Friday, February 5

Sundance Film Festival 2021 Reviews

2021 Sundance Film Festival Review

By: Monte Yazzie


The largest independent film festival in the United States, the Sundance Film Festival, wrapped its new and innovative virtual program this week. The event, which typically takes place in Park City, Utah, transitioned its program to a virtual platform, offering festival-goers the opportunity to enjoy some of the best independent cinema from America and around the world from the comfort of their living room. 


This year's festival's big winner was Siân Heder's CODA, taking home the coveted Grand Jury Prize, the Directing Award, U.S. Dramatic Audience Award, and a Special Jury Prize for Best Ensemble. The film is a dramatic comedy about a 17-year-old girl named Ruby, played by Emilia Jones, the only hearing child in a deaf family. Emilia, the communication translator for her family, is torn between pursuing her dream of making music and staying to help her family.


Similarly, in the World Cinematic Dramatic category, Blerta Basholli's Hive swept in numerous types winning the Grand Jury Prize, the Directing Award, and the Audience Award in the World Cinema Dramatic category. The film follows a single mother in the aftermath of the war in Kosovo, trying to survive in a patriarchal society that doesn't support her efforts.


Perhaps the best part of this year's festival was the convenience of watching these movies, most of which were World Premier viewings, from the comfort of your home. I wouldn't want this format to be the new way to film festival. Part of the joy of going to a festival is discovering new movies and the camaraderie of watching these indies with cinephiles of every variety. Still, this year and for the sake of safety, this was a great way to experience one of the most iconic film festivals in the world.  


Here are five films I watched at Sundance 2021.



Dir: Prano Bailey-Bond


A "video nasty" was a term used in the U.K. in the early 1980s that described films, mostly low-budget horror slashers, that had excessive amounts of violence and gore. These films received criticism by family and religious groups and prosecution for distributors who would sell and trade these films. Censor, directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, focuses the story on a film censor named Enid, a committed performance from Niamh Algar, who is trying to solve the mystery of her sister's disappearance. Enid slowly loses grasp of the line between reality and fiction. Censor is a confident debut for director Prano Bailey-Bond, a heartfelt homage to the horror films of the 1980s.


Wild Indian

Dir: Lyle Mitchell Corbin Jr.


The lives of two Native American boys have been torn apart after the murder of a schoolmate. As adults, they must confront the past trauma and deal with a secret they thought was buried. Writer/director Lyle Mitchell Corbin Jr. composes a fascinating character study that brings about themes of historical trauma, reservation life, and the lingering effects of violence. Wild Indian does a great job of playing against type, specifically for Native American characters who are often one-dimensional compositions in crime dramas. Actor Michael Greyeyes gives a threatening and conflicted performance that provides the film with a beautiful foundation to build emotions. Wild Indian is a refreshing and intriguing film featuring Native American artists in front and behind the camera. You don't hear too often, but this film demonstrates that perspective and culture are essential storytelling pieces. 



Coming Home in the Dark

Dir: James Ashcroft


Coming Home in the Dark doesn't waste time letting you know the kind of journey you are taking. In the film's beginning moments, a shocking event occurs, placing a family on vacation in the middle of a bleak and nightmarish scenario. Director James Ashcroft confidently builds tension and atmosphere throughout, constructing a frightening landscape on lonely backroads and within the haze of the night. Daniel Gillies, an actor most known for playing the same role on The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, provides a startling and menacing presence as tormentor of the family. Coming Home in the Dark is a horror of the purest kind, one that is unrelenting, inescapable, and bleak.


In the Earth

Dir: Ben Wheatley


Myth and science mix with creative storytelling in writer/director Ben Wheatley's film In the Earth. Wheatley, known for his immersive and assaulting engagement of the senses, builds a claustrophobic yet open-air world set in the middle of a pandemic stricken society. The story centers on a research hub deep in the forest that a doctor and park scout are trying to reach. After a nighttime attack, they find assistance with a man living off the grid, but intentions are not what they seem. Wheatley's film impressively suffocates the atmosphere of the vast forest, making it seem inescapable. Add the human element of those guided by science and those persuaded by myth and In the Earth embodies the many conflicted emotions people have experienced while watching the entire world make sense of a pandemic. 


Prisoners of the Ghostland

Dir: Sion Sono


Director Sion Sono's films have been called genius, crazy, extravagant, exploitive, and audacious. And these descriptions were explained before the great Nicolas Cage came to bless his presence on Sono's new film Prisoners of the Ghostland. The premise concerns a notorious criminal tasked with saving a girl missing in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Oh, and he has to do this before the leather suit he is wearing explodes. Offering a few Nicolas Cage outbursts that will have you smiling with pure glee, Sono's film is a mess of wild images and bonkers storytelling. It might be everything you are looking to watch.

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