Sundance 2022 Preview

The 2022 Sundance Film Festival begins today! This year’s fest takes place virtually and features a number of exciting projects that have caught my attention. Over the course of the next week and a half, I will be covering the festival and sharing my thoughts on what I have seen through reviews, interviews, and other features.

To start, here are the films that I am most looking forward to in no particular order.

Note: All information, including pictures, has been provided courtesy of Sundance Film Festival unless otherwise noted.


When You Finish Saving The World

Photo from IMDb

Synopsis:

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.

Notes: Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut. Stars Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard.


Emergency

Synopsis:

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.


FRESH

Synopsis:

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.


Master

Synopsis:

At an elite New England university built on the site of a Salem-era gallows hill, three women strive to find their place. Gail Bishop (Regina Hall), just instated as “Master,” a dean of students, discovers what lies behind the school’s immaculate facade; first-year student Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee) confronts a new home that is cold and unwelcoming; and literature professor Liv Beckman (Amber Gray) collides with colleagues who question her right to belong. Navigating politics and privilege, they encounter increasingly terrifying manifestations of the school’s haunted past… and present.

Writer-director Mariama Diallo’s first feature is an ingenious blend of horror, drama, psychological thriller, and social critique. Through a deeply unnerving aesthetic, Master demonstrates the expressive power of genre storytelling, delivering a visceral and emotional reflection on racism and white supremacy. What begins as a search for belonging becomes a chilling struggle for survival, and Diallo shrewdly reframes a basic horror trope — escaping an evil force — asking what escape is possible for communities of color confronting a racial terror that is everywhere.


Dual

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.


Resurrection

Synopsis:

Margaret (Rebecca Hall) leads a successful and orderly life, perfectly balancing the demands of her busy career and single parenthood to her fiercely independent daughter Abbie. But that careful balance is upended when she glimpses a man she instantly recognizes, an unwelcome shadow from her past. A short time later, she encounters him again. Before long, Margaret starts seeing David (Tim Roth) everywhere — and their meetings appear to be far from an unlucky coincidence. Battling her rising fear, Margaret must confront the monster she’s evaded for two decades who has come to conclude their unfinished business.

Writer-director Andrew Semans has crafted a surreal and deeply disturbing film, blending drama and horror to deftly unearth a nightmare that feels all too real. Hall masterfully embodies Margaret’s trepidation as her firmly controlled world begins to unravel, while Roth’s David diabolically begins to pull the rug out from underneath her. Resurrection promises a gripping excavation of an inescapable past.


Happening

Synopsis: In 1963 France, Anne, a promising young university student, is devastated to learn she’s pregnant. She immediately insists on termination, but her physician warns of the unsparing laws against either seeking or aiding abortions, and her tentative attempts to reach out to her closest friends are nervously rebuffed. As weeks pass, without support or clear access, an increasingly desperate Anne unwaveringly persists in seeking any possible means of ending the pregnancy in hopes of reclaiming her hard-fought future.

Adapting Annie Ernaux’s memoir, Diwan creates an expressively evoked period piece of undeniable current resonance. Happening never sensationalizes, but directly and graphically details not only the dangers and indignities of Anne’s harrowing quest but also how the surrounding indifference escalates her plight. Anamaria Vartolomei stuns as the unrelenting Anne, immersing us in her character’s certainty that the failure to end this pregnancy would surely be the end of her life as well.


892

Synopsis:

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.


God’s Country

Synopsis:

Sandra (Thandiwe Newton) is very tired. It’s been years of trying (and failing) to please her recently deceased mother, while also navigating the challenging politics and power dynamics at the college where she teaches. And then there is the racism, sexism, and toxic masculinity she encounters wherever she goes. But it’s a confrontation with two hunters trespassing on her property that ultimately tests Sandra’s self-restraint, pushing her grief and mounting anger to their limits. God’s Country examines one woman’s grieving process and determination to be taken seriously amid her refusal to surrender to the confines of society.

Newton shines as Sandra in director Julian Higgins’s impressive feature debut. The script, co-written by Higgins and Shaye Ogbonna, offers Newton the opportunity to create a character who is masterfully understated, yet complex and believable. Newton occupies almost every frame of the film; close-ups of her calm, grief-stricken face reveal the despair and tension of a crumbling human spirit. She remains cool and composed, but no longer willing to yield.


Good Luck To You, Leo Grande

Synopsis:

Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) doesn’t know good sex. Whatever it may be, Nancy, a retired schoolteacher, is pretty sure she has never had it, but she is determined to finally do something about that. She even has a plan: It involves an anonymous hotel room, and a young sex worker who calls himself Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack). Leo is confident, dapper, and takes pride in being good at his job. He also appears to be intrigued by Nancy — one of many things to surprise her during their time together.

Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays, Animals) returns to the Sundance Film Festival with this charming, intimate comedy about genuine human connections, sex postivity, and female pleasure. McCormack shines as the witty and empathetic Leo Grande, whose chemistry with Thompson’s wonderfully complex Nancy is captured by Hyde’s tender direction and Bryan Mason’s attentive camerawork. Written by comedian Katy Brand, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande strikes the perfect balance between unapologetic humor and an earnest study of the art of (self-)acceptance.


Hatching

Synopsis:

Tinja’s mother showcases their family’s existence on her popular blog “Lovely Everyday Life” as a brightly hued domestic idyll set amid manicured suburban perfection. Beneath the impeccable veneer, though, friendless tween gymnast Tinja is struggling, spending most of her time striving to please her image-obsessed mom and appease her shrilly obnoxious little brother. After finding a wounded bird in the woods, she brings its strange egg home, nestles it in her bed, and nurtures it until it hatches. The creature that emerges, christened Alli, becomes Tinja’s closest friend, surrogate child, and living nightmare in this tremendously twisted coming-of-age body horror film.

Director Hanna Bergholm’s pointedly satirical feature debut constantly surprises, upending expectations by continually morphing alongside the newly hatched Alli. Delivering audacious displays of vomitous havoc, Hatching is also a fascinating portrait of the nature of maternal instinct, as Tinja battles to come to terms with the genuine emotional bond with her grotesque and bloodthirsty newfound family while contending with the fraying connection to her own demanding mother.


We Need To Talk About Cosby

Synopsis:

During his nearly 50 years in show business, Bill Cosby became one of the most recognizable Black celebrities in America. With a career that included an astronomical rise on television in the mid-1960s; work in children’s programming and education; legendary stand-up performances and albums; and an epoch-defining hit sitcom, The Cosby Show, Cosby was a model of Black excellence for millions of Americans. But now, thanks to the brave and painful testimonies of dozens of women, we know there was a sinister reality to the man once extolled as “America’s Dad.”

Over the course of four gripping episodes that feature the voices of people closely connected to Cosby’s life on screen and off, including several survivors, director W. Kamau Bell digs into who Cosby was and what his work and actions say about America, then and now. We Need To Talk About Cosby is a powerful and timely reckoning destined to be widely discussed for how it urges audiences to reconsider not only what they know about Cosby but also about the culture that produced and celebrated him.


You Won’t Be Alone

Synopsis:

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.


AM I OK?

Synopsis:

Lucy and Jane are the best of friends. They finish each other’s sentences, predict every detail of each other’s food order, and pretty much know everything about each other. But when Jane is promoted at work and agrees to move to London for her new position, Lucy confesses her deepest, long-held secret: She likes women, she has for a long time, and she’s terrified by this later-in-life realization. Suddenly, their friendship is thrown into chaos as the two choose different routes by which to navigate the unexpected changes in their lives.

Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne’s directorial feature debut is an exceptionally sweet and charming love story about two adults working through the complexities of self-discovery and personal awakening. Anchored by endearing performances and the undeniable chemistry between Dakota Johnson as Lucy and Sonoya Mizuno as Jane, AM I OK? is a relatable, poignant, and often humorous look at the transformative power of human vulnerability.


Alice

Synopsis:

Alice (Keke Palmer) spends her days enslaved on a rural Georgia plantation restlessly yearning for freedom. After a violent clash with plantation owner Paul (Jonny Lee Miller), Alice flees through the neighboring woods and stumbles onto the unfamiliar sight of a highway, soon discovering that the year is actually 1973. Rescued on the roadside by a disillusioned Black activist named Frank (Common), Alice uncovers the lies that have kept her enslaved and the promise of Black liberation.

In her debut feature, writer-director Krystin Ver Linden spins a modern liberation fable that is equal parts earthy Southern Gothic and soulful Blaxploitation. Inspired by true accounts of Black Americans who were kept in peonage for more than 100 years after the end of slavery, Alice is an audacious mix of grim historical fact and exceptional fiction. Moving from a purgatorial plantation overgrown with Spanish moss to the lively landscape of urban Savannah, Ver Linden traces Alice’s breathless journey down the rabbit hole and into the turbulent wonderland of the post–Civil Rights South.


Something In The Dirt

Synopsis:

Levi has snagged a no-lease apartment sight unseen in the Hollywood Hills to crash at while he ties up loose ends for his exodus from Los Angeles. He quickly strikes up a rapport with his new neighbor John, swapping stories like old friends under the glowing, smoke-filled skies of the city. One day, Levi and John witness something impossible in one of their apartments. Terrified at first, they soon realize that this could change their lives and give them a purpose. With dollar signs in their eyes, these two random dudes will attempt to prove the supernatural.

DIY wonderkids Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson make their Sundance Film Festival debut, serving as co-directors, co-stars, co-editors, writer (Benson), and cinematographer (Moorhead) of this twisted, sci-fi talkie. Their oddball chemistry shines on screen and in the script, as these two isolated and unfulfilled individuals spur each other toward wormholes and away from reality. Something In The Dirt tells a tale of these paranoid times, where every answer imaginable is just a Google search away.


PIGGY

With the summer sun beating down on her rural Spanish town, Sara hides away in her parent’s butcher shop. A teenager whose excess weight makes her the target of incessant bullying, she flees a clique of capricious girls who torment her at the town pool, only to stumble upon them being brutally kidnapped by a stranger, who drives off with them in his van. When the police begin asking questions, Sara keeps quiet. Intrigued by the stranger — an interest that’s mutual — she’s torn between revealing the truth and protecting the man who saved her.

A skillfully crafted genre film, encrusted in plenty of blood by the time it reaches its crescendo, PIGGY is also a reflective, deeply personal small-town morality tale. Writer-director Carlota Pereda takes on normalized social violence, using horror as a means to explore fear and vulnerability in a tormented teenager who’s desperate to fit in. The bullying is so harrowing that we understand her ambivalences around retribution and redemption, but Pereda’s interest lies in Sara’s complex inner journey through helplessness, rage, and justice.


Learn more about everything showing at this year’s Sundance here.

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