By Anthony Breznican
Updated December 01, 2011 at 09:04 PM EST

Here’s where Sundance gets dangerous.

The midnight movies and the perennially protean category the festival calls NEXT always produces the most f’ed up horror movies, the weirdest comedies, and other things that are just plain inexplicable.

This year’s slate for the Jan. 19-29 festival includes bloodsucking, alcohol-hating aliens, murderous girlfriends, ghostly found-footage, and a comedy that literally* cost ONE BILLION DOLLARS to make. (*Not true.)

For stand-up fans, it also brings the debut film of storytelling comic Mike Birbiglia, who brings his story of late-night, unconscious wanderings to the big screen in Sleepwalk With Me. (That’s him in the photo, awakening after crashing through a hotel window while somnambulating.)

Festival director John Cooper and chief programmer Trevor Groth, who actually can’t sleep at night because of all the horrible things they’ve done in waking life, walk us through the movies:


Black Rock: Imagine The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants… if the pants never made it back from the traveling. Katie Aselton (who directs after making her feature debut at the festival two years ago with The Freebie) co-stars with Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth as three lifelong friends who go for a girls’ weekend on a remote island off the coast of Maine, only to find something there is stalking them. “It’s a thriller, though it starts out looking almost like a girl movie,” Cooper says. “Then it gets all Deliverance-y.” (Director: Aselton, Screenwriter: her real-life husband, Mark Duplass, who is also at the festival with the comedy Safety Not Guaranteed, announced in yesterday’s competition slate.)

Excision: From the official Sundance description: “A disturbed and delusional high school student with aspirations of a career in medicine goes to extremes to earn the approval of her controlling mother.” Goes to extremes? “It’s a crazy performance by AnnaLynne McCord,” Groth says. “She has these psychosexual fantasies you see on screen.” Such as… ? Somewhat hesitantly, Groth explains that she gets off watching bloody violence. John Waters co-stars as her psychiatrist/priest, though it’s hard to fathom why the pencil-mustachioed filmmaker would risk his reputation doing something so campy. “Yeah, yeah, crazy right?” Groth nods. (Cast: McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter, Roger Bart, Waters. Director and screenwriter:Richard Bates, Jr.)

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Grabbers: A quaint little fishing village finds itself under attack one rainy night by extra-terrestrial, blood-sucking sea fiends. “But the aliens are allergic and die from alcohol,” Groth explains. “To avoid getting eaten by these things… ” “They have to stay drunk for the whole night,” Cooper finishes. Where is this village located? Ireland. Luckily, the movie was made there too, so the makers of this comedy-horror yarn enjoy a “Stereotyping Allowed” card. (Cast: Coupling’s Richard Coyle, who looks disconcertingly like Andy Serkis in this photo, Ruth Bradley, Russell Tovey, Bronagh Gallagher. Director: Jon Wright. Screenwriter: Kevin Lehane.)

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

The Pact: After the devastating death of her mother, a young woman discovers an unsettling presence in her childhood home. “This is a more classic horror film, working on tension,” Groth says. “It’s not about gore or violence. It’s a ghost story, and really well done.” Not sure what to make out of this grainy, solarized image, but it does look kind of creepy. (Cast: Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien. Director and screenwriter: Nicholas McCarthy)

Shut Up and Play the Hits: A musical documentary about the band LCD Soundsystem and front man James Murphy as they play their final gig at Madison Square Garden. Though it was the end of the road for them, Groth says the movie will create new fans: “It will convert people over because their music is so infectious.” (Directors: Dylan Southern, Will Lovelace)

Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie: Watch Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network? Then you know what you’re in for. This big-screen spin off of the surreal comedy sketch program Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job features not just the eponymous Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, but also John C. Reilly, Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, and a host of other funny gentlemen who are richer and more famous than you will ever hope to be, peon. The premise, via Sundance’s blurb: “After two guys are given a billion dollars to make a movie, their Hollywood dreams run off course and they decide to rehabilitate a run-down shopping mall in an attempt to make the money back.” As Groth puts it: “It’s absolutely wild. Both Heidecker and Wareheim headline another Sundance movie, The Comedy — which, despite it’s title and stars, is not one.” (Directors and screenwriters: Tim and Eric — who else?)

V/H/S — When a group of guys are hired to burglarize an abandoned house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they discover a number of disturbing tapes. It’s the framework for a series of Paranormal Activity-like found-footage shorts, written and directed by Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and the directing quartet known as Radio Silence. “I give this all the credit in the world because conceptually it shouldn’t have worked for me,” says Groth, who has been programming the midnight movies at Sundance for a long time. “Personally, I’m bored by found-footage horror films, which this is. And omnibus attempts rarely work. But this one does. It’s terrifying, and very well executed.” (Stars: Joe Swanberg, Calvin Reeder, Adam Wingard, Sophia Takal, Kate Lyn Sheil.)

NEXT: Sleepwalk with Birbigs

Compliance: From Sundance: “When a prank caller convinces a fast food restaurant manager to interrogate an innocent young employee, no one is left unscathed. Based on true events.” (Cast: Ann Dowd, Pat Healy, Dreama Walker, Bill Camp, Philip Ettinger. Written and directed by Craig Zobel, who brought the music-industry con-artist drama Great World of Sound to the festival in 2007.)

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

I Am Not a Hipster: Okay, but the inflatable pink-dolphin chandelier says otherwise. “Set in the indie music and art scene, this is a character-driven story exploring themes of love, loss and what it means to be creative in the face of tragedy,” according to the synopsis. (Cast: Dominic Bogart, Alvaro Orlando, Brad William Henke, Tammy Minoff, Kandis Erickson, Lauren Coleman. Director and screenwriter: Destin Daniel Cretton)

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Kid-Thing: A little girl who lives without a real guardian wanders the woods, causes trouble, and shoplifts for survival. Then one day she finds a woman calling for help from a giant hole in the ground… This brief description of the young main character calls to mind the Dardenne brothers drama The Kid With a Bike, which played Cannes this year, but with the Zellner brothers you never know what to expect … (Cast: Sydney Aguirre, Susan Tyrrell, Nathan Zellner, David Zellner. Director and screenwriter: David Zellner, who brought the missing cat drama Goliath to Sundance in 2008)

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Mosquita y Mari: “A friendship between two 15-year-old Latinas becomes complex as they struggle to recognize the sexual undercurrent in their relationship,” according to the Sundance description. (Cast: Fenessa Pineda, Venecia Troncoso, Joaquín Garrido, Laura Patalano, Dulce Maria Solis. Director and screenwriter: Aurora Guerrero)

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

My Best Day: A receptionist in a small town finds her neatly ordered life in chaos after her estranged father calls one day requesting a repair for his refrigerator. Through a series of misadventures, as she tries to get close to him, all hell breaks lose and she discovers a sister addicted to gambling and a grade school-aged brother in trouble with bullies. (Cast: Rachel Style, Ashlie Atkinson, Raúl Castillo, Jo Armeniox, Robert Salerno, Harris Doran. Director and screenwriter: Erin Greenwell)

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Pursuit of Loneliness: “An elderly patient dies in a county hospital leaving no known next of kin. Over the next 24 hours, four central characters try to find a family member to contact regarding the death of this anonymous individual,” according to Sundance. (Cast: Joy Hille, Sandra Escalante, Sharon Munfus, Kirsi Toivanen, Natalie Fouron. Director and screenwriter: Laurence Thrush)

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Sleepwalk With Me: Mike Birbiglia stars and directs in this movie version of his stand-up storytelling routine, which includes tales of awkward love, coming-of-age much too old, and battling an embarrassing sleepwalking problem that sometimes sends him crashing through hotel windows. Birbiglia’s act has been excerpted on Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life, and the host of that show, Ira Glass, serves as one of the screenwriters. (Cast: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane, James Rebhorn, Cristin Milioti. Co-directors: Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish, Screenwriters: Mike Birbiglia, Ira Glass, Joe “Not THE Joey Bags” Birbiglia, Seth Barrish.)

That’s What She Said: “Armed with nothing but their addictions and lots of personal baggage, two best friends and a mysterious young interloper battle a series of misadventures on their quest for love in New York City,” says the Sundance blurb. (Cast: Anne Heche, Marcia DeBonis, Alia Shawkat. Director: Carrie Preston, Screenwriter: Kellie Overbey)

Twenty-Eight Hotel Rooms: “Seen only as fragments in the secret world of hotel rooms, a long-term affair becomes perhaps the most significant relationship of a couple’s lives,” again, quoting Sundance’s official guide. (Cast: Chris Messina, Marin Ireland. Director and screenwriter: Matt Ross)

On Twitter: @Breznican

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