Other Worlds Goes to Sundance 2019

(PART 1 OF A 2-PART SUNDANCE REVIEW. READ BEARS REBECCA’S TAKE ON MONDAY)

I was shocked by the lack of snow fall during my trip to Park City this year. I never realize how much of a Texan I am until I get there and fill the 10-degree air on my face. The good news is most of the time I’m there, I’m in a warm theater watching some great films. Unfortunately, there was an equal lack of Science Fiction films at the festival this year. There was only two clear-cut SciFi features this year. One narrative robot apocalypse film I AM MOTHER that Bears will be covering and a documentary about the making of Alien called MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN.

Here is a round up of some genre films that I caught at the festival:

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MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN

This documentary from the director of 78/52 and produced by Diane O’Bannon, the wife of screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and sponsor of our OWA grant, is super interesting for the first three quarters of the film. I loved the breakdown of what inspired Dan O’Bannon and Ridley Scott. The director really dives into the art design by H.R. Giger and how the sets told a story of their own. Diane O’Bannon shares a ton of notes and original artwork that Dan created when writing the film.

The last quarter of the film concentrates on the chest bursting scene. This felt forced and was not nearly as interesting as the breakdown of O’Bannon’s inspirations. The director did this with the shower sequence in PSYCHO in his 78/52 documentary and I feel like the need to focus on one scene worked with 78/52 but took the energy out of MEMORY. Regardless, this film is worth checking out just to get in the minds of O’Bannon, Giger, and Scott.

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PARADISE HILLS

The production and costume design of this film are well worth the ticket. I also appreciated the subtext of men deciding how women should act and live. There are strong parallels between this future and the current administration’s handling of healthcare. My main issue with the film was its tone and how it blended SciFi with Fantasy. The Fantasy aspect really comes out of nowhere and does not fit because it was never set up within the world building of the first two acts. Overall, I’d recommend checking out the film for its design and strong performances.

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TROOP ZERO

I’ll start this off with letting you know that I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories. So I basically loved this film before even seeing it. It’s about a girl in 1977 who talks to the stars in hope that someone will hear her. When she hears that a group of girl scouts have a chance to get on NASA’s Golden Record she jumps at the opportunity but is forced to start her own group full of misfit outsiders.

There is not much Scifi in this as it is a period piece, but it still maintains a whimsical tone and is extremely fun to watch. Great comedic performances from Viola Davis and Allison Janney top off this comedy with heart. One of my favorite films from Park City.

Kidding, Dan Gilroy. Sort of.

Kidding, Dan Gilroy. Sort of.

VELVET BUZZSAW

I was so excited about this film because NIGHTCRAWLER is one of my favorite genre films of the last ten years. The good news is that it is available to watch right now on Netflix. The bad news is that it is not very good. All of the characters are pretty despicable, and the film is full of horror tropes. What really bothered me about the film was that the rules of the supernatural killer were never really set. It seems in this world that anyone can get killed at any time in any way possible. That really sucks the tension out of the film and leaves the characters without a goal. I can’t recommend this film even to avid horror fans.

WOUNDS

WOUNDS

THE LODGE and WOUNDS

These are two of the Horror films in the midnight section that I was excited to see but disappointed after watching. They’re both from directors coming off strong debut films. GOODNIGHT MOMMY and UNDER THE SHADOW were groundbreaking genre films that left me yearning for more. The directors were able to build tension well in both WOUNDS and THE LODGE, and they provided some genuine scares. The problem that I had with both films was the character development and incomplete storytelling. THE LODGE works too hard to sell the twist ending and WOUNDS does not even really have an ending. During the final shot of WOUNDS, I remember feeling excited because I thought it was the beginning of the third act. NOPE. It was the end. Both films are well made and have some great sequences, but neither seem to fully come together.