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The Best Movies We Saw at Sundance 2021

Of the more than 70 features at the festival, these are our favorites, including the latest from Ben Wheatley and the first from Questlove.
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Sundance Institute (Photo by Jonathan Hickerson)
By  · Published on February 6th, 2021

Coming Home in the Dark

Coming Home In The Dark

Coming Home in the Dark is one of those unpredictable, brutal films that stay in your mind long after the end credits. While on a picnic in the midst of the great outdoors, Hoaggie (Erik Thomson) and his family are interrupted by two intruders. Suddenly, a more sinister connection is revealed, and vengeance for past events is demanded. While the theme of revenge has been done before, filmmaker James Ashcroft works to reinvent the exploration while commenting on the long-lasting effects of childhood trauma. But this isn’t a film for those who wince at blood or unnecessary torture. Still, if you can stomach it, this is one I completely recommend. (Shea Vassar)

Check out Rob’s review of Coming Home in the Dark.


Sundance 2021: Flee
Sundance Institute

There are many ways to make a documentary focused on an anonymous subject, but animation is one of the few that never feels like a gimmick. Especially when the rest of the film is also done in animation, a tool more common for reenactments of both the past and especially memories of the past when no other visual material exists. Not since Waltz with Bashir has a nonfiction film felt so visceral in this format.

Flee follows the coming-of-age of an Afghan refugee, starting with his departure from Kabul in the 1980s, through his family’s difficult establishment in post-communist Russia and their separate attempts at migrating to other parts of Europe. That and the fact that the young man is gay amount to an emotional surface narrative that wrecked me by its end. Throw in some unconventional structural aspects and some implicit questions about the truth and you’ve got a brilliant work of nonfiction. And it’s worth pairing with another fascinating Sundance 2021 doc, Misha and the Wolves. Try to see Flee before they dub the voices into English courtesy of Riz Ahmed and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. (Christopher Campbell)

In the Earth

In The Earth

Ben Wheatley’s latest film, In The Earth, is a return to form for the director. He goes back to his folk horror past, seen in The Kill List and A Field In England, but offers a fresh twist on the genre by melding old with new by incorporating scientific explanations of ancient gods. Fans of Annihilation will fall in love with Wheatley’s world and its psychedelic atmosphere.

The four actors — Ellora Torchia, Hayley Squires, Joel Fry, and Reece Shearsmith — are a tour de force ensemble that balance sanity and madness. Shearsmith in particular adds pitch-black humor that sneaks up on you in the film’s most violent moments. On top of exceptional performances is Clint Mansell’s dazzling score, which creates a sense of anxiety and chaos that lurks over the cast. Wheatley’s new interpretation of a well-loved subgenre illustrates his fresh perspective and love for the craft of horror filmmaking. (Mary Beth McAndrews)

Check out Mary Beth’s review of In the Earth.

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World

Sundance 2021: The Most Beautiful Boy In The World
Sundance Institute

Björn Andrésen was once “the most beautiful boy in the world.” Now, he’s a gaunt, wizened man in his mid-sixties still trying to live with the trauma of it all. Italian director Luchino Visconti’s search for the perfect boy to play Tadzio in his 1971 Death in Venice landed him on Andrésen, who utterly beguiled him. After the film’s premiere at Cannes, the world too became enraptured by the fifteen-year-old kid’s striking visage – Andrésen’s self-described “living nightmare.”

Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri’s tender documentary looks at the haunting exploitation suffered by Andrésen in a world that only wanted him for his ethereal youth and innocence – effectively stealing it from him in the process – and how the experience rippled throughout the rest of Andrésen’s life. The years-long consequences lead him to substance abuse, marred further and exacerbated by personal tragedy. Although Andrésen has done his best to better himself and move forward, it’s a part of his life that inseparably informs his present. The documentary shines an unsettling spotlight on the neglect and mistreatment endured by minors in an industry that demands they maintain both their innocence and their beauty. (Brianna Zigler)

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