Piers Marchant at Sundance, Day SevenJanuary 26, 2018
Number of Films: 2
Best Movie of the Day: Hereditary
Hereditary: Sundance has a redoubtable history of being a showcase for brilliant horror movies – The Witch, The Babadook, and It Follows just to name a few – so when word of Ari Aster’s horror opus was that it was the scariest of the festival, it instantly became required viewing. The story involves the strange hauntings of a family in the mountains of Utah after the death of the grandmother of Annie (Toni Collette). A cold, distant woman in life, with a predilection towards the occult, shortly after she’s buried, her presence becomes manifest. She was closest to Annie’s daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), a peculiar girl with a penchant for animal heads. After a tragic accident further inflicts the family, including teen son Peter (Alex Wolff), and psychiatrist father Steve (Gabriel Byrne), Annie attempts a séance in order to speak with Charlie and things take a significant turn for the worse. Aster’s film is studded with references to Kubrick – from the stately pace, to the reaction shots, to the slow-burn soundtrack – but there’s enough of his own sensibility to keep it from mere homage. There is an atmosphere of genuine dread that builds in intensity in a deeply affecting way, I just wish he had refrained from the overly revealing explanation at the film’s close. Nothing removes the aura of terror than being explained its limitations.
Damsel: It’s not like the venerable Western, so long a denizen of macho posturing, couldn’t use a feminist angle to keep it fresh. Netflix subscribers have been able to enjoy “Godless,” a mini-series that involves, among other things, a town full of women having to run everything after a mining accident killed the vast majority of men-folk, and the refreshingly egalitarian gender politics made the series that much more engaging. In the Zellner Brothers new film, we start with an iconographic Western sort of hero – a dapper young man, Samuel (Robert Pattinson) new into town to rescue his lady love, Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), kidnapped by a reportedly nefarious wretch, Anton (Gabe Casdorph), and his wild-eyed brother, Rufus (Nathan Zellner) – but things quickly turn peculiar. For one thing, Samuel can’t drink whiskey because of stomach ulcers, can’t shoot to save his life, and shows up in town with a golden miniature horse he calls “Butterscotch.” Engaging a boozy parson (David Zellner) in order to marry Penelope the minute after he’s dispatched Anton, the two men head out to the wildlands in order to whisk Penelope away from her torturous capture. Naturally, nothing whatever goes according to plan, and it turns out sweet, beautiful Penelope is more than capable of taking care of herself. The Zellner’s tone is at a curious pitch – a bit like a pencil etching of a Coen brothers’ script – but it has just enough humorous moments and fanciful characters to keep things popping. It’s nothing particularly groundbreaking, beyond mildly extending the reach of female empowerment, but is reasonably well-appointed.
Tomorrow: I descend from the lofty heavens back to near sea-level, and revel in the fact that my lungs can once again take in sweet, plentiful oxygen.
Into the frigid climes and rarefied thin air of the spectacular Utah Mountains, I’ve arrived in order to document some of the sense and senselessness of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Over the next week, armed with little more than a heavy parka and a bevy of blank reporter’s notebooks, I’ll endeavor to watch as many movies as I can and report my findings.