Halloween apparently comes early this year — February offers a quartet of promising horror movies, not to mention the latest chapter in the Fifty Shades erotic saga (which is its own sort of horror). Add to that a rare appearance from An-Actually-Trying-and-Not-Phoning-It-In Robert De Niro, a pair of extremely promising sequels, an experimental indie about a mass murderer and an Oscar-nominated documentary, and the next four weeks starts to look a bounty no matter your taste. Here's what coming soon to a theater near you in the next month.
A Cure For Wellness (Feb. 17th)
Dane DeHaan stars as a corporate ladder-climber sent to retrieve his company's CEO from the sketchy-sounding "wellness retreat" he's reportedly holed up in. (Think Shutter Island, plonked down in some snowy corner of the Swiss Alps.) Some furtive warnings from an empty-eyed waif (Mia Goth) give him pause, but he foolishly sticks around long enough to get forcibly committed. Gore Verbinski's Gothic/goth freakout unleashes a torrent of surreal terrors on the captive patient, from a sensory-deprivation tank housing one ill-tempered eel to a bathtub full of writhing black leeches. Oh, and whatever you do, don't drink the water.
The Comedian (Feb. 3rd)
Yes, Dirty Grandpa was a tough break – but when Robert De Niro takes a leading role, people still sit up and take notice. The once and former King of Comedy himself plays hot-tempered insult comic Jackie Burke, who's assigned 100 hours of community service after decking a heckler. There, he meets a woman (Leslie Mann) dealing with a disastrous personal life of her own, and Jackie attempts to reinvent himself. Danny DeVito, Edie Falco, Patti LuPone, Cloris Leachman and Harvey Keitel all round out the cast in your parents' next date night movie.
Dark Night (Feb. 3rd)
Here's an unorthodox approach to a national tragedy: Make a movie that revolves around the horrifying Aurora, Colorado shooting of 2012 ... but never actually depict it. Instead, you let viewers peer in on the imagined lives of a handful of the victims earlier that day. It may sound like Elephant redux, but indie director Tim Sutton's approach has an enigmatic quality that turns it into a portrait of the unknowability of violence. He offers no easy answers, only difficult questions and uncomfortable silences.
Fifty Shades Darker (Feb. 10th)
Just in time for Valentine's Day, America's favorite soft-BDSM romantic epic returns with a brand spankin' new installment. (Pun 100-percent intended.) Star-crossed lovers Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) parted ways at the end of the first film; now our emotionally bruised hero must convince her to ignore her literal bruises and return to him. Ana agrees – if they can play by her rules this time. Naturally, a psychotic ex from Christian's past threatens to shatter their relationship. That smell that combination of sweat, tanned leather and brass polish? It means love is in the air again.
Get Out (Feb. 24th)
After scoring his first feature screenwriting credit with last year's Keanu, sketch-comedy maestro Jordan Peele graduates to directing ... a horror movie. A young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) heads into the country with his Caucasian girlfriend (Allison Williams) to meet her WASPy parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener). Except he's getting a weirder vibe from the visit than the usual – and what's up with all those zombielike African-Americans hovering on the periphery of their lily-white aristocratic get-togethers? Guess Who's Coming to Dinner takes a hard nosedive into hack-and-slash territory when the true nature of the situation becomes clear. Expect hypnosis, lacrosse-related violence and the cinema's eeriest, most dread-inducing game of Bingo.
I Am Not Your Negro (Feb. 3rd)
Whether in his many published essays or on televised roundtables, authorJames Baldwin – a man who was woke before "woke" was woke – spent decades railing against racism and candidly dressing down anyone foolhardy enough to challenge him. Raoul Peck's extraordinary, Oscar-nominated documentary uses the unfinished text from Baldwin's final manuscript Remember This House (which focused on the writer's interactions with Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers) to form a searing commentary on America's past and present festering racial tensions. Given that damn near everything has taken on a greater air of urgency over the past few weeks, Baldwin's fiery words sound like they should be shouted from rooftops and mountaintops.
John Wick: Chapter Two (Feb. 10th)
Hey, a sequel that everyone actually wanted! The recent Reevesaissance hit its peak with Keanu's 2014 marathon beatdown, and now the indestructible hitman is back with a new dog and a new grudge. This time around, he travels to Rome when he hears an old assassin buddy has launched a campaign to usurp command of a shadowy contract-killer guild. Presumably, the no-holds-barred brawl of the century will then commence. Ian McShane and John Leguizamo reprise their roles from the original film, joined by Common, Ruby Rose, and Laurence Fishburne. No ass will be left un-kicked.
The Lego Batman Movie (Feb. 10th)
If The Lego Movie proved that a corporation-mandated brand extension of a beloved children's toy could also be a delightfully imaginative movie, then who's to say that a studio-ordered cash-grab spin-off of the same can't be worth a damn, too? Will Arnett lends his gravelly vocals to the arrogant but lovable blockheaded superhero, with Michael Cera joining him as Robin and Zach Galifianakis taking the Joker baton from Jared Leto. The plot's about what you'd expect – supervillain plans to take over Gotham, Caped Crusader must stop him, yadda yadda yadda – so here's hoping that Robot Chicken director Chris McKay nails the same irreverent comedy that made Phil Lord and Chris Miller's original such a ball. (Some assembly required.)
Rings (Feb. 3rd)
The third film in the Americanized version of the J-horror franchise returns to the usual schematic: You watch the haunted video tape. You have one extremely weird week. You then drop dead. But this latest installment adds a fresh wrinkle with a "movie within the movie," i.e. a hidden recording on the haunted tape that nobody has ever seen. A stock boyfriend-girlfriend pair try to unravel the secrets of the most evil VHS ever (next to that copy of the Chuck Norris canine–buddy-cop movie Top Dog we had way back when) before good ol' creepy-crawly demon Samara comes to claim their souls. The real question, of course, is whether this will be the film in which the cursed video gets uploaded to YouTube and gives humanity it's seven-day countdown one viewable link at a time.
XX (Feb. 17th)
Four tales of the spooky and macabre, served up by a quartet of female director: Rolling Stone contributor Jovanka Vuckovic turns an innocent Christmas encounter in something like a curse in "The Box"; Annie "St. Vincent" Clark blends childhood trauma, maternal anxiety and surreal humor in "Birthday Party;" indie horror stalwart Roxanne Benjamin helms the chilling campers-meet-demons entry "The Fall"; and The Invitation director Karyn Kusama provides the grand finale with "Her Only Living Son," which – spoiler alert – is a clever riff on one of the Sixties' best-known horror flicks. I am woman, this anthology says. Hear me scream in bloodcurdling terror.