I love a good blockbuster but for me, Western cinema’s beating heart is punky. Those mid-range to low-budget gems which get their hands dirty, where limitation meets invention, that’s where you get the FUN stuff. That’s where you get the voices that are distinctive and unique, the ones that will shape cinema for years to come. Or at least it would be. If you could actually see any of those movies. Because 2018 promised a lot and delivered very little in that department, at least in places people could see it. I know Limited Release means ‘this won’t play everywhere’ but some of these movies seemed to play nowhere.
Now on the one hand I’m only 25 minutes outside London by train. But on the other, limited release shouldn’t mean ‘These three cinemas in London’. It’s not only grossly unfair for the audience but it also creates a false narrative around the movie and worse the ecosystem the movie exists in. If it breaks big, then a wider release is possible, sure but if it only plays in a few screens and does okay or tanks, then there’s no need to expand it out. Which means the next one along only plays in a few screens and so on.
Here’s a list of some of the standouts. Where possible I’ve also provided links to where and when they’re going to be available,
Marked down for ladymurder but marked up for post-human face punching and the fact it looks like a lost John Carpenter movie. Produced by Blumhouse, released in the wake of colossal hit Get Out in the UK on 31st August. Never showed up near me. Apparently on digital release for Christmas Eve.
Jack Trainor’s career renaissance continues! Brothers bond over an apparently alien weapon! This again looked smart and fun and weird. And again played nowhere near me. Released on blu-ray on Boxing Day apparently.
Off-world prospectors! Imminent Star Wars star Pedro Pascal! This never released over here and isn’t available outside third party DVD sellers. However, I’d guess that’s going to change shortly given Pascal’s starring role in The Mandalorian.
Jet black comedy sitting somewhere on the state line between Heathers and The Purge. Excellent cast, solid word, 23rd November release date, no screenings nearby, vanished basically instantly. Currently available for pre-order with no release date.
Released on 11th May to basically no publicity despite early good work on the festival circuit. The good news is this is the only(!) one of these movies that you can actually see NOW. It’s already on disc and streaming.
What the Hell happened here? Seriously, a movie with uniformly great word of mouth co-written by and co-starring one of the breakout talents from the biggest musical of the century and…limited release in the first week of October. This isn’t a commercial risk this is money left on the table and one of the two legitimately indefensible scheduling choices on this list. Oh and if you weren’t one of the six people who got to see it in the UK, good news! You only have to wait till February or the last week of January for streaming.
And speaking of money left on the table…What possible reason was there to not buy this on wide release?1 It’s been getting nothing but good word, the foundations of how it was made are genuinely inspiring, it’s perfect counter-programming, an instant cult classic and…as I write this it’s December 15th and it’s playing nowhere in the country. Whoever decided to push the largely terrible Slaughterhouse Rulez and not this should talk to the guy who didn’t sign Wu-Tang Clan. They have a lot to discuss. No release date at present but you can buy the soundtrack.
I’m not saying these movies being thrown under the bus like this are an indication of the commercial death of Western cinema because, well, I’m not an idiot. What I am saying is this is a worrying data point that speaks to a growing gap between the movies that hit the festival circuit and the movies the rest of us get to see. Here’s hoping next year turns it around.