Sundance 2022 Most Anticipated
The time has finally come once again for the Sundance Film Festival, and with it my list of the ten films I'm most excited to see at this year's fest. For the second year in a row, due to the pandemic, the festival is entirely online--meaning you can enjoy all of these gems from the comfort of your own couch. So get the popcorn ready, we've got a lot to look forward to. As always, we'll start with my #10 pick.
Aisha, an undocumented Senegalese immigrant, lands a job as a nanny of a wealthy Manhattan couple. While she easily wins the affection of their young daughter Rose, she becomes a pawn in the couple’s facade of a marriage. The mother is as controlling as the dad is disillusioned and woke. Haunted by the absence of the young son she left behind in Senegal, Aisha hopes her new job will afford her the chance to bring him to the U.S. and share in the life she is piecing together. But as his arrival approaches, a supernatural presence begins to invade both her dreams and her reality.
As envisioned by writer-director Nikyatu Jusu and brilliantly embodied by actor Anna Diop, Aisha is a dynamic, fascinating protagonist. She displays tremendous strength in enduring challenging circumstances, but must reckon with her own disappointment and frustration, as ominous intrusions enter her already fraught life. Jusu elegantly weaves in supernatural entities derived from West African folklore, spinning Nanny into a singular genre all its own, with horrors specifically drawn from Aisha’s life and legacy.
WHY I'M EXCITED: The synopsis gives me major His House vibes, one of the horror selections from 2020's festival, which was absolutely excellent. I loved how that film seamlessly blended supernatural horror with the actual horrific situations immigrants face. Nanny promises to do that as well, while also examining the difficulty of leaving one's own children behind in order to provide for them, by taking care of someone else's. Nanny looks to explore many difficult themes, while also providing some chills, and who can ask for more in a horror movie?
9. WHEN YOU FINISH SAVING THE WORLD
From his bedroom home studio, high school student Ziggy performs original folk-rock songs for an adoring online fan base. This concept mystifies his formal and uptight mother, Evelyn, who runs a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse. While Ziggy is busy trying to impress his socially engaged classmate Lila by making his music less bubblegum and more political, Evelyn meets Angie and her teen son, Kyle, when they seek refuge at her facility. She observes a bond between the two that she’s missing with her own son, and decides to take Kyle under her wing against her better instincts.
In his carefully observed, aesthetically pleasing directorial debut, Jesse Eisenberg adapts his audio project of the same name to tell the story of a mother and son who fail to understand each other’s values. With gentle humor and pitch-perfect dialogue, When You Finish Saving the World reflects a moment of internet fame and youth activism, but it also recounts the timeless tale of parents and children struggling to connect across the generational chasm that separates them.
WHY I'M EXCITED: Quite often, Sundance picks really strong films to open the festival. Such was the case last year with CODA and in 2014 with Whiplash. But opening the festival isn't the only thing When You Finish Saving the World has going for it. The film, which tells the story of a strained mother/son relationship portrayed by Finn Wolfhard and Julianne Moore, also happens to be Jesse Eisenberg's directorial debut. I'm really excited to see what he brings behind the camera, as I always appreciate his talent when he stars. Plus, I love a good coming-of-age drama and the story here has really good potential to be something special.
Julia joins her husband when he relocates to his family’s native Romania for a new job. Having recently abandoned her acting career, she finds herself frequently alone and unoccupied. One night, people-watching from her picture window, she spots a vague figure in an adjacent building, who seems to be looking back at her. Soon after, while alone at a local movie theater, Julia’s sense of being watched intensifies, and she becomes certain she’s being followed — could it be the same unknown neighbor? Meanwhile, a serial killer known as The Spider stalks the city.
Utilizing near-vacant Bucharest streets and expansive luxury apartments, director Chloe Okuno and cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen design compositions that are both exquisite and unsettling, with every shadow offering cover for potentially imminent danger. But beneath the tension of Okuno’s hypnotic auteur vision, Watcher is an elegantly simple depiction of one woman calculating in real time whether to trust her own sense of peril. Maika Monroe vividly conveys Julia’s nervous discomfort as no one takes her intuitions seriously and she pivots between self-doubt and defiant aggression.
WHY I'M EXCITED: Having lived abroad in a foreign country, I definitely see the potential for anxiety that comes with a potential move overseas creating the perfect setting for a horror story that leaves the protagonist feeling very isolated. The last time Maika Monroe starred in a Sundance movie from the midnight selection it was a HUGE hit. While I myself am not the biggest fan of It Follows, I'm excited to see what she does here. One of the fun things about Sundance is that often we're given very little to fo on to form an idea of what the film is going to be. A cast, crew, synopsis, and a picture are all we get to form our judgments. So, I know it's not much, but I really love the foreboding composition of the photo and the promise of more where that came from in the description
It’s the waning days of summer for four friends Dina, Lola, Daisy, and Mari, who will soon be going their separate ways when they all start middle school. While planning how to spend their last weekend together, they stumble across a mystery that takes them on a life-changing adventure. The friends make a series of discoveries that are as much about solving the mystery as they are about learning the hard truths of growing up. Director James Ponsoldt (The End of the Tour, 2015, and The Spectacular Now, 2013) returns to the Sundance Film Festival with a film for every generation. Anchored by engaging performances from its youthful cast and a strong script from Ponsoldt and co-writer Benjamin Percy, Summering is a refreshing rarity when compared to the familiar animated and special effects–driven movies usually directed toward multi-generational audiences today.
WHY I'M EXCITED: I really loved both The End of the Tour and The Spectacular Now, so I will gladly watch any directorial effort of James Ponsoldt's (though admittedly I skipped The Circle). But I love the idea of a female-centric coming of age adventure because there aren't many of them! "Boys will be boys" friendship stories have been told quite often over the years (see Stand By Me, The Sandlot and Goonies to name a few, which did at least throw in a couple of girls to the group). As fun as they are, it's important to see stories told from the female perspective as well, and I truly hope this can be an instant classic kids' adventure for a new generation of girls everywhere.
6. AFTER YANG
When Yang — a lifelike, artificially intelligent android that Jake and Kyra buy as a companion for their adopted daughter — abruptly stops functioning, Jake just wants him repaired quickly and cheaply. But having purchased Yang “certified refurbished” from a now-defunct store, he’s led first to a conspiracy theorist technician and then a technology museum curator, who discovers that Yang was actually recording memories. Jake’s quest eventually becomes one of existential introspection and contemplating his own life, as it passes him by.
An aesthete at heart, Kogonada only vaguely hints at the futuristic science fiction setting (and accompanying climate catastrophe), instead crafting a serene, meditative, compassionate story that inverts the trusted theme of robots exploring what it means to be human, by showing a human trying to understand this artificial being who was part of his family. Punctuated with humor and joyousness, After Yang’s quiet power lies in its timely contemplation of how we create meaning and experience loss.
WHY I'M EXCITED: Kogonada's last Sundance film, Columbus, was an underrated beautiful gem of a movie. Every single shot was a stunner, mesmerizing the audience visually, while the screenplay continually engaged the viewer intellectually. But essentially, it's a very simple film at its core. After Yang, on the other hand, isn't grounded in the same reality since it's more in the sci-fi realm and promises a lot more complexity in its themes. Plus, I'm always excited to see Colin Farrell in anything
Living in a cheap motel in Atlanta and separated from his wife and child, former U.S. Marine veteran Brian Easley is desperate. Driven to the brink by forces beyond his control, the soft-spoken, kind man decides to rob a bank and hold hostages with a bomb. As police, media, and family members descend on the bank and Brian, it becomes clear he’s not after money — he wants to tell his story and have what is rightfully his, even if it costs him his life.
In her debut feature, director Abi Damaris Corbin hauntingly blends together the dramatic tension of a hostage negotiation standoff with the intimate emotional world of one life derailed by bureaucracy and a lack of resources. Based on a true story, 892 showcases powerful performances by John Boyega, the late Michael K. Williams in his final screen role, and others who remind us of the social responsibility we have to our soldiers, colleagues, and families, and to strangers as well.
WHY I'M EXCITED: John Boyega is a fantastic actor who was criminally underused in Disney's Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. I'm really hoping this will be a meaty role for him to showcase his amazing talents (certainly more than just yelling "Rey!!" over and over). I'm always rooting for his success and 892 seems like a really great star vehicle for him. I'm also really interested to see Michael K. Williams' last performance. 892 sounds like a valuable film focusing on how desperation can ultimately lead to devastation and the fact that it's based on a true story makes it all the more important.
Straight-A college student Kunle and his laid-back best friend, Sean, are about to have the most epic night of their lives. Determined to be the first Black students to complete their school’s frat party legendary tour, the friends strap in for their ultimate assignment, Solo cups in hand. But a quick pit stop at home alters their plans when they find a white girl passed out on the living room floor. Faced with the risks of calling the police under life-threatening optics, Kunle, Sean, and their Latino roommate, Carlos, must find a way to de-escalate the situation before it’s too late.
Two-time Sundance alum Carey Williams (R#J, 2021) makes his U.S. Dramatic Competition debut with Emergency, the darkly comedic and wildly hard-hitting feature version of his short by the same name (a Special Jury Award winner in 2018). Bringing K.D. Dávila’s sharp and layered writing to life through an incredibly talented breakout cast, Williams hazes us with a timely and biting satire in which racial dynamics unmask a world so absurd that it could only be real.
WHY I'M EXCITED: One of the most poignant moments in the film Get Out is in its final moments, where, when our black protagonist sees cop lights coming toward him and we as an audience realize that in your typical horror film with a white lead, this is the moment where the day is saved. But with a black lead being found in a compromising position, it brings yet another moment of fear in knowing that they do not have the privilege of being given the benefit of the doubt. Just by reading the synopsis of Emergency, I felt the tension and worry over an explosively bad situation that for these characters will most likely look incriminating if they come forward. Emergency has a lot of potential to make a statement while putting you directly in the shoes of our protagonists and making us feel the danger they face. My only hope is that they don't ease up on the tension.
Frustrated by scrolling dating apps only to end up on lame, tedious dates, Noa takes a chance by giving her number to the awkwardly charming Steve after a produce-section meet-cute at the grocery store. During a subsequent date at a local bar, sassy banter gives way to a chemistry-laden hookup, and a smitten Noa dares to hope that she might have actually found a real connection with the dashing cosmetic surgeon. She accepts Steve’s invitation to an impromptu weekend getaway, only to find that her new paramour has been hiding some unusual appetites.
FRESH is an intoxicating ride, nesting a penetrating thriller about the perils women face on the modern dating scene within a ferocious allegory for the commodification of their bodies. Director Mimi Cave’s feature debut brings Lauryn Kahn’s shrewd, witty script to the screen with a knowing zeal, deploying a soundtrack of retro deep-cut bangers to highlight the film’s over-the-top verve. Daisy Edgar-Jones captivates as Noa, who defiantly turns her vulnerabilities into strengths, while Sebastian Stan delivers a deliciously wicked performance as the roguish Steve.
WHY I'M EXCITED: As someone who has had a lot of dating app experience before I got married, I can tell you that this is a premise that is ripe for opportunity as a horror film. Dating is hard enough without having to deal with something more sinister beneath the surface. I love that this film was directed and written by two women because there's always an inherent danger any time women agree to meet up with a stranger that only a female point of view can truly understand. I am also excited for this because I really like Sebastian Stan in quirkier roles like iTonya, as opposed to playing a stoic superhero in the MCU, so I hope he has a lot of fun in this role.
2. YOU WON'T BE ALONE
In an isolated mountain village in 19th-century Macedonia, a young girl is taken from her mother and transformed into a witch by an ancient, shape-shifting spirit. Left to wander feral, the young witch beholds the natural world with curiosity and wonder. After inadvertently killing a villager and assuming her body, she continues to inhabit different people, living among the villagers for years, observing and mimicking their behavior until the ancient spirit returns, bringing them full circle.
The debut feature of Australian-Macedonian writer-director Goran Stolevski, You Won’t Be Alone is wonderfully unlike any witch film you’ve seen. Its striking artistry and aestheticism blends supernatural horror (there’s no shortage of blood and entrails) with poetic fable, yielding a sensory meditation on life that is unexpectedly emotional and profoundly humanistic. Even the malevolent ancient spirit, born of suffering and loneliness, is a contoured character. And the young witch (played by multiple actors, including Noomi Rapace, Alice Englert, Carloto Cotta, and Sara Klimoska) suggests a transcendent spirit who, across successive lives — woman, man, mother, child — experiences what it means to be human.
WHY I'M EXCITED: This looks and feels like a spiritual sequel to The Witch, which was definitely one of my all-time favorite Sundance films and viewing experiences. While I didn't love Noomi's last film, Lamb, I respect the creative choices she makes with her career and I'm excited to see her performance here. Plus the trailer for this was just absolutely fantastic. The last few years have produced some truly haunting horror films at Sundance, and I'm hoping this one is the breakout this year.
OFFICIAL SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS:
Recently diagnosed with a rare and incurable disease, Sarah is unsure how to process the news. To help ease her friends’ and family’s impending loss, she is encouraged to participate in a simple futuristic cloning procedure called “Replacement,” after which Sarah’s last days will be spent teaching the clone how to live on as Sarah once she’s gone. But while it takes only an hour for a clone to be made, things become significantly more challenging when that double is no longer wanted.
This darkly off-kilter comedy marks a welcome return to the Festival from writer-director Riley Stearns (The Cub, Sundance 2013). He straddles a curious line between deadpan satire and high-concept storytelling to take us on a sci-fi journey into the ways a catastrophic life change can force reconsideration of one’s entire existence. In the lead dual role, an oddly charming Karen Gillan proves the perfect match for Stearns’s strange, strange cinematic world.
WHY I'M EXCITED: I'm so fascinated by this one! With its oddball, Black Mirror-esque plot and it's very curious promo still, this movie has totally piqued my curiosity. Dual has a lot of potential for oddity, I just hope it has the depth to match. There's a lot of interesting themes here to explore and I hope it does so thoughtfully. I'm also looking forward to seeing Karen Gillan in a more personal role after doing the big popcorn movie rounds for a bit.
Well, that's it for this list! Check back all throughout the festival for my daily recaps of everything I have the pleasure of seeing. The Sundance Film Festival officially begins Thursday, January 20th. You can find tickets for all film screenings HERE