Why The A24 Horror Trailer Aesthetic Is A Double-Edged Sword

Editing film trailers is a true art form. Ridley Scott might blame those no-good millennials and their "f***ing cell phones" (his words, not mine!) for "The Last Duel" bombing, but friends and family members have told me it was the trailers that left them uninterested in the director's latest period piece ... only to end up loving the movie when they eventually sat down and watched it. The point is: A trailer can just as easily make a movie seem boring as it can build up false expectations as to its quality or approach to a genre.

Few companies seem as clued into this as A24, which has its own in-house style for editing movie trailers, especially those of the horror variety. Indeed, the company's teaser trailer for "Men" — the new horror-thriller from "Ex Machina" and "Annihilation" writer-director Alex Garland — has all the elements people have come to associate with an A24 horror film promo. There's the unsettling repetition of a sound (here, the echo of Jessie Buckley's voice as her character, Harper, yells into a long underpass), the shots of creepy things happening with little context (like a bunch of apples falling out of a tree in Harper's backyard at night after she sees someone ... or something), and the general vagueness of the trailer that's intended to leave you wanting to learn more.

All in all, A24's methods are highly effective at building anticipation, which is why we've seen them used again and again in the marketing for its horror films, from "The Killing of a Sacred Deer," to "Hereditary," "The Lighthouse," "Lamb," and beyond. They've also, however, proven to be a double-edged sword when it comes to how people respond to the movies themselves.

Does A24's Approach Hurt or Help Its Horror Films?

I can't begrudge A24 for doing whatever it takes to get people to watch their horror movies in theaters, not least of all since they tend to be inspired, weird, slow-burn, and filmmaker-driven thrillers that the major studios wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. But at the same time, their approach often tricks casual moviegoers into thinking they're going to get a more typical horror movie, only to leave them disappointed when it turns out to be the opposite. This is also why A24 releases like "The Witch" and "It Comes at Night" respectively earned C- and D CinemaScores (via Vulture) after their opening weekends, despite being praised left and right by critics.

Financially, it's difficult to say if A24's approach helps its horror movies more than it hurts them. According to The Numbers, 2018's "Hereditary" is the company's top-grossing film of all time with a global box office take of $81.3 million, with 2019's "Midsommar" and 2016's "The Witch" holding the No. 5 and No. 6 spots, respectively. By comparison, A24's most recent horror movie, "Lamb," is all the way down at No. 41 with $3 million. Problem is, the pandemic makes it impossible to tell how much (if any) of the film's low turnout has to do with general audiences starting to catch onto A24's tricks and/or a lack of interest in that specific folk horror subgenre.

When interviewed by ComicBook.com in 2018, "Hereditary" star Alex Wolff argued the quality of the movie (and, by extension, other A24 horror films) would allow it to stand the test of time, long after people had forgotten its own D+ CinemaScore. As Wolff put it:

"I think if you start looking at a movie like 'Hereditary' in terms of scores and percentages, that's going to drive you crazy because that's really not what it's about. If 'Rosemary's Baby' probably had percentages and CinemaScore in the '70s, or 'The Exorcist,' people would've been giving it an F- and whatever amount of percent."

It's a valid point, and for the same reason, I'm (perhaps naively) hopeful that, in the long run, the masses won't care too much about A24 constantly misleading them into checking out its bolder and more inventive horror movies. At the same time, I won't be shocked if "Men" gets a bad CinemaScore from people who are upset that it has less in common with the "Conjuring" films (which I usually enjoy, don't get me wrong) than the works of, say, "Stalker" and "Solaris" filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (like "Annihilation" did).

"Men" opens in theaters on May 20, 2022.