likely nomination for the film will belong to Vanessa Redgrave in a supporting role as Coriolanus’ mother, Volumnia. Regardless, critics have had excellent things to say and the cast is certainly indicative.

My Thoughts: You know the story is solid; this is Shakespeare after all. Respect is the first adjective that comes to mind when looking at the talent from this project top down from Fiennes and Logan behind the camera to Fiennes, Butler, Chastain, Redgrave and Bryan Cox in front of it. The modern take also helps with the appeal.


The Grey (Jan. 27)

Directed by Joe Carnahan
Written by Joe Carnahan, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (screenplay and short story)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, James Badge Dale

Summary: A plane full of oil drillers crash lands in the Alaskan wilderness. Under the leadership of a trained wilderness bodyguard, they must struggle to survive against the elements — and a pack of angry wolves.

The Word: Carnahan and Neeson team up again after a successfully entertaining effort in 2010’s “The A-Team.” This seems like a whole other animal, as it has a darker and grittier bend, especially when compared with “A-Team” and Carnahan’s previous effort, “Smokin’ Aces.” At the same time, it looks as much like an escape from rabid creatures flick as anything. Interestingly, with some of the 2011 screenings, it was one time thought that Neeson would get an Oscar push for his performance.

My Thoughts: Neeson makes anything better. He’s like the extra butter in every baking recipe. He’ll be hard at work in “The Grey,” trying to turn a story of survival into something exciting and original. The early buzz for Neeson suggests this could be an ironic warm spot on the winter calendar.


Man on a Ledge (Jan. 27)

Directed by Asger Leth
Written by Pablo F. Fenjves
Starring: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris

Summary: An escaped convict (Worthington) accused of stealing a diamond sets out to prove his innocence by climbing out onto the ledge of a Manhattan hotel. While a cop (Banks) tries to talk him down, his brother (Bell) is busy trying to get revenge on the man (Harris) who he says framed him.

The Word: You’ve never heard of the writer or director, but the faces are easy to recognize. Considering Summit had no additional writers work on Fenjves script, they must feel really good about what they read. After a slow 2011, Worthington will look to boost his box-office appeal. The appearance of an Ed Harris and Kyra Sedgwick seems strange, but it only helps this thriller that’s sure to have some crazy twist.

My Thoughts: Never mind the literal title, the marketing is in full force and looks to have people’s attention like a … man on a ledge … actually would. The star power is there unlike many January thrillers, and I can’t emphasize enough how only having one writer on a film like this says a lot about the strength of the script. Let’s hope it’s not just about the marketability of the script, but also its quality.


Chronicle (Feb. 3)

Directed by Josh Trank
Written by Max Landis and Josh Trank
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Alex Russell

Summary: After a startling discovery, three teenagers develop telekinetic powers. They use them for harmless pranks at first, but as their ability grows stronger, one of them begins to lose self-control and things get out of hand.

The Word: The found footage phenomenon has finally made its way to the superhero genre in this low-budget story of what your average teenagers would do if they came across extraordinary power. “Chronicle” obviously refers to the fact that this plays like a video diary, but it’s uncertain whether it will take place in chronological order. It’s the first major film for the creators, one of which is Max Landis, son of legendary director John Landis.

My Thoughts: I have to say that I really admire the concept, as this is probably the most lifelike look we’ve had at teenagers coming across superpowers (no offense, Stan Lee). I’m not sure I’m sold on the found footage element, but it allows for that fun low-budget “this might actually be what would happen in real life” feel that made “Cloverfield” an excellent winter season flick (and one of the very best box office-wise, in fact). Lets hope the execution of it and the reveals are original, and by that I mean let’s hope it’s not aliens.


The Woman in Black (Feb. 3)

Directed by James Watkins
Written by Jane Goldman, Susan Hill (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciarán Hinds

Summary: A young lawyer visits a remote country town in England where he’s tasked with selling an old house. Turns out it was once home to a woman whose ghost currently terrorizes the locals.

The Word: The title was shortened from “Harry Potter and the Woman in Black” in order to … okay, but all kidding aside this trailer does open with Daniel Radcliffe on a steam engine going through the country. I mean, come on. I think the actor is capable of moving on from his Hogwarts days, and a fantastical horror film seems like a good segue. A script from Jane Goldman is a great start, as her credits have all been good if not great: “X-Men: First Class,” “The Debt,” “Kick-Ass” and “Stardust.” Director James Watkins directed British horror film “Eden Lake,” which starred Michael Fassbender.

My Thoughts: Radcliffe’s big star appeal (he made Broadway’s revival of “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” a smash) might give this little horror film a jolt. I like the writer and I like the cast, so perhaps we’re looking at one of the better horror offerings of 2012. Rarely does the genre ever boast any level of talent, and when it does you either get films like last year’s flop “Dream House” or the acclaimed “Insidious.”


Act of Valor (Feb. 24)

Directed by Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh
Written by Kurt Johnstad
Starring: Several active duty U.S. Navy SEALs.

Summary: A film based closely on the dangerous real-life missions of Navy SEALs as portrayed by actual Navy SEALs. They must recover a captured CIA agent.

The Word: A film like this is unprecedented. We’ve seen military-inspired films and propaganda, but this sounds like a bunch of Navy SEALs simply thought that their lives were pretty badass and what they do in real life would make a great movie. The directors have mostly documentary experience, which seems fitting in this case, but Kurt Johnstad (“300”) is pure Hollywood.

My Thoughts: I would have to imagine a film like this is going to be all or nothing. Either this will be the most realistic and fascinating film ever, or there will be too much of an attempt to apply a Hollywood sheen to real-life events that it will end up making a mockery of the SEALs. Or it could just be boring. The trailer certainly hold little back, so you have to wonder if that was all the exciting moments. Either way I’ll be curious to see what is said about this one.


Gone (Feb. 24)

Directed by Heitor Dhalia
Written by Allison Burnett
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Jennifer Carpenter, Daniel Sunjata, Wes Bentley

Summary: When a young woman’s (Seyfried) sister goes missing, she believes it’s the same man who kidnapped her along with many others (who ended up dead), only the police never found a shred of proof. She then goes armed vigilante to find her sister whether the police will help her or not.

The Word: Seyfried could use some help. We know she has talent, but her films have flopped lately and gotten mediocre to bad reviews from “Chloe” to “In Time” to “Red Riding Hood.” This film has a lot of thriller conventions, especially the “is she telling the truth or is she crazy?” motif.

My Thoughts: It’s hard to imagine “Gone” standing out based on what we see in this trailer. Seyfried also doesn’t look like a convincing desperate angry chick. I’m glad she’s moved on from romance films for the most part, but she can’t seem to find her place as a leading lady. Anyway, I’m also glad to see “Dexter” star Jennifer Carpenter getting some big-screen action.


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