If there’s one thing that the recent Sundance Film Festival lineup revealed about the current fluctuation of art during our dire pandemic state, is that COVID-19 did not destroy nor eradicate the film industry. In fact, one could even make the case that the pandemic created a new wave of auteurs — fear-stricken artists who mended their dreams, passions, and allegories into concise and fruitful pieces of cinematic literature. Many films in this year’s Sundance lineup feature themes of commonality, paranoia, and acceptance. With more independent and small-scale films being produced and released in festivals internationally, a theme is slowly being picked up by filmmakers worldwide. A new wave has just started. A wave that would soon be taught among the highest of scholars, a wave that could determine the pop culture sphere for years to come. But enough with the pedantic speculation! Sundance is now locked and loaded with another batch of hidden gems for viewers of all interests.
Home to some of the most notoriously beloved indies, Sundance 2021 looks to adopt yet another edition filled with potential cult classics. Simply, we can’t talk about this year’s festival without at the very least mentioning the elephant in the room. A Sion Sono film at Sundance is already something worth hyping about. But a Sion Sono English-language collaboration with Nicholas Cage easily earns its place as one of the greatest team-ups of the 2020s. Prisoners of the Ghostland is the stuff that dreams and cinema were made for, where the film is essentially a major tonal and ultra-violent step-up from Sono’s previous joint Red Post on Escher Street. A unique genre-mesh starring the best genre actors Hollywood could buy, cinephiles are already eagerly anticipating for Boutella and Cage to kick major supernatural ass.
On the other extremity of the weirdly wonderful, there is Dash Shaw’s sophomore feature Cryptozoo. After leaving audiences stunned, dazed, and drowned in an ocean of imaginative bewilderment with his debut feature My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, Shaw returns with yet another visual stunner. A hand-drawn hallucinogenic piece of animated mythology brought to life by one of the most promising animation newcomers of the 21st century, Cryptozoo seems to bring an enriching experience for adult-oriented animation fans. Toning down the fantasy element on the other end of the lineup, Makoto Yogi’s I Was A Simple Man also seems to promise an enriching cinematic experience. Based directly in O‘ahu culture, the gentle narrative and serene directional ambience also promises an emotionally satisfying venture into the unknown — an American piece of work that may also conjure up directional motifs of the filmography and work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Speaking of well-known auteurs, Baz Poonpiriya returns after his international-smash hit Bad Genius with his somber-cancer drama One for the Road. A nuanced road-movie featuring beautiful Thai scenery and nostalgic performances, Poonpiriya’s latest feature is a welcomed return. On the other side of the globe, however, something more sinister is growing in the woods. Ben Whealtey returns with yet another psychological horror — only this time around the threat is far more psychedelic. Distributed by Neon, the same studio who delivered such critical hits as Parasite and Honeyland, it seems as though Wheatley’s In The Earth is bound to deliver yet another chilling vision.
The world of psychological horror isn’t just about the supernatural. Sometimes the most terrifying and traumatising films are the ones that deal with the absurdity of humanity. John and the Hole promises exactly what we are all craving. This Cannes-selected gem will likely be one of this year’s most controversial coming of age films, just based on the concerning synopsis alone. Another notable film from this year’s selection is Karen Cinorre’s Mayday, a harrowing reinvention of the psychological war genre. Starring the always wonderful Mia Goth and Grace Van Patten, the dense concept of an endless war will intrigue genre fans and historians alike. Finalising the Sundance preview is Edgar Wright’s The Sparks Brothers. After years of teasing and hinting completion of the project, blockbuster auteur Edgar Wright returns to the camera with his first non-fiction feature. A documentary highlighting the work and life of Los Angeles-based The Sparks Brothers, Wright’s first foray into the documentary-medium promises great needle drops and a refreshing homage to a music group that deserves far more cultural recognition.
The Sundance Film Festival opens on January 28th, 2021. Single tickets and passes go on sale on January 7th, 2021.