7 Great Movies From The Sundance Film Festival 2022

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As in 2021, the Sundance Film Festival will again be a completely virtual affair this year. Instead of a crowd of film critics descending on a small Utah town, attendees watched movie premieres streamed on their own televisions while participating in Q&As with directors and actors akin to Zoom gatherings. It eliminates some of the prestige, of course, but thankfully there have been plenty of interesting movies to watch in any case.

I’ve been watching as much as I can over the past week – while admittedly a little distracted by a minor video game release – which covered everything from meditations on memory and loss to avian body horror to a non-linear sci-fi musical. You know, the usual stuff. There has been a great mix and below are my favorite movies I watched on Sundance.

After Yang.
Image: A24

after Yang

Director and screenwriter: Kogonada

after Yang follows the story of a young family that suddenly falls apart in an unexpected way. The parents (Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith) buy an android named Yang (Justin H. Min) to better connect with their adopted Chinese daughter (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). But when the droid — known in this near future as a “technosapien” — breaks, it’s as if a sibling has been lost. While Farrell tries to fix Yang, the family struggles with his absence and discover how important he was to all of them, especially to the daughter, who essentially lost her big brother.

The film tries to squeeze in a lot; it is mainly a story about loss and memory and how the two can influence each other. But it also touches on elements of data privacy, transracial adoption, and even cloning ethics. Those are some heavy themes, but the film is presented with a soft, almost hushed atmosphere, reminiscent of sci-fi classics Hair and Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. It even has a moving soundtrack by renowned composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Production company A24 has not given after Yang a specific date for a wider release, but it’s expected to hit theaters sometime in March.

We met in virtual reality.
Image: Joe Hunting.

We met in virtual reality

Director and Screenwriter: Joe Hunting

Thanks to the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Ernest Cline, the concept of the metaverse is generally seen as a kind of corporate hellscape where the coolest thing to do is dress up as Darth Vader at a work meeting. But We met in virtual reality presents a much healthier and welcoming take on the phenomenon. The documentary follows a handful of people as they go about their lives amid the pandemic; some meet new friends while teaching virtual ASL classes, others learn to handle a long distance relationship.

The twist is that the entire movie was filmed within the VRChat social platform, where users can hang out and create their own virtual worlds while dressed as anime girls or demon lords. You never see anyone’s real face or even get to know their name. Instead, everyone talks to the camera as their VR avatar while using their chat handle. There’s one scene where a virtual bride-to-be tries a new avatar decked out in a wedding dress, and another where a group of friends sit around a campfire talking about learning to deal with their gender identity.

These are real human conversations and moments. The only difference is that some people are dressed like Kermit the Frog, and every other person wears rabbit ears. I’d rather wear a headset for an experience like this than become a legless Facebook avatar. Unfortunately, it is not yet clear when you can watch the documentary outside the festival circuit.

Hatch.
Image: IFC Midnight

Hatch

Director: Hanna Bergholm; Screenwriter: Ilja Rautsi

Hatch starts out as a story about a beautiful family of Finnish vloggers, but it doesn’t take long before it gets dark and grotesque. It really starts when a 12-year-old girl named Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) finds an egg in an abandoned nest in the forest (at night no less) and puts it under her pillow. As the stresses pile up in her life—the pressure to win a gymnastics competition, her parents’ seemingly loveless marriage—her grief, blood, and tears are passed on to the egg, causing it to grow to monstrous size.

When it finally emerges, the creature is almost a terrible doppelganger; it becomes both a friend to Tinja and a child to her, before things take the inevitable turn into nightmare material. Hatch is rude and terrifying, but also heartwarming in a weird way. The monster isn’t exactly someone you’d want to hang out with, but you’ll probably feel sorry for it. IFC Midnight will bring the film to both theaters and on-demand services on April 29.

Resurrection.
Image: Sundance Institute

Resurrection

Director and screenwriter: Andrew Semans

Initial, Resurrection feels a lot like a standard thriller. Early on, a single mother (Rebecca Hall) is confronted by a mysterious man from her past (Tim Roth), which immediately causes her to panic. She starts to get paranoid and eventually keeps a constant eye on her almost grown child. I had all sorts of theories about what it could mean: She might have had some shady criminal past, or her child was born under circumstances she didn’t want revealed.

I won’t spoil anything but say that the twist in this movie is incredibly strange and seemingly ridiculous, and yet it works because of Hall’s incredible performance. Her rapid descent into madness is impossible to look away from – other than the film’s climax, which is the stuff of nightmares. I’m still haunted by it. There is no word yet on when Resurrection will see a wider release.

Neptune Frost.
Image: Sundance Institute

Neptune Frost

Directors: Anisia Uzeyman and Saul Williams; Screenwriter: Saul Williams

Not sure if I understand the premise of Neptune Frost, even after watching, but I’ll try. Set in a futuristic version of Rwanda, the film revolves around a rare earth mine worker (Bertrand Ninteretse), who falls in love with a transcendent hacker (played by both Cheryl Isheja and Elvis Ngabo), and the anti-capitalist collectively hack the two spearheads together. It can be difficult to follow exactly what’s happening as the story jumps in time and there are profuse dream sequences that give it a hazy, surreal feel. Sometimes characters suddenly freeze in place or start to move backwards or the whole picture becomes glitchy.

It’s a dazzling experience, both visually and sonically, from the hacked aesthetic complete with loads of circuit boards to the soundtrack produced by Saul Williams (who also co-directed the film with Anisia Uzeyman). It’s a musical almost like a series of protest songs – covering everything from the restrictive nature of gender to the exploitation of African land – that you can dance to. Neptune Frost has been making its way through the festival circuit since last year and will hopefully be more widely available soon.

Emily the criminal.
Image: Sundance Institute

Emily the criminal

Director and Screenwriter: John Patton Ford

Like it Resurrection, Emily the criminal is a seemingly straightforward thriller about a struggling woman. Emily (Aubrey Plaza) is a former art student burdened with $70,000 in student loans, who also has a criminal record that makes it impossible to find a decent paying job. She’s stuck in the gig economy, working for a DoorDash-esque delivery company and can’t seem to find a way out of her debt – until a friend gives her a number to call to earn some extra cash.

What follows can best be described as a rapid rise in the criminal ranks. Emily starts out small, buying TVs with stolen credit cards as part of a bigger operation, before eventually starting her own small plans with the help of Youcef (Theo Rossi), a good-hearted criminal who naturally dreams of becoming legit if he earns enough cash. money. The story is quite simple, but the suspense never ends as Emily digs a deeper and deeper hole. It ends surprisingly happily, but it’s worth the frantic performance of Plaza alone. No wider release date has been announced as of yet.

Brian and Charles.
Image: Sundance Institute

Brian and Charles

Director: Jim Archer; Screenwriters: David Earl and Chris Hayward

And to end on something lighter, there is Brian and Charles, the story of a terrible inventor who somehow builds a robot that becomes his best friend. Brian (David Earl) is a lone inventor with few good ideas; some of his projects include a messenger bag with pinecones glued to it and a belt with pouches to carry eggs around. But then he has an idea for a robot, and 72 hours later, Charles (Chris Hayward) comes out, the monstrous creature of a Frankenstein made of household items. As Charles likes to say, “My stomach is a washing machine.”

You can probably predict the beats of the main story: Charles has an endless hunger to learn and experience the world, and soon that extends beyond Brian’s humble life and property. There’s a love interest for Brian, an urban bully interested in Charles, and a growing friction between the inventor and his creation that eventually works out. What it lacks in originality, however, Brian and Charles makes up for it with warmth and good mood. It’s equally crazy and endearing, an ideal pick-me-up to watch. The film is still seeking distribution and does not have a wider release date as of now.

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