12 Movies Like The Blackening (2023)

Staff & contributors

Be prepared to have the expectations you form after reading Scrapper’s synopsis shattered: though it is about a 12-year-old dealing with grief following her mother's death, it’s remarkably upbeat. It gets that quality by positioning itself in the buoyant headspace of young Georgie, a resilient, cheeky youngster who retains much of her whimsical childlike spirit in spite of her profound bereavement. Director Charlotte Regan’s debut feature is bursting with imagination: there are surreal stylized touches all over the movie, from talking video-game-style spiders to magical realist metaphors of Georgie's grief. 

That’s not to say that Scrapper is flippant about the inherent tragedy of its story, though. As in The Florida Project, you can feel the escapist motivations of Georgie's colorful imagination, which only deepens the poignancy of her situation and the precarious relationship she forms with her father, a barely-old-enough manchild who only makes an effort to meet Georgie after her mother’s death. Amidst all the intentional artificiality of the filmmaking, their largely improvised interactions never ring false — a dynamic that’s also crucial to making the movie feel genuinely touching and real rather than saccharine and shallow. A very impressive debut, and a much-deserved recipient of Sundance’s World Cinema Grand Jury prize and a whopping 14 nominations at the BIFAs.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alin Uzun, Ambreen Razia, Asheq Akhtar, Aylin Tezel, Harris Dickinson, Laura Aikman, Lola Campbell, Olivia Brady

Director: Charlotte Regan

Rating: NR

After experimenting with multiple storylines in The French Dispatch, the inimitable Wes Anderson goes one step further with the mind-bendingly meta Asteroid City. Framed as a TV documentary about the making of a play, Asteroid City’s Russian doll setup reflects the neurosis of its period (the Cold War-struck ‘50s), art-making, and the intimidating vastness of outer space.

The play takes place in a tiny desert town where atom bomb tests routinely rattle the doorframes and where a convention for young geniuses is being held, attended by a host of typically idiosyncratic characters (played by Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Tom Hanks, and many, many more). Still, it retains a central focus: the grief of new widower Augie (Jason Schwartzman) and his kids, and the connections he and his son (Jake Ryan) forge with a visiting actress (Scarlett Johansson) and her daughter (Dinah Campbell). Asteroid City draws much of its poignancy from this story (and its behind-the-scenes goings-on), as these people stare into the cosmic wilderness and a future without their loved one. Shot in gorgeous bleached postcard tones and full of the imaginative flourishes we’ve come to expect from Anderson, this is a profound rumination on existential angst that miraculously finds hope amidst all its characters’ nihilism.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adrien Brody, Aimee Mullins, Ara Hollyday, Bob Balaban, Bryan Cranston, Damien Bonnard, Deanna Dunagan, Dominique Fouassier, Edward Norton, Elena Uriz, Ella Faris, Erika Godwin, Ethan Josh Lee, Fisher Stevens, Francisco Javier Gomez, Grace Edwards, Gracie Faris, Hong Chau, Hope Davis, Jack Eyman, Jake Ryan, Jarvis Cocker, Jason Schwartzman, Jay Lau, Jeff Goldblum, Jeffrey Wright, Liev Schreiber, Margot Robbie, Matt Dillon, Maya Hawke, Palmira Ferrer, Patricia Colin, Paul Kynman, Randall Poster, Rita Wilson, Rodolphe Pauly, Rupert Friend, Sam Marra, Sandy Hamilton, Scarlett Johansson, Seu Jorge, Sonia Gascón, Sophia Lillis, Stéphane Bak, Stephen Park, Steve Carell, Tilda Swinton, Tom Hanks, Tom Hudson, Tony Revolori, Truman Hanks, Wendy Nottingham, Willa Skye, Willem Dafoe

Director: Wes Anderson

There’s not much to analyze in The Wrath of Becky, which might sound like a jab, but for grindhouse thrillers such as this, it comes as a compliment. The story is lean, the action is on point, and the dialogue is whipsmart. There is little to distract from the main attraction, which is the creatively gruesome ways in which everyone tries to kill each other. 

It’s so simple, in fact, that you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a standalone film, instead of a sequel to an earlier movie, simply titled Becky. Efficiently, parts of the first installment appear as flashbacks here, but they’re hardly needed to convince us of Becky’s ferocious might. Wilson already does an excellent job with minimal but evocative gestures. Seann William Scott, too, is surprisingly terrifying as the head of the Neo-Nazi group out to get Becky. It’s easy enough to paint the incel as a villain, but to portray him with such palpable terror is a challenge that Scott steps up to.

Genre: Action, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Dalla Villa, Alison Cimmet, Courtney Gains, Denise Burse, Derek Gaines, Jill Larson, John D. Hickman, Kate Siegel, Lulu Wilson, Matt Angel, Michael Sirow, Seann William Scott, Zoie Morris

Director: Matt Angel, Suzanne Coote

Rating: R

True to its name, Joy Ride is a raucous delight that has everything you want out of a road trip comedy and more. There’s love, sex, adventure, and even music, but most of all there’s friendship, the interesting complexities of which are explored against the backdrop of race. There’s something meaningful keeping everything together at the core, and first-time director Adele Lim—helped by a strong script and cast—does an excellent job of holding it down. The film is also just plain funny. There are physical gags and of-the-moment jokes, plus a couple of insider quips made for and by the Asian community. But apart from the hilarity and tenderness, the film also delivers in the visual department: it looks gorgeous, not only because the characters are tourists who embark on a jet-setting adventure, but because of the inspired animation and vibrant editing. 

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Alexander Hodge, Annie Mumolo, Ashley Park, Baron Davis, Chris Pang, Daniel Dae Kim, David Denman, Debbie Fan, Desmond Chiam, Isla Rose Hall, Lori Tan Chinn, Meredith Hagner, Ronny Chieng, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Timothy Simons

Director: Adele Lim

Rating: R

They Cloned Tyrone is a genre-bending gem. It combines Deep State conspiracy theories with sci-fi and social commentary, all while looking like a futuristic 1970s Blaxploitation film. It’s outrageous good fun and pleasing to look at (here is a film that knows how to properly light Black actors), but there are times when it feels too far fetched. The science can get wonky and its commentary on gentrification lacking, but all is forgiven when you have such a strong trio of leads. One of the smartest things They Cloned Tyrone does is pair Boyega with Teyonah Parris, who plays the call girl Yo-yo, and Jamie Foxx, who plays the pimp Slick Charles. They have a fun-loving no-nonsense chemistry about them that makes them easy to attach to and root for. They’re also just very funny, which might be expected of Foxx but it comes as a pleasant surprise for Parris, whose popular turns in Mad Men and WandaVision prove that she’s been severely underutilized as a comic.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Mystery, Science Fiction

Actor: Adam Cronan, Al-Teron, Austin Freeman, Charity Jordan, David Alan Grier, David Shae, J. Alphonse Nicholson, Jamie Foxx, Jason Burkey, Jason Louder, John Boyega, Joshua Mikel, Kiefer Sutherland, Leon Lamar, Megan Sousa, Michael A. Dean, Ryan Dinning, Shariff Earp, Shinar Frazier, Swift Rice, Tamberla Perry, Teyonah Parris, Trayce Malachi

Director: Juel Taylor

Rating: R

There's an elephant lurking in the room from the outset of Biosphere, in which two men are the last survivors of an apocalypse: how will humanity live on? Best friends Billy (Mark Duplass) and Ray (Sterling K. Brown) have only survived thanks to the ingenuity of Ray, who built the glass dome in which they live, insulated from whatever it is that’s keeping the sky perpetually black outside. But the dome’s protective glass increasingly needs patching up, and their last female fish (responsible for the continuation of their food supplies) has just died, setting their clocks ticking.

What happens next — to the remaining male fish and humans — is an astonishing evolution that speaks to the strangeness of nature, which will break its most rigid laws in pursuit of its ultimate goal: furthering the species. Biosphere undergoes a similar metamorphosis: while its zany twist (which we won’t spoil) seems to direct it towards gross-out bro-comedy territory, it transforms, surprisingly, into something more profoundly philosophical. Like the dome, Biosphere’s structure isn’t as solid as it could be — it often meanders — but, with its thoughtful meditations on gender, sexuality, and evolution in all its forms, it’s easy to forgive this quirky indie gem that flaw.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Actor: Mark Duplass, Sterling K. Brown

Director: Mel Eslyn

Unlike other films about great inventions of a bygone era, BlackBerry isn’t nostalgic nor sentimental in the least bit. Instead, it’s chilly, calculating, and surprisingly comic (it has to be, with comedians Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton as leads). And it’s less about the brilliance of this one product than the cycle of greed, corruption, and vanity that eventually traps its too-ambitious creators. 

It's a smart film that refuses to dumb down the tech and business side of things, and what it lacks in characterization (there is little to no backstory to be found), it more than makes up for in drama and a superb pace, which propulsively and practically brings you to its wonderful peak and bleak end. Equipped with a no-nonsense yet thrilling approach to facts, BlackBerry is a refreshing entry into the biopic genre.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: Al Bernstein, Ben Petrie, Cary Elwes, Conor Casey, David Christo, Dillon Casey, Elena Juatco, Eric Osborne, Ethan Eng, Evan Buliung, Glenn Howerton, Greg Calderone, Gregory Ambrose Calderone, Gwynne Phillips, Jay Baruchel, Kelly Van der Burg, Laura Cilevitz, Lauren Howe, Lyndon Casey, Mark Critch, Martin Donovan, Matt Johnson, Michael Ironside, Michelle Giroux, Rich Sommer, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, Saul Rubinek, SungWon Cho

Director: Matt Johnson

Rating: R

In the world of excavation and wonderous breakthroughs, Unknown: The Lost Pyramid is a refreshing take on archaeology by showing the discoveries of Egyptian history from native Egyptian archaeologists. Following Dr. Hawass and his mentee, Dr. Waziri, as they race against the elements of the desert, the documentary uses their passion and egos to spearhead the narrative. Thus, every step closer feels both prideful and invasive with the constant reminder that they're excavating 2000+-year-old tombs. Comprehensive explanations and illustrative cinematography illuminate the meticulous labor that goes into Egyptology.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Zahi Hawass

Director: Max Salomon

The latest installment in Netflix'S “Unknown” docuseries, Unknown: Killer Robots puts the evolution of artificial intelligence under an ethical microscope. Although the title could be misleading, it does cover the possible dangerous applications of AI as it forces us to question the growing divide between human morality and machine efficiency. With advances in war and medicinal applications, the capabilities of AI to heal, save and destroy are terrifying and awe-inspiring in equal measure. Like the previous films in the series, it is hyper-concentrated to an almost-stifling degree, but it’s also powered by the passionate subjects on either side of these advancements. Forgoing sensationalism, this digestible documentary questions intention over the technology itself. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Jesse Sweet

, 2023

Set in the quaint city of Burlington, Vermont, Paint is a cute and folksy comedy that has a Wes Anderson-esque charm to it. The characters are dressed in blocked pastels and wooly sweaters, while the protagonist Carl seems stuck in the ‘70s, and not just sartorially, too. He drives a “Vantastic” custom van, swears off cell phones, and manages to incorporate phrases like “far out” in his daily lingo. It all makes for whimsical viewing, but underneath the flair, there’s very little substance holding this picture up. It tells the tale of an aging narcissist who learns the error of his ways when a younger version of himself is hired to aid and eventually replace him. Narratively, it’s familiar and forgettable, and it becomes immediately clear that style is a crutch that the film leans on. It’s funny, at times, thanks to a very likable Wilson and a strong supporting cast (there are occasional laugh-out-loud moments too, like when Carl does the big reveal about his portrait). But ultimately, it’s just too flat to be as special as the art it admires. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Ciara Renée, Denny Dillon, Evander Duck Jr., Joel Leffert, Lusia Strus, Michael Pemberton, Michaela Watkins, Owen Wilson, Ryan Czerwonko, Ryan Gaul, Sarah Baker, Scott Beehner, Stephen Root, Wendi McLendon-Covey

Director: Brit McAdams

As a growing number of horror movies are, Influencer is inspired by the fact that we’re increasingly spending our lives in the digital, rather than physical, world. Kurtis David Harder’s film makes some effort to highlight the tension between those two realms: its plot hinges on the idea that vapidly sunny influencer-speak often masks gloomier realities, and suggests that, if your existence is mainly validated through a screen, would anyone really know if something truly dark happened to you?

It’s an interesting premise, to be sure, but Influencer’s critique settles there. Instead of striving for social thriller status by exploring the paradox of social media with any real rigor, the rather broad writing here means it lands as a run-of-the-mill scary movie, one that verges on being a forgettable experience once the credits have rolled. One element saves it from that fate, though: Cassandra Naud, who gives an unnerving performance that brings intriguing psychological depths to the role of CW, the film’s villain. She can only do so much to elevate a script that is shallowly interested in her character, though, meaning Influencer can’t quite transcend its status as a middling social media horror.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Cassandra Naud, Emily Tennant, Justin Sams, Paul Spurrier, Rory J. Saper, Sara Canning

Director: Kurtis David Harder

Despite an engaging opening that promises to deepen the world already established in 2018's Bird Box, this new installment slips back into the usual routine before long. That is: cheap thrills and an overall lack of scares, not necessarily because of the fact that the creatures terrorizing this world are invisible, but because the film doesn't take advantage of the fear and paranoia that builds among the human characters. A stronger focus on religious belief (or simply blind fanaticism) should lead to more interesting character dynamics, but there isn't a single person here who's defined by anything beyond a few base traits. So despite the efforts of a game cast (including Babylon's Diego Calva and especially Barbarian's Georgina Campbell), the film just can't overcome how boring it is to watch blindfolded people reacting to nothing.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Alejandra Howard, Celia Freijeiro, Diego Calva, Georgina Campbell, Gonzalo de Castro, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Lola Dueñas, Manel Llunell, Mario Casas, Michelle Jenner, Milo Taboada, Naila Schuberth, Patrick Criado

Director: Àlex Pastor, David Pastor

Rating: R