It was a wild whirlwind of wonder when we attended our first Sundance Festival in Park City, UT last month. We were overwhelmed, starstruck, and most of all PSYCHED to get a preview of what will surely be some of the best films of the coming year. Well, maybe…
Here’s a recap of what we saw, from multiple perspectives. Also keep scrolling for more videos of our Sundance movie recap adventures and interviews (and even more to come!).
Sundance movie recap
Here is the Sundance movie recap from our casual moviegoer, Carrie, our film school dropout, Rob, and our awesome cameraperson/crew at Sundance, Kevin…
The Climb — Image via Sundance
Kyle and Mike are best friends who share a close bond — until Mike sleeps with Kyle’s fiancée. The Climb is about a tumultuous but enduring relationship between two men across many years of laughter, heartbreak, and rage.
The Climb from Carrie
The Climb was the only premiere we caught at Sundance that had a trailer. I mention this, because the trailer had me cracking up, so I was coming in with 100% certainty that this movie was either going to be perfection or one of those movies where all three funny minutes were expertly clipped together.
The Climb ended up being 92% hilarity and 8% gut-punching drama.
You learn in the first five minutes that it’s a movie about a toxic friendship, whereby, one friend has had an affair with the other friend’s fiancé and the film tackles the complexity of relationships and asks you to consider what brings you happiness. The Climb is shot in a way where you feel like you’re peeking behind the curtain of of the lives of three friends. The palpable chemistry of these three friends is really where the film shines. It’s messy and complicated and to say that it’s brimming with originality would be an understatement.
See it, see it, see it! And thank me later!
The Climb from Rob
The film explores the nature of toxic friendships and whether or not they can (or should) survive as we evolve over time. From what I saw from the trailer, I expected to enjoy the humor, but the film didn’t stop there. It could have easily rested on its premise and have been just a crowd-pleaser, but Covino and Marvin opt to add artistic flourishes throughout; including meticulous long takes, inventive transitions, and a dynamic soundtrack that demonstrate a genuine love of the craft. The chemistry between Covino and Marvin is palpable, and the addition of Rankin in this messy trio makes for a fun, but sometimes dark, ride. The performances are all great, but the standout has to be Kyle, who brings an unassuming warmth to his character that you just can’t help but love. The result is a heartfelt film that pushes the boundaries of what a buddy comedy can be.
The Night House
The Night House — Image via Sundance
Reeling from the unexpected death of her husband, Beth (Rebecca Hall) is left alone in the lakeside home he built for her. She tries as best she can to keep together—but then the dreams come.
The Night House from Carrie
I LOVE a good horror movie. There is nothing more fun for me than sitting in a dark, crowded theater, feeling like you could wet your pants at any moment, given a perfectly-timed jump scare. And The Night House did not disappoint my pants-wetting desires. We caught a screening of The Night House in Salt Lake City and because of our late arrival, I was sandwiched between two strangers. The good news is, we all became fast friends, as we clung to each other for most of the film.
A bit about the movie: a young widow is mourning the untimely loss of her husband, and we the viewers, are left to unravel the mystery and its many secrets. In our interview with director David Bruckner, he pitched the film as a mind-bending thriller rather than a haunted house movie. To be clear, unless I missed something, this is absolutely a haunted house movie, and it benefits the movie to think of it this way. The success of the movie is placed on the shoulders of Rebecca Hall and she delivers as a disturbed woman who has come unhinged. And again, this movie certainly masters tension-building and jump scares.
The end, for me, was a bit unsatisfying. For as tightly woven as the movie was from the start, the conclusion felt a bit explained away. Admittedly though, I’m super picky about how horror flicks wrap up, so the bar was probably too high.
The Night House from Rob
In the vein of contemporaries like Hereditary and Midsommar, The Night House delivers psychological horror that explores grief and sorrow without pushing the envelope too far in a way that tends to turn off mainstream moviegoers. Director David Bruckner’s intimate portrayal of a recent window uncovers secrets and forced perspective. Rebecca Hall delivers a tremendous performance.
Four Good Days
Four Good Days — Image via Sundance
An estranged mother and daughter work through their issues while the daughter is recovering from substance abuse.
Four Good Days from Carrie
I hear: addict mom, so consumed by her own vices that she’s willing to sacrifice her relationship with her kids and enabling mother and I’m in! But then you give me a shockingly transformed and drug-weathered Mila Kunis and I’m extra-excited, but gosh darn it, if she isn’t still quite lovely.
If I haven’t sold you on Four Good Days yet, let me try a bit harder. It’s grueling and painful and admittedly, as a mother of two daughters, I couldn’t keep my mind from considering the feasibility of locking my kids away forever, to avoid the horrors the world holds.
Ok, I’m failing this movie and I can see that.
There are good parts, and in fact, the best parts are in the relationship with Milia Kunis and Glenn Close, as it explores the push-pull of their both toxic and deeply rooted love, at a moment in time. The film grapples with the choices we have to make as parents, and if loving or letting go is more important to your child’s growth. What’s missing from Four Good Days is Kunis’ story. How she rises and falls, feels like an afterthought, which leaves the film feeling a bit hollow.
And while I walked away from Four Good Days with a sadness-induced headache, every film that spends time raising awareness about the opioid crisis, is one I wish success.
Four Good Days from Rob
A heartfelt and harrowing look at addiction and the lives it destroys around it. Kunis is completely transformed. In the footsteps of Garcia’s Albert Nobbs, Close and Kunis deliver powerful performances making them both early front runners for the 2020 awards season.
Save Yourselves! — Image via Sundance
A Brooklyn couple who decide to “disconnect” by ditching their phones for a weekend and wind up missing news of an alien attack.
Save Yourselves! from Carrie
Brace yourselves millennials: this one’s for you (us)!
A young couple’s life is plagued by the intrusion of technology. Romance? Nah, let’s see what’s on Netflix. Conversation? Psssh. Not when there’s a fresh batch of Ista-stories to watch. But you know what, humanity is not totally doomed as Su and Jack embark on a weekend away from all devices to prove to us that the world won’t end if we don’t have our phones… or will it?
Save Yourselves! is weird and bonkers and so, so funny. It’s 90 minutes of self-reflection, but it isn’t delivered in a way that’s intended to be preachy or condescending. Rather, it allows us to commiserate because we’re all a little bit (or a lot) of Su and Jack.
I won’t talk much about the quirky twists, but Save Yourselves! is definitely not a film that plays it safe or panders to the audience. It takes fun risks that will either endear or distance you from the message. For me, it worked. And going forward, I’m going to limit myself to 30 minutes of social media per day. Starting tomorrow.
Save Yourselves! from Rob
In our mobile device-centric lives, Save Yourselves! arrives just in time as a relevant satire about the implications of phone devotion. Focusing on the two leads, played by Mani and Reynolds, the two play off one another with relational, comedic moments that will have you turn to your partner in affirming acknowledgment of “we’ve SO done that.” As first-time writers/directors, Fischer and Wilson demonstrate a film well beyond their years that is both relatable, relevant, and most of all, fun.
Dream Horse — Image via Sundance
A barmaid recruits her husband and a group of others to assist her in training a racehorse in the Welsh countryside.
Dream Horse from Carrie
So here’s what happened. 15 minutes before we caught the Dream Horse premiere, we had the chance to talk to Toni Collette. She gave me the inside scoop that it was going to be a real tear-jerker, so I was mentally prepared for horse death or maybe Toni’s death — I wasn’t sure. What I had also heard was that it was a feel-good horse movie, and at the core, that it was a heart-warming story about a community rallying together in support of a racing horse. If we’re being real, before the movie even started, I was primed for a five-star review.
And the movie starts and my expectations weren’t entirely wrong. It was about a horse.
I jest, sort of. It does capture the true story of a Welsh community that rallies around Toni Collette’s idea to buy a racehorse. The motivations are somewhat ambiguous; some of it seems to be about finding a sense of purpose and then at some points it feels like it’s about monetary gain.
I anticipated the sense of community aspect to tug on my heartstrings, but the supporting cast was never really developed and I wasn’t particularly endeared to any character beyond Toni Collette.
The emotional beats didn’t hit for me and despite seeing Collette actively crying a few seats away from me, I just couldn’t seem to muster any tears (and I really did try).
I’ll die if Toni ever sees this review, so please burn after reading… digitally.
Dream Horse from Rob
Euros Lyn delivers a charming and feel-good movie that’s based on a true story (and Sundance documentary Dark Horse), where a group of townspeople from a small village in Wales band together to buy a racehorse. Generally, a sport for the super-wealthy, this ragtag group and cast of characters find hope and redemption in the process. Toni Collette leads this great ensemble cast providing the heart and glue that holds everyone together. While light on laugh-out-loud hilarity and somewhat paint-by-numbers, this movie is perfect for an evening with the family and will have you on your feet when the Dream makes the final turn.
Come Away — Image via Sundance
The title characters of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan are siblings trying to help their parents overcome the death of their eldest son.
Come Away from Kevin
The scene along Main Street in beautiful downtown Park City was a current of busy festival-goers. There were the super-fans, discretely scanning each and every person they passed by; the actors, discretely looking away from everyone they passed by; the networkers, formed together on every street corner collectively gesturing their finest “yeah totally”; the volunteers, being the heroes we all need; and lastly, the common folk, there for the slopes but happy for the good time.
Day after day, this scene became all too familiar, which is why when the lights came down at the premiere of Brenda Chapman’s Come Away, there was one underrepresented festival goer demographic that stood out among the rest: the kids.
Chapman’s first foray into live-action cinema (having previously directed Disney Pixar’s Brave and The Prince of Egypt), was an often confounding and hyper-precious fairytale. Seeking to weave the worlds of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland into the fabric of a family drama, the film made an earnest attempt to shake up the fairytale formula but instead ended up drowning in it. The film’s only saving grace, ahem, the kids, gave life to a script that otherwise felt like a pieced together Pinterest board.
Though even as I type this, I can feel my shadow tugging at my ear. After all, I’m an adult man living an adult life and I was reminded of this every time I heard a child laugh or gasp throughout the screening of this film — and it happened a lot. Ultimately, what I or any of the other hustlers on Main Street think of this film is of no consequence to its impact. Even if it never touches another silver screen again, what was seen, felt, and experienced by the kids in the theatre that day was the stuff of Neverland.
Ironbark — image via Sundance/Lionsgate/Roadside Crossing
The true story of the British businessman who helped the CIA penetrate the Soviet nuclear programme during the Cold War.
Ironbark from Kevin
The festival high is real. It’s hard to objectively experience a Sundance film when the air is so supercharged with the sheer thrill of being there at all. I could have seen the premiere of Sonic the Hedgehog and still walked away with a unique sense of elation and camaraderie with my fellow filmgoers.
With this being my first film festival, I was attuned to this high and did my best to not let it override my experience with the films I was lucky enough to see. But damn, Dominic Cooke’s Cold War spy thriller Irobark made it near-impossible to tame that excitement.
From the minute it started, it was clear this film was aiming for excellence. Not excellent in the slow-burning way that Sundance films are excellent, but in the way that makes a studio executive reach for their checkbook. The score, the cinematography, the timely political parables, and the uncompromising performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Merab Ninidze are all clear bids for a seat at the Oscars and I’ll be damned if they don’t get there.
Perhaps the only thing working against this film come awards season is its bygone notion of prestige. In the age of Parasite, films like this can’t compete as they could have against, say, The King’s Speech or The English Patient. Though now a month removed, the festival high still flutters up to the surface when I think about this film, which is all the proof I need to confirm its excellence.
Sundance video recaps, interviews, and more:
Want more Sundance movie recap magic, but this time with more of our faces?!
Getting to Sundance
Diving into the Oscars at Sundance
Daydreaming about which actors we wanted to see
Sundance 2020 Film Festival recap
Cast interview: The Climb (2020)
Cast & Writer/Director interview: Save Yourselves! (2020)
Interview with the Four Good Days director, Rodrigo García
The Snowpiercer TV series panel
The Night House audio recap