How Warner Bros. is selling a drama of a young man and fire.
Based on the novel of the same name by Michael Koryta, Those Who Wish Me Dead stars Angelina Jolie as Hannah Faber, a former smokejumper in the forests of Montana. Faber is haunted by the memories of an earlier forest fire that went very badly for the rest of her team. One day while keeping watch she comes across Conner (Finn Little), a young boy who seems to be on the run from something. Turns out he’s being pursued by two hitmen who have just killed his father and who are so desperate to tie up loose ends they will set a forest fire to flush out Faber and the boy.
The movie, directed by Taylor Sheridan, has a decent 71% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and arrives this week in theaters and on HBO Max preceded by a campaign that has emphasized the drama of evading fire but not so much on the story or characters themselves.
The faces of Faber and Conner are the primary elements on the one poster (by marketing agency The Refinery) that came out in April. Both are, of course, bathed in the red light of the fire they are on the run from and both look weary and stressed from that effort. There’s no copy about the story here, and while Sheridan isn’t name-checked exactly a couple of his previous popular credits are called out at the top.
Hannah is working a fire-watching tower and still reeling from the mistakes she made years ago as the first trailer (8.8 million views on YouTube), released in early April, begins. One day she encounters a young boy who, she finds, is on the run from some dangerous people who have already killed his father. Those bad men start a forest fire to flush Hannah and the boy out, meaning she not only has to keep the kid safe but deal with the trauma of her own past at the same time.
Online and Social
Not much information on the movie’s official website, just the trailer, a brief synopsis and information on either buying tickets or subscribing to HBO Max.
Advertising, Press and Publicity
One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.
Warner Bros. announced the May release date in February.
An interview with Jolie and others included a first look still from the film.
Fandango’s MovieClips got an exclusive clip in early May showing a key dramatic moment with Hannah trying to save her young charge from an encroaching fire.
A short featurette came out around the same time with Jolie and other members of the cast and crew discussing the themes of the story and what it was like to shoot the film in some extreme conditions.
Cutdown versions of the trailer – usually around 10 or 15 seconds – were used as TV spots as well as online, including as pre-roll ads on YouTube.
The key art was modified and reused for online ads that included a link to the HBO Max website where people could sign up.
HBO Max released an exclusive “first look” clip featuring a key moment of Faber figuring out why Conner is being pursued and by whom just days before the movie came out.
It’s a mixed bag here.
On the one hand, there’s a lot of drama that’s created in the campaign. We get the tension inherent in the flight of the two main characters from both the hitmen and the fire they start to either kill or find their quarry. And Sheridan has proven himself as a solid director of emotional stories about characters whose future we care about.
On the other, the trailer and other assets don’t give us a lot of opportunity to actually experience any empathy for those characters. There’s not a lot of detail regarding the story and the trailer in particular is somewhat unclear as to what’s happening. Not only that but given the human cost of forest fires over the last few years it’s hard to see that fire without recalling some very recent stories from the real world.
Still, it’s not unreasonable to overlook a few quibbles and give the benefit of the doubt to the campaign, given the talent involved.