As Palo Alto ushers in a new wave of frustration in the outskirts, we look at film’s dalliance with the dark side of the ’burbs
Out in the UK this week, Palo Alto is a gentle drift into that uneasy territory that teenage years are made of, when you realise that everything isn't going to be quite perfect and, yeah, maybe that football coach you had a crush on is actually a mega-sleaze (James Franco, who wrote the short story collection the film's based on, bringing full smarm factor to the role). That's pretty dark terrain for first-time director Gia Coppola, but she doesn't play it as sinister as some take-downs of the myth of suburban tranquility have done. Check out our picks of the 'burbs in full freak-out mode.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014)
Tranquil co-existence with the neighbourhood around them is also no easy job for a bunch of vampires flat-sharing in a suburb of the New Zealand capital. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi direct and star in this hugely comical mockumentary, in which the flatmates grapple not only with the usual vexations of household chore division but also their wildly mismatched ages and the blood demands and secrecy of their post-human lifestyle. Out in the UK on 21 November.
BLUE VELVET (1986)
Yep, you know the opener. In his noir masterpiece David Lynch paints, with logging town Lumberton's white picket fences and lawn-sprinklers, one of cinema's most iconic visions of a suburban idyll – soon broken when Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle McLachlan) stumbles across a severed ear in the grass. Linked to a nightclub singer (Isabella Rosellini), it hints at all manner of strange perversions that simmer under the town's veneer.
THE BABADOOK (2014)
If you can no longer hack the American suburbs, the ones Down Under are no place to hightail it to – at least not if Jennifer Kent’s terrifying, gothic-tinged debut feature is anything to go by. As a sinister children's pop-up book threatens a household in the Adelaide 'burbs with visitations from a top-hatted bogeyman, six-year-old Samuel arms himself with DIY weapons – to the exasperation of his long-suffering, skeptical single mother, who is soon no longer able to hide the family's weirdness from the judgmental eyes of the conformist community. A hit at Sundance, it's out in the UK on 24 October.
THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (1999)
The enigmatic Lisbon sisters, who are cordoned off from the world around them by extremely over-protective parents, are a point of obsessive fascination and naive desire for the neighbourhood boys in Sofia Coppola's dreamlike and wistfully melancholy first feature, which captures the longing for some unknown grand, poetic experience that being trapped in a sleepy suburban Michigan town can foster. Kirsten Dunst stars as Lux Lisbon in a great early screen performance.
IT FOLLOWS (2014)
US indie director David Robert Mitchell takes the suburban restlessness he tapped in debut The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010) into the creepier territory of synth-laden horror for this very smart and very stylish twist of the genre – one of the hottest tickets of the year. An STD brings on visions of zombies for infected teens in the suburbs of Detroit in a chain more insidiously viral than a bad day on Twitter.
THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)
If you tend to wonder if sunny, too-together seeming suburbanites are even human at all, then this timeless, creepy number from director Don Siegel might be for you. An invasion from outer space sees duplicate locals without emotion hatch from alien seed pods in small town California – though suspicions that something is amiss are at first dismissed as an outbreak of hysteria.
WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD (2014)
Dream pop and saucy, hyper-coloured dysfunction: yep, it's another Gregg Araki movie. The out-there auteur's wildly stylised take on a messed-up 80s midwest suburbia was another of our LFF faves. It stars Shailene Woodley as a teen who while discovering her own blooming capacity for seduction and confronts the mystery of the sudden disappearance of her boozily unhinged mother (Eva Green).
LA HAINE (1995)
The suburbs on screen don't always equal the bored hypocrisy of privilege. French director Mathieu Kassovitz’s viscerally raw cult classic, starring a young Vincent Cassel, depicts a day in the lives of three young friends from a down-trodden suburb (banlieue) of Paris, as they negotiate an entrapping, pressure-cooker environment of gang run-ins and trigger-happy police. With each character urgently needing to evaluate his standpoint on whether violent retribution will solve anything.
TRASH HUMPERS (2009)
The trash cans that line the streets of suburban Nashville are targeted for humping by a boozed-up gang of elderly misfits in latex masks (what's not to love?) in Harmony Korine's provocation. Despite the protestations of many grossed-out, dismissive critics, the film has an eerie beauty to its cinematography and a tongue-in-cheek outlaw charm. The humpers say they can "smell the pain" of the neighbourhood residents, who haven't admitted and embraced the mess of the world they inhabit.
GONE GIRL (2014)
Marriage is a delusion invested in by two individuals that can easily tip into gender warfare, if David Fincher's blackly satirical, endlessly debatable and twist-laden adaptation of the best-seller by Gillian Flynn is to be believed. Writers Amy (Rosamund Pike) and Nick (Ben Affleck) present versions of their union that are far from consistent, and carry the weight of accusation when her dramatic disappearance leaves a mysterious blame game to be solved – and a gossipy community all too eager to know every juicy detail.