My Sundance Festival 2022 Recap

(Courtesy of Sundance Institute.)

This year, I covered the 2022 Sundance Film Festival for Geek Vibes Nation. As part of my coverage, I had the opportunity to watch a total of eighteen films – some of which I reviewed in full, others of which I only briefly shared. The movies ranged in genres, tones, and enjoyment. But the experience, as a whole, was unlike anything else. So, without further ado, here is my personal recap of all the films I watched at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

When You Finish Saving the World

Finn Wolfhard and Julianne Moore appear in When You Finish Saving the World by Jesse Eisenberg, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Beth Garrabrant.

Look, I see what Jesse Eisenberg was trying to do here. Clearly meant as a critique of that specific kind of hollow activism that upper-middle-class white people are drawn to wrapped around a very standard dysfunctional family narrative, When You Finish Saving the World just doesn’t work. Torn between two plotlines that are only thinly connected by that dysfunctional core, the movie constantly feels unfocused and unmoored. 

On the one hand, there’s a somewhat interesting story about Evelyn, a woman who runs a domestic violence shelter and grossly oversteps some boundaries with a new arrival at the shelter. And on the other hand, there’s a less interesting story about her son, Ziggy, who’s a pretty normal, bratty teenager with a crush on a more politically active classmate. Either one of these stories would probably have made an interesting movie. But the combination of the two never worked for me, despite the parallels between the stories Eisenberg tried to draw. 

Despite some respectable performances from Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard, both Evelyn and Ziggy are just so unlikeable. And sure, their unlikability is kind of the point. But the movie also tries so hard to make them sympathetic. To get you to root for them and their inevitable reconciliation. But it never actually justifies that sympathy and reconciliation. So you’re just left with these two blatant narcissists, both so absorbed with themselves that they notice nothing around them. And while it seems one of them might have learned a lesson by the end of the film, it also feels too little too late. 

If you’re a big fan of Jesse Eisenberg, then you’ll probably like this anyway. But if the idea of watching a movie where everyone sounds like Eisenberg turns you off, then maybe give this one a skip. For me, it was constantly cringey and uncomfortable. And I never felt like the movie went anywhere interesting enough that I could look past what I didn’t like. It’s awkward, unfocused, completely devoid of any real nuance, and features an ending that doesn’t feel at all earned. So, very much not for me.

(2 out of 5 wands.)

After Yang

Colin Farrell appears in After Yang by Kogonada, an official selection of the Spotlight section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Benjamin Loeb / A24.

After Yang is gorgeous in every sense of the word. On the surface, it’s a riff on various common sci-fi tropes. But the way writer/director Kogonada combines those tropes with the film’s emotional core is where the true magic lies. One Part A.I., one part Bicentennial Man, and one part Black Mirror’s “The Entire History of You,” After Yang is a heartwarming rumination on both what it means to be human and the power of memories. Featuring some breathtaking visuals and deeply emotional performance, After Yang is a moving story that’s beautifully executed. And I dare you to walk away feeling cold.

Full review at Geek Vibes Nation.

(4.5 out of 5 wands.)


Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones appear in FRESH by Mimi Cave, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

FRESH might wear its inspirations on its sleeve. And its underlying message might not feel particularly well-expanded or original. But the combination of a sharp script, playful visuals, and killer performances creates an experience unlike many others. It’s a horror movie, a pitch-black comedy, and a rip-roaringly fun time. And I can’t recommend FRESH enough. It’s a total must-watch.

Full review on Geek Vibes Nation.

(4 out of 5 wands.)


Regina Hall appears in Master by Mariama Diallo, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

A rare movie where the supernatural elements hinder more than they help. For me, Master felt like it had a few too many plotlines going all at once, with most of them failing to fully coalesce by the end of the film. It’s a lot of great ideas that ultimately don’t go much of anywhere. I understand the metaphor at play with the supernatural elements. But the more the movie tried to explain them, the more muddled everything felt. So, what was initially a tight, gripping examination of institutional racism among academia slowly devolved into a distracting metaphor that never seemed to go much of anywhere. (And the less said about that weird twist toward the end that comes out of nowhere and ends up going nowhere, the better.) 

On the bright side, though, the acting is universally incredible. Unsurprisingly, Regina Hall totally steals the film. And the parallel storyline between her character and Zoe Renee’s character is easily the most interesting, and the most emotional part of the film. A special shout-out has to go to Amber Gray, though. The movie doesn’t do a lot with her, but she’s great when she’s in it. 

And while I genuinely wish the movie had totally ditched the supernatural elements, I can’t say that they weren’t filmed hauntingly. There are some insanely creepy moments scattered throughout the movie. Not quite jump scares, per se, but imagery that’ll definitely stick with me for a while. And for the first half of the movie, they even do a good job of underscoring the omnipresent, suffocating institutional racism. It’s just that the nitty-gritty details of what, specifically, is going on get too muddled and ultimately undermine things. 

This’ll totally be the kind of movie some people adore. And more power to them. For me, it just didn’t quite gel. I liked it more than I didn’t, but I had too hard a time following everything to fully get into it.

(2.5 out of 5 wands)

Leonor Will Never Die

Sheila Francisco appears in Leonor Will Never Die by Martika Ramirez Escobar, an official selection of the World Cinema: Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Carlos Mauricio.

This one’s a weird one for me. I enjoyed both of the main plots. And I loved the way it celebrated the power of filmmaking. But something about it never quite clicked. Perhaps that dedication to celebrating filmmaking came at the expense of a totally coherent narrative. But regardless, Leonor Will Never Die is the kind of film that’s very easy to get into if you can just look past the logistics of it all. There’s a bunch of stuff that doesn’t quite make sense. And the two major narrative strands never quite coalesce entirely satisfactorily. But gosh, the whole movie is such a fun watch, packed with excellent performances and boundless creativity, that’s it’s hard to care that much about the bits that don’t work so well. 

While the synopsis promises something a bit more fantastical than what the movie ultimately delivers, it’s still a deeply strange watch – in a good way, though. Whether it’s the meta-commentary on storytelling or the loving homage to 80s era action movies, Leonor Will Never Die takes a bunch of big swings. It doesn’t always land them, but the sheer audacity is respectable. And if you’re a fan of those cheesy, B movies of yesteryear, then you’ll find the film within a film here absolutely delightful. So much so that I kind of wish it had been the movie’s sole focus, delving even deeper into how Leonor navigates the world of her own movie. But the other plotline, with her family trying to wake her from her coma, is also enjoyable – and very well executed. Plus, it’s where a lot of the film’s heart lies. Whether or not the two plots fully come together narratively is debatable. But thematically, it’s a home run. 

Leonor Will Never Die definitely bucks some narrative conventions. And the ending is a sort of litmus test in its own right as to how far you’re willing to let a story take you. But if you can get on board with what the film’s doing, there’s a great chance you’ll be head-over-heels for the movie.

(3.5 out of 5 wands.)

Speak No Evil

Morten Burien and Sidsel Siem Koch appear in Speak No Evil by Christian Tafdrup, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Erik Molberg.

It’s a very slow burn that luxuriates in building up tension to an uncomfortable level before a third act twist that’s both surprising and expected. I wanted to like it more than I did. The performances are universally brilliant. And, visually, the movie’s gorgeous. It’s immediately evocative of those cold, European horror films we’re all familiar with. Director, Christian Tafdrup, and cinematographer, Erik Molberg Hansen, make excellent use of visual storytelling to ratchet up the tension and avoid needless exposition. And the sound design and score strike that perfect amount of oppressive discomfort without going too far over the top. 

The problem for me is that everything is just a bit too slow and vague. The first hour is very slow and ends up being more painfully awkward than creepy or funny. And largely, it never feels like the film is using that time to better explore its characters. Then, by the time things start to happen, it’s a mixture of predictable and bafflingly strange that you’re confused as to why what’s happening is happening. And to some extent, the idea of inexplicable, random violence is kind of the point. But it feels like the movie is actually trying to deliver some kind of commentary here, but it never quite gets there. I think I can see where Tafdrup was going, but it didn’t quite work for me. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

(3 out of 5 wands)


Maika Monroe appears in Watcher by Chloe Okuno, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

For much of its runtime, Watcher is a tense, well-executed thriller. Featuring a gutwrenching performance from Maika Monroe, gorgeously claustrophobic visuals, and skin-crawling sound design, Watcher delivers a masterclass in suspense. Until the final twenty minutes, where all of that tension sort of fizzles out instead of building to an explosion. The movie’s at its best when it embraces the unreliability of its main character. But overall, it’s a great watch that’s sure to thrill any lover of the genre.

Full review at Geek Vibes Nation.

(4 out of 5 wands)

Good Luck To You, Leo Grande

Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack appear in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande by Sophie Hyde, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nick Wall.

Easily one of my favorite films of the festival so far. Laugh-out-loud funny, deeply heartfelt, and intimate in every sense of the word. To be honest, it felt more like a play than a movie – but in the best way possible. Director Sophie Hyde and cinematographer Bryan Mason do a lot to keep the film lively. But Katy Brand’s script reminds me a lot of the kind of play that audiences would go wild for. And from me, that’s a very high compliment.

The film’s a two-hander between Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack. And boy do they play off of each other brilliantly. Emma Thompson deserves some kind of award for her work here. Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, her performance as “Nancy” hits all the right notes. I didn’t expect this to be a movie about a woman learning to love herself. But damn if that’s not what happened here. And Thompson captures that with such staggering beauty and vulnerability that it’s kind of breathtaking. Even more impressive is how well Daryl McCormack holds his own opposite Thompson. We all know Thompson’s a comedic force of nature, but McCormack gets just as many laughs as she does. And he’s afforded just as many opportunities to be vulnerable – especially in the latter half of the film. He’s endearing and charming, and his chemistry with Thompson is electric.

The thing that surprised me most about this movie is how sweet it is and how vulnerable it gets. Going in, I expected a raunchy comedy. And to some degree, that’s definitely what I got. But underneath that raunchiness is this fragile emotional core, full of insecurities and vulnerabilities. And the fact that Hyde and Brand manage to balance the humor and the vulnerability so well is what sells the movie. That balance, combined with Thompson and McCormack’s engaging performances, is what ultimately hooks us into this journey. And what a beautiful journey it is. Simply put, I can’t recommend Good Luck to You, Leo Grande enough.

(4.5 out of 5 wands)


Aaron Paul and Karen Gillan appear in DUAL by Riley Stearns, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Some movies can successfully coast on an intriguing, solidly executed premise regardless of how strong the script is or how well everything comes together. And Dual is one of those movies. Written and directed by Riley Stearns, Dual is a tense, enjoyable psychological thriller. Largely carried by its immediately captivating premise, an oppressive, almost paranoid, atmosphere, and an impressive dual performance from Karen Gillan, Dual ends up being greater than the sum of its parts – despite its overwritten script. Sure, there’s a lot more the film could’ve done with its premise. And I definitely wish there’d been a bit more nuance and ambiguity to the whole thing. I wouldn’t even be surprised if some find the ending a bit of a cop-out. But for what it was going for, Dual is a pretty enjoyable watch – especially if you’re a big fan of clones and doppelgangers.

Full review at Geek Vibes Nation.

(3.5 out of 5 wands)

Lucy and Desi

A still from Lucy and Desi by Amy Poehler, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Maybe these kinds of documentaries just aren’t my thing. I definitely enjoyed Lucy and Desi more than I enjoyed Being the Ricardos. As the film ended, I felt like I had a pretty solid understanding of their lives and their relationships. And I adored getting to see little glimpses of their lives through behind-the-scenes footage and home videos.

The problem for me is that Lucy and Desi largely felt like more of a radio program (albeit an excellent one) than a feature film. However, the documentary’s greatest asset also ends up being its weakest. There’s nothing more valuable than getting to hear Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz tell their stories in their own words. The issue is that all of these exist only as audio, with no accompanying visuals whatsoever. So, outside of the previously mentioned footage, most of Lucy and Desi is comprised of archival footage from I Love Lucy and various pictures from Ball and Arnaz’s career and relationship. For some, that won’t be much of a problem. But I found it a little hard to pay attention and get fully invested.

To be fair, none of that’s really the film’s fault, nor director Amy Poehler’s. It’s not like there’s a huge wealth of talking-head interviews and insightful footage for her to sift through and present. So, she absolutely made the best with the materials she had. And those archival interviews with Ball and Arnaz are truly insightful. Plus, I adored hearing from the likes of Ball and Arnaz’s children, Carol Burnette, and Bette Middler. If anything, I’d have maybe liked to hear from even more people who were impacted by Ball and Arnaz.

But as it is, Lucy and Desi is a very well-executed documentary. It’s insightful, often emotional, and presents a far fuller and loving look at Ball and Arnaz’s relationship than some other recent films have done. I’m just not sure this kind of documentary is quite my cup of tea.

(3.5 out of 5 wands)


Siiri Solalinna appears in Hatching by Hanna Bergholm, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by IFC Midnight.

Hatching is one of the most horrific movies I’ve seen at Sundance so far. Written by Ilja Rautsi and directed by Hanna Bergholm, Hatching tells the story of a girl who finds an injured bird’s egg and nurses it to life. And while that might not sound particularly horrific, trust me when I say it is. Hatching delivers a masterclass in body horror and tension. It’s horrifying, heartbreaking, and somehow a little relatable. But what I loved the most is the creepy twist Bergholm and Rautsi put on more traditional dramatic narratives. And if you can vibe with what the movie’s dishing out, it’s an absolutely enthralling watch.

Full review at Geek Vibes Nation.

(4.5 out of 5 wands)

Something in the Dirt

Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson appear in Something in the Dirt by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Aaron Moorhead.

If you’ve ever gone down a rabbit hole of exploring one conspiracy theory after another, then the experience of watching Something in the Dirt will feel quite familiar. Directed by and starring Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, Something in the Dirt is a trippy, enthralling, and frustrating dive into isolation-driven conspiracy theories. The film’s sure to delight lovers of ambiguity. Many of its ideas are intriguing, but there are far too many of them for the movie to properly explore. And for how accurate its representation of isolation is, it’s a shame that idea doesn’t quite build to its fullest conclusion. 

I liked parts of the movie. The visuals and sound design are superb. The performances are great. And the obvious love for filmmaking that permeates the movie is quite infectious. It’s just that Something in the Dirt never quite came together for me. And the whole experience felt more middling than enlightening. Those who like this kind of thing, though, will be head-over-heels for it.

Full review at Geek Vibes Nation.

(2.5 out of 5 wands)

Emily the Criminal

Aubrey Plaza appears in Emily the Criminal by John Patton Ford, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Low Spark Films.

Anyone stuck with thousands and thousands of dollars in student loan debt will find Emily’s struggle in Emily the Criminal deeply relatable. Written and directed by John Patton Ford, Emily the Criminal is a tense, well-executed, and deeply enjoyable thriller. Featuring electric performances from Plaza and Theo Rossi and an expertly-crafted script, Emily the Criminal immediately grabs your attention and never lets it go. While I wish it had pushed its central ideas just a bit further, the focus on Emily’s motivations was enough to make an otherwise standard thriller feel unique. So, it might not be the most original thriller to ever exist, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

Full review at Geek Vibes Nation.

(4 out of 5 wands)


Rebecca Hall appears in Resurrection by Andrew Semans, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Wyatt Garfield.

Resurrection is an extremely well-made film that’s also quite difficult to watch. It’s a pitch-perfect exploration of a woman being wholly swallowed up by trauma. Rebecca Hall delivers a breathtakingly authentic, painful performance. And the rest of the cast do equally impressive work. Emotionally, it might be one of the most brutal thrillers at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. But it’s also one of the most unique ones. It stands out amongst a crowded field of other psychological thrillers. Whether or not you like it is largely gonna depend on exactly how much you can handle. As for me, Resurrection is destined to be one of those movies I appreciate but never want to see again.

Full review at Geek Vibes Nation.

(3.5 out of 5 wands)

Brian and Charles

A still from Brian and Charles by Jim Archer, an official selection of the World Cinema: Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Sometimes a good pallet cleanser is exactly what’s needed. Something light and heartfelt to lift the spirits. And that’s exactly what Brian and Charles does. Written by David Earl and Chris Hayward and directed by Jim Archer, Brian and Charles is a sweet, heartwarming comedy about a man and his robot. Its premise doesn’t quite support the ninety-minute runtime. But it’s such a joyous watch that it’s hard to be mad about it. Will it be the most memorable film to come out of this year’s Sundance Festival? Of course not. But it’s not trying to be, either. What it is is a ninety-minute long warm hug. Featuring a delightful script and engaging performances, you won’t regret giving Brian and Charles a watch. And when you do, make sure you stick around for the credits – you won’t want to miss them.

Full review at Geek Vibes Nation.

(4.5 out of 5 wands)

My Old School

Alan Cumming appears in My Old School by Jono McLeod, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.

If I didn’t know Alan Cumming was lip-syncing to an audio interview from the real “Brandon Lee,” I’d have never guessed it. Because Cumming gave such a captivating, engaging performance, perfectly capturing the complete “Brandon’s” complete lack of remorse. Unfortunately, aside from some neat Daria-esque animated recreations, Cumming’s performance is all this documentary has going for it. While the story is interesting enough to prop up a 45-ish minute TV documentary, it’s simply not interesting enough to form the basis of a 100-minute film. The issue is that the director seems to think the story, alone, is interesting enough to justify this runtime. And it’s not. The bulk of the “mystery” is pretty easy to spot from a mile away, despite the multiple red herrings the director throws at the audience. But aside from “Brandon’s” specific motivations, there’s little meat to this story. And, instead, a lot of time is wasted on reiterating facts they’ve already told us or painting the scene in unnecessary detail. 

And to make matters worse, the movie never really takes a side on whether or not what “Brandon” did was right or wrong, creepy or misguided. Instead, it just… tells the story. And at no point does “Brandon” ever appear particularly remorseful, or act like he’s learned any kind of a lesson from this. So, the whole film feels kind of milquetoast. Like, what’s the point of telling this story? It’s not like it’s unknown – it’s apparently grown to be a local legend in Scotland, and much of it is easily searchable online. It’s a weird watch, to be sure. And it is often quite entertaining. But once the credits rolled, I was only left wondering “what was the point of this?”

(3 out of 5 wands)


Keke Palmer and Common appear in Alice by Krystin Ver Linden, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Eliza Morse.

I can definitely see what Alice was going for. And, to be fair, it has all the pieces necessary to achieve this hybridization of historical drama and blaxploitation. The problem is that the movie is just unevenly paced. Perhaps the pacing wouldn’t be as noticeable if every piece of information about the movie didn’t reveal the fact that Alice leaves the plantation and discovers she’s in the 1970s as opposed to the mid-1800s. So you spend the first forty minutes of the movie just waiting for this to happen. Then, when it finally does happen, the movie speeds through all of the good scenes where Alice comes to terms with what she’s been through and with how the world’s changed to get to the blaxploitation homage it’s aiming for. And honestly, with a little bit of tinkering, I think all of this could’ve worked. There are sections in all three acts that work very well. It’s just a shame that the whole thing was let down by some underdeveloped character work and uneven pacing. 

On the bright side, Keke Palmer offers a brutally honest, absolutely captivating performance. Her total commitment to the movie goes a long way towards smoothing over some of the rougher edges. And while the script kind of lets her down to a degree, she imbues Alice with such a sense of reality that it’s incredibly difficult not to get swept up in her performance. It remains an absolute crime that she’s not a bigger star. Common, too, delivers a solid performance. The script hardly gives him anything to work with, but his natural charisma brings some levity to the middle of the movie. I wish the movie had done more with his character’s backstory, but I still e noted the work he did. 

All in all, Alice isn’t a bad movie. It’s just questionably-paced and doesn’t feel like it hits the highs it could’ve hit.

(3 out of 5 wands)

Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul.

Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown appear in Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul by Adamma Ebo, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Alan Gwizdowski.

I had a really good time with Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. It loses some of its momentum halfway through, and it sometimes feels a little unfocused on what, exactly, it’s saying. But the combination of almost slapstick levels of comedy with some very meaty drama worked very well for me. As much as I enjoyed a lot of the more traditionally shot sequences, I do kind of wish the movie had stuck more faithfully to the faux-documentary style it’s mostly shot in. Considering how clearly it’s trying to show the hypocrisy of Sterling K. Brown’s character, I feel like that might’ve been slightly more effective had it happened within the confines of the fictional documentary. 

The big takeaway here, though, is how brilliant Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown are. Hall delivers such a layered performance as Trinity Childs. And as much as I’m not sure the movie is really asking audiences to root for either of these characters, you come close to rooting for Trinity. Or, at the very least, siding with her and understanding where she’s coming from. As for Sterling K. Brown, it’s a lot of fun watching him play this completely narcissistic, shameless character. Lee-Curtis has clearly learned nothing from the scandal that shut down his church. He doesn’t seem at all sorry for the hurt he’s caused and views himself as the perennial victim. Brown finds a lot in that idea to work with, both comedically and dramatically. And when the movie lets both Hall and Brown run wild with the satire, it works quite well. 

Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. is a fun watch. It sags a bit in the middle and I wish there’d been a harder punch at the end. But for what it was going for, it’s deeply enjoyable and largely carried by some impressive performances from its leads.

(4 out of 5 wands)

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