Welcome back to Sundance, everyone! This year’s lineup has a lot of potentially fun titles, and I’m hoping to give you all a heads up on what’s worth putting on your list! First up: a documentary about a movie collection, two films about scary kids, and a drama about power dynamics being upended!
Kim’s Video (dir. David Redmon & Ashley Sabin)
What was Kim’s Video? Where did it go? Where is it now? Do these tapes even hold up well after international travel and years of disuse? All these questions and more are answered in this fun but very inside-baseball heist documentary. Knowledge of the NYC underground film scene is not required, but perhaps encouraged. Naturally, Alex Ross Perry appears as a talking head. I never love documentaries about how great a thing was (the recent WBCN film comes to mind), but here the director puts himself on the line and has to deal with some ridiculous Italians who are holding this enormous film collection. Though I understand this is how the story goes, I couldn’t help but be disappointed when the film ends in the basement of Alamo Drafthouse, with Tim League and his annoying tattoos in tow. Otherwise, a fun attempt at turning a small, weird story into a film of its own. (C+)
Birth/Rebirth (dir. Laura Moss)
A grieving mother (Judy Reyes) teams up with a creative morgue technician (Marin Ireland) in an attempt to do the unthinkable. Laura Moss has been on my radar since her 2017 short Fry Day, so I’m thrilled that her debut feature is just as upsetting and well-crafted. Not only do we get some sickening gore and a Frankenstein pig, but Birth/Rebirth is also hilarious. Our leads end up having petty domestic squabbles even when their plans become unspeakably dark. Reyes brings an intensity that serves the film well, but Ireland is just incredible in her social ineptitude and matter-of-factness. I was happy to see the Shudder logo at the beginning, as they will know exactly how to get this film to the right horror freaks. (B)
Run Rabbit Run (dir. Daina Reid)
It’s a classic horror scenario: what happens when you’re a single parent and your kid starts being weird? Succession’s Sarah Snook is our single parent this time around, dealing with her seven-year-old daughter (Lily LaTorre) who suddenly claims to be someone long dead and wears a creepy paper rabbit mask at all times. The Australian film does not reach the heights of other grief horror entries such as The Babadook, but there’s plenty of fun moments and spooky imagery. Plus, Snook is not playing a normal woman totally afraid of what’s happening to her daughter – she’s cranky, pissed off, and ready to snap and be weird. Shout out to the scariest part of the film – Damon Herriman acting like a normal human being wearing a polo shirt. (C+)
Fair Play (dir. Chloe Domont)
Like HBO’s Industry if it focused on one insecure couple, Domont’s feature is a confident, tense debut with an interesting take on gender dynamics in the high powered finance world. While I don’t think it is entirely successful and has a few repetitive beats, Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenrich both give strong performances. We don’t have a lot of 30-something actors who are actually compelling on screen, so it’s nice to have Alden back after Solo, for which he is innocent. Dynevor surprised me, finding the cutthroat core of this role without being too cliche and steely. The film even gets to be sexy, though it never tips into the erotic thriller mold we might crave. Bonus points for a small supporting role for Eddie Marsan! (B-)
MAMACRUZ (dir. Patricia Ortega)
What if the statue of Jesus at your church started making eyes at you? MAMACRUZ is a lovely story about an abuela rediscovering her spark with a fabulous performance from Kiti Mánver. Cruz’s desires are never played for laughs, though there are many to be had, especially when she makes new friends at a sex therapy group. We are watching a mature woman take control of her life, no matter who it might rankle. Disaster need not fall upon this family to make a compelling film; Cruz’s newfound confidence fills the screen. (B+)
Stay tuned in the coming days for Kyle’s continuing coverage of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival!