Sundance Film Festival 2022 Recap: Day Five

The Sundance Film Festival is one of the most well-known and renowned film festivals in the United States that feature the best that the indie film scene has to offer. The 2022 Sundance Film Festival has finally kicked off with a plethora of films from a wide range of locations, statuses and casts of characters. Day five is my final full day covering the festival and I had six films tapped for me with a wide range of genres, themes with multiple positives and negatives alike

Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson appear in Something in the Dirt by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Aaron Moorhead. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Something in the Dirt: Directed by: Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson

SYNOPSIS: When neighbors John and Levi witness supernatural events in their LA apartment building, they realize documenting the paranormal could inject some fame and fortune into their wasted lives.

This was a fever dream of a film. An incredibly interesting look at the sci-fi drama with one of the most intriguing and unique stories I’ve seen in a long time. I have to give all of the credit to Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson who are the directors, producers, editors, actors and Benson also wrote the film. They created such a wild atmosphere and story that left me scratching my head, in some good ways and some bad ways. I really enjoyed the performances from Moorhead and Benson as well as their direction. They flow together extremely well.

However, this is an extremely bloated film that goes on for way way too long. The pacing lacks big time and left us wondering what the point of the story was. I can understand drawing out a story, but if it doesn’t result in anything of substance, then what’s the point? I think the writing is the low point of the film when we get past the very creative plot and sci-fi/paranormal elements.

Point Breakdown:

15 for Writing: 10

15 for Performances: 11

10 for Entertainment: 7

10 for Direction: 8

10 for Emotions: 7

5 for Cinematography: 4

5 for Score: 3

5 for Pacing: 2

15 for Technical: 12

5 for Rewatchability: 3

5 for Automatic: 5

Something in the Dirt: 73/100 | Grade: C-

Keke Palmer and Common appear in Alice by Krystin Ver Linden, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute Eliza Morse. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Alice: Directed by: Krystin Ver Linden

SYNOPSIS: Alice spends her days enslaved on a rural Georgia plantation restlessly yearning for freedom. After a violent clash with plantation owner Paul, Alice flees through the neighboring woods and stumbles onto the unfamiliar sight of a highway, soon discovering that the year is actually 1973.

I’m going to keep this one brief because I don’t know how to feel about it. The performances from Keke Palmer and Common are terrific. Palmer specifically gives a really layered and dramatic performance. The writing is extremely flawed, dragging out the elements that didn’t need dragging while not fleshing out the concepts and themes that were actually important. It’s an incredibly uncomfortable watch that wasn’t able to find it’s full identity due to the lackluster script involved.

Point Breakdown:

15 for Writing: 9

15 for Performances: 11

10 for Entertainment: 7

10 for Direction: 7

10 for Emotions: 7

5 for Cinematography: 3

5 for Score: 3

5 for Pacing: 3

15 for Technical: 13

5 for Rewatchability: 3

5 for Automatic: 5

Alice: 72/100 | Grade: C-

Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

God’s Country: Directed by: Julian Higgins

SYNOPSIS: When a grieving college professor confronts two hunters she catches trespassing on her property, she’s drawn into an escalating battle of wills with catastrophic consequences.

I think the western genre might be one of my favorites because it can be so many different things. There is no clear definition that you can put towards the genre, it can literally cover so many genres at once. This is a really impactful and compelling western drama that is anchored by a spectacular performance from Thandiwe Newton. The burn is extremely slow, no doubt about that, but when the action heats up, it really gets going and keeps you on the edge of your seat until the explosive ending. The direction and cinematography are really nice and the technical including the set design are a bright spot in this film. There are a lot of positives to take from this conventional thriller.

Point Breakdown:

15 for Writing: 11

15 for Performances: 11

10 for Entertainment: 6

10 for Direction: 8

10 for Emotions: 8

5 for Cinematography: 5

5 for Score: 4

5 for Pacing: 4

15 for Technical: 13

5 for Rewatchability: 4

5 for Automatic: 5

God’s Country: 79/100 | Grade: C+

Dakota Johnson appears in CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH by Cooper Raiff, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Cha Cha Real Smooth: Directed by: Cooper Raiff

SYNOPSIS: Fresh out of college, Andrew befriends a local mom, Domino, and her daughter, Lola, he finally discovers a future he wants, even if it might not be his own.

As my time covering the Sundance Film Festival ends, this takes the crown as my clear favorite of the fest. Cooper Raiff is like an anomaly in the filmmaking process and in Hollywood. He can literally do everything and do it with a sense of familiarity. First off, his performance is electric and has incredible chemistry with Dakota Johnson who also gives one of if not her best performance of her career. I loved every single member of this cast. They were all written so real.

The thing that Raiff does so well is his writing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film more real and relatable in the writing. The characters say and think things that we think. The hardest thing that I ever learned in film school was writing dialogue, and Raiff does it so flawlessly. It’s a real treasure. The performance and writing, coupled with some really phenomenal direction from Raiff, once again, make this one of the best films I’ve seen in some time and my favorite of not just Sundance, but of the year so far.

Point Breakdown:

15 for Writing: 14

15 for Performances: 14

10 for Entertainment: 10

10 for Direction: 10

10 for Emotions: 10

5 for Cinematography: 4

5 for Score: 5

5 for Pacing: 5

15 for Technical: 14

5 for Rewatchability: 5

5 for Automatic: 5

God’s Country: 96/100 | Grade: A

Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Every Day In Kaimukī: Directed by: Alika Maikau

SYNOPSIS: Naz, a cynical and charismatic 20-something, has spent his entire life in tranquil O’ahu, Hawaiʻi, skateboarding with his friends and hosting a nightly radio show where he spotlights emerging musicians. When his girlfriend Sloane nabs the chance to move to bustling New York, Naz begins preparing for their big move, planning every detail down to his cat’s absurd flight plan. Even when dreaming about what life outside the island might look like, however, Naz wonders whether uprooting his world is the right decision, and if anywhere will ever really feel like home when he’s always been an eternal outsider.

Every Day in Kaimuki is the definition of an indie film. A fairly simple story with what I believe to be a bare bones crew and bare bones filmmaking. You can tell that this is a labor of love done on an extremely low budget. That doesn’t make it a bad thing. I honestly kind of enjoyed that. There was a type of charm to the film that comes with the low budget. I have the most respect for people that just go out and make films and to make one of the feature length, that is an achievement. You then add the other obstacle of filming during a pandemic, I bow down to you and to everyone who has been making films for the past few years.

The performances were ok. They seemed a little bland and generic at times. This film was constructed like half feature and half documentary so I didn’t expect the greatest acting I’ve ever seen. I think the thing that is done best here is the sense of surroundings and the building of atmosphere. You can tell that the writer, director and everyone involved have been in Hawaii for awhile and knew the area, the people and the way of life. It was like being transported to the island with cinematography, sound and set design. Really well done.

Point Breakdown:

15 for Writing: 10

15 for Performances: 9

10 for Entertainment: 7

10 for Direction: 7

10 for Emotions: 7

5 for Cinematography: 4

5 for Score: 4

5 for Pacing: 4

15 for Technical: 14

5 for Rewatchability: 3

5 for Automatic: 5

Every Day In Kaimukī: 74/100 | Grade: C

Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul: Directed by: Adamma Ebo

SYNOPSIS: In the aftermath of a huge scandal, Trinity Childs, the first lady of a prominent Southern Baptist Mega Church, attempts to help her pastor-husband, Lee-Curtis Childs, rebuild their congregation.

What a wild film. Just absolutely insane. This film does not work without the incredibly wacky, wild and just straight crazy performances from Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown. They are the reason why this film is so good. Regina Hall is the emotional backbone of the film while Sterling K. Brown is the brilliantly wacky and comic relief of this story. I love the mockumentary style of the film that deals with the world of mega-churches. A really awesome and interesting spoof and that crazy world.

There are issues though. The writing, while hilarious and hitting most of the time, gets a little convoluted and confusing at times. There is a shift back and forth between comedy and drama that was sometimes too hard to decipher. The most jarring and unpleasant thing was the editing. There was constant changing between aspect ratios and camera styles that it was really jarring and took me out of the film. The lack of identity lost me. Pick something and stick with it.

Point Breakdown:

15 for Writing: 13

15 for Performances: 14

10 for Entertainment: 8

10 for Direction: 7

10 for Emotions: 8

5 for Cinematography: 4

5 for Score: 4

5 for Pacing: 4

15 for Technical: 12

5 for Rewatchability: 4

5 for Automatic: 5

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul: 83/100 | Grade: B-

Jack Lautaret is a banana meter approved film critic, the founder of the Jack Lautaret YouTube Channel and host of the Finatic Film Review Podcast. He is a member of the Online Film and Television Association. Twitter: @JackLautaret

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