Screw McG. The most alarming visions of five minutes from now are coming from a handful of filmmakers who bring their weird imaginations to film after film. Here's a list of four creators you should be obsessing about. Stuff your Netflix queue with their past movies. Hunt down the obscure shit. Show up for their new releases on opening night. Make their movies take out a restraining order on you.
- Danny Boyle chose to make Sunshine instead of the sequel to 28 Days Later, because he's not a custodian, he's an innovator. (Although he's hinted lately he may make 28 Years Later.) Boyle has alternated between science fiction movies and "realistic" films with surreal touches. Trainspotting and Shallow Grave are both set in the real world, but a veil of unreality clings to both of them. (Not just the ceiling baby, but Ewan McGregor's unraveling characters in both films.) Zombie movie 28 Days Latermanages the near-impossible: it actually manages to feel post-apocalyptic without killing off its entire cast in the first half hour. But Sunshine is Boyle's greatest achievement. The story of a small crew on a desperate mission tor reignite the sun, it manages to blend the horror thriller with the trippy cosmic film. But both genres have a steel underpinning of hard science and psychological complexity, and everything feels like it's happening for a real reason. Upcoming project: Boyle's next film is Slumdog Millionaire, about an illiterate kid who tries to become a contestant on a Hindi game show.
- Guillermo Del Toro is best known for the acclaimed Pan's Labyrinth, one of the most powerful — and darkest — explorations of escapism ever filmed. But he also made two of the best genetic-engineering thrillers of all time: Blade II and Mimic. (Mimic was originally supposed to be a 30-minute segment in an "anthology" film featuring a segment from Boyle.) Both films feature monsters created by science. In Mimic, a scientist creates a super-insect to destroy cockroaches that are carrying disease. But the super-insect evolves into a giant monster that can assume human form. And in Blade, vampires hack their own genome to create near-invincible creatures. Upcoming projects: Del Toro is filming Hellboy 2. He's also working on 3993, a ghost story about the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and At The Mountains Of Madness, an HP Lovecraft adaptation set in Antarctica.
- Charlie Kaufman has only been a writer up to now. But he's managed to create a more consistent vision in his films than most directors. Films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovitch have a shared set of surreal concerns: characters journey into someone's head and discover, to your horror, that identity is always a first draft. Kaufman's characters are always revising their personal narratives and confronting different versions of themselves, like Kaufman and his twin in Adaptation. It's also worth hunting down the little-known Human Nature (directed by Eternal Sunshine's Michel Gondry) in which a mad scientist tries to train a mouse to use a salad fork. Upcoming project: Kaufman's directing his first film, Synecdoche, New York, due out next year. (It's about a director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his cast, creating ever-stranger New York stories inside a theater which is a scale model of New York.)
- Kathryn Bigelow. Her best-known science fiction film is 1995's Strange Days, about a former cop who sells bootlegs of people's memories on data discs. And then one of those discs turns out to contain someone's memories of murdering a prostitute. But Bigelow's CV is full of claustrophobic thrillers with weird touches, from 1987's vampire romp Near Dark and 1990's cop drama Point Blank to 2002's K19: The Widowmaker. As with Boyle, even her real-world stories are so unnerving they feel like alternate reality. Upcoming project: Her next film is an Iraq war drama, The Hurt Locker.