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16 summer movies that serve as perfect blockbuster counterprogramming – The A.V. Club

So you want to go to the cinema this summer, but you’re all blockbuster-ed out? Suffering from superhero or rom-com fatigue? Looking for alternative programming, indie storytelling, perhaps a capital-F Film over a tackily mainstream Movie? You’ve come to the right place: The A.V. Club has plenty of great suggestions for counter-programming over the next few months. Some of our “anti-blockbusters” have already dazzled film festival audiences, while others have yet to do more than demand attention with an intriguing premise. Read on for the rundown on titles that are guaranteed to bring originality to the big screen this summer.

2 / 18
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Steven Cree, Barbara Marten, Tristan Ruggeri
Director: Taneli Mustonen
When a young couple’s son dies in a car crash, they leave New York for the Finnish countryside with his surviving twin brother. What could possibly go wrong in a huge empty house in an isolated snowy town? Depends on who you ask. So, naturally, mom (Teresa Palmer) asks the crazy English widow whom everyone else in town avoids. And then her kid starts claiming to be his dead twin brother. Dad’s a writer, so of course he basically fucks off to his office and drinks whiskey, as they do.
Finnish director Taneli Mustonen (of Lake Bodom) directs in English this time around, albeit with a Finnish setting. Influenced heavily by recent scare flicks from the likes of Ari Aster, this Shudder/theatrical hybrid release should appeal to fans of horror as a metaphor for grief—and anyone who doesn’t get frustrated at the kinds of creepy kids who’d make everything around them about 10 times less scary if they’d just explain their actions and feelings when asked to do so. [Luke Y. Thompson]
3 / 18
Cast: Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Morten Svartveit
Director: Eskil Vogt
Written and directed by Eskil Vogt, the recently Oscar-nominated co-writer of The Worst Person In The World, Nordic horror The Innocents revolves around four children on summer vacation who have bonded over their respective supernatural abilities. We’re talking about really young kids who have not yet learned right from wrong, which makes the proceedings all the creepier and more unpredictable.
If you’ve ever had nagging suspicions that children are evil, those will be validated. The tykes begin experimenting with telepathy, psychokinesis, mind control, animal abuse, and murder, among other things, before finally turning on each other. This buzzy film received its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival Un Certain Regard section and also screened at Fantastic Fest. [Martin Tsai]
4 / 18
Cast: Ali Larter, Ron Perlman, Ralph Ineson
Director: Naveen Chathapuram
An anthropologist with OCD (Ali Larter) finds herself pursued by a modern-day outlaw gang after witnessing one of their crimes. By herself, she’d be in trouble. But with an assist from a cowboy hat-wearin’ Ron Perlman, she might just survive. Perlman, in a casting choice that will surprise utterly no one, plays an aging sheriff who swears a lot and makes dramatic pronouncements like, “This week has been an ever-escalatin’ shitshow.” Maybe this is a country for old men after all.
The premise may sound simple, but it’s taken 15 years to get The Last Victim to the screen, thanks in part to a forest fire that destroyed the originally planned location. In the meantime, director Naveen Chathapuram gave Chris Hemsworth his first big Hollywood break as producer of 2010’s Ca$h (in which the future Thor gets billed under Sean Bean!), and executive produced the Netflix comedy Brown Nation. The Last Victim was always planned as Chathapuram’s feature directorial debut…and at long last, it will be. [Luke Y. Thompson]
5 / 18
Cast: Sofia Kappel, Revika Anne Reustle, Evelyn Claire, Zelda Morrison
Director: Ninja Thyberg
For those who thought all they needed to know about the porn industry they learned from Boogie Nights, get a load of Pleasure, the accomplished feature debut of Swedish director Ninja Thyberg. Pleasure follows the X-rated fortunes of a 19-year-old Swedish woman who comes to Los Angeles with the goal of becoming a major porn star. But this particular young woman is no victim. Christened Bella Cherry (a fearless Sofia Kappel), she navigates the power structures of this male-dominated industry with smarts and agency, even as she finds herself in over her head and morally degraded as the jobs get rougher.
Pleasure was a hit at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival where it was snapped up by distributor A24 before they sold it to Neon, who promised not to release a watered-down, R-rated version. Yes, Thyberg’s cut is extremely graphic but it’s far from prurient. It’s raw and honest and Thyberg creates a meticulously authentic environment where workaday cameramen, sympathetic producers, and cruelly manipulative directors are all part of the mix. Look for plenty of real-life porn stars in this full-length riff on Thyberg’s short-film version, also called Pleasure, that played Critics’ Week at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. This is the kind of movie where the line “I hope this industry gives you everything you ever asked for” feels more like a threat than a promise. [Mark Keizer]
6 / 18
Cast: Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbott, Tiffany Haddish, J.B. Smoove, Henry Winkler
Director: Jerrod Carmichael
Yes, Jerrod Carmichael really made a dark comedy about a murder-suicide, and yes, that should earn points for its provocative premise alone. But On The Count Of Three goes further than you initially think possible, both into legitimate portrayals of fraught mental health and into balls-to-the-wall slapstick. Co-starring with Christopher Abbott as two friends who agree to mutually shuffle off this mortal coil, Carmichael capably guides Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch’s shocking screenplay from the director’s chair; there’s smart casting for supporting roles, too, with Tiffany Haddish’s wry and bone-weary performance and Henry Winkler’s utter subversion of his beloved persona.
As the disclaimers in the recently released trailer suggest, these filmmakers are treating self-harm as the serious issue it is; Carmichael walks that fine line between authentically depicting sensitive subject matter and daring to make light of it. And with this film’s release on the heels of his critically acclaimed comedy special and SNL hosting gig, Carmichael’s 2022 career breakthrough is well-deserved. [Jack Smart]
7 / 18
Cast: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu, Gayle Rankin
Director: Alex Garland
Alex Garland’s fervently anticipated third film, following the twin triumphs of Ex Machina and Annihilation, finds the acclaimed filmmaker segueing from creepy science fiction to dread-inducing folk horror. Jessie Buckley stars as a recently widowed woman, who, whilst on holiday in rural England, is relentlessly stalked by men bearing the same visage (of co-star Rory Kinnear). Who are these people, and what do they want from her? The trailer is opaque, but plenty ominous, whetting the viewer’s appetite for a twisty, white-knuckle thriller that’ll linger long after the lights go up. Early buzz is through the roof on this one, though it sounds like it’s best to go in as cold as possible. Men also reps Buckley’s first performance since her Academy Award-nominated turn in The Lost Daughter. The Irish actress, who’s been on a tear since 2018’s Wild Rose, seems primed for stardom. This might just do the trick. [Jeremy Smith]
8 / 18
Cast: Jack Lowden, Peter Capaldi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeremy Irvine, Kate Phillips
Director: Terence Davies
Siegfried Sassoon was a 20th century British writer who came to prominence with his painfully truthful poems about the horrors of World War I, where he served and was even awarded the Military Cross. In 1917, his anti-war letter published in The Times (UK) got him shipped off to a hospital for “shell shock.” After the war, Sassoon, who once called his homosexuality his “dark secret,” married a woman and had a son before embracing the Catholic church in the 1950s. His was a life of crises and contradictions, and there’s no better director to bring it to the screen than Terence Davies. The Liverpool-born helmer is an ex-Catholic himself and he has long harbored negative feelings about his homosexuality, which he says “ruined my life.”
In Benediction, Davies crosscuts between Sassoon as a troubled young man (played by Jack Lowden, currently co-starring in Slow Horses on Apple TV+) and as a seething old man (former Dr. Who Peter Capaldi). While Davies is known for autobiographical films like Distant Voices, Still Lives, The Long Day Closes, and the documentary Of Time And The City, Benediction is his second consecutive feature about a poet, after 2016’s Emily Dickinson biopic, A Quiet Passion. [Mark Keizer]
9 / 18
Cast: Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman, Burn Gorman
Director: Chloe Okuno
V/H/S/94 co-director Chloe Okuno made her solo feature directorial debut this year at Sundance with Watcher, which is exactly the sort of movie it sounds like. Maika Monroe’s Julie moves to Romania with her boyfriend, and somebody in an apartment across the way keeps staring into their bedroom window night after night. As a serial killer stalks the streets of Bucharest, the tension ratchets up, especially as Julie is frequently left home alone and doesn’t speak the local language.
So who do we think is the watcher? Burn Gorman (recognizable from the Pacific Rim movies and the fascist-looking Vinsher Garth in Paramount Plus’ new Halo series) looks to be the prime suspect. But he seems so obviously icky that any savvy viewer might expect another twist coming. Kari Glusman, who plays Julie’s boyfriend Francis, is known for extreme cinema, similar to Gaspar Noe’s Love and Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon. So keep your eye on that guy, too. [Luke Y. Thompson]
10 / 18
Cast: Cooper Raiff, Dakota Johnson, Leslie Mann, Brad Garrett

Director: Cooper Raiff
Triple-threat indie breakout Cooper Raiff returns to screens with the highly anticipated follow-up to Shithouse, his adorably awkward and deeply felt neo-mumblecore ramble about a homesick college freshman. The no-budget, star-free 2020 film was such a promising debut that for Cha Cha Real Smooth, he was able to attract marquee names like Dakota Johnson, Leslie Mann, and Brad Garrett. Raiff once again writes, directs, and stars, this time as a college grad with an unusual side hustle as a hype man for bar-mitzvahs. At one such Semitic shindig, a friendship is born when he manages to get autistic girl Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) onto the dance floor much to the amazement of her mother, Domino (Johnson).
Raiff is becoming the king of the cancelled in-person film festival: Shithouse won a Grand Jury Award at 2020’s COVID-crippled SXSW, where juries watched films via secure screening links, and at this year’s virtual Sundance, Cha Cha Real Smooth took home the Audience Award and was sold to Apple TV+ for a hefty $15 million. It’s not quite the $25 million Apple paid for eventual Best Picture Oscar winner CODA, but whatever keeps Raiff, with his disarming, Gen-Z, shaggy-dog charm, making movies is okay by us. [Mark Keizer]
11 / 18
Cast: Jenny Slate, Rosa Salazar, Thomas Mann, Isabella Rossellini
Director: Dean Fleischer-Camp
If you watched Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp’s viral Marcel The Shell videos back in the day, you probably marveled: How is this tiny, stuttering anthropomorphic seashell so delightfully adorable, and where on Earth did such a premise come from? The writer-star and director are now taking that original impulse all the way to the multiplex, with the long-planned feature-length version of little Marcel’s documented adventures, distributed by A24 following a glowing reception at the 2021 Telluride Film Festival. Get ready to be won over all over again by Slate’s impeccable voiceover performance—there must be scripted elements to Marcel’s dialogue, but it somehow always feels improvised from the comedic depths of her very soul. [Jack Smart]
12 / 18
Cast: Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Jason Isaacs, Lambert Wilson
Director: Anthony Fabian
Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel Mrs. ’Arris Goes To Paris centers on a British housekeeper who so admires her employer’s Christian Dior couture gown that she resolves to save up and travel to France to acquire one of her own. Though the idea seems a bit frivolous, and gatekeepers will stand in her way, she’s worked hard for that dress, and she’s determined to get the frock that she deserves. The moral of the story is that one is never too old to dream, but as it turns out, the journey itself is more important than the sartorial destination.
Gallico’s novel has spawned several adaptations, among them a 1992 TV movie and a 2016 stage musical. This latest iteration, from director Anthony Fabian (2013’s Louder Than Words and 2008’s Skin), stars Lesley Manville, Oscar nominee for Phantom Thread, in the titular role and also features the great Isabelle Huppert, Jason Isaacs, and Lambert Wilson. [Martin Tsai]
13 / 18
Cast: B. J. Novak, Issa Rae, Ashton Kutcher, Boyd Holbrook, Dove Cameron

Director: B.J. Novak
The Office co-star and writer B.J. Novak finally scripts and directs his first feature, described as a true-crime dark comedy, for Blumhouse. Shot in New Mexico, the story of Vengeance involves a New York City radio host who ventures into the deep South to find out what happened to his missing girlfriend.
Without any trailer or significant online presence for the film as of this writing, we can but speculate further. The auteur and star has been busy promoting his Hulu anthology series The Premise and children’s book The Book With No Pictures, but he has to get around to talking about the movie eventually. We do know Novak’s former Punk’d boss Ashton Kutcher is aboard. And if it’s Blumhouse, there’s a better-than-average chance it’ll be shot mostly in one building, with a barely seen, gathering threat of some sort that makes itself known in time for the big climax. One thing is for sure: vengeance will be exacted. Kutcher made an effective transition from comedy to horror with The Butterfly Effect, though, so don’t bet against Novak doing the same. [Luke Y. Thompson]
14 / 18
Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Lee Pace, Pete Davidson, Rachel Sennott
Director: Halina Reijn
The latest entrant in the A24 horror canon, Bodies Bodies Bodies can be described as And Then There Were None for the Gen-Z set. Seven friends hole up at a remote mansion during a hurricane to party, play games, and do drugs—then things take a bloody turn. Even so, they manage to find time to play out reality-TV fodder, bickering about non-life-threatening micro-aggressions like gaslighting, triggering, being toxic, and silencing someone.
Bodies Bodies Bodies comes with the requisite A24 bonafides; reminiscent of the distributor’s award-winning Zola, it seems to be an unlikely meeting of eclectic minds. Based on a screenplay by Kristen Roupenian of “Cat Person” fame and rewritten by Pulitzer finalist Sarah DeLappe, playwright of The Wolves, the film marks the sophomore directorial effort of Dutch actress Halina Reijn, whose Instinct (2019) sadly remains unreleased stateside. Boasting a hip cast featuring Pete Davidson and Amandla Stenberg, it had its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival alongside A24’s X and Everything Everywhere All At Once. [Martin Tsai]
15 / 18
Cast: Jo Koy, Jimmy O. Yang, Tia Carrere, Tiffany Haddish, Lou Diamond Phillips

Director: Jay Chandrasekhar
Depending on how you look at it, the new comedy Easter Sunday is either very late for Easter 2022 or very early for Easter 2023. Originally slated for release, you know, around Easter, it’s since been moved to August, where it’ll go up against the Owen Wilson superhero comedy, Secret Headquarters. The film stars standup comedian Jo Koy as a fictionalized version of himself and revolves around the chaos that erupts at his family’s dinner table on the namesake holiday.
Easter Sunday exists thanks to a surprising benefactor: while on a break from shooting West Side Story, Steven Spielberg watched Koy’s 2019 Netflix standup special, Comin’ In Hot. He then called the Filipino-American comedian and asked for a meeting. Koy pitched Easter Sunday to execs at Spielberg’s production company, Amblin Entertainment, and they agreed to hop onboard. Koy co-stars along with Jimmy O. Yang, Tia Carrere, Tiffany Haddish, and Lou Diamond Phillips. And the movie’s comedy cred extends behind the camera, directed by Super Troopers ringmaster Jay Chandrasekhar, whose small screen directing résumé includes Fox’s New Girl and ABC’s The Goldbergs. [Mark Keizer]
16 / 18
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Tim Roth, Grace Kaufman, Michael Esper

Director: Andrew Semens
Fresh off wowing critics with her directorial debut Passing, Rebecca Hall jumps back in front of the camera for this 2022 Sundance sensation about a successful businesswoman thrust into a waking nightmare when a man (Tim Roth) from her distant past begins stalking her. The mostly enthusiastic reviews hail Andrew Semans’ psychological thriller as a tantalizing slow burn; the backstory is slowly meted out, keeping the audience guessing as to Roth’s traumatizing relationship with Hall.
Plot details beyond the first act are scarce, but it sounds like the reveals are absolute doozies. Hall’s been reliably spectacular since her big-screen debut in 2006’s Starter For Ten. She earned Oscar buzz for Vicky Christina Barcelona and Antonio Campos’ criminally underseen Christine, but has yet to make the Academy cut. If her cat-and-mouse chemistry with Roth is as combustible as the critics claim, Resurrection could be her ticket to the Kodak Theatre. As for Roth, no one does low-key sinister better than this living legend. [Jeremy Smith]
17 / 18
Director: Abi Damaris Corbin

Cast: John Boyega, Michael Kenneth Williams, Nicole Beharie, Selenis Levya, Connie Britton
The title of director and co-writer Abi Damaris Corbin’s 2022 Sundance breakout refers to something innocuous: the dollar figure in a disability check owed to a Marine veteran named Brian Brown-Easley. But 892, which recreates the real-life story of Brown-Easley holding up a Wells Fargo bank in 2017, is about so much more than that number.
Starring the always-riveting John Boyega as the initiator of an increasingly tense standoff, as well as Nicole Beharie and Selenis Levya as his bank teller captors, this film is just as much evergreen political commentary as it is edge-of-your-seat thriller. Like the best of such stories, it’s designed to get your blood pumping and your moral outrage simmering. And the late Michael Kenneth Williams, as chief hostage negotiator Eli Bernard, juggling Brown-Easley’s feelings and trigger-happy police forces, will remind you he’s one of the screen’s most empathetic stars; even without the knowledge that this marks the late actor’s final performance, he has your heartstrings firmly in his grip. [Jack Smart]
18 / 18

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Abhinav Breathes and Bleeds Technology. He's a humanoid with a passion for Gadgets, Cars, Gaming. You can usually find him on PSN Blabbering about his FIFA skills.