Sundance Film Festival 2021: The World to Come

Contrasting in the extreme to the Nicolas Cage film earlier today, Mona Fastvold’s The World to Come is a subdued tale of secretive and forbidden queer desire on the 19th century frontier. When Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) and her husband (Christopher Abbott) move to the area, Abigail (Katherine Waterston) is quickly drawn to the enigmatic red-haired woman who slowly breathes new life into her day-to-day doldrums with her husband Dyer (Casey Affleck). The film moves slowly over the course of a few months as the two women draw closer together and their chemistry blossoms.

In terms of visuals, The World to Come delivers incredibly lush and beautiful images of the country landscapes throughout several seasons. Fastvold delves deeply into Abigail’s narrative here, as her diary is the primary informative device. Waterston’s incredibly contained voice-over narration for her many diary entries guides us along as she develops feelings for Tallie. Kirby and Waterston’s chemistry is undeniable as the spaces between them slowly shrink as the pair become more comfortable with each other. Fastvold utilizes natural lighting for the internal sequences in the log homes of the women, and for the most part it is very effective. But there are a few moments when the darkness was a bit too overwhelming and swallows the characters into the dark spaces.

In the Q&A for the film, Fastvold discusses how the cinematographer André Chemetoff shot the film on 16mm to capture more grain and a more filmic image. Additionally, she talks about how the title is meant to suggest how same sex love is part of the world to come, and how it was a sign of hope for the future to see these women in this time stuck with the societal norms and judgment of the period while also commenting on how this is still such a harsh reality for queer folks today.

Overall, this was a very effective and powerful film that deals with the queer issues of the 19th century but also is shockingly relevant to the constant battle for equality that is continually fought every day. This was a nice film to wrap up the Sundance Film Festival screenings for the week, and I’m glad that I got a chance to see a new film produced by Christine Vachon’s Killer Films early, as her production company has been one of my favorites since I was in college. The virtual Sundance Film Festival experience has been incredibly well-handled with the app on the Firestick being very easy to use. So, keep up the great work folks that organized everything during this hectic pandemic time. Thanks again to my friend Lee for making this possible! What a great week for film, indeed!

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Sundance Film Festival 2021: Prisoners of the Ghostland

Nicolas Cage films are always a wild ride. In general, you kind of know what you’re in for when you pop one of Cage’s more recent films in. Prisoners of the Ghostland is Japanese auteur Sion Sono’s first film to be shot in English. Known for his violent films like Suicide Club (2001), Sono gives us a film that he describes as a hybrid of “East Meets West,” paying tribute to samurai films, spaghetti westerns, tales of revenge, and so much more. It’s a colorful concoction of neon and vibrant colors that really elevate the violence beyond simple blood splatter. Due to its beautiful cinematography and fun action sequences, this is a film that would greatly benefit from being seen on the big screen.

Nicolas Cage plays a character simply named Hero, who is released from jail by The Governor (Bill Moseley) forcing him on a quest to rescue Bernice (Sofia Boutella). The Governor claims that his granddaughter has been kidnapped. Hero is fitted with a leather jumpsuit that has small bombs aptly placed in areas that can blow up if he makes a mistake (naturally there are two fitted to his crotch! Ha!). What follows is a truly wild ride with Hero finding out that The Governor may not be telling the truth. The film also makes comments on nuclear fallout and how the aftermath of the bomb has impacted Japanese culture.

I’ve been a huge fan of Sofia Boutella, through her films like Climax (2018), Atomic Blonde (2017), Star Trek Beyond (2016), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). Boutella is always beyond incredible at uniting powerful physicality and intense action training with strong emotional performances (particularly in Climax!), and Prisoners of the Ghostland is no exception. In the Q&A Boutella speaks about how the fighting choreography melded with her intense dance training background as her performance is always so controlled and rhythmic.

Sion Sono discusses how they had originally planned on shooting the film in Mexico, but due to the director having a heart attack during pre-production, they ended up shooting in Japan instead. While initially disappointed by this, as he was so excited about shooting in locations that mirrored his favorite spaghetti western films, he grew to love the hybrid look of the film that the crew was able to create. Personally, I absolutely loved the look of the film and the hybrid style left a very memorable impression that I’m excited to revisit later.

This is a prime example of a film that is destined to be a cult classic. Nicolas Cage gives a memorable and fun performance where he, as is expected, just fully embraces the craziness. If you’re a fan of Cage, director Sion Sono, Boutella, or Bill Moseley, do not miss this one. It’s just pure genre glory that needs to be seen. Just give in and enjoy yourself. Here’s hoping that Prisoners of the Ghostland finds success when it is released later.

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Sundance Film Festival 2021: Eight For Silver

For the third Sundance screening of the week, we were presented with Sean Ellis’ Eight For Silver, a werewolf film set in the 19th century. Ellis’ period horror film breathes some new life into the werewolf sub-genre, which made for a very interesting and unique vision. John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) arrives in a small British village that is being attacked by a mysterious creature to assist the Laurent family (Alistair Petrie and Kelly Reilly) after Seamus (Petrie) has massacred a Romani clan that was inhabiting land that they had a claim to near his home. The massacre leads to the Romani leader cursing the land before her death. To not spoil anything else, I will just describe the rest as a very intense and well-performed horror spectacle.

I absolutely loved the misty and moody visuals that fill every frame of the film. Ellis is well-known for his mastery of photography, and it is just so impressive that he wrote, directed, and shot the film. It looks incredible. The village, the fields, and the forest are all perfectly encapsulated in stark and immersive images. The only flaw with the visuals of the film lies in the few instances of a foggy filter being applied over a couple of the action sequences, which was a bit distracting. Aside from that, the werewolves were shown in brief flashes and in carefully constructed frames to make them quite effective.

In the Q&A for the film, Ellis discusses critical horror films like Alien (1979), The Thing (1982), and The Exorcist (1973) as being big influences for the feel of the film, and it’s easy to see that when looking at the incredibly effective and disturbing practical gore effects in Eight For Silver. Petrie and Reilly join Ellis in the Q&A and describe how they constructed their narratives in terms of a family drama instead of looking at it as a horror film.

Eight For Silver was a thrilling and intense werewolf film that I feel will definitely stand ahead of the mediocre werewolf fare that we’re normally given. With strong performances, beautiful images, and intense practical gore effects, it is very easy to give this film the highest recommendation.

Here’s to three more Sundance screenings this week. As a funny note, there were characters named Edward and Jacob here, which I like to think was an intentional joke referencing everyone’s favorite love triangle! Ha!

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Sundance Film Festival 2021: In The Earth

For the second Sundance screening of the week, we were presented with Ben Wheatley’s experimental plague horror film. I had absolutely no expectations for this film, as I’ve only seen Wheatley’s earlier film A Field in England (2013). Martin (Joel Fry) is able to get out of the city following the seemingly global pandemic, that is clearly modeled after COVID-19, and sets out to find a doctor who has been missing when he joins forces with Alma (Ellora Torchia). What follows is an incredibly experimental take on horror and science fiction, focusing on nature, psychology, and possibly magic. Honestly, this one didn’t do a whole lot for me, but it serves as a very interesting experiment of the COVID age.

Wheatley’s film features very interesting visuals and beautiful shots of nature, but very little character development for the two main protagonists in the film, leaving the viewer with little to connect with outside of being able to comprehend the isolation of quarantine and the trauma of plague. The base concept of the film is interesting, and I do like the idea of it being an experiment to create something relevant during COVID-19. It was fun seeing pumps of hand sanitizer, people wearing masks, and social distance being respected between the actors. But ultimately, it didn’t add up to more than a visual experiment that addresses the psychological impact of isolation and the pandemic.

In the Q&A following the film, Wheatley discusses how this was the first production to film following the initial lockdown in the UK in 2020. He stated that while writing the film in March of 2020, he was at home in lockdown watching films that were being released on streaming platforms that had been shot prior to the pandemic and how it was so weird seeing sequences with large crowds and no reference to the events of the world. That is something that I have often thought about when viewing films during the pandemic. It is odd seeing large crowds and social events in films and how it is just not something that is happening right now. Once again, Heidi Zwicker did a nice job moderating the Q&A. Wheatley and Torchia both gave detailed accounts of how different it was preparing for and shooting the film during a pandemic, touching upon the many Zoom meetings and how some folks hadn’t met until their first day of shooting.

If you’re a big fan of Wheatley’s work, you might find yourself interested in this and able to draw comparisons to themes touched upon in some of his other, more experimental, features. Personally, this was a one-and-done for me, but it was definitely interesting to see a film made during the pandemic that was shot outside of Zoom.

Here’s to four more Sundance screenings this week!

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Sundance Film Festival 2021: Censor

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This week I find myself lucky enough to be friends with someone who has passes for six films being shown virtually in the Sundance Film Festival. Honestly, it has always been a dream of mine to go to a legitimate film festival, so this is a really amazing and fun opportunity in the middle of a hellish pandemic. So, a huge thanks to my friend Lee for making this possible.

Starting off our screenings of the festival is Prano Bailey-Bond’s feature film debut Censor (2021). The film focuses on Enid (Niamh Algar), a troubled woman who censors “video nasties” during the height of the moral panic of Thatcher-era Britain in the 1980s. Enid watches with distaste all of the shocking and disturbing horror films of the time to censor out the bits that would warp the minds of children and “drive people to commit violence themselves”, as was so often the thought process behind the conservative British politicians of the time who sought to stamp out the violent horror films. Adding to her discomfort, Enid is suffering from the trauma of her sister disappearing when she was a young girl. Constantly attempting to find her and trying to recall new information that might lead to her sister’s rescue, Enid goes on a psychological journey that takes the viewer on an intense and disturbing ride through the glory days of horror films past. (Note: That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, so as to not spoil anything for anyone!) At a brisk 84 minutes, there is not a moment in the film that drags, and I found myself captivated and entranced for the entire feature.

Prano Bailey-Bond achieves great things in her first feature. This is an incredibly strong start to what I hope is a very successful career. She has also directed three shorts that I need to seek out online to watch immediately. She has a very keen eye for 80s-fused visuals that harken back to the VHS genre classics that her film both honors and critiques. It’s beyond refreshing to see such a unique and bold female perspective on horror from someone who so clearly loves the genre. I’m incredibly excited to see her future work in horror. I’ve included her introduction to the film below where she briefly discusses the influences of the film and her process.

Bailey-Bond introduces the film for Sundance.

Niamh Algar’s performance as Enid is the very backbone of the film. In Enid, Algar has captured such a conflicted and complex sense of the character. The way Algar is positioned throughout the film, often in powerful and commanding poses that really reminded me of Katherine Hepburn’s stance in her classical films of the 30s, counters the increasing paranoia of the character and we physically see her mental state change over the course of the narrative through her physicality. I loved her period clothing that really captured her sense of morality through costume, as well. This was the first film that I’ve seen Algar in, and again, I’m very excited to see more of her work, also.

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Zwicker, Bailey-Bond, and Algar in the Q&A following the film

The film was followed by a lively Q&A session with Bailey-Bond and Algar where they answered questions from fans and questions prepared by Sundance Senior Programmer, Heidi Zwicker. This was a fun opportunity to see Bailey-Bond really showcase her knowledge of the horror films of the time, as she was asked what films have greatly influenced her (The Evil Dead (1981), Suspiria (1977), the films of Lucio Fulci, and Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971) were the films she name-dropped). It’s just always such a treat to see a filmmaker get to gush about the films that made them who they are. Algar also had great comments about her immersion into the genre to prepare for the role. I wasn’t aware that the Q&A would be included with the pass, at first, so this was a really exciting treat as it made it a more personable experience overall. Bailey-Bond and Algar were both great in the Q&A and Zwicker did a really nice job moderating.

Overall, I just really loved this film. It checked off all of my horror genre boxes, showcased all female perspectives in the genre, featured stunning visuals and a riveting narrative, and was both thought-provoking and entertaining in equal measure. It’s definitely one that I’ll be thinking about for a long time, and it’s one that I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who is a fan of the video nasty era and is yearning for female representation within the genre. It also has a sequence that played with aspect ratio in a way that I had never seen before, so the film tech geek in me was just giddy in all regards. So, in closing, this is a film that you should definitely rush out to rent or purchase when it is eventually released if you enjoy horror films that pay tribute to the genre’s greats and feature a strong female perspective.

Here’s to five more exciting Sundance Film Festival screenings this week!

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