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Sundance 2019 Preview

Hello readers! Long time, no write. I'm so sorry for my absence, but I couldn't let a Sundance season go by without telling you about some of the movies that have piqued my interest. This year I'll be seeing more than ever, so keep your eyes peeled for my various hot takes throughout the festival. Here are the ten films that caught my interest the most.

10. Wounds

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: Will is a bartender in New Orleans. He has a great job, great friends, and a girlfriend, Carrie, who loves him. He skates across life’s surface, ignoring complications and concentrating on enjoying the moment. One night at the bar, a violent brawl breaks out, which injures one of his regular customers and causes some college kids to leave behind a cell phone in their haste. Will begins receiving disturbing texts and calls from the stranger’s phone. While Will hopes to not get involved, Carrie gets lost down a rabbit hole investigating this strange malevolence. They’ve discovered something unspeakable, and it’s crawling slowly into the light. Writer/director Babak Anvari returns to terrify at the Sundance Film Festival Midnight section with this adaptation of the novella The Visible Filth by Nathan Ballingrud. From its opening scene, Wounds strikes an uneasy tone that begins to fester and continues to spread until its shocking climax. Armie Hammer revels in this unlikely turn that allows his attractive smile to fade away and reveals the true creature that may be lurking on the inside.

WHY I WANT TO SEE IT: I like the matchup of Armie Hammer & Dakota Johnson here. After Suspiria, I'm excited to see Johnson return to the horror genre again and the paranoia she'll bring to the role. Plus I'm ALWAYS game for some Armie Hammer.

9. Relive

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: Los Angeles detective Jack Radcliff fields a distressed phone call from his niece Ashley and rushes to the rescue—only to find the girl and her parents dead in an apparent murder-suicide. Then, just as the police department declares the killings an open-and-shut case, Jack gets another call from Ashley. With the cell-phone connection acting as a link between the past and the present, Jack urges Ashley to collect clues that will help him to solve her murder and change her fate. Part supernatural thriller, part time-warped police procedural, Relive is the newest release from Blumhouse Productions, the innovative horror hit makers behind Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017 Sundance Film Festival). Writer-director and Sundance Film Festival alumnus Jacob Estes (Mean Creek, The Details) infuses this heady hybrid with the chills of an old-fashioned ghost story and the paranoia of a conspiracy thriller. David Oyelowo gives a nervy performance as the haunted hero, and Storm Reid, star of last year’s A Wrinkle in Time, is remarkable as the spectral teen detective.

WHY I WANT TO SEE IT: Sure it screams a little bit Frequency 2.0, but as someone who happens to really dig Frequency I'm totally on board with this.

8. Clemency

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: How do you salvage your marriage when you are struggling to salvage your soul, your sense of self, and your sense of right and wrong? Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard) is a prison warden who, over the years, has been drifting away from her husband while dutifully carrying out executions in a maximum security prison. When she strikes up a unique bond with death-row inmate Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge), a layer of emotional skin is peeled back, forcing Bernadine to confront the complex—and often contradictory—relationship between good intentions, unrequited desires, and what it means to be sanctioned to kill. Clemency is an absorbing and penetrating character study that pulls into deep focus the various ways in which people facing impossible ethical circumstances strive to achieve some state of grace. Director Chinonye Chukwu crafts a dense, emotional film through masterful restraint and precision, drawing forth radiant performances that illuminate the internal grapplings of people searching for redemption and self-recognition. A rare, sensitive, and deeply observant prison drama, Clemency offers a fresh and meaningful contribution to the genre.

WHY I WANT TO SEE IT: This sounds like a fascinating, emotional story. Alfre Woodard is a great actress and I'd love to see her knock this out of the park.

7. The Hole In The Ground

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: Sarah moves her precocious son, Chris, to a secluded new home in a rural town, trying to ease his apprehensions as they hope for a fresh start after a difficult past. But after a startling encounter with a mysterious new neighbor, Sarah’s nerves are set on edge. Chris disappears in the night into the forest behind their house, and Sarah discovers an ominous, gaping sinkhole while searching for him. Though he returns, some disturbing behavioral changes emerge, and Sarah begins to worry that the boy who came back is not her son. Lee Cronin’s exquisitely crafted and sublimely atmospheric feature debut pairs unsettling camera work with a deeply ominous score, casting even such innocuous images as a row of toys or a children’s recital in markedly sinister light. Seána Kerslake delivers an impressively controlled performance as a mother who has centered her strength around protecting her child but finds her devotion overcome by a terrified feeling—that there’s an impostor in her house, and he’s watching her as closely as she’s watching him.

WHY I WANT TO SEE IT: Each year the Sundance Midnight lineup usually offers up a future classic to the horror genre. My money is on this or The Lodge.

6. The Lodge

SUNDANCE SUMMARY: Devoted to their devastated mother, siblings Aidan and Mia resent Grace, the younger woman their newly separated father plans to marry. They flatly reject Grace’s attempts to bond, and they dig up dirt on her tragic past—but soon they find themselves trapped with her, snowed in in a remote holiday village after their dad heads back to the city for work. Just as relations begin to thaw, strange and frightening events threaten to unearth psychological demons from Grace’s strictly religious childhood. An unblinking study of human frailty, The Lodge offers a haunting exploration of the traumatic aftershocks of religious devotion while positing that some evils just don’t die. Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala build an overwhelming disquiet from this visceral and stylish film’s very first scene, before nestling their claustrophobic thriller within a disorientingly endless snow-filled landscape. Riley Keough exudes fragility as well-meaning Grace’s every good intention leads her deeper back toward the hell of her own past, while Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh do impressive work as the kids’ practiced defiance turns to fear.

WHY I WANT TO SEE IT: Again, I'm taking my chances with the horror selection here and hoping that one of these is the next Hereditary, The Babadook or The Witch. I really like this concept and it can go in a lot of different fascinating ways.

5. I Am Mother

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: Shortly after humanity’s extinction, in a high-tech bunker deep beneath the earth’s surface, a robot named Mother commences her protocol. Designed to repopulate the earth with humans born from test-tube embryos, Mother raises a baby girl to become an intelligent, compassionate teenager (Clara Rugaard). But the arrival of a wounded woman (Hilary Swank) at the bunker door soon casts doubt on Mother’s account of the earth’s fate and threatens the unique bond between Mother and her “daughter.” Grant Sputore’s first feature, I Am Mother is a dazzling, character-driven sci-fi thriller that builds a smart philosophical framework around the “man vs. machine” trope and deftly questions what it means to be human. Based on Michael Lloyd Green’s Black List script, it interrogates Mother’s motivations, and it twists unexpectedly to culminate in a gripping dilemma about who the heroine can trust: a fellow human or the robot who raised her. Voiced by Rose Byrne, Mother is a curiously loving presence in this post-apocalyptic story that also explores the imminent age of autonomous and moral machines.

WHY I WANT TO SEE IT: There's always at least one or two really great sci-fi concept movies that jump out to me each year at Sundance, and this year it's I Am Mother. Plus I do love Rose Byrne and she usually has a good track record.

4. The Nightingale

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: One night in 1820s Tasmania, Clare, a young Irish convict, loses everything she holds dear after her family is horrifically attacked. She’s immediately driven to track down and seek revenge against the British officer who oversaw the horror, so she enlists the service of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy. Marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past, Billy reluctantly agrees to take her through the interior of Tasmania. On this brutal quest for blood, Clare gets much more than she bargained for.

A snarling Aisling Franciosi drives this merciless revenge thriller through the unforgiving land of 19th-century Tasmania, a time when British colonists nearly decimated Aboriginal Tasmanians. With horrors around every corner, Jennifer Kent’s new nightmare will traumatize the weak of heart, but those willing will discover a majestic achievement most striking in its haunting moments of grace.

WHY I WANT TO SEE IT: Jennifer Kent, director of The Babadook returns once again to the Sundance Film Festival to show off her second feature film. As I adored The Babadook, I'm completely game to see what Jennifer Kent does next.

3. Velvet Buzzsaw

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: In the cutthroat world of fine-art trading and representation, up-and-coming agent Josephina (Zawe Ashton) stumbles across a secret weapon: hundreds of dazzling paintings left behind after an elderly tenant in her building dies. Ignoring the instructions the clandestine artist left to destroy his work, she promptly starts circulating the paintings, which soon attract the attention of the heavy hitters around her—including her boss Rhodora (Rene Russo), art critic (and Josephina’s sometime lover) Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal), and competing collectors, managers, and curators like Bryson (Billy Magnussen) and Gretchen (Toni Collette). Yet as the deceased artist’s portraits gain posthumous acclaim, they also awaken something imperceptible and sinister that threatens to punish those who have profited from his work. Master of suspense Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) has assembled an all-star cast for this dark, uproarious, and painfully accurate spoof of the art world. With strong supporting turns by John Malkovich, Daveed Diggs, and Natalia Dyer, Velvet Buzzsaw invites us into a traditionally insular world that’s suddenly splattered wide open, where art and commerce collide with dire consequences.

WHY I WANT TO SEE IT: Nightcrawler was one of my favorite movies of 2014 so naturally, I was incredibly excited to hear that Dan Gilroy was reteaming once again with stars Jake Gyllenhaal & Rene Russo. Plus its trailer (which I'm abstaining from,) set twitter completely abuzz. Unfortunately for Sundancers (but fortunately for everyone else...) this movie actually premieres simultaneously on Netflix during the festival, so everyone can catch this one at home instead of waiting around in the snow.

2. Late Night

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is a pioneer and legendary host on the late-night talk-show circuit. When she’s accused of being a “woman who hates women,” she puts affirmative action on the to-do list, and—presto!—Molly (Mindy Kaling) is hired as the one woman in Katherine’s all-male writers’ room. But Molly might be too little too late, as the formidable Katherine also faces the reality of low ratings and a network that wants to replace her. Molly, wanting to prove she’s not simply a diversity hire who’s disrupting the comfort of the brotherhood, is determined to help Katherine by revitalizing her show and career—and possibly effect even bigger change at the same time. Thompson brings pathos and amusingly severe charm to the pantsuit-clad Katherine. Smartly written by Kaling and snappily directed by Nisha Ganatra, Late Night takes on white privilege, entitlement, and a culture veering toward crassness and conservatism. Questioning how women in power are “supposed” to act, it delivers a winsome, sophisticated comedy about the times in which we live.

WHY I WANT TO SEE IT: I am a fan of the comedy of Mindy Kaling (though admittedly, I quit The Mindy Project when they assassinated the Mindy/Danny relationship.) I also think Emma Thompson is an amazing actress. Therefore, this comedy penned by Kaling co-starring herself and Thompson set to the backdrop of the late night comedy world definitely alerted my radar and put it high on my most anticipated list.

1. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: 1969. Ted (Zac Efron) is crazy-handsome, smart, charismatic, affectionate. And cautious single mother Liz Kloepfer (Lily Collins) ultimately cannot resist his charms. For her, Ted is a match made in heaven, and she soon falls head over heels in love with the dashing young man. A picture of domestic bliss, the happy couple seems to have it all figured out … until, out of nowhere, their perfect life is shattered. Ted is arrested and charged with a series of increasingly grisly murders. Concern soon turns to paranoia—and, as evidence piles up, Liz is forced to consider that the man with whom she shares her life could actually be a psychopath. This is the story of Ted Bundy, one of the most notorious serial killers of all time. Collins shines as Liz, while Zac Efron gives a performance that could redefine his career. Renowned filmmaker Joe Berlinger, best known for his true-crime documentaries, proves to be the perfect match to bring this Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile true story to the screen.

WHY I WANT TO SEE IT: Call me crazy, but I've always had a fascination with the stories behind serial killers. Recently I was hoping My Friend Dahmer would give more insight into what made Jeffrey Dahmer a killer, but unfortunately it was exceedingly bland and nothing more than a wikipedia entry put to film. I'm hoping Ted Bundy's film gets better treatment. I'm interested to see what Zac Efron brings to the role and Lily Collins is always solid, so I look forward to see her portrayal of Bundy's longtime girlfriend. Netflix has a docu-series coming out TODAY all about Bundy, so the timing of this couldn't be more perfect.

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