- Derek Carlisle
Park City in January—when the Sundance Film Festival rolls into town—is all of the things you think it is. But it's also more than that.
People understandably tend to focus on the notion of the entire American film industry descending on a small Utah mountain town, with big-name celebrities like Taylor Swift drawing all of the attention. But if you're willing to dig a little deeper, you can find other stories. Maybe it's the many volunteers who do the grunt work necessary to keep the glamorous festival running. Maybe it's the live music you can catch up and down Park City's Main Street. Maybe it's the down-and-dirty horror films that challenge the stereotype of what a "Sundance movie" is. Or maybe it's exploring the uniquely DIY offerings at the Slamdance Film Festival.
We've got all of that for you, plus our annual tips and tricks for how to experience Sundance without going crazy and/or broke. And it's worth being part of that experience—because whatever your assumptions are about what that experience might be, Sundance can surprise you.
It Takes a Village
Four Sundance volunteer vets on what it takes to stage the yearly behemoth.
By Scott Renshaw
Every year, more than 2,400 volunteers from Utah, across the country and around the world journey to Park City and other Sundance Film Festival venues. For many of them, it has become an annual occasion, allowing them to experience festival films and reconnect with old friends. As a nod to the unsung heroes, here are just a few profiles of those who bring their smiles, enthusiasm and puffy jackets to keep Sundance running.
- Courtesy Photo
- Jenny Schwing, right, with Sundance co-worker Catherine Bock
(Information Booth/Festival Insider Liaison)
Sundance Film Festival first-timers always need help getting the lay of the land. For Jenny Schwing, appreciating the efforts of those who helped her as a first-timer led to her own volunteer experience.
A property manager from Long Beach, Calif., now in her eighth year as a volunteer, Schwing recalls having always wanted to attend Sundance before finally getting together with a friend as a 2012 ticket-holder. "As a first-timer, I found volunteers and asked volunteers," she says. "And they were so helpful and so nice and so happy, and clearly loved what they were doing, it was kind of infectious: I want what they have. ... So I went home and thought about it, and looked into it."
For her first year as a volunteer in 2013, Schwing got tremendous support from a volunteer mentor. "That was the best thing," she says. "She and I connected weeks before attending. I could ask questions, she could tell me stories: You need to know this; you don't need to know this, you just need to know where to find it. When I first went in, I was really well-prepared."
Nevertheless, she was still nervous for her first assignment—especially since she was at the information booth, which meant being one of those helpful people she remembered from her own first year. "It made me do a whole lot of homework, because I thought, 'I better have information,'" Schwing says.
Being a help to other visitors is clearly a motivator for Schwing, whose celebrity encounters included helping Jennifer Hudson charge her cell phone. She described one of her favorite experiences as from her second or third year working at the booth. A desperate patron came up to her, saying that his significant other was in a festival film, and he had purchased tickets to the Egyptian Theater screening—not realizing that it was actually at Ogden's Egyptian Theater, where Sundance screenings were still being held that year, and with no transportation to get there. "I said, 'OK, we can figure this out if you can throw some money at it.' We looked at restaurants near the theater, then we have a list of private car companies. Two days later, he came back, gives me a hug and says, 'Thank you so much.'"
After several years in the booth, and wanting to venture out and try something else, she became a Festival Insider Liaison, or "FIL"—basically, a walking information booth, strolling up and down Park City's Main Street with an "ask me" sign. "I have had the most ridiculous questions asked," she says with a laugh. "At a volunteer screening at the Library Theater, waiting in line for the bathroom, I had my 'ask me' button, and someone said, 'Why aren't there enough women's bathrooms?' I said, 'Because a man designed it.'"
That job of being outside, walking in the winter weather, isn't for the faint of heart, Schwing says. Still, she takes that job seriously, and says that's the key to a positive experience as a Sundance volunteer. "We work hard to play hard," she says. "You're going to be given a job, and you're expected to get it done. But the rewards are wonderful. You get to see films, and meet some really wonderful people."
Some "wonderful people" Schwing has met have subsequently become close friends during the non-festival part of the year. She says there's a group of six or eight other regular volunteers who live in Southern California, and who have group chats and get togethers when they can. "And when we get to Sundance, it's like a reunion you can't even believe," she says. "It's quite lovely to see the same faces from year to year."
- Courtesy Photo
- Maren Slaugh, right, with team member Charlie Latner
(Theater Operations Assistant Manager—Rose Wagner Center)
Not everyone is honest enough to admit that they go to Park City to see celebrities. But while that's what first led Maren Slaugh to Park City, it's not what turned her into a volunteer.
A Midvale resident who works in her non-Sundance time as division director for records management and archives for Salt Lake County, Slaugh notes that in the early 2000s, she would drive to Park City with friends "to try to see movie stars." But in 2007, she recalls becoming particularly fascinated with the post-film Q&As. "Seeing a director talk about the film and his passion for it," Slaugh says, "it was a different way of seeing filmmaking. ... You go to see movies just because you like the subject matter, and you never think about what goes into the making of it. The next year, I went on the website, and signed up."
Despite the nerves of her first assignment at the Rose Wagner theater venue in Salt Lake City, the volunteer experience was positive right out of the gate. "I didn't know what to expect, what I'd be doing," Slaugh says. "But the managers—and I'm one now—were so organized. That first day, they really train you. They don't want you to fail." Indeed, the training process takes place throughout the month of January, with online and in-person components.
Now in her 13th year, and having graduated to assistant theater manager, Slaugh says that it's the people who keep her coming back. "What hooked me was not just the filmmaking, but the actual volunteer family," she says. "Every year, we come back and it's like a big reunion. And I love how the audience gets excited. Those wait lines are so long, and people make friends with each other in line."
Working in a theater venue, Slaugh does have celebrity encounter stories. A particular favorite involves actor Kevin Bacon, who was at Sundance several years ago with the film Taking Chance. "Nobody knew he was coming; I thought, 'The people in the theater are going to freak out when they see him,'" she says. "We try to leave them alone, and be very professional, but meeting him after the Q&A, to make sure he got to his vehicle safely, he was just so appreciative, and thanked us for all we do."
Her advice to anyone who might be considering becoming a Sundance volunteer? "They have to be passionate about people, not just films," she says. "A lot of people think they're just going to see free movies. And sometimes, if you're in the theater as an usher, you do get to see a movie. But you have to be thinking about safety, keeping your eyes open." And even though she understands the temptation to star-watch from her own early trips to Park City: "Don't be taking pictures of people."
- Courtesy Photo
- Valeria Damken
There are those who volunteer at Sundance for an experience. And there are those, like Valeria Damken, who initially volunteered to get experience.
A native of Mexico now living in McAllen, Texas, Damken was job hunting in 2017 prior to landing a position as a video editor at a local TV station. "I'd actually never gone," she says about her previous familiarity with Sundance, "but I'd seen before that Academy Award nominated movies were originally at Sundance. I was looking for something to do to get experience on my résumé, so I went to the Sundance website and looked for what volunteer opportunities were available."
As a first-year volunteer in 2018, Damken landed in events—which covers occasions like the filmmaker brunch, news conferences, the festival award ceremony and more—with tasks like setting up and tearing down events, crowd control and coat check. With no personal prior Sundance experience, Damken didn't know quite what to expect. "Whatever happens, happens," she recalls of her approach. "I'm up for whatever. I actually love cold weather. Here, we don't have any snow. At first it was an adjustment, maybe the altitude was a little bit tiring, but after a weekend, I was fine with it."
Working events can involve celebrity encounters, and Damken recalls one amusing (and slightly embarrassing) one involving Ty Burrell. Damken was working an event where there were separate entrances for celebrities and for general attendees, with separate coat checks at each entrance. The general entrance, where Damken was working the coat check, was also near the bathrooms, and layout made them a bit hard to find. "I saw Ty Burrell, and I thought he was trying to go to the restroom," she says. "He kept smiling and looking at me. I said, 'Do you want to go to the restroom?' He just showed his coat check ticket, not realizing this wasn't the coat check where he'd left his coat. But I was very persistent about trying to get him to go to the restroom."
As her advice to someone who might be considering becoming a volunteer, Damken says, "Go for it. There are many, many, many different kinds of positions—theaters, information. It's a privilege to get to see a bunch of screenings during the festival." And as for the most important tip she can pass along for first-timers: "Packing. I know now that I don't need T-shirts, and use the same three pairs of jeans and leggings. And good shoes, for sure. We are standing up a lot."
For Damken, the experience of being around Sundance's encouragement of creative people is particularly energizing. "The environment that Sundance creates, just the love of film," she says. "Rooting for one another, whatever it is you've submitted, the support it creates. That feeling of, 'I'm here for you, and your work is awesome.'"
- Courtesy Photo
- Jamie Jensen, left, with team members Keith Nixon, Kimberly Lowe, Marlee Myers and Renna Gardner
(Theater Operations—Redstone Theater)
Everyone has experiences in their life that motivate them to take a long-delayed step. After a battle with cancer, Jamie Jensen wasn't about to miss a chance to fulfill a desire to be a Sundance volunteer.
Jensen, a full-time mother of three and occasional freelance journalist, lived in Idaho in the 1990s when she was a student at then-Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho). After living elsewhere for several years, Jensen and her family moved back to Utah where she had additional family support as she began treatment for stage 4 breast cancer. "I have a background in A&E, did movie reviews and all those things, and I had always wanted to volunteer for Sundance," Jensen says. "When we first moved back, I was still really sick. I thought, 'After I get better, I'm totally applying.'"
She did recover, and applied to join the Sundance volunteer team in 2016. Yet despite living only 25 minutes from Sundance Resort, and with experience having attended Sundance, she still didn't know what to expect. "I was surprised how many people around me [among the volunteers] had not gone as a ticket-holder," she says. "I'm the only one out of my friend group, that I know of, that volunteers. But I was a little naïve going in."
Jensen worked initially in theater operations in roles like ushering patrons, line management and theater reentry—"wherever you're needed, and wherever managers need you," she says. Now in her fifth year, and serving as a team lead for the Redstone Theater venue in Kimball Junction, she's experienced enough to be able to provide advice to other prospective volunteers.
"We have a Facebook page for volunteers, and every year, a month or so out, alumni are on there giving newbies all their tips," Jensen says. "Especially if you're not from Utah or a mountainous area, it's always 'hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.' I'm just an hour away, and I need to remember it."
Like many of her colleagues, she also notes that volunteers have to be ready for it to be a serious job. "I tell people it's the most rewarding hard work you'll do," she says. "If you're doing it right, you're working hard. One year, I think I had walked 25,000 steps in one day."
There is also the fun stuff, like the chance to meet filmmakers and celebrities. Jensen's favorite story involves actor Ethan Hawke, who was at Sundance in 2018 as director of the competition film Blaze. "He was at Redstone to do a Q&A for Blaze, but he didn't sit in the theater to watch it with the audience. He was just out chatting with the managers," she says. "The Redstone is also a public venue during Sundance, and we were showing [the 1991 Ethan Hawke film] White Fang. He says, 'Do you guys care if I go into White Fang?' He just wanted to see this movie he made in the '90s. My high-school heart was super excited about that."
Jensen says with a laugh that Sundance is "probably the only thing that gets me through the time after Christmas and through to summer. My husband and kids ski, and I have Sundance." Yet she also thinks of it as a learning experience, both through the films she gets a chance to see, and the relationships she's built. "I always seem to start each year with a premiere or dramatic film that, through research and getting prepared, I'm looking forward to, and I always walk away with a documentary in my heart," she says. "And the people you meet are amazing. Even if the films were out of it, but I got to go back and see my friends I've made over the years, I'd still do that. I've volunteered with people from all over the world. It really opens up your perspective."
- Sundance Film Festival
A Lover and a Fighter
The Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana offers a chance to get closer to an era-defining pop superstar.
By Erin Moore
Few celebrities or musicians are as veiled in mystery as Taylor Swift—a mystery constructed from the many intense perceptions of who she is, compared to the life depicted in her era-defining pop music. It was her self-titled country breakout album that put her on the map back in 2006, and while the single "Tear Drops on My Guitar" caught the world's attention, opening track "Tim McGraw" was an almost prophetic signal toward the power of her music. Swift's career has been, for the most part, always in conversation with itself, and one that has transformed the way we talk about cross-genre music, too. She sang sweetly about loving a Tim McGraw song, reducing it and his stardom to a romantic notion—and, within a few years, she had eclipsed him in fame.
Taylor Swift: Miss Americana, one of the opening night features at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, is a documentary that will shed light on the woman she is now, after all the years—spending her 20s in the limelight, transitioning deftly and innovatively from country star to pop star, and enduring an unsavory on-again/off-again feud with Kanye West that hit a fever-pitch of Kardashian-fueled gross in 2016—and albums that came after that fateful first. This film comes hot on the heels of a new point of contention in Swift's career—namely, the denial of her rights to her early catalogue by her former label, Big Machine. Her struggle to gain permission to perform her own songs on the eve of being awarded Artist of the Decade by the American Music Awards—and to use them in Miss Americana—recalls recent struggles by other pop artists like Kesha to maintain artistic autonomy in the face of (male) executive control. On her late 2019 release Lover—an 18-song return to Swiftian pop princess form—this move into the rather political field of talking back at "The Man" is a marked first for her as an artist who's been accused of being too apolitical.
But then she's always been one to do the right things at the right time. She followed a childhood obsession with Shania Twain and Faith Hill to Nashville at age 11, and began steadily climbing toward the unique country music career that would pave the way for pop success, a crossover neither of her early influences ever fully ventured into. Her fourth album, 2012's Red, was still a country-slanted album, with fiercely catchy tracks "I Knew You Were Trouble." and "22" seeming to ask, "Can we do this pop thing?" The answer was irrevocably, "Yes." Her 2014 follow-up, 1989, was a true-blue pop album, and defined twenty-teens pop.
Perhaps her precarious position at the top restrains her from controversial themes—notwithstanding airing breakup grievances and friendship feuds. While 2014 Swift was a pop tastemaker, today's Swift seems rather freer, after what feels like the eon that was the Reputation era and its fallout (Swift playfully and to much criticism, confirmed her status as a vengeful "snake" with songs pointedly referencing her feud with West). In a 2019 interview with Rolling Stone, she defined Lover as a return to "the fundamental songwriting pillars that I usually build my house on," but it's more than that. In Lover, Swift tries to be part of relevant conversations that do and don't affect her—namely, issues of sexism in Hollywood and LGBTQ issues, the latter being displayed in her video for "You Need to Calm Down." Although some cringed at what felt like an exploitative use of queer people to boost her image as an open progressive, it's also very possible that it's just Swift finally trying to be part of wider cultural conversations after years of being one of the most highly-scrutinzed women in media.
It makes sense that she'd venture forth in this direction. Although she's been mostly regarded as a hopeless romantic, going through Hollywood's most handsome "It Boys" like candy in a dish, her many songs about love, heartbreak and pained vengeance are merely peppered among the real refrain of her work: empowerment. From the tough and tender days of Fearless and Speak Now to the jaded grimace that is Reputation, there's equal measure of love stories and self-love stories—and it seems that it's the latter that pushes her from one ambitious pop project to the next.
Lover was just as ambitious, if only because it sought to remind us of Swift's foundational pull. The first teasers for Lover admitted to some kind of return to form—photos showed off Swift's dip-dyed pink hair, a pink sparkling heart around her eye, butterflies every which way. It showed an innocent appeal to love, freedom and light. But even with the release of the album, it's hard to shake over a decade's worth of complicated imagery surrounding the pop star, and it's hard to know if the real Swift really does exist in her songs, or how much she's playing with our conceptions of her. This documentary offers the chance for viewers to get closer—if not to the person herself, hopefully to the artist who has so expertly defined what pop music, love songs and high drama look like in more than a decade's worth of contemporary pop culture.
- Rob Shanahan
- Derek Smalls
A guide to music performances in and around the festival.
As much as Sundance is about movies, it has also traditionally been an opportunity to catch some great music, whether in official festival venues or at satellite events. Here are just a few of the artists you might be able to enjoy either between screenings or to cap off an evening.
Sundance Film Festival Lounges— Hosted by Visit Salt Lake
Queer Lounge @ The Daily, 222 S. Main, Salt Lake City
Performances by: Talia Keyes, Marqueza, Year of the Dog, Viva la Diva, Justin Utley, Dee Dee Darby Duffin, Gia Bianca Stephens, Hasha and more When: Thursday 1/24—Saturday 2/1, 6 p.m. Free and open to the public
Festival Lounge @ Copper Common, 111 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Performances by: Nate Spenser Trio, Carl Carbonell, Sycamore Slim, The Proper Way, Andrew Shaw, Terrance Hansen, Abel Nelson, Branson Anderson, Turtle Dovin' and more
When: Thursday 1/24—Saturday 2/1, 7 p.m.
Free and open to the public
Festival Lounge @ East Liberty Tap House, 850 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City
Performances by: Josaleigh Pollett, Andrew Wiscomb, John Joslin Davis, Marcus Bentley, Hot House West, Appliance Repair, Doug Wintch and more
When: Thursday 1/24—Saturday 2/1, 5 p.m.
Free and open to the public
Sundance 2020 ASCAP Music Cafe @ 751 Main, Park City
Performances by: Matt Berninger of The National, Derek Smalls of the band formerly known as Spinal Tap, The Bird and the Bee, ZZ Ward, Fox Wilde, Matthew Koma of Winnetka Bowling League and more
When: Thursday 1/24—Friday 1/31, 2-6 p.m.
Open to festival credential holders on a space-available basis
18th Annual BMI Snowball Music Showcase @ The Shop, 1167 Woodside Ave., Park City
Performances by all-female roster: Lisa Loeb, Chloé Caroline, Georgia Ku
When: Tuesday 1/28, 8-10 p.m.
Open to festival credential holders on a space-available basis
Celebration of Music in Film-Presented by Southwest Airlines @ The Shop, 1167 Woodside Ave., Park City
Performances by: Rufus Wainwright, Sharon Van Etten, Jorge Aragón Brito
When: Saturday 1/25, 7-10 p.m.
Open to festival credential holders on a space-available basis
- Sundance Film Festival
How to Sundance
A handy-dandy guide to get the most out of your film fest experience.
By Scott Renshaw
Whether you're a first-timer or an old-timer, it's always good to get a reminder of the best way to handle the logistics of attending Sundance, whether in Park City or right here in SLC. Here are the key tips and tricks to make your experience the best it can be.
Navigating Park City: Official festival parking is limited and expensive. Any one of the "official" festival lots in Park City costs a minimum of $25 per day; on busier days (particularly the first weekend) it will be a premium even above that. So the best way to get around if you're making a day trip from the Salt Lake Valley is to find street parking—usually around the official festival headquarters in the Prospector Square area—and take free festival shuttles everywhere else you want to go. Just be very aware of signs identifying where parking is and is not permitted, because Park City police are out in force patrolling for violations. If you're planning to attend a film screening, get familiar with the distance between venues, and be aware that at certain peak commute times—weekend evenings heading into Main Street, or between 3 and 6 p.m. when day skiers and locals are heading out of town—many of the main arteries are so clogged with traffic that it can take an hour to get from one side of Park City to the other.
Seeing Movies: While most Park City screenings are officially sold out well in advance of the festival week, that's mostly to account for pass-holders who have the option to attend any screening, and ticket holders who might not show up. Waitlist tickets are available for each venue, with the number varying based on the size of the venue and the time of day. Your best shot at getting in will be the largest theater spaces—the MARC theater and Eccles Theater in Park City, and the Grand Theater in Salt Lake City—at the earliest and latest screening times daily. Log on to the official festival app, create an account and get ready to reserve a virtual spot in the wait list line (usually two hours before scheduled screening time). Then, depending on the waitlist number you receive, decide whether you want to make sure you're there in person at the venue 30 minutes before showtime to purchase your tickets (cash only, $10-$25 depending on screening). For the first two days, nobody really knows anything about most of the movies, and whatever deafening "you gotta see this" bustle you'll hear likely comes from particularly shrewd publicists or from the presence of one or two familiar actors. But by the end of the first weekend, start asking people on a shuttle bus—or keeping an eye on cityweekly.net for our daily review updates.
Getting Around Salt Lake City Screenings: SLC screenings at the Rose Wagner Center, Broadway Centre Cinemas and Main Library auditorium are located within a two-block walk of Trax stations, so consider public transportation as a great alternative to parking if those are your destinations. The Tower Theatre and Grand Theatre venues aren't quite so convenient to public transportation, so you'll probably need to drive. Again, account for peak traffic times and weather conditions when considering whether you can get from your screening at the Rose Wagner that ends at 4:30 p.m. to one that starts at 6 p.m. at the Tower.
Food: Theater venue fare is expensive, and limited time between screenings can make it difficult to find a cheaper place nearby. The alternative? Brown-bag it. Pack calorie-high, nutrition-dense, transportable snacks (e.g. trail mix or dried fruit) and bring a reusable water bottle rather than purchasing a drink somewhere. Consider swinging by a grocery store (the Fresh Market near the Yarrow Hotel and Holiday Theaters in Park City, or Smith's near the Tower Theatre), grabbing some fresh fruit and a bagel, and saving that $25 for another wait-list ticket.
A Flavor of the Festival for Free: If you've never done it before, find a parking spot early in the morning on the opening weekend, and spend the day just strolling around Park City's Main Street. You might pass a wandering celebrity, or maybe just enjoy the buzz of activity and cameras around various official venues. You won't need to have a ticket for a festival screening, and you can get at least a taste of what makes this weird week one of Utah's most distinctive experiences.
- Nadia Bedzhanova
- Slamdance 2020 competition feature Beware of Dog
Park City's other festival showcases new voices, wherever they might come from.
By Scott Renshaw
Slamdance Film Festival director and co-founder Peter Baxter notes that submissions to the festival from outside the United States are booming—and that trend is reflected in a program that focuses not just on American independent film, but personal storytelling from around the world.
Unlike Sundance, Slamdance's narrative and documentary competition slates are not divided based on country of origin. American films share the spotlight there with films from Canada, Japan, Uruguay, Belarus and more. "Through the eyes of our programmers—who are filmmakers themselves—we're interested in marginalized and underrepresented filmmakers, wherever they might come from, whose stories might be missed," Baxter says. "It's vital, then, for Slamdance to show these kinds of films."
This border-crossing approach to programming might be best represented in a feature like Beware of Dog, a co-production of the U.S., Russia and Germany. Following three individuals in those three countries, it deals with subjects of stigmas and challenges surrounding mental health as they manifest themselves in different places, emphasizing the notion that some subjects might be specific to a certain time, but not necessarily a certain place. "The themes that are running through this program are very much connected to what a younger generation—the age group that's creating the films in the first place—are going through," Baxter says. "And we see that they are shared around the world.
- Courtesy Photo
- Slamdance opening night feature Film About A Father Who
"It's exciting because it really goes back to the importance of visual storytelling, and its ability to enable audiences to see through the eyes of others," he adds. "I always like to think, at Slamdance, the program we're seeing is sort of foreshadowing the themes and stories and cultural trends we'll see shortly afterwards. And that's coming from a new generation of artists."
These filmmakers and stories might come from all over, but they're still working their way into an industry that's experimenting with new and different distribution platforms. Baxter emphasizes the way Slamdance and its filmmaker alumni work with the new filmmakers to prepare them not just for the festival experience, but for taking the next step in their creative careers. And he believes that the kind of films they program—while they don't have the star power that might drive interest in Sundance films—might actually be better positioned for financial success. "For most filmmakers, the offers that are being received do not cover the cost of production," Baxter says. "At Slamdance, a lot of these movies are made for a really small amount of money, so the chance to break even is greater."
For Baxter, the important thing is continuing to provide an opportunity for new voices to get a showcase, and tell their unique stories. "Slamdance is a place of discovery," he says, "and every year, filmmakers do breakout because the entertainment industry does recognize the need for new voices. ... The industry is ever-changing, [and] which direction are they taking with acquisitions, and emerging talent, it's still not clear. The one thing I think that is becoming clearer is they are all interested in working with emerging talent."
- Phantom Four Films
- The Night House
If your tastes run to genre movies, there's still something for you at Sundance.
By Rebecca Frost
I've known many people who avoid Sundance because they don't feel like they "deserve" to be there: "I like movies like The Hangover," one fan explains. "I don't think they would even let me in Park City." Let me be the first to tell you that for every beautiful independent film representation of someone's soul, there is an opposite. A gory, foul-mouthed and/or darkly comedic antithesis to what people perceive Sundance to be.
My favorite Sundance experience was last year at a screening of The Lodge. Since it was a horror thriller from the same mind behind Goodnight, Mommy, I knew what to expect. The Lodge was bound to feature tense storytelling and horror elements woven throughout the scenes, both violent and psychological. Within the first five minutes of The Lodge, there's a scene of a graphic suicide, and the audience's horrified reaction is one I will treasure forever.
Sundance-goers are not specifically horror fans; they are Sundance fans, and will see whatever they can get tickets for. Not knowing what to expect from a film like The Lodge is a brutal shock to the system for casual moviegoers—and what a thrill it is for someone like me, a seasoned genre-watcher, to hear the reactions. As haughty as this might sound, I felt like I finally deserved to be a Sundancer. I understood what was going on in the film, while these plebes had no idea what they were in for.
That said, the Midnight section at Sundance is a great entry point for those horror film lovers who might otherwise feel out-of-place at Sundance. Classics like Get Out, Hereditary, The Blair Witch Project and Saw all made their debut at Sundance. Here are a selection of films premiering at Sundance this year that you should check out if you're interested in dipping your toes into the darker side of the indie fest.
If you like V/H/S or The Ritual, try The Night House. Fans of the scariest segment in 2012's V/H/S, "Amateur Night," should consider also trying The Ritual on Netflix. Both pieces are directed by David Bruckner, and he makes a return to feature film making this year with The Night House, starring Rebecca Hall. The story follows Hall's character (a recent widow) as she digs deeper into her late husband's past and uncovers something strange and terrible. If Bruckner remains consistent, you can expect a slow burn with a shocking reveal destined to linger in your mind.
- Run Sweetheart Run
If you like Netflix's You, try Run Sweetheart Run. Having watched You (and read the book it's based on), I came away wishing for a perspective from the woman being stalked. Run Sweetheart Run looks to satisfy that craving I have by delivering a feminist-driven story about a single mother who agrees to a blind date only to wind up being hunted by her date as she tries to make her way home. A story about a charming man who quickly devolves into a villain is likely to be appealing to many single women who actively enjoy thrillers.
- New Regency Pictures
- His House
If you like Get Out, try His House. Get Out preyed on the white audience's sense of guilt and the black person's underlying sense of fear of being subject to racism, and His House follows that path laid before it. A story about Sudanese refugees who arrive in an English town, their relief of finally being in a safe space doesn't last long as something darker and more sinister lurks behind kind faces.
- Sight Unseen Pictures
- Bad Hair
If you like In Fabric or Rubber, try Bad Hair. Horror films that also lean heavily into comedy are, while not common, brilliant if done well. Previous examples like In Fabric or Rubber give life to inanimate objects as they take on an agenda of their own. Bad Hair, created by Dear White People's Justin Simien, takes a turn on this trope by also touching on the narrative that many black women face every day: Their hair is an enemy. After changing her hair in order to be more successful at her job, protagonist Anna soon learns that her new 'do has a mind of its own, and likely with deadly consequences.
- Base Entertainment
If you like Hereditary or Midsommar, try Impetigore. You're going to have to read subtitles on this one, but foreign horror films are actually some of the best of the genre. From Indonesia, Impetigore follows protagonist Maya as she travels to a remote village where she grew up. The trip is surrounded by strange goings-on, and a noticeable lack of children. Impetigore goes down the rabbit hole of horror through bloodlines and heritage, and how those subjects affect this isolated community, using that relatable twinge of familial oddness in all of us to tell a scary story.