Contrary to popular belief, January can be an exciting time for horror fans for one big reason—the Sundance Film Festival, one of the industry’s major film festivals. Every January, Sundance bestows upon us weird, frightening, and bizarrely amazing horror movies.
Come tomorrow, Sundance will kick off premieres and screenings of buzzworthy movies. While Sundance doesn’t specialize in horror movies (sadly), the festival is committed to providing a platform for intriguing and promising films, many of which are horror. Films like The Blair Witch Project, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, The Descent, and the Witch.
Horror has always had a place at the high-brow-film table, and Sundance has a proven record for bringing fresh horror to hungry audiences.
Last June, I wrote about the horror movie lineup at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, where films like Green Room premiered in 2015 and Raw and The Neon Demon premiered in 2016. I decided to do a similar post for the horror lineup at Sundance, especially with films like XX, Killing Ground, and Bitch scheduled for screenings. Here you’ll find a list of the horror films at Sundance, as well as the “segment” in which they will be showcased.
Who knows? Maybe one of these films will become the Next Big Horror Movie, i.e. that movie people either love or love to hate, like It Follows, The Witch, or The Babadook.
I’ll update the post with reviews as they are published! Enjoy!
The Spotlight segment is Sundance’s category for showcasing films that have already premiered at other festivals. So while Sundance doesn’t get to premier these films, the festival is still an important stop of the film festival circuit.
“Horror master Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes) returns to the Sundance Film Festival with another mind-bending genre film that was an audience favorite at the Toronto International Film Festival and Fantastic Fest.
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is a hard partying New York scene girl who is thrust into crisis when her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), grows sick of her antics and kicks her out of their apartment. With no other options, she moves back to her hometown and quickly regresses, drinking every night until last call and accepting a job at a bar owned by her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). One day she wakes up and blurrily finds out that Seoul was terrorized by a giant creature the night before. Eventually, Gloria begins to suspect her own drunken actions are bizarrely connected to the monster rampaging in South Korea.”
“An electrifying film that took Cannes by storm upon its premiere in the Critics’ Week section this past May, Julia Ducournau’s wild, primal, flesh-eating marvel, Raw, boldly introduces a major new French talent to the world stage.
Brilliant, shy 16-year-old Justine heads to the same veterinary college her parents attended, and where her older sister, Alexia, is also a student. Along with the other newbies, Justine is subjected to a series of bizarre initiations, including a hazing ritual that forces her to eat a raw rabbit liver. Although she’s a committed vegetarian, Justine is desperate to fit in and ultimately caves to the peer pressure. Afterward, she grows a voracious appetite for meat, which starts branching out to other forms of flesh. At the same time, the young virgin’s new carnivorous tendency coincides with a burgeoning sexual desire.
A grisly, viscerally charged experience, Raw is art-house horror of the highest order. A darkly funny coming-of-age story at its bloody heart, it unpeels the complex layers of the sisters’ not-always-nurturing bond as it hurtles toward a climactic, bloody showdown.”
“Midnight” is Sundance’s way of lifting up indie genre films that might otherwise be overlooked. According to their website, Midnight is for “horror flicks to bizarre comedies to works that defy any game.” These films are usually well-crafted and insightful, but are a little offbeat. Maybe really offbeat.
“Gather round if you dare for four murderous tales of supernatural frights, predatory thrills, profound anxiety, and Gothic decay in the first all-female-driven horror anthology film. Audacious new works from some of the genre’s most promising voices—Annie Clark (better known to fans as St. Vincent), Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Girlfight), Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound), and Jovanka Vuckovic (former editor of Rue Morgue magazine)—bring forth a study in the proper unspooling of dread for your viewing pleasure.
Framed around innovative animator Sofia Carrillo’s haunting tableaus, these modern myths range from Vuckovic’s reverent control of grotesque elegance to Clark’s deliciously macabre sense of comic timing, Benjamin’s skillful powers of tonal transformation, and Kusama’s authorial grasp of simmering psychological fear. Vigorously challenging a stagnant status quo within the industry, this collection of tightly coiled short films by some of horror’s most influential women offers a refreshing jolt to the senses.”
“When young couple Sam and Ian escape the confines of urban living for a weekend getaway at a remote campsite, they arrive to find a neighboring tent set up with its inhabitants nowhere in sight. As day turns to night and then to day again, the young couple becomes increasingly concerned about the whereabouts of their unknown fellow campers. When they discover a toddler wandering alone on the campground, things go from bad to worse, thrusting them into a harrowing fight for survival in a place miles from civilization, where no one can hear them scream.
Teeming with dread and unnerving tension, the debut feature of writer/director Damien Power draws heavy inspiration from Michael Haneke’s Funny Games and Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, utilizing the film’s sparse locations to considerable effect. As jagged pieces of the puzzle are carefully revealed one by one, Killing Ground evolves into a brutally violent thriller that will force you to think twice the next time you dare venture beyond the city’s bright lights”
An exclusive trailer was released today! Check it out here.
“Jill, a lonely, distraught housewife with four unruly children, paces on her dining room table with a belt around her neck, contemplating a desperate end to her wretchedness. Her husband, Bill, focused on his identity as breadwinner and an affair with a lusty co-worker, is as oblivious to Jill’s growing terror that she will do something destructive as he is to the panic at his unraveling company. Meanwhile, dogs bark and howl through the night, as one persistent mutt continually stalks the family’s yard. When Jill’s psyche finally breaks, she takes on a vicious new canine persona.
Marianna Palka (returning to the Festival after 2008’s Good Dick) writes, directs, and stars in this provocative film. She balances a whip-smart, deeply unsettling take on the horrors of a crumbling nuclear family with a palpable sensitivity for her character’s plight and perfectly timed comedic flourishes. Jason Ritter delivers a beautifully tragicomic performance as Bill, who’s transformed by bizarre crisis from an indifferent hound of a man entirely untethered from his family to their unexpected emotional anchor.”
“On the way to Grandma’s house with a new boyfriend in tow, Lucy (Brittany Snow) steps off the subway into an utter bloodbath on the streets of Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. Texas is attempting to secede from the Union, and militia forces have descended upon New York City to claim it as an East Coast base of operations and negotiation tool. Faced with a flurry of whizzing bullets and total destruction around every corner, Lucy takes shelter in the basement of Stupe (Dave Bautista), a burly war veteran who reluctantly helps her traverse the treacherous five-block stretch of Bushwick to reach her destination—assuming it’s still there.
Directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott return to Midnight with this intense and frenetic follow-up to their comedy/horror debut Cooties (2014 Sundance Film Festival). Bolstered by an immersive score from indie hip-hop mainstay Aesop Rock, Bushwick is an exhilarating thrill ride that is not to be missed.”
(This film is technically a documentary, but what serious horror fan wouldn’t want to see this?)
“In 78 setups and 52 cuts, the deliriously choreographed two-minute shower sequence in Psychoripped apart cinema’s definition of horror. With a shocking combination of exploitation and high art, Alfred Hitchcock upended his own acclaimed narrative structure by violently killing off a heroine a third of the way through his film, without explanation, justification, or higher purpose. Psycho played out like a horrific prank, forcing audiences to recognize that even the most banal domestic spaces were now fair game for unspeakable mayhem.
With black-and-white film-geek reverence, director Alexandre O. Philippe breaks down this most notorious and essential scene shot for shot, enlisting the help of film buffs and filmmakers alike—including Guillermo del Toro, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Eli Roth, and Peter Bogdanovich. 78/52 examines Janet Leigh’s terrified facial expressions and the blink-and-you-miss-it camera work, not just within the context of the film but also with an eye toward America’s changing social mores—revealing how one bloody, chaotic on-screen death killed off chaste cinema and eerily predicted a decade of unprecedented violence and upheaval.”
World Cinema Dramatic Competition
According to Sundance’s website, the World Dramatic segment is for “Films from emerging filmmaking talents around the world,” and offers “fresh perspectives and inventive styles.”
“Australian tourist Clare (Teresa Palmer) travels to Berlin to photograph East German architecture and meets Andi (Max Riemelt), a handsome but brooding schoolteacher. After a brief erotic fling, Clare tries to leave, but Andi isn’t ready to let go. She soon finds herself held prisoner in his locked apartment, cut off from the outside world. As her ordeal unfolds, Clare cycles between reasoning with her captor, surrendering to his obsessions, and plotting her escape.
Acclaimed Australian director Cate Shortland’s (Lore and Somersault) potent thriller unfolds with a slow-burn intensity as Clare’s growing dread becomes your own. Adapted by Shaun Grant (The Snowtown Murders) from Melanie Joosten’s 2011 novel, Berlin Syndrome is psychologically acute and uncommonly observant to the shifting power dynamics between captor and prisoner. Palmer’s empathetic and courageous performance keeps us rooting for Clare, while Riemelt brings terrifying depth to the disturbed Andi.”
Next presents “pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling. Digital tech paired with unfettered creativity promises they will shape a ‘greater’ next wave in American cinema.”
A Ghost Story
“Lauded filmmaker David Lowery, last at the Festival with the lyrical Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013), reunites with his collaborators for a haunted tale like no other—one conceived in secret and fueled by the spirit of pure, creative expression.
Lowery’s meticulously sparse narrative contemplates a spectral figure who was once a man (Casey Affleck). Prematurely taken from this Earth, he makes his way toward his former home, where he is fated to remain forevermore. Shrouded in a white sheet, he observes the lament of his grief-stricken lover (Rooney Mara). Bearing unseen witness to her pain, the wisp stands sentry for years to come, interacting only with time as it hurtles further and further forward, the remnants of his humanity quietly evaporating.
Making full use of his singular abilities as a visual storyteller and finely tuned craftsman, Lowery boldly returns with an enriching experiment in micro-cinema that gorgeously defies categorization.”
“Emotionally challenged Amanda and contemptuous Lily reboot their childhood friendship after years of instability and judgment, thrown back together by standardized-test tutoring. When Lily’s icy stepdad, Mark, conspires to ship her off to reform school instead of her dream college, Amanda’s nonchalant quips about killing him suddenly seem enticing. Even as Amanda’s sinister tendencies surface and the girls hatch a plan, the mutual manipulation that has always defined their relationship threatens to derail their ambitions.
First-time director Cory Finley’s impressively stylish and assured filmmaking evokes a high-class world that is simultaneously familiar and strange, dripping with acidic dark wit and a disquietingly eerie score. Finley nurtures and coaxes astounding chemistry out of his talented cast, from the capricious friendship that binds Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, 2015) and Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, 2015), to the unruly vulnerability of Anton Yelchin as their unlikely co-conspirator. Firmly staking his claim as a filmmaker to watch, Finley comfortably basks in the quiet chaos of his characters and leaves behind a beautiful and orderly trail of destruction.”
“After status-obsessed teen Sara loses her virginity, she wakes up nine months pregnant—with an alien. The only person she can trust, without ruining her newfound popularity, is her nerdy ex-best friend, Hayley. Once the snatcher emerges, carnage ensues, forcing the duo to enlist the help of a conspiracy theory–obsessed alpaca farmer to put an end to it before all hell breaks loose. The Festival will premiere eight short form episodes of this otherworldly horror-comedy series.”
“When the assault of a coal miner’s daughter turns the local mine into a crime scene, the inhabitants of Black Rock are baffled to learn that the only word uttered by the victim after the attack was “pineapple.” Tensions rise as the mine’s opportunistic owner uses the investigation as an excuse to shutter the dying operation indefinitely. Faced with solving the town’s now-dreadful economic future, the sheriff dedicates himself to the mystery surrounding who, or what, pineapple is. The Festival will premiere three short form episodes of this uniquely cinematic drama series.”
Dawn of the Deaf
“When a strange sound wipes out the hearing population, a small group of deaf people must band together to survive.”
INDEPENDENT PILOT SHOWCASE
When the Street Lights Go On
“In the summer heat of 1983, a string of unusual occurrences in a small Illinois town culminate with the shocking murders of a popular high school girl and her teacher. When a fellow student, and neighbor, discovers the bodies while riding his bike home one night, the quiet suburban lives of the town’s residents are irrevocably shaken.”
If you get to see any of these, leave your comments!