Much Ado’s Most Anticipated Films of Sundance 2020

Just as quickly as film festival season ended, it is upon us again as critics descend on Salt Lake City, Utah for Sundance Film Festival. For 11 days they’ll see what new cinema directors have to offer and provide a glimpse at the year to come. Four members of Much Ado About Cinema (Dilara Elbir, Charlie Mangan, Adriana Gomez-Weston, and Brianna Zigler) are attending, and have more than a few films on their radar as must-watches. Here are a few they are most excited for while braving the cold of Utah.

Downhill, dir.  Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

I’m looking forward to seeing the Force Majeure remake because I love to hurt myself. -Brianna

Feels Good Man, dir. Arthur Jones

I think about the viral video of an Antifa member punching Richard Spencer in the face at least once a week. The surreal feeling of watching a Neo-Nazi point at the Pepe the Frog pin on his jacket and try to explain what exactly a meme is, only to get decked in the face and laughed at the internet forever onward, is something worth dissecting all on its own. But Pepe the Frog, in general, is an insane phenomenon. Hell, memes in general are something that have only just recently begun being studied and dissected through a sociological lens. Memes are a direct example of symbolic interactionism. They are a method of communication used to spread “relatable content” and thus are indicative of the ideology of the people who share them. Feels Good Man follows Matt Furie, the creator of the ever-famous Pepe the Frog as he explores how and why the ever-elusive frog was co-opted by alt-right white supremacists (read: Nazis) and attempts to reclaim him. I am brimming with excitement to finally see a film take on the impressive task of trying to understand not just the cultural relevance of memes, but the way they function as a form of language in our culture. -Charlie

Horse Girl, dir. Jeff Baena

Jeff Baena has a penchant for the quirky and unsettling, and his latest feature will be no different. Co-written with former collaborator Alison Brie (The Little Hours, and Joshy), Horse Girl is bound to be bizarre, but something that sticks with you long after it’s over. Alison Brie stars as Sarah, an awkward craft store worker who awakens after a strange gift arrives in her life. Brie is joined by talents such as Molly Shannon, Debby Ryan, and John Reynolds. The description promises an “incredibly personal and unusual new realm.” With the director being a Sundance favorite, Horse Girl is Baena’s fourth feature to debut at the festival. The Little Hours is one of my favorite weird movies, so I have faith in Baena will deliver once again. Horse Girl will be coming to Netflix in February. -Adriana

Shirley, dir. Josephine Decker

Josephine Decker’s newest film since her beautifully avant-garde film Madeline’s Madeline from 2018 follows a young couple (Logan Lerman and Odessa Young) who move in with famous horror writer Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss) and her husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg). Jackson’s novels, as well as her own reclusive life, certainly have an ominous, paranoid air to them that I trust Decker to harness with equal measures of fascination and empathy. I will admit, though, that this film pinged on my radar even before I became aware that Decker was at the helm. I keep a small list of actors that I would watch in absolutely anything because I trust that they will give their all in any role no matter the size, and Michael Stuhlbarg is high up on that list. In the last few years, Stuhlbarg has shown up in strong, scene-stealing supporting roles in films that go on to gain critical acclaim. In 2017 alone, Stuhlbarg appeared in two of the films nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards (we can all remember the father’s speech at the end of Call Me By Your Name, or the sympathetic Soviet spy in The Shape of Water), and as incredible as he was in both, I’ve been itching to see him in a more prominent role ever since witnessing him as Larry Gopnick in A Serious Man. To have a film that will allow me to see Stuhlbarg and Elisabeth Moss side by side in an intimate, unique, and undoubtedly strange film – if both Decker and Jackson’s track records are any indication – will be an absolute treat. –Charlie


A film starring both Michael Stuhlbarg and Elisabeth Moss is like a serotonin IV-drip pumping straight to my brain. The movie is about a couple who moves to Vermont in search of a teaching job for the husband, Fred (Stuhlbarg), and how their lives become entwined with famed horror author Shirley Jackson. The film is directed by Josephine Decker, whose debut feature Madeline’s Madeline seemingly charmed the entire film universe except for me, but… I don’t know. I’d follow Stuhlbarg and Moss to the ends of the earth. -Brianna

Spree, dir. Eugene Kotlyarenko

Sometimes the only thing to initially pique your interest in a film is “hey, isn’t that the name of the Vine guy who never fucking learned how to read?” and that is precisely how I reacted to Eugene Kotlyarenko’s Spree. Joe Keery of Stranger Things fame leads as Kurt, a rideshare driver who wants nothing more than to go viral. The means that he’ll go to achieve this seem ominous at best, and deadly at worst. Using the method of a rideshare driver to allow a rotating cast of actors, the film touts some of my favorites: Kyle Mooney of Saturday Night Live and Josh Ovalle, most famous from Vine but who is also a filmmaker in his own right. I’ve been following Ovalle for a while now, and while he presents an absurdist personality his internet following, there is a clear love and passion for filmmaking that shines through everything he creates. I’m sure he’s only a minimal part of this film, but he was the name that jumped out at me first, followed of course by the just as absurd Kyle Mooney. I can’t help but wonder just how strange this film is going to get, but we are certainly in for a wild rideshare. –Charlie

Summertime, dir. Carlos Lopez Estrada

The NEXT category has always been my favorite at Sundance because it always showcases the most innovative, out of the box films each year. Following his highly acclaimed debut Blindspotting, Carlos Lopez Estrada returns with another feature centered on California’s working class. This time around, he’s going bigger! Summertime follows a group of 25 very different individuals scattered throughout Los Angeles. Some of the souls are a fast-food worker, rappers, a limo driver, a guitarist, and more. For his sophomore feature, Estrada decided to intertwine spoken verse with the narratives of the non-actors featured in the film. This film is stated to be an ode to LA, and the people that live in it. That’s something we need more of. -Adriana

The Last Shift, dir. Andrew Cohn

The Last Shift grabbed my attention right off the bat. As someone who’s worked in fast food while simultaneously being a writer, the premise spoke to my soul. Director/writer Andrew Cohn’s latest feature follows two very different men at a fast-food restaurant. After 38 years of service at a fast-food restaurant, Stanley (Richard Jenkins) is tasked with training his replacement, Jevon (Shane Paul McGhie). Jevon is a writer that constantly rallies against the establishment. Stanley is an old-timer who has “watched life pass by his drive-through window.” Cohn’s film aims to highlight the two working-class men, and provide a study on “identity, privilege, and racial bias.” Rising actor Da’vine Joy Randolph also stars in this feature. –Adriana

Zola, dir. Janicza Bravo

Based on – of all things – an infamous Twitter thread from 2015, Zola will tell the story of two pole-dancers who meet by chance and embark on a cross-country journey that gets out of control. This movie has a couple of things that I like, those things being, chiefly, indie-darling Riley Keough and Succession darling Nicholas Braun, directed by Janicza Bravo, who produced, wrote, and directed the film Lemon, as well as an episode of Atlanta. Not to mention, it’s from A24, and if there’s one thing A24 loves, it’s a movie that can easily be marketed on Twitter. This one already beat them to it. -Brianna

‘Underwater’ Proves That The Ocean Will Always Be Scarier Than Space

The ocean is a murky mystery and perhaps the one thing I fear most. While NASA shoots probes and satellites out of Earth’s atmosphere to explore the galaxy and potentially find new planets, our oceans remain mostly unexplored. Miles below the surface lurk alien-like creatures with large eyes, translucent skin, and the ability to live under massive amounts of pressure. It is another world down there, a place full of unknowns. It is almost unfathomable that we know so little about what exists on our own planet! What lies on the bottom of the ocean, miles away from any light? William Eubank proposes a horrifying answer in Underwater.

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‘Black Christmas’ Is A Loud, Rage-Filled War Cry That Begs To Be Answered

Content warning: Mentions of rape, sexual assault and violence.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Colorful lights sparkle and flash. Christmas trees are covered in tinsel. And underneath that tree is a messily-wrapped gift bursting with rage. That gift is Sophia Takal’s Black Christmas, a modern revision of Bob Clark’s 1974 slasher of the same name. Takal and co-writer April Wolfe take the story and bring it into the tumultuous 21st century, where women are no longer content with staying silent.

Black Christmas is centered on Hawthorne College campus and the sorority sisters of MKE. Riley (Imogen Poots) is a sexual assault survivor who, after three years, still feels the repercussions of her rape, both emotionally and socially. She tries to cover up her body as much as possible and wants to make herself small, unnoticeable. Luckily, she has her sorority sisters who support her every step of the way, never for a second doubting her.

Kris (Aleyse Shannon) is her outspoken, politically-oriented best friend who petitions against racist and misogynistic professors (Cary Elwes) and wants to fight for what’s right. She convinces Riley to perform in a fraternity’s talent show in front of Riley’s rapist in an act that blatantly calls out the disgusting attitude the brothers have around sex. But of course, these boys don’t take it well.

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Monster Mash: Televisual and Vaginal Body Horror in ‘Poltergeist’ and ‘Videodrome’

October is finally upon us! It’s the time for cozy sweaters, making everything taste like pumpkin and, most importantly, horror films. Of course, sometimes it can be hard to decide what to watch, and if you are anything like me, one is never enough. That is why, for each week in the month of October, Much Ado About Cinema’s Monster Mash series is providing you with a double feature program and delving into why and how they go together like fava beans and a nice Chianti.

For our second Monster Mash, we’re delving into the power of television told through vaginals body horror in the horror classics Poltergeist and Videodrome.

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‘The Curse of Buckout Road’ is An Ambitious Debut Feature About The Power of Myth

Every town has an urban legend. In my hometown, there was the Goatman, hills where your car would get pushed uphill by ghosts, crybaby bridge, and much more. For director Matthew Currie Holmes, his hometown legend is Buckout Road, located in Westchester County of upstate New York State. It is rumored to be the most haunted road in the U.S., so of course, Holmes had to make a horror movie about it. His debut feature film, The Curse of Buckout Road, takes a few of the tales associated with the haunted road and weaves them into a horror movie perfect for lovers of urban legend.

Aaron Powell (Evan Ross) has traveled back to his small hometown to visit his grandfather and local psychiatrist, Dr. Lawrence Powell (Danny Glover). While trying to get back into a routine, Aaron realizes something horrible is happening around town and it seems to be linked to the cursed Buckout Road. Three college students, Cleo (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) and twins Derek (Jim Watson) and Erik (Kyle Mac), did a class project on the road and how its stories are just stories. But, after being plagued by horrific nightmares that center on Buckout Road, they fear they’ve been cursed by whatever haunts their town. They must all band together to figure out if they can defeat whatever forces lurk on Buckout Road.

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TIFF ‘19: ‘Pelican Blood’ Is A Disturbing Examination of What a Mother Will Do For Her Child

What would you do for your newly-adopted daughter? Give her the best education possible? Address her behavioral problems head-on? Take lactation medication to breastfeed her so she feels closer to you? Yes, all this happens and more in Katrin Gebbe’s film, Pelican Blood, a disturbing look at the depths a mother will go to prove her love for her (adopted) child.

Wiebke (Nina Hoss) is a horse trainer who, in the film, is focused on getting horses ready to be a part of the police force. She and her daughter Nicolina (Adelia-Constance Giovanni Ocleppo) live a peaceful and idyllic life surrounded by animals. But the family dynamic shifts when Wiebke decides to adopt another daughter, a five-year-old girl from Bulgaria named Raya (Katerina Lipovska). While everything seems great at first, Raya slowly reveals her violent and aggressive side, symptoms of an attachment disorder that makes her dangerous. She tries to set the house on fire, threatens to kill Wiebke and Nicolina, and bullies all of her classmates relentlessly. Wiebke must figure out a solution to keep her other daughter and herself safe.

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TIFF ‘19: Hirokazu Kore-eda’s ‘The Truth’ is Well-Acted But Emotionally Light

In 2018, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda devastated audiences with his film, Shoplifters, a story about found family and the bonds that hold them together. Kore-eda, in general, is known for his emotional films that feel like punches to the gut. His latest film, however, delivers less emotional impact. The Truth is his first English language film and while it is well-acted, it is less accessible than his previous work.

Famous actress Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve) has just realized her memoirs detailing her life as a performer and a mother. Her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) arrives in France from the U.S. with her husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) to celebrate the book’s release and finally get a chance to read it. Upon opening the book, Lumir finds it riddled with lies and half-truths. They bicker and argue about it over a period of weeks while Fabienne shoots her latest film, a sci-fi feature starring a budding young actress.

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