Fiona’s Most Anticipated Films of Sundance 2019

Written by Fiona Underhill

It’s always difficult to predict what the ‘break outs’ of Sundance will be, but of course, excitement can be generated by finding out that your favourite directors or actors have new films coming out. So, here are my most-anticipated features of Sundance 2019.


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#1 – The Souvenir (dir. Joanna Hogg)

One of our best British directors, Joanna Hogg made two of my favourite films – Unrelated (2007) and Archipelago (2010) – both starring Tom Hiddleston – and I’m so excited that she has a new film out. The Souvenir stars Tilda Swinton (swoon) and Richard Ayoade (swoon again) and is set to have two parts, following a film student in the 1980s. Sign me all the way up.

 

#2 – The Nightingale (dir. Jennifer Kent)

Sam Claflin has recently gone from big-budget fantasy franchises to smaller films, many of which were directed by women (The Riot Club, Their Finest, Me Before You) and which have proven his acting chops (Journey’s End, My Cousin Rachel). He is back with a female director again here, The Babadook’s Jennifer Kent, in a film set in the early 19th century Australian outback. It sounds like he’ll be playing against type, in a more villainous role here as well. Cannot wait.

 

#3 – Blinded by the Light (dir. Gurinder Chadha)

The director of Bhaji on the BeachBend it Like BeckhamBride and Prejudice and Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging comes a new film set in the 1980s (again) about a teenager finding his voice through the music of Bruce Springsteen. Featuring a fantastic British cast including Kulvinder Ghir, Sally Phillips, Rob Brydon and Hayley Atwell.

 

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#4 – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (dir. Chiwetel Ejiofor)

One of my favourite British actors (I’ve seen him on stage as well as in multiple film and TV roles) is now making his feature film debut as a director. I have seen his 2013 short, Columbite Tantalite which shows his potential as a director. Set in Malawi and starring Ejiofor himself, as well as The Cursed Child’s Noma Dumezweni, the film follows a young boy who helps his village build a wind turbine after reading about them in a library book.

 

#5 – Animals (dir. Sophie Hyde)

After a decade of partying, Laura and Tyler’s friendship is strained by Laura’s new love and her focus on her novel. A snapshot of a modern woman with competing desires, at once a celebration of female friendship and an examination of the choices we make when facing a crossroads. Starring Holliday Grainger (an amazing British actress) and Alia Shawkat.

 

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#6 – Late Night (directed by Nisha Ganatra, written by Mindy Kaling)

Starring Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling. A legendary late-night talk show host’s world is turned upside down when she hires her only female staff writer. Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, her decision has unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women separated by culture and generation are united by their love of a biting punchline.

 

#7 – The Lodge (dir. Veronika Franz; Severin Fiala)

In this psychologically chilling slow burn, a young woman and her reticent new stepchildren find themselves isolated in the family’s remote winter cabin, locked away to dredge up the mysteries of her dark past and the losses that seem to haunt them all. Starring Riley Keough, Alicia Silverstone and Richard Armitage.

 

#8 – The Sunlit Night (dir. David Wnendt)

Between New York City and the far north of Norway, an American painter and a Russian émigré find each other in the Arctic circle. Together under a sun that never sets, they discover a future and family that they didn’t know they had. Starring Jenny Slate, Zach Galifianakis and Gillian Anderson.

 

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#9 – Velvet Buzzsaw (dir. Dan Gilroy)

This film reunites Dan Gilroy with his Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo. A thriller set in the contemporary art world scene of Los Angeles, where big money artists and mega-collectors pay a high price when art collides with commerce. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton and Tom Sturridge.

 

#10 – Little Monsters (dir. Abe Forsythe)

Starring Lupita Nyong’o. A film dedicated to all the kindergarten teachers who motivate children to learn, instill them with confidence and stop them from being devoured by zombies.

 

#11 – Mope (dir. Lucas Heyne)

Two ‘mopes’ – the lowest-level male performers in the porn industry – set their sights on an impossible dream: stardom. StarringNathan Stewart-Jarrett, star of two of my favourite TV series of all time; Misfits and Utopia.

 

#12 – Sweetheart (Director: JD Dillard)

Jenn has washed ashore on a small tropical island and it doesn’t take her long to realize she’s completely alone. She must spend her days not only surviving the elements, but must also fend off the malevolent force that comes out each night. Starring Kiersey Clemons(Hearts Beat Loud) and Emory Cohen (Brooklyn).

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JUMPSCARECUT: The Babadook (2014)

Year: 2014
Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman

Written by Corey Hughes

Jennifer Kent’s extraordinary feature-length directorial debut is an astonishing piece of work and a future classic for the horror genre.

Based on her 2005 short-film ‘Monster’, ‘The Babadook’ tells the story of a widowed mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), who battles with her everyday life of being a single mother and her son’s irrational fear of a monster supposedly lurking in the house. Kent’s tale presents the everyday rituals of a child plagued by nightmares – a check in the cupboard and a check under the bed – and by the time the film is over, you’ll find yourselves checking every crevice of your home in search for the demonic creature. It’s part-horror, part-psychological thriller, and part-family drama; but a wholly fascinating insight into the life of a troubled widow and her slowly deteriorating wellbeing.

There’s a muscular sense of confidence in Kent’s debut outing as a director, evident through her composed, patient preference for building tension rather than implementing lousy jump-scares to evoke undeserved audience reactions. The infusion of a provocative family drama within the framework of a supposed paranormal horror narrative is a refreshing take that will undeniably find itself among the great horror films of past decades; despite its initial lukewarm reception by casual filmgoers back in 2014.

The family unit, comprised of Davis’ Amelia and her paranoid son Samuel, is expertly written by Kent. Essie Davis is utterly convincing as the grief-struck single mother, who provides an internalised performance at the verge of implosion at the hands of Samuel’s incessant disobedience. Young Noah Wiseman, whilst infuriating in the role, is superbly cast as the troubled child. His persistent violence outbursts and his nails-on-a-chalkboard high-pitched screams truly get under one’s skin, but that’s the whole point, it’s a source of irritation for the viewer that builds to the eerie atmosphere that consumes the film. But as the film progresses the pair switch roles,  Amelia slowly descending into madness and Samuel rising to the occasion to protect his mother, their performances shift into more nuanced territory; an impressive feat for the pair.

The film’s central scare, though, is through its depiction of the everyday. At some point in our lives, we have all been struck by the death of a loved one, and Kent brings to our screens a tale of a mother and son trying to cope in a world where grief surrounds them at every moment of their lives. The film, itself, is extremely Freudian: the monster is not physically alive, but lies in the subconscious of Amelia and Samuel; a monster that has been fabricated by the pair to reflect their constant bereavement. The Babadook itself, then, is a haunting, demonic metaphor for internalised trauma conjured by the violent death of a husband and father – a subtle, but provocative, detail that will resonate with many.

The design of the monster seems to be largely inspired by Kent’s adoration for German Expressionist cinema, with its long, slender arms of Nosferatu and costume design of Dr. Caligari; it’s palpable that her fascination for such icons reflects upon her own creation. Perhaps The Babadook’s monster won’t have the cinematic immortality that its predecessors have rightfully earned, but it will forever remain, to me at least, as one of cinema’s most terrifying creations.

There is no apparent closure to Kent’s tale, and deservedly so. As much as “you can’t get rid of The Babadook”, you can never rid yourself of grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one. We may find in ourselves the ability to accept and adapt to it, but the inner torment and sadness that we feel will always remain. And for that reason, Jennifer Kent’s ‘The Babadook’ is a timeless, terrifying addition to horror cinema. I have a deep adoration for it.