Dan Tabor’s Sundance 2023 Wrap Up and Favorites

Some more films to keep an eye out for!

This year, I was lucky enough to have been able to catch 30 films at the Sundance Film Festival, including the entire Sundance Midnight program. Here’s some of my favorites that should definitely be on your radar in the coming months.

Full Reviews on Cinapse:









Talk To Me

Talk to Me is a whip smart take on the high school seance gone awry trope, but with a bit of a demonic twist. The cursed object is an embalmed cadaver’s hand that gives the user a direct line to the spirit realm when they hold it and utter the phrase “talk to me.” The kids here use the hand as a thrill-seeking party game to play chicken with the undead, filming one another getting possessed and pulling the plug on the spirit at the last possible second.

If you’ve seen enough of these films, you know this is never a good idea.

It all goes downhill when one member of the friend group—who recently lost her mom to suicide—keeps seeing spirits after the game is over. Talk to Me, which has been picked up by A24, was a blast that reminded me of a Final Destination entry: it’s a lot of fun, it delivers the gore and the scares, and it could go on forever with different groups picking up the hand. I would want to see each one.

Landscape with Invisible Hand

Sometimes you catch a film that is equal parts brilliant as it is batshit crazy and you have to ask yourself, “How the hell are they even going to sell this thing?” At Sundance this year, Landscape with Invisible Hand was that movie. Produced by Plan B and starring Tiffany Haddish, the film is the story of a politically correct, passive aggressive alien invasion. What starts off simply enough as an exchange of technology for money slowly culminates to where we catch up with the story in this bizarre financial domination scenario.

The film follows Adam (Asante Blackk), a young artist who convinces his mother to take in his homeless classmate Chloe (Kylie Rogers) and her family. In the film’s most basic thematic thread, the teens begin dating. To make some money, Chloe suggests livestreaming their relationship to their alien overlords, since they don’t have a definition of love and it’s a lucrative niche in this new economy. The film gets brilliant, strange, and perplexing in the best way possible as their courtship broadcast opens up a new world.

20 Days in Mariupol

This documentary was culled from the footage from Associated Press journalist Mstyslav Chernov who was in the strategically crucial coastal city of Mariupol shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and was one of the last journalists to escape. The film is a diary of 20 days in the city with Mstyslav as he tries to survive and to document the atrocities unfolding around him. Throughout the film’s runtime, Mariupol is bombed into nothingness.

It’s bleak film and hard to watch, given that the Russians were targeting civilian population centers and we witness this with our own eyes. CNN has picked up the documentary and will no doubt be airing it in the coming months.

Cat Person

Cat Person opens with the following Margaret Atwood quote: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Based on a viral story by Kristen Roupenian in the New Yorker, Cat Person is a timely and unapologetic look at dating. The story follows college student Margot (Emilia Jones) as she starts dating an older patron at her indie theater.

While the film is billed as a psychological thriller, I think some of its concerns are more universal (and should be worth bearing in mind by anyone of the male persuasion). Watching Margot discuss dating, texting etiquette, and relationship power dynamics with her friends is a very real reminder that women often have to be on the defensive.

I found Cat Person’s perspective of a relationship gone wrong refreshing and authentic, with a firm foot in reality.

The Pod Generation

The Pod Generation takes place in a world where women don’t have to take a break from their careers to have a baby and can opt instead for a pod that carries the fertilized egg to term. This service is prestigious, however, and has quite a waiting list.

When Rachel (Emilia Clarke) gets a coveted spot on the list, she has to break it to her botanist and husband Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor) that not only are they having a child, but she is having it in a pod. The film looks at parenting from a different perspective, as Alvy rises to the occasion while Rachel has second thoughts. Not only does Alvy literally help carry the weight of the pod, he learns a few things about family along the way too.

The Pod Generation is a charming crowd pleaser that throws in some food for thought.

Rotting in the Sun

This pitch-black comedy is the story of a suicidal director, Sebastián Silva (playing a version of himself), who meets Jordan Firstman (playing a version of himself), a somewhat insane narcissistic influencer, on a nude gay beach in Mexico with an idea for a show. After the two agree to meet back at Silva’s place to workshop the idea, the director has a rather untimely death. When the influencer shows up at his empty place, he spends the rest of the film crowdsourcing his return and throwing very real orgies at the apartment.

This film garnered some controversy when the director went on the record stating that none of the copious amounts of gay sex onscreen is simulated. Any way you play it, Rotting in the Sun is just plain hilarious, with various social media tropes playing out onscreen.

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