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Why I Made the List: I decided to expand my first list of great trailers for underrated films because there were many I could have included in that collection that I just didn’t think about at the time and later came to mind. That number eventually grew to 10 and so I decided it was time for another list of fantastic trailers for under-loved films.
As with the first list, I’ve prioritized well-crafted trailers that give a good sense of the final product without giving away all of its cards. And for films that I rate highly but that were either under-seen or, in my opinion, underappreciated by general audiences. Once again, I’ve left out good trailers for films that ultimately turned out to be pretty poor quality. So, let’s dig in!
The trailer for this 2001 drama about unstable meth addicts and dealers is pretty messy and chaotic, which perfectly reflects the final product. Edited in a hyperactive style, the promo splices in most of the zaniest moments from throughout the film’s running time, set to a track that complements the manic soul searching of the characters (Instant Repeater ’99 by The Soundtrack Of Our Lives).
While the trailer fails to include any of the great original songs The Smashing Pumpkin’s Billy Corgan produced for the film, it earns points for peppering in stylish titles that introduce the sprawling, impressive cast, including Jason Schwartzman, Brittany Murphy, Mickey Rourke, and Deborah Harry.
While trailers that spell out the entire story can usually be pretty annoying, I feel like this works in the case of Spun, as the film is more about replicating the experience of the doped-up characters instead of crafting a narrative. As Roger Ebert put it in his review of Spun, “it’s interesting how this story and these people seem to have been living before the movie began and will continue after it is over; instead of a plot, we drop in on their lives”.
You might not expect very much from a film shot entirely on an iPhone, but you should never underestimate director Steven Soderburgh. He managed to mesh his experimental and commercial sensibilities to great success with this effective psychological thriller starring The Crown‘s Claire Foy.
As is the case with many trailers for studio-produced films, the trailer for Unsane gives a way a little bit too much of the plot, especially in the latter half of the promo. But it also does a great job of showcasing the strengths of the film, particularly how the grimy cinematography only serves to enhance the claustrophobic and paranoia-inducing situation Foy’s Sawyer finds herself in.
Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)
More of a clip from the film than a full trailer, the first promo for this oddball comedy/drama doesn’t give away anything of its bizarre plot, which revolves around a discontented man who commits suicide after getting dumped by his girlfriend. He then wakes up in an after-life that is even more dull and unsatisfying than his existence on Earth. When he discovers that his ex also ended up in limbo soon after he did, he sets off to find her.
Instead, it gives a glimpse of the road-trip he embarks on across this strange new land with a couple of fellow unfortunate souls, one of who believes she ended up there by mistake and is searching for the “People In Charge” in the hope they can reverse her situation.
Instead of trying to explain the somewhat morbid set-up, it instead focuses on the key strengths of the film; the winning performances, offbeat humor, and excellent Gogol Bordello soundtrack that all give the film its unique charm.
Note: Apologizes for the low quality of the clip, I couldn’t find a HD version of the trailer I wanted to share!
Exit Elena (2012)
The very definition of short and sweet, the trailer for Nathan Silver’s low-fi drama Exit Elena supplies an authentic taste of the final feature with a few short clips and a charming piece of music in just under a minute, without giving away any of the story.
Not that there is much of it to give away: the film is a relatively simple narrative of a lost young woman who becomes a live-in nurse aide and gets sucked into the dysfunctional dynamics of the family she works for. But what makes the film effective is the naturalism of the mostly non-professional actors (many of them relatives of the director) and the empathy given to the characters, both of which come across loud and clear in the trailer.
Terry Gilliam’s 10th feature, like many of his previous films including Brazil (1985) and Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), received polarized reviews upon release. Many critics declared their outright hate of the film due to the perceived romanticizing of disturbing material like child abuse and necrophilia, but I personally feel that these kind of criticisms missed the point of the film completely.
Tideland tells the story of a young girl neglected by her heroin addict parents who constructs an elaborate fantasy world to cope with the traumas and harrowing situations she finds herself in. I think Gilliam excelled at showing how the power of a child’s imagination can be a powerful (but also problematic) tool for overcoming traumatic experiences.
The trailer nails the darkly whimsical tone of the final film, and showcases both the beautiful, twisted visuals and the striking performance of child thesp Jodelle Ferland, of Kingdom Hospital (2004) and Silent Hill (2006) fame.
One of the most interesting action movies in recent film history, Hanna boasts several elements that make it a stand-out in the genre in my opinion. There’s the offbeat mix of spy film tropes with a fairy-tale-esque vibe, the delicious pantomime villan turns from Cate Blanchett and Tom Hollander, and the thumping soundtrack from The Chemical Brothers, all of which are employed to great effect in the trailer.
While some and/or all of these qualities turned off audiences looking for a more conventional action/thriller, I think they elevate Hanna into an incredibly stylish and unique experience. Its success in balancing different genre elements was only highlighted by the bland and lackluster ‘gritty’ series adaptation that came out a few years later.
Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
If you’ve ever seen a Peter Strickland film (Katalin Varga, The Duke of Burgundy, In Fabric), you know you’re in for a weird, wild, and incredibly stylish ride, and Berberian Sound Studio is no different. The story of a buttoned-up British sound technician sent to an Italian film studio to work on an outlandish horror project, it allows Strickland to completely let loose with his pleasingly retro style.
The trailer for this cerebral meta-horror film gives you a good taste of the striking visuals, effective sound design, and lovingly crafted 70’s atmosphere that the final product boasts. The fast-paced editing and creepy soundtrack also expertly reflect the mounting tension in the film, but it also includes some of the funnier moments of awkward comedy that give the film its unique vibe.
Céline Sciamma’s 2011 drama about a gender non-conforming young girl who passes as a boy when she moves to a new neighborhood is an utter delight of a film; warm, charming, and deeply empathetic.
Another promo that manages to sell the idea of the film with just a few expertly chosen scenes and minimal dialogue, the trailer for Tomboy perfectly conveys the joyous tone and sensitivity of the final product.
I Am Love (2009)
One of the most underrated films of the last couple of decades in my opinion, I Am Love deserves much more, well, love, than it currently holds in the popular consciousness. Not only does it gives Tilda Swinton one of her best roles (impressive given her stellar track record), but it’s also a totally immersive, sumptuous experience from beginning to end. It’s just as good as (or maybe even better than) director Luca Guadagnino’s best-known, most acclaimed work, Call Me By Your Name.
The tightly-edited trailer for I Am Love does a great job at conveying the sweeping scope of the final product, marrying the gorgeous visuals to the effective John Adams score. It also highlights the best parts of Swinton’s dedicated performance and the claustrophobia and creeping tension that permeates the film.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
The task of adapting David Mitchell’s sprawling 2004 novel Cloud Atlas to film was always going to be a daunting endeavor. The book tells 6 interconnected stories that span centuries from the distant past to the far future, and tackles weighty themes such as slavery and oppression, the resilience of the human spirit, and even reincarnation.
The eventual film adaption, co-directed by the Wachowskis and Run Lola Run‘s Tom Twkyer is far from perfect. It stuffs a huge amount of material into just under 3 hours and can be hard to follow at times for even those who have read the book. Additionally, the use of make-up and prosthetics to change the gender and ethnicity of the cast in their various roles is not always convincing and arguably quite problematic.
Despite these drawbacks though, I feel like the film is quite an impressive feat. Instead of choosing to divide the stories into clear sections, the filmmakers decided to inter-cut everything and jump in and out of the disparate narratives. This could have totally backfired, but I personally feel like this approach miraculously works.
The extended trailer for Cloud Atlas is equally miraculous, considering it has the task of condensing the themes and characters into a coherent promo, which it somehow manages to successfully do (even though it understandably clocks in at over 5 minutes). Helped by some of the great original music composed for the film and the ace M83 track Outro, the trailer nails the tone and emotional resonance of this sprawling epic and not a second of the footage feels redundant.