Andrew Lapin

The pictures are probably what you remember: shrieking witches and half-melted skulls leering out from jet-black pages; hideous creatures snarling on leashes; and tree branches lurching like tentacles from tombstones.

Jennifer Kent's historical revenge drama The Nightingale is a film we're not accustomed to, and one we'll not soon forget. Set in early 19th-century colonial Australia, it depicts acts of horrific brutality. Yet it's not a brutal movie. Scenes of murder, rape, and enslavement unfold in front of the camera not just to shock you, but to confound you; to make you think about the fates of nations forged in violence and cruelty, and of the humans at the receiving end who must endure all of it.

Beneath the washed-out, drab setting of The Mountain is a vein pulsing with rage. Set in the 1950s, the movie follows a veteran lobotomist, played by Jeff Goldblum, as he sets up shop in mental hospitals across America, snipping off chunks of his patients' brains through their eye sockets and leaving them in near-catatonic states. In the film, such procedures have reached the end of their era, on the verge of being replaced with psychotropic drugs amid mounting evidence the surgeries are causing serious widespread harm.

Richard Billingham grew up in a squalid tenement home in Thatcher-era Britain, in a region outside Birmingham commonly referred to as the Black Country. And true to its name, his upbringing was the blackest of circumstances. Billingham and his younger brother Jason wrestled with an alcoholic, withdrawn father and a violent, short-tempered mother, both habitually unemployed: a household constantly perched on the edge of chaos.

Toni Morrison had advice for the students in her Princeton University creative writing class: "I don't want to hear about your little life."

"This is going to end badly," Adam Driver says, over and over with slight variations, in the new zombie comedy The Dead Don't Die. It's both the movie's catchphrase and raison d'être. Things tend not to end well in general, because people have a habit of taking bad situations and making them worse, and there's no reason to suspect that will change when the dead are rising from their graves and feasting on the bodies of the living. To the extent that the film has a joke, this is it: Humans mess everything up, and in the end probably aren't worth saving.

Making Octavia Spencer the villain in a horror movie is one of those ideas that only seems great in retrospect. After all, Spencer's famous persona is the stoic, put-upon matriarch, usually one in a position of service to others, and she's carried her weary frown and warm, easy hugs to awards glory in The Help, Fruitvale Station, Hidden Figures,and The Shape of Water... and for a while entered Typecast Valley with The Shack, Gifted, and on and on. There was a period where it just seemed like the actress would be stuck in the roles of mother or maid.

We have always lived in Shirley Jackson's castle, whether we knew it or not. The Vermont author's fables — grim visions of humans driven mad by forces they don't understand — have been a part of the American subconscious ever since her breakout short story "The Lottery" sent New Yorker subscribers into dry heaves in 1948. As the modern horror/thriller world has largely gone stale outside of a rarified few voices like Jordan Peele, filmmakers have turned to Jackson like a study-abroad child who moves back home.

Cameos are expected in comedies, but it's a surprise when the guest roster trends a bit highbrow. Amy Poehler's new Netflix movie Wine Country, starring Poehler and her closest Saturday Night Live girlfriends on a romp through Napa Valley, doesn't trot out a big performer for its walk-on bit. Instead, the ladies cross paths with social work researcher Brené Brown, whose TED talk on "the power of vulnerability" went viral several years ago. And they treat her like a god ...

Say you're a filmmaker and you want to make a movie about Ted Bundy, arguably the most notorious serial killer of the 20th century. It's a normal impulse to have. The guy's an irresistible figure to storytellers: pure misogynistic evil who disguised himself for a decade under swashbuckling charm. Sure, maybe it's not the most original idea (again: "most notorious serial killer of the 20th century"), but Bundy existed, he killed somewhere between 30 and 100 young women, and people should remember that. So now, how do you tell them?

The literary world was a more interesting place with JT LeRoy around, even though he never was, really. The pen name of author Laura Albert, "JT" was an androgynous former truck-stop sex worker who supposedly channeled his sordid upbringing into raw, autobiographical fictions that captivated hip circles in the late '90s and early 2000s. Albert played JT on the page and in phone calls with journalists and famous admirers, duping the public into believing the guise was real.

When they write the bible on the great trolls of history, the Satanic Temple should be on the cover. Founded in 2013 as a poke in the eye of religious conservatism, the organization has since transitioned into a fully sincere spiritual movement itself, one advocating principles of nonviolence, religious pluralism, scientific inquiry, individual liberty and Dungeons & Dragons garb.

The center of Paris is Notre Dame.

This is true both literally and figuratively. The Gothic cathedral is there on Île de la Cité, the island in the Seine in between Paris' Left and Right banks, convenient and inescapable for the estimated 13 million people who visit it every year. Just outside, a Point Zero marker measures the distance to everything else in France. And Notre Dame is there in more than 850 years of French history: in paintings, daguerreotypes, songs, novels, war photos, awed selfies.

The spaceship hurtling away from Earth is staffed with men and women sprung from death row to aid in a mysterious science experiment. The once-condemned crew believe they've been given a chance to redeem themselves and do one final good deed for humanity. Only later, as their signals to Earth begin to go unanswered and their true mission comes into focus, do they realize they have in fact been condemned twice.