The sins of the past lay heavily in the next series of films from Sundance, all of which come from makers outside the US yet reflect the inherent isolation within the connectivity of society, and the fact that help can be so close but misunderstood or disconnected. From a young man going through a breakdown of sorts to a homeless solider being taken advantage of to an abandoned daughter finding the roots that eventually unravel her life, the path for these characters is not easy.
Surge The intensity of any film is how it breaks its perception down and how it interplayed to the audience. Sometimes the throttle can be turned way up and it depends on the level of noise the narrative can take. “Uncut Gems” is a good example of this as Adam Sandler’s character continues down a dark path he can’t control. Actor Ben Wishaw with his character goes farther in an inherently extreme way but with lower stakes and much greater damage per se in a way. The film doesn’t implicitly say what his affliction is but the mania that overtakes him to do simple tasks breaks his tendencies down to a set time and, interestingly enough, one street. While the character’s logic might not make sense, either in the reason he does what he does or his inability and lack of want to stop his behavior, the emotionality is distinctly there. However without a point of reference, it becomes slightly unfocused even though the viewer is waiting for him eventually to get caught. The reflection in the camerawork is also unwieldy. It is understood that as his amorality and mentality comes unhinged so should the camera style but it becomes so jagged and shaky that is starts to distract the viewer to the slight point of queasiness which back in the day could be attributed in digital to the lack of stabilizers. Now it is a conscious choice but almost takes you out of the narrative. The relationship with his parents, especially his mother, points to a deeper seated problem but the acting and their interrelation is played too abstractly. When the final solution presents itself, it is a question of why, especially given the character’s job (working the security line at an airport), his issues weren’t brought out in vetting for a better understanding or help for that matter. The mysterious element of keeping material from the audience is fair but more was needed.
Impertigore Having seen and interviewed writer/director Joko Anwar for his previous film, the notion of family and isolation are inherent themes in his work. His new film playing in the illustrious Sundance Midnight section integrates a woman returning to find a curse laid upon the small local village where she grew up and was subsequently exiled from. It is an interesting premise especially set in the jungles of Indonesia. The cool aspect of Anwar is that while certain films set in that area could be more inherently cultural and perhaps tribal, Anwar gives a very mainstream horror spin on them while mixing in local mythology. It continues to serve him well even though the subject matter and the graphic intensity are still slightly outside the mainstream range in the independent world. The curse revolves around the village offspring, which reflects in very specific way. To not spoil the plot, it is terminal but overwhelming pushed by the local medicine man. The dark tendencies of what it reveals takes time to get moving especially with the players involved including a friend who accompanies the young woman on her trip. The stylistic elements, especially the cinematography, give a burnt, cave-like eerieness to the proceedings much like the jungle texture of Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now” but with more light. Ultimately the resolution gives inherent closure to the characters because the stakes and the reflection of where their morality lies becomes clearer against a bigger protagonist. And like his previous film, it would not be a true Anwar film without a twist of sorts to progress the mythology.
Amulet While in a different mode than “Impertigore,” some of the same themes of betrayal in a form of trust progresses through “Amulet” as well. While the throughline is is mostly clear, there is a parallel story structure showing the backstory of the main character that, although it shows his psychology, compassion and, at times, rage, it doesn’t balance out the ultimate state of his life. The lead character is obviously bathed in the traumatic aftermath of a war but one where he seemed very isolated, likely along the communist block. He is left homeless but seems to have a solid head on his shoulders, just a lack of direction. He is brought to a house by a nun played by Imelda Staunton with her usual masks so one knows that there is a sliver of darkness playing underneath. She matches him up with a young lady who cares for her mother in the attic. The mother has an affliction. But it turns out to be much more than that. The movie progresses down the rabbit hole with distinct aplomb save for the flashbacks which needed to be flushed out a little more. Eventually the film becomes more abstract, not overly but where it alters the perception of what the character might be seeing and what his motivations are. This if course might be in his head but the penance required is an interesting conundrum.
By Tim Wassberg