French horror, fantasy and sci-fi movies – in large part generated by a younger generation of directors combining genre and arthouse styles – are a rising force on the international scene. Among the companies riding this genre wave is WTFilms.
French crossover films are a key programming strand at A-list festivals. For example, Cannes Directors’ Fortnight last year opened with Quentin Dupieux’s “Deerskin,” repped by French sales agent WTFilms. The three French films screening at Sundance this year include Zoé Wittock’s “Jumbo,” also repped by WTFilms, about a young woman (Noémie Merlant) who falls in love with a funfair ride, which mixes real-life drama with surrealist fantasy.
WTFilms was one of the first French sales agents to define its editorial strategy around genre fare. “Deerskin,” which was produced by Arte France Cinéma, Thomas Verhaeghe and Mathieu Verhaeghe, was released in France in June and clocked up 214,000 admissions.
WTFilms’ co-founder, Gregory Chambet, says that French genre films often work better abroad, and has very positive expectations for “Deerskin’s” foreign theatrical releases this year, in particular in English-speaking territories.
He hopes that it can emulate the strong international performance of the 2018 French zombie movie “The Night Eats the World,” by Dominique Rocher, which he also repped.
“Jumbo” has been sold to several territories in Asia, including Japan and Taiwan, and will be released in France in March on more than 100 screens by Rezo Films.
Chambet is also selling werewolf movie “Teddy,” directed by the twins Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma, for which he is finalizing a multi-territory deal for English-speaking countries.
“Genre has evolved today in a very positive way,” says Chambet. “Genre has always appealed to younger audiences, but they are now looking for unusual takes on well-known genres. Older audiences are also showing much greater acceptance of fantasy, horror and sci-fi genres, and studios are doing interesting things with genre, with pics such as ‘It’ and ‘A Quiet Place.’ It’s particularly important that audiences are willing to accept more challenging movies and are more open to foreign-language horror.”
Chambet says the horror genre has divided into two main strands – films designed to appeal to a more mainstream audience, and festival-orientated genre films including the so-called “elevated horror” genre.
“Every generation has its own preferred genre,” he argues. “Young people today enjoy horror with a psychological twist. New directors, from their mid-20s to mid-30s, were raised in the DVD era and are interested in exploring the visual and narrative potential of these genres.”
Chambet also recognizes that this change reflects a commercial strategy in an increasingly competitive market, given that streaming platforms, such as Netflix, are interested in a new take on genres such as crime, thriller, fantasy and horror.
“You can still hit the jackpot with a low-budget genre film with an unknown cast,” concludes Chambet. “You can stun everyone and be very successful. Working on genre movies is great fun. You can be very inventive with your artwork and marketing strategies, and reach audiences that other French films simply can’t reach.”