Violent Undertow

(October Review)

Whether action, drama, thriller or horror, violence seems to be the thread that connects many of the movies set for release this October. Here is a sampling of storylines in theaters this month:

An unreliable narrator is swept into the mysterious disappearance and suspected homicide of the stranger she watched from afar (“Girl on a Train”).

A picture-perfect family is blown apart by a bombing and subsequent child abduction (“American Pastoral”).

A math genius who covertly serves as a freelance accountant for the most dangerous criminals in the world takes a legitimate position with a robotics company to avoid investigators’ attention. He ends up unraveling a conspiracy cleverly hidden in cooked books that could get him killed (“The Accountant”).

A Mexican-American border-crossing story morphs into a mano-a-mano struggle between an illegal immigrant and a zealous border patrolman (“Desierto”).

An historian races against the clock to stop an act of apocalypse-level bioterrorism (“The Inferno”).

And, of course, there is the standard Halloween horror movie fare steeped in blood, guts and horror.

This list doesn’t even include what’s the most anticipated (and violent) release this month: “The Birth of a Nation.”  The film, which reclaims its title from the racist 1915 silent epic “classic” by D. W. Griffith, was the talk of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. It won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, prompting a bidding war for distribution rights that ended in the most lucrative Sundance deal to date. An anticipated Oscar contender, “Birth” is a powerful biopic and period piece about Nat Turner (Nate Parker, “The Great Debaters”), a literate slave in the antebellum South who is forced by his owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer, “The Social Network”), to use his oratorical skills and respected position as a preacher to quell potential rebellions among the slaves. However, as Turner experiences and witnesses unspeakable physical and emotional cruelty — including the rape of a young black woman by several white men and a black child being led by a white child on a leash — he bends his will and skills to inspire and mount a revolt against those who claim to be their masters.

It is worth noting that the film’s positive buzz also has generated some backlash as details of a 1999 rape trial involving the writer-director-star have emerged. Parker, then a college student, was acquitted, but the past charges and the revelation that the alleged victim committed suicide in 2012 provide a jarring counterpoint to the film’s release.

In all ways, “The Birth of a Nation” is sure to dominate this fall’s movie landscape and compel difficult and timely discussions about race, gender and injustices that endure.