Sundance 2021 reviews: Judas and the Black Messiah, Passing & more!
The 2021 Sundance Film Festival has finally arrived and ComingSoon.net got the exciting opportunity to take part in the virtual iteration of the classic festival and watch some of the incredible films in its catalogue, from Robin Wright and Rebecca Hall’s directorial debuts Land and Passing to the biographical drama Judas and the Black Messiah. Check out our reviews for the films below!
- Directed by: Frieda Kempff; Written by: Emma Broström
- Starring: Cecilia Milocco, Krister Kern, Albin Grenholm, Ville Virtanen, Alexander Salzberger
- Rating: 5/10
Often times a psychological thriller with little-to-no explanations for the events of the story depicted is a smarter move as some ambiguity for the film breeds intriguing debates and compelling character work, but there’s still the occasional efforts in which this lack of exposition leaves a viewer underwhelmed and disinterested, such was the case for me with Knocking. Centered on a woman slowly losing her mind after moving into a new apartment and hearing a mysterious knocking sound from the walls, which no other tenant hears or is willing to believe her about, the film’s attempts at taking a pointed look at gaslighting and many countries’ incapacity to properly help those with a mental illness are certainly admirable, but by locking them in the psychological thriller genre they’re not really explored effectively or obvious enough for audiences to understand that’s part of the point of the film. Instead what we’re given is a mildly-tense-yet-ambling story that features a strong performance from Milocco and stylish direction from Kempff, but not much else in the way of a well-paced narrative or satisfying conclusion.
- Written & Directed by: Alex Camilleri
- Starring: Jesmark Scicluna, Michela Farrugia, David Scicluna
- Rating: 8.5/10
The story of a young family struggling as both must come to terms with their pride regarding their extended families, jobs rooted in tradition and temptations of a turn to crime is certainly a well-worn genre here in the States, but it’s one not often explored so richly and so uniquely as with Alex Camilleri’s Malta-set Luzzu. Centered on fisherman Jesmark as he seeks to find a way to provide for his wife and newborn baby while dealing with a leak in his boat and an increasingly problematic industry in the region, the film might follow the general formula of a slow turn to crime but rather than see him revel in it or suddenly become in the favor of all those around him, Camilleri keeps hammering Js down with realistic problems and moral hurdles and provides a nice slow burn to its story. In addition to its nice subversions of genre formula, the story does a fascinating job of exploring some very real-world issues of the European Union hurting local fishing industries rooted in family generations as well as the toll global warming is taking on the ecosystems of the region and local jobs, and with a proper minimal usage of Jon Natchez’ powerful score, it all culminates in a moving, gripping and often-heartbreakingly real tale.
John and the Hole
- Directed by: Pascual Sisto; Written by: Nicolás Giacobone
- Starring: Charlie Shotwell, Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Ehle, Taissa Farmiga
- Rating: 3/10
Evil children is a trope in the horror and thriller genre that has been explored in every aspect, from spawns of Satan to influenced by evil entities to just downright maniacal souls, but few have been quite as haunting to watch as the titular teen in John and the Hole, but whether that works in its favor or against it really lies in the preferences of the viewer. After drugging his family and dragging them into the bottom of an unfinished bunker, John casually goes about enjoying some freedom, including stealing money from an ATM using his parents’ debit card, telling lies to various adults regarding the whereabouts of everyone and inviting a friend over, all while bringing his family food scraps, bottles of water and garbage bags full of clothes. The tension and sense of dread permeating from this film is certainly handled expertly and Sisto’s directorial eye is quite artful, but the writing and the story really feels so bland and purposefully controversial that it doesn’t feel more than a poor attempt at trying to start a conversation regarding John’s actions. Is he a monster? Is he just odd? Is this part of some adolescent angst? No matter what the answer is, the way the film progresses and presents the character doesn’t feel like an intelligent or meaningful exploration of him, but rather a slow-burning experiment designed to torture the viewer and make them question what the point of any of John’s actions actually were, or if there even was one.
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