Trailer Talk #4

Last week saw several trailers conveniently arrive for films showing at the Venice Film Festival at the same time. This week it is Toronto’s turn, with many a film gaining both critical acclaim and a trailer over the last seven days. Chief among them, perhaps, is Just Mercy. The legal drama focuses on the real-life case of lawyer Bryan Stevenson and his attempts to help men on death row, in particular Walter McMillian. Stevenson here is played by Michael B. Jordan and he is matched by Jamie Foxx as McMillian. Winning largely positive reviews and significant awards chatter, Just Mercy will have created great anticipation, which will only be enhanced by this stirring first trailer. The performances from Jordan, Foxx and Brie Larson have been widely acclaimed, and they get some great heavy emotional scenes to play with just in this 2-and-a-half minute preview. With a sense of righteousness that is not overplayed, it is an excellent trailer for a film that could well be a hit for director Destin Daniel Cretton, who earned plaudits for Short Term 12 and is set to take on Marvel’s Shang-Chi soon.

A fellow festival favourite is Girlhood director Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire. In another strong trailer, we see a portrait of a lady, a lady on fire, and indeed a portrait of a lady which is itself on fire. Such flippant analysis doesn’t do the trailer justice of course, which has an emotional resonance buried within the period settings, furtive glances and dramatic conversations between a painter and her subject in 18th century Brittany. The film won Best Screenplay and the Queer Palm at Cannes and has had universally positive reviews, promising another success for Sciamma.

Despite the acclaim for these two from Toronto, the stand-out film in trailer form this week is Trey Edward Shults’ Waves. A family drama with Sterling K. Brown likely being fantastic, Waves has a trailer as packed with moving moments as they come. An unseen character narrates the action, hinting at its central theme of the power of love and family. The seemingly sprawling story, taking in several relationships both familial and romantic, raises expectations for one of those great ensemble films where the pains and joys of not just one or two people, but the whole world, are felt.

Not every trailer this week suggested tears and tension, you’ll be glad to hear. In Jojo Rabbit and Jexi we got two tastes of upcoming comedy. The former is writer-director Taika Waititi’s new work, an ‘anti-hate satire’ that features the man himself as Adolf Hitler, the imaginary friend of a young Nazi schoolboy in WWII Germany. Despite mixed reviews coming out of Toronto, it is hard not to be excited about the film from a man who proved his wit several years ago with What We Do in the Shadows that has an all-star cast and an impressively funny trailer, the stand-out moment being a young boy’s resignation that “it’s not easy being a Nazi these days”, perhaps taking aim at the darker corners of the Twittersphere. Jexi, meanwhile, also gets a good amount of laughs in a short preview. It follows Adam Devine as he tries to combat his overbearing and overly intelligent Siri-like new phone OS Jexi. Satirising modern-day smartphone addiction, the trailer plays a bit like a funnier, more cynical version of Her.

If neither awards-contender drama nor satirical comedy are your bag, then let’s not forget that the Doctor Sleep trailer dropped this week. A long-awaited sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s adored The Shining, this sees Ewan McGregor as a grown-up Danny Torrance. The start of the trailer shows us the familiar iconography: the hotel, the carpet, the twins. Then it opens up, however, and we get a taste of a story well beyond Danny that involves telekinetic children and a nefarious Rebecca Ferguson. It seems like a must-see for horror fans.

Finally, this week, is Ema. Premiering to positive reactions in Venice, this is the latest feature from Pablo Larraín, who with Jackie made one of the most underrated films of recent years. The trailer is frankly a bit bonkers, with lots of dancing, heated exchanges between Mariana Di Girolamo and Gael García Bernal, and a sense of both grief and dread. They play a couple who gave up on their adopted son, both blaming the other for it. Di Girolamo’s mother is the eponymous Ema, suggesting that she is the film’s real focus. Throughout this trailer she has an almost-possessed look that combines with an undercurrent of menace to promise a film that has one or two surprises up its sleeve. At the end she tells a man, “When you know what I’m doing and why, you will be horrified.” I for one, can’t wait to find out what she’s up to.

Andrew Young