I remember the day I received my email of approval stating I was able to be a part of the press at this years’ Sundance festival. After only a year of being a part of The Undescene family, I felt so much excitement as well as this feeling of accomplishment. It was all one big step in the right direction. Now that the festival is over and I can take a breather from watching six movies a day, I have time to reflect on all that I’ve seen. What stayed with me, what I can’t wait to see again and even films that ultimately just didn’t do it for me. These are my thoughts on some of the films I was lucky enough to see at this years’ festival.
John and The Hole
I have such a soft spot for coming of age films. When it comes to topics surrounding the struggles of growing up, figuring out who you are and what you want from life as well as how you want to live it, I’m almost always interested. We all come of age multiple times throughout our lives, we lose ourselves and find ourselves over and over again over the years and I’m always fascinated by how every individual chooses to cope with that. Another thing I enjoy watching on screen are psycho kids; which brings us to one of my most anticipated films of the festival, John and the Hole. What seemed like a very straight forward character study was actually a dark fable of why we shouldn’t wish to grow up so fast. As kids, we all think at one point or another how much better the world would be if we didn’t have to hear no and could do whatever we please. In reality, that would cause pure chaos and mental turmoil due to a lack of structure and support. So when our main character John drugs and places his family in an abandoned bunker near their home, we get to witness how detrimental the word NO actually is throughout our youth. It’s an interesting tale that’s dark and twisted, although it drags on a bit in the end this was worth every second I invested into it.
Eight For Silver
Werewolf films scare the shit out of me, when done correctly. The idea of a human beast hybrid creature is absolutely terrifying, but unfortunately it’s been quite a while since we’ve had such an effective wolf tale. Even with the bar set fairly low, this creature feature delivered on most fronts. Set in the late 1800s, we follow a small village under attack by a vicious creature that lurks in the shadows of the forest. There’s much more to this story but I can see this being released sometime this year and going in with as little information as possible will be a huge bonus. It’s atmospheric and unsettling visuals set this film apart from other horror films lately that seem to have embraced the humour in horrific situations. This is a gory and creepy mess of a film, and I say mess as a compliment this time around cause it’s quite the wild ride. In the end, my biggest complaint was that the creature and transformation could have been a bit less silly and could have heavily benefited from practical effects rather than CGI; otherwise this is a solid addition to the werewolf subgenre.
This was an absolute joy to watch and the clear crowd pleaser of the festival. “Child of Deaf Adults” follows Ruby, the sole hearing member of her family whose passion is to sing, and she’s damn good at it. This was such a unique perspective and it was nice to see a film that didn’t use their deafness as a weapon or complete obstacle the whole time against the characters, it was more matter of fact. This film hit every beat you’d want a feel good movie to hit. It’s funny, sweet, the music is beautiful and every family member in the main cast is fantastic. All of the performances were genuine and real, and the story just played out so perfectly. This was one of the few light hearted experiences during Sundance and one that I treasured by the end after multiple viewings of films that straight up made me depressed. Kudos to this film for being picked up by Apple+ quickly and for 25 million dollars. I’m sure this will be out sometime in the next few months so definitely check it out.
On The Count of Three
I started On The Count of Three at 10am in the morning after just waking up, which I regretted. Was it great? Absolutely. But a film about two best friends who plan on killing themselves together so they spend one last day doing whatever they want to do before ending their lives may have been a tad too heavy to start out my morning. Nonetheless, this was incredible. Christopher Abbott stars as one of the leads and I truly believe this man is one of the loves of my life; in whatever fantasy world I choose to live in. This was seriously my favourite role of his to date. His character was so rough and sensitive and such a selfless being who’s been through the ringer in life, completely three dimensional and portrayed flawlessly by Abbott. Then there’s Jerrod Carmichael who leads the film as well as directed it. Witnessing the mental destruction of a man on screen, one in particular that feels so normal and real, is tough to watch. It’s a nuanced performance that brought me to tears on many occasions, and his chemistry with Abbott is so pure. It was also so refreshing to watch a “buddy movie”, if you can even call it that, that wasn’t riddled with toxic masculinity everywhere. There’s a lot of social commentary throughout that isn’t thrown in your face like satire which was really nice, specifically when it came to the discussion of men’s lack of mental health resources, specifically black men. Suicide at the forefront of your film is tough to present and has to be handled with such ease and care, and this absolutely was.
When my experience with this film started off with me having to put in my age and birthdate, I figured I was in for a bit of a traumatizing ride. We’ve seen films tackle the porn industry to some extent but never like this. Pleasure follows Bella (Sophia Kappel), a young woman from Sweden who moves to LA in order to be one of the biggest stars in the adult film industry. I’ve seen some people state that this film is full on pornographic and while I agree that it definitely did not hold back at all, there was maybe one too many erect penises than I’m used to in a film, it was not sexual in a pornographic way. This was a very real, uncomfortable and authentic look into what goes on during a porn shoot behind the scenes and the thought process of being on camera. It’s very business oriented because sex work is a legit form of employment no matter what anyone says. Witnessing the realities behind the porn industry, the hierarchy of actors, the treatment of women by male directors and even their peers made this such a devastating viewing. Along with being very informational, this film has sort of a sweet coming of age story of female friendships that helps develop its lead. The thing about porn, even though women watch it too, is that most of the time it’s made for men. It creates unrealistic expectations of sex in our minds whereas most of the women in my life who have talked about it have acknowledged how fake and unrealistic it is. The showcase of porn that is labeled “rough” is shown in a light that makes you question, how can anyone watch this and be turned on by a scenario that looks and feels rapey. But the truth is millions are attracted to that which is why so many videos are made that push women to their limit all to please the people that watch it. This isn’t kink shaming or shaming anyone for watching pornography but if you get off to seeing women in a state of being dehumanized and broke down, than maybe I am kink shaming you? Bottom line, this is an amazing film that’s extremely tough to get through but newcomer Sofia Kappel’s performance is easily my favourite of the festival.
I’m a huge fan of Fran Kranz. Since The Cabin In The Woods I’ve followed this guy through all of his projects no matter what they were and I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed most. His comedic timing is always on point and he’s charming as well which always helps. So when I saw that he had his feature directorial debut – which he also wrote – premiering this year, I had to put it at the top of my list. I can honestly say I did not think the most impactful and emotional film at the festival this year would have come from the mind of this man, but it did. Mass follows two couples who have planned to get together and have a conversation; simple as that. The catch is that one couples’ child was a school shooter and the other couples’ child was a victim of that crime. This was easily one of the best scripts and some of the best performances I’ve seen, even outside of the festival. It handles the subject with care but also isn’t afraid to touch on those dark, scary places and open up many conversations. I applaud this film for its portrayal of the parents whose son carried out the act of terrorism, “the world mourned 10, we mourned 11.” It’s a brutal film in the sense that there’s no looking away. Every line cuts so deep and feels so real because it is real. Before it began Fran Kranz in an interview stated that although this was a work of fiction, it is based on very real tragedies. Tragedies that continue to happen again and again because the American government still hasn’t dealt with gun laws. These conversations need to keep happening and we need to keep listening or else nothing is going to change. It’s a true piece of art that will continue a conversation that can not die down until that change is made.
Immediately after Mass I dove right into this one, Together Together, and let me just say that this was exactly what I needed. After so many heavy films back to back I finally got a sweet and heartfelt story about the importance of platonic love. This is the story of Matt (Ed Helms), a single man in his forties who forms a bond with Anna (Patti Harrison), the 25 year old surrogate who’s carrying his child. There were so many times that my friend and I would look at each other and just mutter “I love that line” because this script is just so good. It’s so rare that we get to watch films exclusively tackle platonic love that doesn’t ever even think about turning into romance. Friendship is one of the most powerful things in our lives and is just as important as romantic relationships so I love what this showcased. The two leads are great and their banter is so organic and funny, but Julio Torres who plays Anna’s co worker steals every scene he’s in and is maybe one of the funniest side characters I’ve seen in a long time. Another refreshing aspect of Together Together is how many queer characters there are present without it ever being a thing. Queer people exist outside of our leads and their world and not just for the purpose of being gay, so it was so refreshing to see a film show that.
My last film of the festival ended up being my favourite. There’s no words that can really do justice to how incredible this film is but I’ll do my best to try. Directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Flee is an animated documentary that tells the heartbreaking but amazing story of Amin, an Afghan refugee who’s finally decided to tell his remarkable story after years of having to hide it. From it’s opening scene, I was in awe of the animation for this and the way they decided to tell Amin’s story through animation, interviews, flashbacks and video reel. The story was told in animation by his friend to protect his and his family’s identity which is such a creative and clever way to get around that issue. Coming so close to marriage and a stable forever life with his boyfriend, Amin felt it was finally time to share his true past that had to be covered up due to the story that the traffickers who aided his escape had given him. Being told his life would be ruined if he were to tell anyone his true identity and that he had family, Amin kept to himself and never told a soul. Until now. There were so many scenes and recounts that had me in tears and in awe, and the fact that Amin had to deal with this life of constant trauma and fear all the while figuring out his sexuality had me inspired by him. Although this is a hard story to stomach, it also gives you this feeling of hope. Not a second was wasted here and I’m calling it now, this is winning best documentary at next years’ Oscars. No doubt.