Now that Sundance 2022 has come to a close, I want to share with you my thoughts on the films I saw. In this first article, I’ll cover the horror and thriller features I got to watch, a few quick thoughts on each, as well as whether I recommend checking them out upon a wider release.
Hatching AKA Pahanhautoja, directed by Hanna Bergholm
One of two fantasy horror films I saw at the festival—the other being You Won’t Be Alone—Hatching features some gnarly body horror and remarkable visual effects. Newcomer Siiri Solalinna is impressive in her dual roles in the film, and if she continues to improve as she works, she’ll be a young actress to look for. The movie does seem have some conflicting ideas on what its themes are, and seems to work better in visual storytelling rather than the onscreen events at times. Hatching also has issues with relatable and empathetic characters. Two of them, the mother and brother of the protagonist, are both self-absorbed and loathsome, taking any frustration they can out on young Tinja, while a secondary character that was empathetic makes a face-heel turn and suddenly leaves the film entirely, creating an arc that ultimately just serves as lengthy setup for more gore. Lukewarm recommendation for fans of fantasy and body horror.
Master, directed by Mariama Diallo
While many of my fellow Millennials and Gen-Xers may think of her as Brenda from the Scary Movie parody franchise, Regina Hall is no one-trick pony. She was co-lead in two films I saw at this year’s Sundance, including this one. She shows a powerful, dramatic talent here as a newly appointed Master (basically a dean) at a prestigious New England campus. The film focuses on her trying to establish herself in her field, alongside Zoe Renee as an incoming freshman. Both must face the haunts of prejudice in this setting, be they seen or unseen, a thoughtless comment or a ghost, a hate crime or a prank gone wrong. The film settles on a heavy and haunting conclusion, reminding us that even in present day, there is no escape for people of color in America from the trauma of the past. Sometimes, the best one can do is try to persevere… Master also has some strong visual elements, in particular, several homages to the original Suspiria, which play up the elements of otherworldly mystery alongside the horror both past and present. Recommended, but it is not an easy watch. You may want a palate cleanser comedy at the ready afterwards. Hall’s other Sundance film, Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul, is recommended.
Watcher, directed Chloe Okuno
Alfred Hitchcock and his films are iconic for a reason. Even a quarter of a century later, they still connect with people through their relatable locations and effective use of dramatic performance and cinematography. It’s no surprise that they get remade time and time again. People want to see that magic onscreen again and as fresh as possible. I get it. So when I saw the synopsis of Chloe Okuno’s new film, Watcher, starring Maika Monroe and Burn Gorman, it seemed like a small-scale redux of Rear Window. And I was interested. Unfortunately, due to the heavy inspiration without enough new to say or show, Watcher feels predictable, although not enough to qualify it as a bad film. There are more than a few obvious signs of Covid-times filmmaking, likespacing between actors/characters, large portions of the film showing only Monroe’s protagonist alone in her apartment, and a seemingly empty yet fairly luxurious city center. It will be intriguing for future film historians to look back and observe the different approaches filmmakers took during this period, I imagine. Some directors may thrive under the restrictions while others may sink. This film, however, is one caught treading water. I’m hesitant to recommend.
You Won’t Be Alone, directed by Goran Stolevski
I feel that You Won’t Be Alone is going to be a very polarizing film. It’s a fantasy horror/drama reflecting upon what it means to be human through the eyes of a young shapeshifter. It’s accomplished in a style very similar to Terrence Malick’s, so the film is going to be to obtuse and slow paced for some. While I don’t entirely grasp what the thematic thesis is, I don’t regret the experience. The effects work has ups and downs, but when it works, it really works. If you are a fan of non-traditional narrative structure and don’t mind a blend of horror and drama together, You Won’t Be Alone would be a recommendation.
Piggy, directed by Carlotta Pereda
Probably the closest of my Sundance viewings to a classic slasher, Piggy is Spanish horror with a heavy anti-bullying focus. After a teenager with body image issues and a rough family life is nearly drowned by some bullies, her tormentors get kidnapped by a drifter in a van right in front of her. The rest of the film is a balancing act between the protagonist struggling to keep herself and her family safe by staying silent and trying to understand the drifter’s motives, a demented twinge of forbidden, twisted romance a la Natural Born Killers. There’s just enough here to secure a light recommendation, but for the first two acts, it may seem like something horror fans have seen before on late night TV.
Fresh, directed by Mimi Cave
My personal favorite and Sundance 2022 “Best of Fest” nomination is Mimi Cave’s film, Fresh. Similar to J-Horror classic Audition, Fresh spends about a third of its runtime as one genre of film—a sweet but occasionally raunchy romcom—and then takes a sudden pivot into full blown horror with a late title sequence transitioning us into the new feel seamlessly. In case it doesn’t show, I highly recommend this wonderfully dark and occasionally hilarious film. It makes for a perfect girl’s night equivalent to Get Out.
Resurrection, directed by Andrew Semans
Not to be confused with another film of the same name I’ve covered, Andrew Semans’ new film, Resurrection starring Rebecca Hall and Tim Roth, is a mindbender of a modern horror thriller. With Hall as the protagonist dealing with the fear and trauma of an abusive and manipulative ex (Roth) returning, the film delivers a creep factor and gaslighting to the max. I was left wondering what was real and what was manipulation, right up until one final mindf**k of an ending. If you’re a fan of horror thrillers like Panic Room and Possession, and stories featuring gaslighting and spouse abuse aren’t triggers, I would definitely recommend Resurrection.