Films we’re excited to see from Sundance 2019

This years Sundance Film Festival brought a loaded programme filled with diverse stories from diverse filmmakers, with an impressive increasing percentage of women filmmakers screening their work at the festival. With a wide range of first-timers and old pros Sundance has once again cemented itself as a favourite in the festival calendar, and while not asked to specifically choose women or minority filmmakers, the majority of our Screen Queens’ festival picks reflect the increasing conversation surrounding film diversity.

Monsters dir. Abe Forsythe

‘Little Monsters’, Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The Sundance debut of Australian director Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters has been welcomed by a wave of favourable critique. Praising the indie for its heart and humour, as well as its violence and utter vulgarity, this newest horror comedy vehicle features standout performances from Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o and Disney poster child Josh Gad, in their unlikely turns in a gory, crass zombie film. The plot follows a failed musician named Dave (Alexander England) as he teams up with a children’s television show host (Gad) and a kindergarten teacher (Nyong’o) to save her students from a zombie outbreak.

One of the most exciting things about this movie is not only the promise of a new genuinely good zombie horror comedy, to follow in the hallowed footsteps of Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead, but of a year where Nyong’o is already anticipated in a second horror film as well; Jordan Peele’s much-fanfared Us. Plus, as someone who finds Josh Gad’s film roles to be particularly insufferable, the thought of him apparently chugging rubbing alcohol and being an absolute lunatic in this movie sends a wave of euphoria through my body. –Brianna Zigler

Honey Boy dir. Alma Har’el

‘Honey Boy’, Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Honey Boy is the semi-autobiographical film written by former child star Shia LaBoeuf, which focuses on the fractured relationship between a child star and his reckless father. It stars LaBoeuf as his father and also has turns from ubiquitous rising star Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place) as younger iterations of LaBoeuf. The themes explored in this film also hold relevance outside of the personal story as it critiques notions of toxic masculinity in our society and also explores the effects of addiction within a familial context.  

The most interesting aspect of this film is its cathartic element. LaBoeuf wrote the screenplay for this film whilst in rehab and there is no doubt that he has drawn from the deepest and darkest corners of his life as part of his recovery. There is a bravery and a raw vulnerability in exploring the most difficult memories of your life on screen and especially in taking part in re-enacting them. LaBoeuf’s turn as his father is bound to be fascinating as he balances his childhood view of his father with how he views him as an adult. There have been many reviews for the film that touch on the abusive and complex nature of their relationship and it will be interesting to see how LaBoeuf reconstructs his memories of his father’s behaviour.

Overall, the film promises to be a nuanced, complex depiction of a man’s relationship with his father and how it has, and continues, affect him throughout his life. Early reviews of the film have praised the talents of LaBoeuf, Jupe and Hedges and it will be exciting to see how these unique performances bring together one character. -Aleena Augustine

Paradise Hills dir. Alice Waddington

‘Paradise Hills’, Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Emma Roberts stars in this candy-coloured dystopian thriller from first-time director Alice Waddington. Set in a world where there is a class divide of “Uppers” and “Lowers”, Roberts plays Uma, an Upper who rebels against an arranged marriage. She’s sent to the island retreat of Paradise Hills, where unruly female Uppers are reformed into “docile, demure women.” Milla Jovovich plays the Duchess, who enforces the rules of the island, which calls itself a centre for emotional healing. However, Uma and her new friends, played by rapper Awkwafina and Baby Driver’s Eiza González, soon discover something more sinister hides within the school’s walls. Called the “most bonkers” movie of Sundance 2019 by Vulture, I can’t wait to see what absurd place Waddington takes us to, and those drop-dead gorgeous costumes are a huge bonus. – Millicent Thomas

Blinded By The Light dir. Gurinder Chadha

‘Blinded by the Light’, Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Gurinder Chadha, director of Bend it Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice, helms what is not only my most anticipated film from Sundance, but possibly of the entire year. Blinded by the Light is based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir Greetings from Bury Park about his adolescence grappling with his Pakistani identity after emigrating to Britain and his transformative discovery of Bruce Springsteen’s music. With a record number of seventeen Springsteen songs on the soundtrack, reviews report that Blinded by the Light has a strong Bollywood influence in its musical-like numbers. Variety says Chadha’s film spiritually evokes Moulin Rouge! and Almost Famous which means I have died and gone to cinema heaven! Other reviews have expressed that it is one of the most feel-good films to come out of the festival, a pure effusion of unadulterated joy. As a GIANT Springsteen fan, I cannot express my excitement for Blinded by the Light enough. It seems like a dream come true for anyone who has ever been so utterly transfixed by Springsteen’s magical music. Blinded by the Light is a valentine to not only Bruce Springsteen, but to music’s universality and power to transcend race, religion, and gender—emphasised by the fact that the film is directed by a woman! It is my great hope that those who are not Springsteen fans see Blinded by the Light and realise why he is such a magnificent, life-affirming artist. – Caroline Madden

Fighting with my Family dir. Stephen Merchant

‘Fighting with my Family’, Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The new film from Stephen Merchant and Dwayne Johnson, adapted from the Channel 4 documentary of the same name, chronicles the journey of Saraya-Jade Bevis, the heir to a family of wrestlers from Norwich, into the WWE superstar Paige. Merchant’s second feature film as director had its world premiere at Sundance with good reviews and 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m personally very excited for this film as I completed work experience on the film whilst it was shooting in London in 2017. I wasn’t there for long but it was the first time I got to see how a feature film of that scale was made. As with any film you work on, it is always exciting to see the final product, no matter how big or small your contribution.

It is also welcoming to see a film about a sportswoman who broke boundaries as the first British woman to wrestle for WWE, as well as the youngest to hold the Divas Championship title. The film is about a young woman’s journey to achieve her dreams, and she succeeds. Mainstream films are often criticised for optimism and hope but, given the cultural climate, a film like this welcome. It is not about the fantasy of wrestling but a very real person’s life and dreams. Whether you personally like wrestling or not, it will be a refreshing change and I, personally cannot wait. –Mia Garfield

The Farewell dir. Lulu Wang

‘The Farewell’, Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Writer and director Lulu Wang tells a story rooted in personal experience in her second feature The Farewell: Billi, a Chinese-American woman, returns to China to say goodbye to her grandmother who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Except there’s one catch: the whole family has decided to keep the grandmother in the dark about her own illness. They hurriedly stage a wedding celebration, determined to keep the secret and have an excuse to gather all the relatives together. Rapper-comedian Awkwafina, in her first leading role, stars as Billi, and seems poised to show even more depths of her talent. The story’s premise is insanely compelling– and what’s even crazier is that it is based on Wang’s own life; she told her story about when her own grandmother was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and given three months to live in an episode of This American Life. Vanity Fair has called the film a “lovingly mounted movie” with “beautiful, affecting honesty,” and A24 is reportedly closing a deal to acquire the film. The Farewell promises to be a reflection on identity, family, and grief, and it feels like only a matter of time before everyone is talking about it. –Katie Duggan

The Lodge dir. Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz

‘The Lodge’, Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Back in 2014, Austrian filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala released Goodnight Mommy, a twisted and suspenseful take on nature vs. nurture set within a slick modern cabin in the mountains. They headed to Sundance this year with their English language debut, also set in a cabin, The Lodge. Starring Riley Keough fresh off getting her boob cut off in The House That Jack Built, she returns to genre film in this story about a woman tormented by her fiancee’s children as she grapples with her religious upbringing. Collider have compared the film’s lurking threat to that of The Shining and the cinematography by Yorgos Lanthimos’ frequent collaborator Thimios Bakatakis is said to be a ‘canvas of gloom and shadow‘. As European breakout stars of genre cinema the directing pair are sure to bring an element of class and finesse to the genre that is swaddled by unoriginality and convention. –Chloe Leeson

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