The 2023 Sundance Film Festival completed its fourth day of in-person and virtual programming yesterday, January 22nd. And boy was it a great day for me! I headed to downtown Park City, UT to experience a day full of life, ambitious filmmaking, and exhilarating storytelling. Additionally, one film in particular had me questioning my beliefs in religion and the universe. Talk about an existential dilemma!
Through scrutinization of themes related to anxiety, worthiness, and even exploring the beast within, Day 4 was certainly worth celebrating. Here’s a recap of some emotionally gripping, fun, and triumphant films from my 2023 Sundance Film Festival watchlist!
1. Eileen | Director: William Oldroyd
Sundance Synopsis: Based on the book of the same name by literary powerhouse Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen follows a peculiar young woman whose dreary life stretches on toward unending misery. In frigid 1960s Boston, Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie) shuffles between her father’s dingy, emotionally haunted home and the prison where she works alongside colleagues who have ostracized her. When an intoxicating woman (Anne Hathaway) joins the prison staff, Eileen is taken. Just when the possibility of a salvational friendship (or maybe more) takes hold and forms a singular glimmer in Eileen’s darkness, her newfound confidant entangles her in a shocking crime that alters all.
Review: Director William Oldroyd’s story about coming alive when a special person enters your life feels deeply personal and devastatingly sweet. Backed by extraordinary performances from Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway, Eileen is deceptively thrilling. It also contains one of the most shocking twists in recent memory. And it will surely send audiences into a frenzy. While it doesn’t nail the ending, the journey there is stupendous work from the cast and crew. No matter how people feel about it, this film will definitely keep viewers talking. Full review will be posted soon!
2. Infinity Pool | Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Sundance Synopsis: James and Em Foster take off to an all-inclusive beach getaway in the fictional state of Li Tolqa to help jump-start his writer’s block. Their lazy days are spent relegated to their pricey resort, isolated from the surrounding land. Gabby introduces herself and her partner, Al, as she’s a fan of James’ last novel, and they would like to spend some time together with the Fosters. The couples plan a secret daytrip outside the compound that ends in a fatal accident with James to blame. For a hefty price, there are loopholes to aid foreign travelers convicted of crimes there, which is how James is first introduced to a perverse subculture of hedonistic tourism.
Review: I can’t recall in recent memory a film that annoyed me tremendously. But I was surprised to learn that Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool was the one to do it at the 2023 Sundance film festival. Full of torture porn and exotic and sultry scenery that never amount to much, Cronenberg’s latest feels like an experiment that never made it past the drawing board. The film will also make you want to scream “WTF” multiple times. However, if there’s anything to look forward to, it’s the performances. Specifically, the incomparable Mia Goth, Alexander Skarsgard, and Jalil Lespert are standouts. This will certainly divide audiences, but there’s no denying the creativity. I’m sure everyone can find at least one thing to like about it.
3. Young.Wild.Free | Director: Thembi L. Banks
Sundance Synopsis: Being a teenager is rough, and Brandon (Algee Smith, 2017 African-American Film Critics Association Best Ensemble Cast winner for Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit) is no different. Between struggling in school, caring for his two younger siblings, and having just been let go from his job, Brandon often uses his art as an escape from the confines of his subdued day-to-day life. Enter Cassidy (Sierra Capri, On My Block), a bedazzled bad girl dripping in confidence, freedom, and danger. Lured in by her whimsy, Brandon teams up with Cassidy, seamlessly slipping into the role of Clyde to her Bonnie as they make their way down an increasingly perilous path.
Review: There’s always a feature at the Sundance Film Festival that shocks me to my core. That film is first time feature director Thembi L. Banks’s Young.Wild.Free. This year’s festival theme seems to be centered on mental health. And I’m so glad that another film focuses these efforts on Black men. It’s funny yet heartbreaking. Additionally, it’s edge-of-your seat thrilling, which will lead you down a path of endearment–only to sucker punch you with devastation. Thanks to exceptional, star-stamping performances from Sanaa Lathan, Algee Smith, and Sierra Capri, expect an immersive experience that will keep you talking and begging to relive the mental chaos. Full review over at Screen Rant soon!
4. Animalia | Director: Sofia Alaoui
Sundance Synopsis: Heavily pregnant Itto looks forward to a day of peace and quiet when she gets her affluent household mostly to herself after her husband, Amine, goes away on business. She’s quickly lost sight of her modest origins and has adapted to her new family’s detached opulence. But when a mysterious state of emergency is declared nationwide, Itto struggles to find help; meanwhile, increasingly ominous events and strange weather phenomena suggest a supernatural presence is nearing. While frantically searching for a way back to Amine, Itto unexpectedly finds emancipation and the possibility of solace in a new world order.
Review: “A triumphant story about opening your mind to other beliefs and experiences, Director Sofia Alaoui’s Animalia is a courageous dissection of religion, family, and the pursuit of a great life. This is the type of film to make you relinquish all doubt in the universe and come to appreciate life for what it is. While ambiguous in most moments, which leave more questions than answers, Animalia exceeds in tension building. And thanks to an outstanding performance from Oumaïma Barid, who is sincere at every given moment, viewers can expect an enticing experience that will have them questioning their own beliefs.” Full review at Screen Rant soon!