Sundance Day 2 Recap
My second day of Sundance is in the books and I managed to check off two of my most anticipated films with The Outrun and Presence. Still, a lot more movies to go, but check out my quick reviews of these two solid films.
Saoirse Ronan stars as Rona, a woman desperately trying to overcome her demons in The Outrun. Told non-linearly, we follow Rona's recollections of her many struggles in her fight against alcoholism. At times it can be difficult to follow where we're at in Rona's journey, with her hair as the main clue to the sequence of events. Because of that, it’s easy to feel a bit lost initially while the story is really finding its feet. In the Q&A, director Nora Fingscheidt said that it was intentional to mimic the fight to attain sobriety— a chaotic beginning that eventually comes into focus and calms down by the end. As a first-time viewer, at times that can feel frustrating, but as the story does come into that focus it’s easier to appreciate the film as a whole and what it’s trying to accomplish.
Rona’s battle is not an easy one. It is ruthless and harrowing. She somehow continues to find new ways to reach rock bottom when you think she couldn’t go any further down. It’s a powerful story and incredibly intimate. Needless to say, Saoirse is amazing and excels in the role. Her range is truly impressive and it makes you wonder what she can’t do! She is committed and fearless in showing the ugly side of addiction and how it drags a person down to the point they feel they can never escape. After Magazine Dreams last year, I'm vowing to never do any more Oscar predictions during Sundance, but it would be lovely if Saoirse got some recognition for her incredible work here come awards season.
Somewhere between A Ghost Story and The Others, lies Presence, an experimental ghost story told in reverse by Steven Soderbergh. As seen with Unsane, Soderbergh loves to venture into telling smaller stories with a somewhat scaled-down production. Presence feels like the type of film made spontaneously during a weekend with some friends, and in this case, it doesn't feel like a bad thing. Presence feels fresh and new, but its gimmick may wear out its welcome fast depending on the viewer. The story is told entirely from the perspective of a ghost, haunting the new home of a family. This ghost is a (mostly) quiet observer, gliding from room to room in the house and listening in on conversations from the new owners. At times this approach can feel a bit aimless, and luckily the runtime and pacing keep things quick enough that you can't complain too much. Plus, it does have a point and when it gets there, it all clicks.
Presence isn’t really scary because its titular character isn’t a malevolent spirit, but rather a protector. From the beginning, it’s clear that the ghost takes an interest in the daughter of the family. It hangs out most in her room and it wants her to be aware that they’re there, with various attempts at making their presence known. The film is very clever in portraying this unseen character and the whole thing almost feels interactive, that you as the audience ARE the ghost as you see everything unfold from their specific point of view. It's amazing how much we get to know these characters by simply observing them, and the strength of the film is that they are good, interesting characters that you don't mind spending time with. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but I’m happy it exists and I’m happy big filmmakers are willing to take risks.