The Sundance Film Festival begins Thursday, prompting thousands of film nerds from all over the world to flock to Park City, Utah to freeze their collective butts off in the pursuit of seeing some of the best new films from unsung talents, first-time filmmakers, and industry veterans alike. With more than 112 feature films being shown at the festival, it's easy to feel like you're reading a menu at the Cheesecake Factory, which is to say paralyzed with indecision. So if you're heading to this year's Sundance Film Festival, allow us to serve as your cinematic spirit guide with this selection of must-see films for fans of fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and all manner of genre movies.
Austrian filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (Goodnight Mommy) are following up their deeply disturbing horror movie about a pair of siblings and their mother with a deeply disturbing-looking horror movie about a pair of siblings and their stepmother. The Lodge will let you revisit the discomfort of traveling for the holidays in this chilling thriller about two siblings, Aidan and Mia (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh), who find themselves snowed in with Grace, the much younger woman (Riley Keough) that their recently separated father intends to marry. Although they resist Grace's attempts at bonding at first, their attitudes begin to change after they find themselves stuck together. However when strange phenomenon begin to trigger visceral, repressed memories from Grace's intensely religious upbringing, it seems like they all might be in for the weekend from hell. Whatever you do, just remember to call your mom after the screening.
The Sound of Silence
From burning sage to putting everything you own into piles to determine if they "spark joy," people are willing to go to incredible lengths to cleanse their living space of bad juju. So why not purify your home's soundscape, too, in order to lead a better, happier life? In The Sound of Silence, that's exactly what self-styled scientist Peter (Peter Saarsgaard) professes to do. Calling himself a "house tuner," Peter analyzes the acoustics of a home and examines the combination of sounds that it makes in order to determine what could be causing ailments like depression, anxiety, and exhaustion in those who dwell within it. In spite of how ridiculous it sounds, Peter's clients all report positive results. Well, almost all of them. When Peter is unable to get to the bottom of Ellen's (Rashida Jones) chronic lethargy, it sends him into an obsessive spiral looking for seemingly unknowable answers, which is exactly how I feel every time I use WebMD.
Being a chaperone on a field trip seems like a stressful job given all the variables and the innate mischeviousness of children who are let out of the classroom, but it would be infinitely more stressful if it coincided with the on-set of the zombie apocalypse. And that's precisely what happens when the newly single Dave (Alexander England) volunteers to chaperone his nephew's school trio under the auspices of impressing the beguiling teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong'o). What follows is the field trip from hell as Dave, Miss Caroline, an over-the-top children's TV entertainer named Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), and a gaggle of kindergartners must figure out a way to make it home in one piece.
I Am Mother
After mankind goes extinct, the last vestige of humanity survives in a highly fortified, technologically advanced bunker deep below the earth's surface. Within its reinforced walls, an artificial intelligence named Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne) is attempting to repopulate the earth with a new generation of humans born from test-tube embryos. Mother succeeds in raising a human "daughter" (Clara Rugaard) and all seems well until another survivor shows up, a woman covered in blood (Hillary Swank). Where did she come from? Was Mother lying about the downfall of mankind? Why is she wounded? Only time will tell in this unsettling, claustrophobic thriller.
Located on an isolated Mediterranean island, Paradise Hills is a high-end treatment facility for elite young women from all over the world come to continue their education and become the best version of themselves. Run by the mysterious Duchess (Milla Jovovich), students partake in vocal lessons, etiquette classes, gymnastics, restricted diets, and beauty treatments in order to erase all manner of perceived shortcomings. Transformation is guaranteed. But the school's newest student Uma (Emma Roberts), who wakes up alone there one day, soon learns that this is anything but paradise. She and her friends will have their hands full as they try to uncover the school's sinister secrets in director Alice Waddington's explosive directorial debut, which puts the often stringent and outdated societal expectations placed on young women under the microscope.
Memory: The Origins of Alien
Before there were chestbursters or Xenomorphs or the world's most stressful game of five finger fillet, there was Memory, a script written by author Dan O'Bannon in 1971. He never made it past page 29. But that script would keep one germinating and gestating within O'Bannon's mind until it became Ridley Scott's sci-fi masterpiece Alien. Now celebrated documentarian Alexandre O. Philippe (Doc of the Dead, 78/52) is plumbing the depths of how Alien came to be, exploring the creative union of O'Bannon, Scott, and H.R. Giger to examine how this inkling of an idea transformed into a film that would forever alter the course of science fiction. It's the ultimate testament to overthinking it, which means that it could not be more up my alley.
The Hole in the Ground
When Sarah and her plucky son Chris move to an isolated home in a small, rural town, they're hoping to find a fresh start and escape the reverberations of their difficult past. However, that sense of security is almost immediately shattered after an uncomfortable encounter with a new neighbor. To make things worse, Chris disappears into the forest one night and while searching for her son, Sarah discovers a massive sinkhole. Eventually, Chris returns, but he's acting different, demonstrating some disturbing new behaviors, which leads Sarah to wonder if the boy who came back is the same Chris that wandered into the forest in the first place. Honestly, this looks like it could be the successor to Hereditary as the reigning king of creepy Sundance fare.
What films are you most excited to see at this year's Sundance Film Festival? Let us know in the comments below!
Images: Sundance Institute