This review is by our guest writer, Redmond Bacon.
The Germans have a word for acknowledging their Nazi past. Known as “Vergangenheitsbewältigung,” it literally means “coming to terms with the past,” describing the process by which the country tries to learn from the mistakes it made during the 30s and 40s, most significantly the Holocaust. This process makes Germany quite a unique country, as no other major nation-state can claim to have gone through quite the same amount of personal soul-searching.
This dream of awakening her home country of Romania is the mission of Mariana, an artist who wants to put on a reenactment of the Odessa Massacre of 1941 in which between 25,000 to 34,000 Jews were either shot or burned to death by Romanian troops. I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians, is named after a quote that was used to justify the process. According to her, its a part of history glossed over by Romanians, who prefer to remember the time they joined the Allies three years into War. A pertinent clip from the Romanian film The Mirror, released in 1994, shows just how deep the distortion of history goes, displaying Ion Antonescu — the Romanian leader — as a sympathetic character who only “deported” non-Romanian Jews, instead of killing them. This is a blatant lie and something that Mariana is determined to deconstruct.
In Latin America, there is no event more important for young girls than the quinceañera. Families will save up every extra penny to make sure that the celebration is a lavish affair, welcoming the girl’s progression into adulthood with a whole lot of pomp and circumstance. For Miriam (Dulce Esther Rodríguez Castillo), however, her 15th birthday is loaded with dread, as she has a secret that she doesn’t want the rest of her family to know about.
She has a boyfriend named Jean-Louis, who she only knows from chatting online. One day, she goes to meet him at a natural history museum, but upon seeing his face, something holds her back. She doesn’t talk to him, and runs away, explaining to her mom that he didn’t turn up. At first, this seems like natural shyness, but it slowly becomes clear that it’s because he’s black. The resulting film is a piercing tale that functioned both as a well-worked character drama and a seething critique of a racist society.
Grief, guilt, and mental illness are not unusual themes in horror film. We’ve seen them in The Babadook, The Witch, It Follows, the list goes on. But Ari Aster’s debut feature film, Hereditary, takes the struggles of grief to another horrifying level. What he creates is a tense, devastating, and at times difficult to watch, look at the trauma we suffer at the hands of our family and how that trauma lives on past death.
Hereditary opens on the grieving Graham family. Annie, played by the phenomenal Toni Collette, has lost her mother and is trying to work her way through this loss with support groups and working on her artistic miniatures. Meanwhile, her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne) tries to maintain some semblance of normalcy with their son, Peter (Alex Wolff), and young daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro). But slowly everything begins to fall apart into a very dark place. Telling you any more about the plot would ruin the film and this is best viewed without any idea of what to expect.
I had only one expectation for Drew Pearce’s directorial debut, Hotel Artemis. I wanted to have fun experiencing the amazing, star-studded ensemble cast play off one another. Unfortunately, it was never met. Instead, Hotel Artemis packs an unnecessarily convoluted narrative, unrealized world-building for a banal backdrop, and poor allocation of screen time, which results in a film that feels like a melting pot of half-baked concepts and ideas. The conclusion to the action romp loses any steam the movie had going for it, leaving you with a feeling of unfulfillment.
There is a slight amount of praise awarded for its solid performances and imaginative aesthetics (even if they never go far enough), but as it stands, this one-location action flick can never quite settle on what narrative footing, tone, or message it wants to leave us with. For a film that wastes so much time with feeding its audience expositional dialogue–from one-note characters about their motivation–the lack of understanding and control of its own world and setting is quite the accomplishment in itself. An anti-masterclass in “show don’t tell”.
I will admit that I haven’t seen Jim Hosking’s previous Sundance venture The Greasy Strangler—a grotesque exercise in trying to annoy as many people as possible. After speaking with others at my screening who had seen The Greasy Strangler, it was evident that no one particularly liked it. So why were we here, seated for his sophomore feature? Morbid curiosity perhaps?
Credit should be given where it’s due, there are few directors with as a vision as singular as Hosking, a style that’s about as anti-Hollywood as it can get. Will he be able to retain his signature idiosyncratic style with top-tier comedic actors like Aubrey Plaza, Craig Robinson, and Jemaine Clement on board? To answer that question: yes he can, for better or for worse. Fans of The Greasy Strangler will revel in this offbeat trip. To everyone else, I recommend you don’t waste your time.
Crystal Moselle’s previous film, the documentary The Wolfpack, chronicled the lives of a group of cinephile brothers who were confined to their Manhattan apartment for 14 years. Skate Kitchen, Moselle’s narrative feature debut, brings another slice of New York’s bustling culture to the big screen: the eponymous all-girl skate group. Moselle met several members of Skate Kitchen by chance on the subway in 2015, and the film marks their second collaboration after a Venice-bound short film. The film is like a narrative-documentary hybrid as she enlists the group to play fictionalised versions of themselves; a modern cinéma vérité. It’s evident how much she admires the skaters, as Skate Kitchen blossoms into a feisty coming-of-age tale about the enduring power of female friendship in the search for identity.
It’s a common tradition in the all-girl sleepover to lie down, stare blankly at the ceiling, and talk about the future. It’s a utopian view of the future, of course, in which you have your dream job, a giant house, and you can go on those luxury vacations usually reserved for celebrities and millionaires. Texas BFFs Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Cami Morrone) have dreams of their own: waste time away on the beach at Galveston. That all seems rather quaint, but for high school dropouts living paycheck-to-paycheck waiting tables at a diner—a little getaway means a lot.