The days of the Sundance Film Festival have come to a close, and I want to thank Fairfield University for allowing me to attend the festival. It has been my dream for a very long time that I would be able to attend, even if it was all virtual. But…now let’s get to the final movies I saw at the festival!
“Judas and the Black Messiah” Directed by Shaka King: This directorial debut from Shaka King follows an investigation into Fred Hampton and other Black Panther Party members. The film stars Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Standfield and Jesse Plemons, among others. “Judas and The Black Messiah” is more than a traditional biopic, as it acts more like a tragedy film. You witness the highs and lows of the group and the same highs and lows of their leader. My only issue with this film is that one side plotline felt a bit unnecessary to the film at large, and thus took away from the whole experience. However, this is a harrowing and thought-provoking film that will stay with me throughout the year. Kaluuya brings one of his best performances of the year, and it will be a shame if he is snubbed by the Academy. Standfield is also a notable highlight and thus deserves his own recognition.
“Prisoners of the Ghostland” Directed by Sion Sono: This is another wild and crazy film from Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono, though this is his first American feature. The film stars Nicholas Cage and Sofia Boutella, and it tells the story of a hero trying to rescue the governor’s daughter from being brainwashed. I am a big fan of this director’s “Love Exposure,” and thus, this was the most anticipated film of the festival for me. I enjoyed it, but I, unfortunately, was not completely ‘wowed’ by it. Cage is absolutely insane and has some hilarious moments, while Boutella brings a subtle, but great performance. The set design and costumes were fantastic, but the biggest issue was the script. It takes a bit to get going and does not reach the insane heights that Sono is known for until the final act. I did enjoy the world-building quite a bit, but at times the pacing dragged exponentially.
“In the Earth” Directed by Ben Wheatley: In this latest feature from acclaimed filmmaker Ben Wheatley, starring Joel Fry and Harley Squires, a researcher and team go out and find a mysterious entity in the woods and it’s up to them to defeat it. This film was shot over the course of the pandemic last year. While I was interested in the first and third acts, the second act felt padded and at times boring. It does have a very psychedelic and crazy ending, but I wanted more in the middle portion. The performances were fine and the editing choices were questionable, to say the least.
“Mayday” Directed by Karen Cinorre: In this directorial debut from Karen Cinorre, a strange storm haunts Ana (Grace Van Patten), and it is up to her and a group of soldiers to stop the things inside her. This film has a fantastic performance from Mia Goth and some phenomenal set design, but there is not too much more to say about this film. It comes across similar to Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch,” but with little to say and nothing new to do.
“Mayday” is a film filled with promise and a unique set up and characters begging to be rooted for. However, I felt like this was borrowing from other films and felt too familiar at times!