In just a few days, the 2019 Sundance Film Festival will be kicking off in Park City, Utah, and Daily Dead will be on hand throughout the fest to give you the lowdown on what to expect from all the horror, sci-fi, and genre-adjacent movies that will playing over the course of the next few weeks. As this writer was getting prepared for the 2019 lineup, I thought it might be fun to take a look at 11 of the films I am most excited to see during this year’s Sundance.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (Directed by Joe Berlinger)
Because I’m a weirdo who has been a long-time fan of the High School Musical series, I’ve been patiently waiting for Zac Efron to dig into darker material for well over a decade now, and it looks like the wait is finally over with Joe Berlinger’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Portraying Ted Bundy, one of the most infamous serial killers in U.S. history, with Extremely Wicked, Efron is poised for a career breakout moment, and as all the kids are saying these days, I am here for it.
Synopsis: 1969. Ted (Zac Efron) is crazy-handsome, smart, charismatic, affectionate. And cautious single mother Liz Kloepfer (Lily Collins) ultimately cannot resist his charms. For her, Ted is a match made in heaven, and she soon falls head over heels in love with the dashing young man. A picture of domestic bliss, the happy couple seems to have it all figured out … until, out of nowhere, their perfect life is shattered. Ted is arrested and charged with a series of increasingly grisly murders. Concern soon turns to paranoia—and, as evidence piles up, Liz is forced to consider that the man with whom she shares her life could actually be a psychopath.
Velvet Buzzsaw (Directed by Dan Gilroy)
Velvet Buzzsaw has Nightcrawler filmmaker Dan Gilroy re-teaming with both Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, so honestly, that’s all I needed to hear to put VB at the top of my must-see list at Sundance this year. Plus, we also have performances from Toni Collette, John Malkovich, Natalia Dyer, Billy Magnussen, and personal favorite Pat Healy to look forward to in Velvet Buzzsaw as well, which has caused my excitement for this film to hit a fever pitch. Even better? The movie will be arriving in theaters and on Netflix February 1st, which means you guys won’t have to wait too long for VB, either.
Synopsis: In the cutthroat world of fine-art trading and representation, up-and-coming agent Josephina (Zawe Ashton) stumbles across a secret weapon: hundreds of dazzling paintings left behind after an elderly tenant in her building dies. Ignoring the instructions the clandestine artist left to destroy his work, she promptly starts circulating the paintings, which soon attract the attention of the heavy hitters around her—including her boss Rhodora (Rene Russo), art critic (and Josephina’s sometime lover) Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal), and competing collectors, managers, and curators like Bryson (Billy Magnussen) and Gretchen (Toni Collette). Yet as the deceased artist’s portraits gain posthumous acclaim, they also awaken something imperceptible and sinister that threatens to punish those who have profited from his work.
Corporate Animals (Directed by Patrick Brice)
As someone who absolutely adores his work on the Creep films, I’m very intrigued by whatever Patrick Brice has cooked up for Corporate Animals. As someone who has played assistant to several “strong personalities” in my career, it seems like this is going to be up my proverbial alley. I am also thrilled to see Demi Moore getting to top-line a movie once again, especially since I very much enjoyed her recent appearances on Empire as a banana pants therapist who had some sinister plans for Terrence Howard’s character (so fun!).
Synopsis: Lucy (Demi Moore) is the egotistical, megalomaniac CEO of Incredible Edibles, America’s premier provider of edible cutlery. In her infinite wisdom, Lucy leads her staff, including her long-suffering assistants, Freddie (Karan Soni) and Jess (Jessica Williams), on a corporate team-building caving weekend in New Mexico. When disaster strikes, not even their useless guide, Brandon (Ed Helms), can save them. Trapped underground by a cave-in, this mismatched and disgruntled group must pull together in order to survive.
Wounds (Directed by Babak Anvari)
I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Babak Anvari’s feature film debut, Under the Shadow, back at Sundance 2016, and it’s so great to see him getting to return with his follow-up for this year’s fest (also, if you haven’t seen Under the Shadow yourself, it’s excellent and it will shred your nerves). Wounds has Anvari collaborating with Dakota Johnson, Armie Hammer, and Zazie Beetz—a trio of performers I’ve fallen in love with over recent years—so I’m very interested to see what they made together while working on Wounds.
Synopsis: Will is a bartender in New Orleans. He has a great job, great friends, and a girlfriend, Carrie, who loves him. He skates across life’s surface, ignoring complications and concentrating on enjoying the moment. One night at the bar, a violent brawl breaks out, which injures one of his regular customers and causes some college kids to leave behind a cell phone in their haste. Will begins receiving disturbing texts and calls from the stranger’s phone. While Will hopes to not get involved, Carrie gets lost down a rabbit hole investigating this strange malevolence. They’ve discovered something unspeakable, and it’s crawling slowly into the light.
Paradise Hills (Directed by Alice Waddington)
A movie featuring both Emma Roberts AND Milla Jovovich? It’s like filmmaker Alice Waddington (as well as screenwriters Nacho Vigalondo and Brian DeLeeuw) had been sneaking peeks at my diary when Paradise Hills was first coming together. I’ve gotten some strong Cure for Wellness vibes from what I’ve seen on Paradise Hills thus far, which is a good thing since I loved Cure, and considering how great her short film Disco Inferno is, I think Waddington is poised to be one of the more buzzed-about directors to come out of this year’s Sundance.
Synopsis: When Uma wakes up alone on a strange island called Paradise, she instantly suspects it’s anything but. Helmed by the Duchess (Milla Jovovich), Paradise Hills is a center for emotional healing that at its core serves as a reformatory-style boarding school for privileged young women. Yet behind the rose-covered pathways and fairy-tale decor, Uma and her friends learn something more sinister is at work.
I Am Mother (Directed by Grant Sputore)
As a fan of intimate sci-fi (Ex Machina or last year’s Prospect being two recent examples), I am looking forward to I Am Mother from Grant Sputore, who is making his feature film debut with the film. Of course, having Hilary Swank involved piques my interest, but considering just how many new filmmaking voices have been discovered at Sundance over the years, I’m curious to see if this year’s fest becomes a breakout moment for Sputore (my fingers are certainly crossed!).
Synopsis: Shortly after humanity’s extinction, in a high-tech bunker deep beneath the earth’s surface, a robot named Mother commences her protocol. Designed to repopulate the earth with humans born from test-tube embryos, Mother raises a baby girl to become an intelligent, compassionate teenager (Clara Rugaard). But the arrival of a wounded woman (Hilary Swank) at the bunker door soon casts doubt on Mother’s account of the earth’s fate and threatens the unique bond between Mother and her “daughter.”
MEMORY – The Origins of Alien (Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe)
Alexandre O. Philippe’s previous documentary, 78/52, was an enthralling and meticulously made examination and celebration of quite possibly the most influential scene in all of horror history, Psycho’s shower sequence, which is precisely why I’m excited to see what he does with the Alien universe for MEMORY. His latest doc project digs into the history of how Alien came to be through the imaginations of visionaries Dan O’Bannon and H.R. Giger, years before Ridley Scott came on board. As someone who always craves something that feels unique and different when it comes to docu-style cinema, I know if anyone can dig into Alien without treading already well-worn territory, it’s Philippe.
Synopsis: Memory was a script that Dan O’Bannon started in 1971, abruptly hitting a wall at page 29. But after the idea gestated for several years, it ultimately took the form of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Alien. Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentaries—most recently 78/52, about Hitchcock’s Psycho shower scene—have interrogated cinema’s cultural ripples. If MEMORY—The Origins of Alien were only a comprehensive account of Alien’s origins—ancient myths, comic books, H.P. Lovecraft, sci-fi movies, and parasitic wasps—it would still be fascinating. But how did Alien lodge itself so indelibly into our cultural imagination? Philippe’s real interest lies in the deep resonance of myths and our collective unconscious. The strange symbiotic collaboration between Alien creators O’Bannon, Scott, and H.R. Giger suggests a greater synchronicity across history, art, and storytelling, a synchronicity that gives us the Furies, creatures of Renaissance painting, and even chest-bursting aliens.
Relive (Directed by Jacob Estes)
I have some personal reasons as to why I am excited for Relive to be playing at Sundance 2019, as one of the very first people I became friends with “organically” here in Los Angeles was Drew Daywalt. Daywalt, for those who may not know, has made some incredible horror shorts over the years, and as of late, has done some brilliant work in the world of children’s lit as well. So for me, I am so damned excited that I’m going to get to see something he co-wrote on the big screen at the fest. Of course, director Jacob Estes is no slouch, either (Mean Creek is still ridiculously effective filmmaking), and coupled with an incredible cast, Relive is very much a film I am downright giddy about.
Synopsis: Los Angeles detective Jack Radcliff fields a distressed phone call from his niece Ashley and rushes to the rescue—only to find the girl and her parents dead in an apparent murder-suicide. Then, just as the police department declares the killings an open-and-shut case, Jack gets another call from Ashley. With the cell-phone connection acting as a link between the past and the present, Jack urges Ashley to collect clues that will help him to solve her murder and change her fate.
Little Monsters (Directed by Abe Forsythe)
As someone who fancies herself a huge fan of horror comedy, I think Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters looks like a ton of fun. Beyond the fact that I would blindly follow Lupita Nyong’o into the deepest pits of Hell, I have always had a huge soft spot in my genre-loving heart for Australian filmmakers, so I’m hopeful that Forsythe has found new ways to dig into the zombie subgenre with Little Monsters.
Synopsis: After a rough breakup, directionless Dave (Alexander England) crashes at his sister’s place and spends his days expanding his young nephew’s questionable vocabulary. When an opportunity arises to chaperone an upcoming school excursion alongside the charming and enigmatic teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o), Dave jumps at the chance to impress her. What he wasn’t anticipating was Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), an obnoxious children’s television personality who shapes the excursion’s activities. What he was expecting even less was a zombie invasion, which unfolds after an experiment at a nearby military base goes awry. Armed only with the resourcefulness of kindergartners, Dave, Miss Caroline, and Teddy must work together to keep the monsters at bay and carve a way out with their guts intact.
The Lodge (Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala)
Goodnight Mommy was one of the most unsettling movies I saw in 2015, which means I’m already 110 percent invested in this latest project from the Austrian filmmaking team of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. With The Lodge, it looks like the duo are once again digging into the psychological horrors of familial strife, and I’m ready to get my guts all twisted into knots once again, as I’m sure Franz and Fiala aren’t going to hold back, and I wouldn’t want them to anyway.
Synopsis: Devoted to their devastated mother, siblings Aidan and Mia resent Grace, the younger woman their newly separated father plans to marry. They flatly reject Grace’s attempts to bond, and they dig up dirt on her tragic past—but soon they find themselves trapped with her, snowed in in a remote holiday village after their dad heads back to the city for work. Just as relations begin to thaw, strange and frightening events threaten to unearth psychological demons from Grace’s strictly religious childhood.
The Nightingale (Directed by Jennifer Kent)
It’s Jennifer Kent. The director of The Babadook. Is there really anything else more I need to sell me on The Nightingale? Not really. But as someone who digs period horror (“old-timey horror”), I am so glad that Sundance is bringing The Nightingale to this year’s festival because I’ve been waiting for a while now to see what Kent would do next as a filmmaker. Also, this is another movie that I suspect genre fans won’t have to wait forever on, too, as IFC Midnight has already nabbed it up for distribution here in the States.
Synopsis: One night in 1820s Tasmania, Clare, a young Irish convict, loses everything she holds dear after her family is horrifically attacked. She’s immediately driven to track down and seek revenge against the British officer who oversaw the horror, so she enlists the service of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy. Marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past, Billy reluctantly agrees to take her through the interior of Tasmania. On this brutal quest for blood, Clare gets much more than she bargained for.
[Photos credit: Photos courtesy of Sundance Institute.]