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.)
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.)
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