Sundance 2022: Part One

Due to the latest covid surge the Sundance Film Festival decided to switch  to completely online less than three weeks before their opening day. I know many were disappointed, which I understand, and Sundance’s ‘no refunds’ policy didn’t help cool tempers. The one major positive with this switch is that access was open to those who couldn’t afford to attend in person.

I always wanted to go to a major film fest and this is a little taste for the future. I’ve already watched five out of the six I picked and I’m impressed by the range of reactions I’ve had. In a matter of two days I’ve cried, been enraged, on the edge of my seat, and bored. It’s been a whirlwind. 

So now I come to you from out of my comatose state to talk about the first three movies that I watched (second round of reviews tomorrow). These are my initial thoughts, and I hope this helps put some lesser known movies on some 2022 watchlists. 

Film #1: Watcher   (dir. Chloe Okuno)

Julia (Maika Monroe) joins her husband Francis to Bucharest, as he has landed a better job (and she just left hers). Between Francis’ long hours at work and the language barrier, the isolation is starting to get to Julia. Her fears heighten when she learns about The Spider, an active serial killer who preys near her neighborhood. Then one day Julia notices that she’s being followed. 

What Watcher does right is capture all the emotions that go through a woman’s body when they feel like someone is following them. A switch goes off in the brain: security leaves and is replaced by dread as ice starts to fill your veins. Panic starts to rise as you convince yourself that you’re just being silly and paranoid. But no matter how many times you say that it does erase the feeling of being watched. 

Sadly, even though the movie has all the goods it came up short in the end. One, there’s just nothing new added. All the twists and turns were familiar and pretty predictable. Second, the ending itself, what everything was leading to was so short and just… ok. I was invested in the journey and I was ready for a killer ending but it just didn’t go to the next level. Actually there’s a confrontation on the metro just prior to the end that was more chilling and satisfying than the end itself. 

Because of the atmosphere created I still think it’s a good ride but I would adjust expectations. I do think Maika Monroe and Burn Gorman fans should definitely check it out (I’m a huge fan of both and their performances definitely bumped up my rating.)

Rating: 3.5/5

Film #2: After Yang   (dir. Kogonada)

After a young girl’s surrogate brother Yang, an android, malfunctions her father Jake (Colin Farrell) does everything to repair him. While facing the reality of life without Yang, Jake and his family reflect on the android’s impact on them.  

I love ‘near-future’ sci-fi, like Annihilation or Arrival, so I had high hopes for After Yang but I didn’t think this journey of grief and memory would hit me so hard. The movie’s subject matter is serious but never depressing. Sometimes indie movies can go too far in trying to pull emotions from their audience, and in turn, they sadly become ‘trauma porn’. This is not the case with After Yang, which has such a peaceful ease to its story. 

Yes, I cried, and there were a lot of tears in the last ten minutes but it’s due to the performances and the strong script/direction from Kogonada, not manipulation. The slower pace won’t be for some, but for me it was such a rewarding experience. I watch a lot of movies that end up not making any mark on me and I easily forget them. I don’t think that will be the case with After Yang and I can’t wait to watch it again later this year. 

(Also bonus points for having a child character that actually talked/acted like a child and not some prodigy. Actually the cast overall is really strong.)

Rating: 5/5

Film #3: Speak No Evil   (dir. Christian Tafdrup)

A Dutch family invites a Danish family, that they met on vacation in Tuscany, to their home to continue their new friendship. Soon after their arrival the Danish parents realize that the families are very different and are weirded out by the Dutch family’s dynamic. 

I was with the movie until about halfway through, because I enjoyed the set-up, a dark horror-comedy about manners and being ‘people pleasers’ to the point of ridiculousness. The unpleasantness comes from the cringe, kinda like Creep, and this Danish family being unable to handle the weird passive-aggressive (and sometimes downright aggressive) Dutch family. This is what the whole movie should have been. But nah, the third act has to go to all Funny Games

The end is brutal, nasty, and cruel just for the sake of shock. But I guess if you put classical music over it then it’s profound? The director said his goal was to make the most unpleasant movie ever (hahahaha ok). I think to achieve this goal he ended up sacrificing the movie’s story. 

For this ending he had to make the Danish parents really dumb and sadly I didn’t care about them by the end. Halfway through the Dutch family were telegraphing their red flags so hard that I was shocked that they just didn’t call the police. 

Even if I could believe that the Danish family would stay until the end, there’s a decision made by the mom that’s so egregious I automatically checked out. The decision felt like a first draft shortcut to get characters into the positions needed for the finale, but no one went back to fix it! All cred went out the window, and then the vapid soulless ending followed. 

Personally I’m not gonna recommend Speak No Evil, I don’t think it was worth my time and left me pissed off. That being said, a lot of horror fans loved it, so if the shock factor is of interest to you then maybe check it out when it hits Shudder. 

Rating: 2/5

See you tomorrow with three more reviews!

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