Everyone’s Favorite Young Studio is Getting Some Action

By  · Published on February 13th, 2017

Auteur distributor A24 ventures into uncharted, blood-soaked territory.

A24, the tastemaker in chief of contemporary independent film, has just acquired the North American rights to A Prayer Before Dawn, an R-rated actioner directed by Jean-Stephane Sauvaire. Based on a memoir by Billy Moore, the film tells the true story of a Brit (Moore, played by Peaky Blinders’ Joe Cole) who ends up in Thailand’s toughest prison and becomes a Muay Thai boxing champion in order to survive. There’s no trailer yet, but we’re picturing an arthouse cross between Midnight Express and Undisputed. Awesome.

A Prayer Before Dawn represents A24’s first foray into the straight action film (they dipped their toes in with Spring Breakers and Free Fire), but the company has been churning out highbrow horror fare for a while now (The Witch, Green Room, The Monster). The company’s business model, though unique in modern Hollywood, has precedent in the Golden Age of the 1970s, when directors from Kubrick to De Palma would sugar the pill of artistry by deploying genre conventions. With its retro logo and dogged support of visionary filmmakers, A24 clearly views itself as a continuation (or resuscitation) of this legacy. (They even released a barebones doc on De Palma earlier this year, affiliating themselves with the auteur’s cachet.)

Indie filmmakers are catching on to the genre model. Describing the origins of The Witch, Robert Eggers told Vice:

“After I made my first short film that wasn’t terrible, people were interested in potentially developing a feature with me. Every time I [wrote] a script, it was a bizarre, too-dark, genre-less thing that no one wanted to make. I realized that I needed to make something that was in an identifiable genre that was still really personal to me, and that I wouldn’t be sacrificing who I am or my values.”

Trey Edward Schultz, who burst onto the indie scene with the autobiographical drama Krisha, will be releasing a horror film called It Comes At Night for A24 later this year. Far from being an artistic compromise, these films represent what filmmakers like Howard Hawks and Quentin Tarantino have long understood: genre conventions are tools, not shackles.

It is nowhere written that only family dramas make good art films. With any luck, A Prayer Before Dawn will do to the ossified action genre what The Witch did for horror ‐ that is, piss off a few fans, but invigorate a whole lot more. A24 has built a business around the understanding that film progresses by mixing old forms with risk-taking new ones. There’s a reason the company’s “About” page features only Eadweard Muybridge’s study of a bird in flight — a reminder of how far the medium has come, and an incitement to push it further.

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