As surely there comes a Day One, so must follow a Day Two. Rocking up to the Picturehouse Central yesterday morning, Sundance Film Festival: London was already in full swing, with multiple critics, bloggers and film lovers hammering on the doors to be let in and preview the exciting programme of films that comprise the main festival (all of which kicks off officially today, don’t you know?!).
Having sampled said-films for ourselves, it seems only right to let you know our thoughts of what to expect at the festival over the next few days:
First Reformed: Dir. Paul Schrader (2018)
Paul ‘Taxi Driver‘ Schrader teams with Ethan Hawke for this dark drama about a small-town Pastor struggling with the loss of his son after encouraging him to join the military. Further adding to his worries are a depressed eco-warrior with a death wish, an overbearing, infatuated colleague, and just a small case of crippling cancer.
Don’t expect a standard kitchen sink drama here though – Schrader‘s script may start off small, but by the time credits roll, the film has well and truly taken a million left-field turns, delivering a scalding blow to the notion of religion as a healing power, instead exploring the failure of faith and the way prayer can just be the catalyst for greater atrocities. The theme of power, big business and capitalism as the stuff of evil runs throughout – it’s hardly subtle and nowhere near as biting as other films have managed, but Schrader peppers the film with some neat little touches to further hammer the point home.
Above all else, the film features a perfectly pitched performance from Ethan Hawke as the troubled reverend, who imbues plenty of world-weariness and understated sadness into the character, all of which is later justifies his equally impressive and subverted turn in the final third.
Leave No Trace: Dir. Debra Granik (2018)
Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie star as father and daughter Will and Tom, who live a life deep in the woods of Portland, Oregon, sheltered from other people and the modern trappings of city life. But when the two are caught by the authorities and forced to start living within a more normal social structure, Tom begins to realise that the isolated life her father prefers is not to her liking.
Co-Writer and Director Debra Granik (Winters Bone) crafts a moving tale that explores PTSD and mental illness in a fresh and insightful way, focusing the themes of conformity and identity through a wholly captivating and realistic father/daughter relationship. Foster and McKenzie are the epitome of great chemistry when on screen together, with Foster in particular offering a beautifully layered performance that will surely break every heart in the room.
Further bolstered by some sumptuous cinematography in the woodland scenes and some hugely tense heartbreaking exchanges, Leave No Trace certainly deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. Here’s to it not remaining hidden for too much longer!
The Miseducation of Cameron Post: Dir. Desiree Akhavan (2018)
Casting her eye upon the real-life horror that is gay-conversion therapy, director Desiree Akhavan explores important issues regarding identity, repression and sexuality in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which stars a pitch-perfect Chloë Grace Moritz in the title role.
Sent to a Christian Therapy Camp by her conservative aunt, Cameron is forced to endure the ‘treatments’ the organisers inflict upon her, forcing her to question her developing feelings for other women and her gender conformity. It’s truly terrifying to watch, not least because the therapy is at first-glance tame, but later portrayed as scarily effective, with parallels drawn to that of brainwashing and emotional torture.
The film has plenty of darker elements lying in wait and maintains a cynical edge throughout, the threat posed by the camp’s sweet-yet-sinister leader (played to cold-blooded perfection by Jennifer Ehle) ever present in even the lightest of moments. But Akhavan builds to these grim scenes through humour, lightheartedness and an air of rebellion, no better encapsulated here then via the blossoming friendship between Cameron and her fellow inmates, Jane and Adam (Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck). The lighter tone does plenty to elicit our love and sympathy for the characters, and elevates the film’s more shocking moments exponentially.
It’ll have you screaming internally with frustration at the injustice and double-standards perpetrated by the film’s antagonists, but make no mistake, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is easily one of the festival’s best, by far!
An Evening with Beverly Luff Lin: Dir. Jim Hosking (2018)
Bizarre doesn’t even begin to cover An Evening with Beverly Luff Lin, the latest comedy from the man who bought us The Greasy Strangler, Jim Hosking. Suffice to say, convention goes out of the window with a bullet lodged firmly in it’s skull here. Ridiculous set-ups, deliberately flat performances, weird character motivations and interactions, and strange sight-gags purvey throughout, and by the time it’s all over, you’ll be left none the wiser as to what the point of it all was.
Gathering together a cast of comic greats, including Aubrey Plaza, Craig Robinson and Jermaine Clement, for what is arguably one of the most strange and subversive alternative comedies ever conceived, Hosking enlivens a rather dull tale of unrequited love and thievery with his trademark weirdness. The insane nature of every visual element, performance and directorial flourish covers over the script’s cracks, whilst the finished product at least offers something fresh for cinema-goers (though don’t ask us what said-something is, we’re still trying to understand the point of the whole endeavour ourselves).
Beyond all else, the film at least offers an alternative to those fed-up with the rest of the Festival’s more sombre subject matter, but heed our warnings – it certainly won’t make a lick of sense.
Don’t forget to check our our interview with Jim at Sundance London by heading here.
Our Sundance London coverage continues tomorrow. Check out our Day One coverage here and book tickets for the main festival here.