Sundance Day 3: Sasquatch Sunset, Handling the Undead, Love Lies Bleeding
Plus a rant about cellphone usage.
On my third day at Sundance I was able to catch three movies, including one that prompted dozens of walkouts at the Press and Industry (P&I) screening I attended. Continue on to find out which one! And read to the end to see who Kristen Stewart told to “shut the fuck up!” during the Q&A for Love Lies Bleeding.
But first, a quick word about cellphone usage at Sundance.
Smartphone usage at Sundance
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to any film festival in person, let alone Sundance. But one big difference I’ve noticed this time around is the smartphone usage. Quite honestly, the situation sucks. I have seen about a dozen movies at the time of this writing and in every single screening, at least one person sitting one or two seats next to me has pulled out a smartphone and started using it in full sight of everyone else in the theater (often repeatedly). This despite the fact that every screening is introduced by a Sundance staff member or volunteer reminding you to “silence all cell phones.” [Dave’s note: I’d suggest modifying this into a request to “toss all cell phones into the sea” instead.]
I understand that emergencies happen, particularly if you’re a member of the Sundance staff. But I can pretty much guarantee that the vast majority of instances in which someone whipped out their phone near me, it was not something that had to be resolved right at the moment in the theater, to the discomfort of dozens of people around them.
Film festivals are one of the last places where the filmgoing experience is cherished. For the love of all that is good, if you need to use a phone during a movie, first of all, consider not doing so. And if you absolutely have to, step out of the theater. Please.
One of my first screenings of the day is for Sasquatch Sunset, a new movie by the Zellner brothers starring Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg. I’d heard this movie was a bit weird and unconventional but even I was unprepared for the experience of watching it.
Sasquatch Sunset tells the story of a group of four sasquatches as they make their way through the forest over the course of a year. Their journey involves a lot of eating, fucking, shitting, and pissing. And, well, that covers most of what happens in the movie. If you’re like me, you probably have a lot of questions about WTF is happening here. Why make this movie? What’s the point? And why were stars like Eisenberg and Keough enticed to join this production?
At its core, the movie invite us to ponder the humanity of sasquatches (and by extension, any other creature in the animal kingdom). Sasquatches are not quite human, not quite animal, but they have many recognizable emotions and experiences. They also encounter life-threatening circumstances and must deal with the constant threats nature. Despite none of these “characters” being able to talk, through their journey we are able to relate to them, sympathize with them, and ultimately root for them.
Sasquatch Sunset is also an impressive technical achievement. All the human actors are completely unrecognizable and the sasquatch outfits are convincing, even up close. There are many moments in the film that require complete dedication to the performance for the movie to remain convincing, and each performer stepped up to the plate and delivered.
Also: I’ve been to my share of P&I screenings. It’s generally accepted that if you need to leave a P&I screening in the middle of the movie, that’s totally fine (heck, maybe the person is leaving to bid on the film!). But reader, let me tell you, I have never seen so many people walk out of a P&I screening as I have during Sasquatch Sunset. Probably close to 3-4 dozen people just walked out and never came back before the 30 minute mark.
Why did everyone leave? I have a few guesses. The first is that people felt they “got” the movie by the time we got to the second act. Why subject yourself to more if you understand what the movie is selling? But Sasquatch Sunset is also a challenging and very graphic film. There is no dialogue for most of the film and you are subjected to all sorts of bodily functions, frequently in excruciating detail. For many of the refined folks in the Sundance audience, they may have just felt it was a bit too much. I don’t blame them, but I also think this film is a pretty remarkable achievement.
Sasquatch Sunset will be out in theaters in April.
Handling the Undead
In the afternoon, I had a chance to see one of the first screenings of Handling the Undead, directed by Thea Hvistendahl and based on the novel by Let the Right One In author John Ajvide Lindqvist. Handling the Undead tells the story of what happens when a loved one comes back to life, only they come back changed. A bit. Think of it as an arthouse zombie film.
The cast is impressive, including Renate Reinsve (The Worst Person in the World) and it’s a gorgeous looking film. Unfortunately, I found Handling the Undead to be an excruciating experience overall. Its great premise undone by glacial pacing, bizarre directorial/editing decisions, and protagonists that mostly don’t behave in recognizably human ways. Every film I’ve seen at Sundance so far has at least been decent, if not outright great. This is the first one I’ve seen that I really can’t recommend to anyone except possibly super hardcore horror/zombie/arthouse fans.
Handling the Undead will be available during the online portion of Sundance next week.
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Love Lies Bleeding
My evening concludes at the Eccles Theater, where I was able to snag a ticket for the world premiere of Rose Glass’s film Love Lies Bleeding, starring Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian. Without giving too much away, I’d describe the movie is an erotic thriller featuring revenge, drugs, and a lot of body building.
I had a great time with Love Lies Bleeding, though I wasn’t quite as over the moon as many others were coming out of the premiere. The movie has a great, propulsive energy, with some Coen Bros-esque antics and a dash of Requiem for a Dream-like trippiness thrown in for good measure. Watching it with an audience was a blast and there are a bunch of crowd-pleasing moments.
While I think the story is pretty standard thriller fare, what really elevates Love Lies Bleeding is the cast. Katy O’Brian will expand your mind for how amazing a human being can look — she’s featured prominently on the poster and brings an incredible physicality to her role that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. But her chemistry with Kristen Stewart is what makes this movie irresistible (and hot!). No matter what other wild plot machinations are developing around them, their connection grounds the film and gives it an emotional core that will make you want to see these characters through to the end.
Ultimately, I think there’s a big audience for this movie and fans of A24 (one of the companies behind this film) are going to be pleased when they have a chance to catch it in theaters.
Also, check out this clip from the post-premiere Q&A, which features Jena Malone talking about amazing the script was and Kristen Stewart lovingly chiding a fellow cast mate.
That’s my 3rd day! Only one other full day to go before I head home. Let me know if there’s anything that catches your eye at Sundance this year!