Sundance Film Festival 2021 – Fourteen Encapsulated Movie Reviews

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival has officially closed its virtual curtains and it was an interesting one to say the least.  On the positive side one could not only check out various film fare from home but also skip past the way too revealing programmer intro so going into the movie cold was a blissful reality.  Downside is even though it was impossible to see everything (wasn’t able to see Coda and I missed the screening time for Knocking!) what I did see was a mixed bag.  While there were a couple of serious standouts, there were also some dismal outings that warranted a zero dog rating from yours truly.  It’s a strange thing to see such subpar stuff coming out of the iconic Sundance and maybe marks a need for a shift in those who program the fest.  (Weird doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better people!)  In any case taking on the good, so-so and very ugly I was able to check out a whopping fourteen titles over a week and the opinions are now live.  Docs about getting to the truth, tales of female empowerment, love during quarantine, the effects of trauma and so much more – check out our Sundance Film Festival 2021 Encapsulated Movie Reviews below!

“Mayday” – Fantastic yarn of female empowerment masked in a tale of war from a dream.  Sounds uber-complicated but it’s actually wonderfully simple with the female leads providing the much-needed complexity.  Writer/Director Karen Cinorre not only creates a kick ass story and cool characters, but her visual style shows she’s a gifted filmmaker to watch for.  But most important is her cast that shines bright including the captivating Grace Van Patten as the ailing Ana, Soko as the sassy Gert, Havana Rose Liu as the spirited Bea and in a career defining turn the bold Mia Goth who almost steals the show as moxie maven Marsha.  Ultimately a rousing tale about standing up and being heard, this is one terrific tale that every gender can get behind.

“Misha and the Wolves” – This riveting doc tells the tale of a woman who decides to put paper to pen and share her adventures as an orphan fleeing her home in search of her parents during the Holocaust and escaping Nazis by living with wolves – and that’s just for openers.  Director Sam Hobkinson’s flick is part inspirational fable, part detective story and all under the umbrella of playing the viewer like a skilled magician who has a knack for slight of hand.  Engaging, engrossing and utterly entertaining, this is one wolf yarn with serious bite.

“The Pink Cloud” – While this tale of a relationship during confinement may be a bit too on the nose for some, there’s nevertheless dramatic poetry for those seeking loftier stuff. Experiencing the highs and lows of a newly formed couple who are trapped inside by a mysterious killer pink cloud lurking outside and are forced to coexist together may be topical (though it’s noted here that the film was created before the pandemic) but also goes thoroughly beneath the surface to examine all the facets and emotions that come with such a deeply human story. So while there isn’t wall-to-wall perpetual positivity for those seeking such, even the more melancholy moments have their own silver lining.

“Violation”Violation as a film is a double-edged sword.  It boldly dares to go to dark places and convey ugly emotions involved with sexual assault and processing trauma that aren’t usually on the big screen, but at the same time it’s not exactly enjoyable to witness.  Topped with the fact that I was a tad confused by the jumping in time narrative and editing style alongside bizzaro visuals employed by the filmmakers.  Did the events in the film actually happen?  Did they exist on an alternate reality?  Or was it all cooked up in the mind of the obviously traumatized female lead?  In any case if making the audience feel character discombobulation was the end game point for all involved – it’s just not a fun place to live.

“The Blazing World” – While I appreciate some of the weirdness of this flick, even my own affinity for the cinematic strange has limits.  I don’t know why I should be surprised since the tour guide of this tale of a haunted gal looking for the trapped spirit of her long passed sister is none other than resident looney Udo “eating bugs” Kier, but this outing is odd even by his wacko standards.  (It doesn’t help that most talk with the cadence of early M. Night Shyamalan!)  Like a drug trip with no end in sight (complete with The Shining sounding score!), this one is more for the cannabis and Corman crowd.

“Human Factors” – An indie odd egg, this story of a family coming unraveled by their complicated lives and choices has some moments of brilliance.  (Helmer Ronny Trocker has serious tension building skills!)  Trouble is such moments are also mired in a non-linear back and forth in time story construction that works to seriously alienate the solid story the film is trying to tell.  When engrossing and raw human emotions are enough, sometimes even a simple straight line can be a road to stellar stuff.

“Prime Time” – High on tension but low on creative originality, this Polish import is a clear case of potential wasted.  Meaning the yarn of a young kid who locks himself in a TV studio with two captives, a gun and a message he wants broadcast does set up and maintain a tightrope ambiance via Director Jakub Piatek, but falls seriously short by adding nothing new story or surprise wise to the already done to death hostage genre.  A flick that skillfully goes through the motions but provides little else, this one is far from ready for prime time.

“Censor” – In what can only be described as a sort of homage to early David Cronenberg, Censor is more like Videodrome light.  It’s a collage of very interesting ideas – fantasy vs. reality, repressed memories, obsession, censorship, the effect of early 80’s video violence on regular people – that blended together never quite mesh into a singular cohesive provocative flick that rises above the fray.  Bottom line is with flashes of brilliance it’s easy to say that Director Prano Bailey-Bond is a filmmaker to take note of, but the unfocused Censor is hardly her cinematic swan song.

“Eight For Silver” – This late 19th Century chiller has all the prerequisite trimmings needed to be a masterwork – evil created by curse, horrifying historical wrongdoings and even bloodthirsty creatures whose mere appearance elicits spine shivers.  Problem is while writer/director Sean Ellis may have the literary skills to pen a memorable movie the actual cinematic execution leaves a lot to be desired.  Things like long unneeded pauses that lack tension and predictable jump scares are just a few of the tripping up tropes that stop this silver scream outing from reaching it’s bloody best.

“Pleasure” – While there may be some bits of morality to this tale of a girl fresh off the boat from Sweden who strives to become a porn star in the adult industry at any cost, there simply isn’t enough of it to overcome the salacious subject matter.  Which is strange because even though this one is from a female writer/director Ninja Thyberg, it doesn’t frankly feel all that different and comes across like a been there, explored that.  As a result with its modicum of honesty being overshadowed by an umbrella of the films’ risqué themes, there’s little pleasure for those seeking substance.

“A Glitch In The Matrix” – Documentary helmer Rodney Ascher, who successfully used everyman theories to broaden the mind of those obsessed with all things Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining via his Room 237, tries to take on the subject of living in a virtual simulation but to a much lessor effect.  Unlike the swirling speculation that wonderfully immersed Kubrick’s harrowing masterwork that ultimately lent itself to amateur theories, the whole idea here begs for educated and insightful thought and sadly there is a severe lack of both scholar and creative opinion within.  (The only chilling ideas come from sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick via a talk he gave in France back in 1977!)  Not to mention that all notable ideas are glossed over (the whole “Mandela Effect” comes and goes in a flash!) and the tone of the piece flips on a dime.  (Where did the whole true crime involving Matrix defense murders come from all of a sudden?!)  Look, when screen time is given to billionaire Elon Musk as opposed to either of the famed Wachowski duo, who birthed the film in question (they are both MIA here!), there really is a glitch in the matrix.

“Prisoners of the Ghostland” Escape from New York with a pinch of The Road Warrior for the samurai nutburger crowd, it’s no surprise this one sports Nic Cage as its leading man. Sion Sono’s flick is a wacky, wild and weird outing full of odd characters and places, problem is all of the above doesn’t always equal an entertaining watch.  A lot of the strange within sometimes just happens for it’s own sake and as such looses a little of it’s irregular poignancy power.  (The most normal character is The Devil’s Rejects alum Bill “Otis” Moseley for crying out loud!)  So while this one may be insane inspired not unlike the lead actor himself (who earns this one an extra half star for just screaming the word “testicle” inspiringly during a motivational speech!), Ghostland still feels like a prisoner of its own hysterical hype.

“John and the Hole” – As this film came to its confounding conclusion a singular thought came to mind – what did I just watch?  Filled with a ton of arduously long pauses, bereft of hidden meanings except for those desperately seeking it and a lack of direct intentions from all characters both aloud and in silence, John and the Hole feels more like bad performance art. The tale of a kid who decides to drug his family, drag them into a deep hole and leave them there without any explanation seems to at all times to be luxuriating in its own deep and ambiguous magnificence (there’s a secondary story I won’t get into!) and while that might be crack to the Sundance cinefiles, for this film fan it’s simply a hole to movie hell I never want to revisit.

“Coming Home In The Dark” – Dismal, depressing and simply disheartening, this one reminded me a lot of the empty feelings I had when I originally saw House of A 1000 Corpses…only worse.  At least Rob Zombie’s debut boldly presented demented joy from the folks doing the dark deeds (though it didn’t help!), whereas the bad guys who kidnap and kill in this New Zealand based indie are simply uncharismatic one-note wonders.  (The whole “coincidence” angle involving one of the captives makes little difference.)  The problem with such a flick and it’s message of morose is it’s so life draining to witness that no one who survives the entire viewing would ever want to return for another – unpleasantness just isn’t that much fun to watch.


I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

1 Response to “Sundance Film Festival 2021 – Fourteen Encapsulated Movie Reviews”

  1. Michael Coleman

    You are becoming more like Roger Ebert every review. Thanks for clearing out the chaff so we all can get to the good stuff.