Now that the holidays are over and awards season is getting underway, there’s yet another monumental time of year for which to prepare: festival season! People who love movies (new and interesting movies, in particular) are gearing up for the huge chunk of the year dedicated to going to specific cities to see them. As usual, 2016 begins with snowy and frigid Park City, UT’s Sundance Film Festival, long the showcase for independent movies and ones that are hoping to get major distribution. This year’s festival runs from January 21-31, and, while all of the dramas, documentaries, and prestige films sound quite interesting, we here at the Nerdist choose to focus our attention on the weirder stuff – the genre movies!
Below is a preview of some but not all of the sci-fi, horror, action, or otherwise off-kilter fare patrons can find at Sundance this year, most of which falling into their Midnight section. And this stuff all looks super awesome. Here they are, in alphabetical order:
31 Dir. Rob Zombie
To me, the best thing about Rob Zombie as a filmmaker is that he doesn’t adhere to any rules because he doesn’t make a movie to satisfy any big audience, at least not since his Halloween movies. The Lords of Salem was a weird and surreal creepshow, but it looks like he’s returning to his grislier and more violent roots with 31, which follows a group of hippies in 1976 who fall victim to a psychobilly biker gang who love sadism and clown makeup. Gross. [Pictured above]
Antibirth Dir. Danny Perez
Natasha Lyonne and Chloë Sevigny star as a pair of pot-and-drug-fueled party people with no goals and no future beyond the haze. One morning, though, Lyonne’s character wakes up with a bizarre illness and terrifying psychosomatic visions. She tries to shake it off, but the presence of a stranger who tries to help her through her paranoia leads to the realization that something otherworldly is going on.
Photo credit: Sunshine Sachs
The Blackout Experiments Dir. Rich Fox
This narrative-driven documentary speaks to survivors of the so-called Blackout horror houses, those ones where you have to sign a waiver that says they can do anything they want to you in the darkest of rooms. Some people love these things; personally, you couldn’t pay me enough to have that experience, but that doesn’t mean I’m not super intrigued and worried enough to watch this film.
Photo credit: Ferocious Entertainment
Carnage Park Dir. Mickey Keating
Bank robberies going bad are a staple of genre movies, but this story of two would-be bandits (one shot and losing blood fast) and their seemingly helpless damsel of a hostage soon becomes the story of survival as they try to make a break from the cops in a heavily wooded area where a demented ex-military sniper resides, and does not like strangers in his forest. The fact that the whole thing takes place in 1978 makes it a nice throwback to grindhouse movies of the era.
Photo credit: CAA
Cemetery of Splendor Dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
You may not be able to pronounce the name of this Thai auteur but if you’ve seen his 2010 film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, you’re aware of Weerasethakul’s unique surrealist vision. This film is about a nurse in a military hospital who has to look after a ward full of comatose soldiers. She employs a medium to allow the families to communicate with their loved ones and it’s soon revealed, as the men lay attached to their green glowing life support, that they’re battling for an forgotten royal family in the magical unconscious world, owing to the clinic being built on an ancient grave site. Now you tell me this movie isn’t something you want to see.
Photo credit: Strand Releasing
Operation Avalanche Dir. Matt Johnson
A debut feature for Matt Johnson, this paranoid thriller is set in 1967 at both the peak of the Cold War and of NASA’s journey from the Earth to the Moon. Two CIA A/V experts pose as documentarians to get inside of NASA’s inner circle to expose a suspected Russian spy attempting to sabotage the Apollo mission. However, the two uncover a conspiracy far more shocking, and one that the White House is very keen not see the light of day. I’m almost positive I know what the twist of this movie will be but I’m excited to watch regardless.
Photo credit: Lionsgate
Outlaws and Angels Dir. JT Mollner
A tribute to European westerns of the ’60s and ’70s, Mollner’s feature debut sees a gang of ruthless outlaws holding up in the farmhouse of a humble family on the frontier. Naturally, tensions run high and the family’s two daughters aren’t quite what they seem as a night of cat-and-mouse games unfurl. I love me some westerns of the Euro variety, so this sounds right up my alley.
Photo credit: Burnt Pictures
Sleight Dir. JD Dillard
Bo is a handsome and brilliant high school student poised to head to any college he wants, but when he suddenly becomes the sole caretaker of his young sister, he leaves college behind and takes up performing sleight-of-hand street magic for money. When that doesn’t make ends meet, he is forced to use these skills to sell drugs for the local kingpin, but when Bo wants out, and the drug lord is unhappy about it, the magician will have to perform the greatest illusions of his life to protect himself and his family. This sounds super great.
Photo credit: CAA
Under the Shadow Dir. Babak Anvari
This sounds like it could easily be the Iranian Babadook in a great way. The film is set in 1988 in Tehran amid the strife and danger of the Iraq/Iran war. A mother, who is constantly being under-served by the society who chides her independence, has to protect her child from the horrors of war, but also from what may be a djinn, a malevolent spirit which is attempting to possess the young girl. I really hope this gets distribution at the festival because it sounds awesome.
Photo credit: Wigwam Films
Yoga Hosers Dir. Kevin Smith
It’s been over 20 years since Smith’s first film, Clerks, played at Sundance and drew the attention of Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein. In the ensuing decade, Smith’s career has kept returning to Sundance, and now he brings his twelfth feature to the festival, the second in his Canada trilogy. This one focuses on Colleen and Colleen (played by Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn Smith and Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose Depp), two 15-and-a-half-year-olds who work at a boring convenience store (hmm) and do everything together, including yoga. They get invited to a party thrown by the senior boys but it turns out there’s an evil lurking behind the corners that might threaten Canada’s peaceful way of life. You do you, Mr. Smith.
Photo credit: StarStream Media
These are the films that sound the most interesting to us, but there are dozens more to see at Sundance this year. For a full list of films, more information on the ones above, and screening times and locations, please visit Sundance’s website.
Featured Image: Alchemy
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor as well as a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Talk movies and stuff with him on Twitter!