Sundance Diary, volume seven: up all night!


In a series of posts, Midnites for Maniacs curator-host and Academy of Art film-history teacher Jesse Hawthorne Ficks reports on the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Check out his first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth entries.

Park City at Midnight is what excites me most about each Sundance Film Festival. Yet, many other films screen at midnight that aren't technically part of the actual category, which brings up the dilemma of what type of film warrants the designation of "Midnight Movie." Late-night audiences range from the inebriated to the intellectual (and often both combined). This year's crop of midnight films, in and out of the Park City at Midnight category, was genuinely one of the most eclectic and enjoyable group of films presented in years.

Quentin Dupieux's Wrong — his follow-up to 2010's unstoppable cult hit Rubber — is an absurdist journey where everything and nothing can happen, as long as it's what you'd least expect from a narrative. The reactionary rules of this wandering wonder (don't read any spoilers about it!) seem to have expanded David Lynch's quietest, most awkward moments into a web of surrealist silliness that I immediately wanted to watch again as soon as it was over. As audiences were exiting at two in the morning, half of them were bleary-eyed from laughing hysterically, while the other half were in groggy, drunken stupors. For me, this confirms that Dupieux has achieved exactly what he wanted (to make the obvious joke, something so Wrong it's right).

First-time filmmaker Richard Bates Jr.'s Excision snuck up on the audience, earning mad respect from the sold-out crowd as his film transformed from bloody fun to gory darkness, concluding with one hell of a jaw-dropping finale. While 90210 star AnnaLynne McCord truly went Method to exquisitely explore a disturbed high-schooler, Traci Lords' passionate and complex performance as her perplexed mother should also be noted — she truly reached shades of Piper Laurie in Carrie (1976).

Jon Wright's Grabbers had the buzz of being Bong Joon-ho's The Host (2006) by way of Edgar Wright. The very enjoyable Irish film (which sports a hilarious drunken performance by newcomer Ruth Bradley) quite nicely fills a void for fans of tongue-in-cheek monster movies, and would best be experienced in a theater filled with boisterous bellows from fellow Anglophiles.

In previous Sundance Diary installments, I discussed Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie and Katie Aselton's triumphant Black Rock. Now, it's time talk about Gareth Huw Evans's unruly, uncompromising, and unbelievable Indonesian action film The Raid. Not since Sundance 1992 (John Woo's Hard Boiled and Tsui Hark's Dragon Inn) have I experienced the type of nonstop excitement as The Raid. This movie contains inventive fight sequences and hypnotic violence so insane and intense that you have to scream at the top of your lungs while simultaneously assuming a few of the stunt people had to have died during the film! (Jot down the name Iko Uwais, for this man will be taking over the world shortly, especially if he can shine in his U.S. debut, a remake of Mortal Combat coming in 2013). The Raid offers proof positive that a martial arts extravaganza can be as profoundly affecting as any essential art film.

Up next: Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' eighth and final Sundance Diary, with his top ten from the festival!