Last night proved to be a tale of two screenings: one good, one not so much…
First up was the Sundance premiere of James ‘Man On Wire’ Marsh’s Shadow Dancer, an engrossing thriller set during the tail end of Northern Ireland’s Troubles.
Andrea Riseborough stars as Collette, a young mother caught in the middle of a failed bomb attempt in a London tube station. Offered a choice by Clive Owen’s detective to go back and spy on her IRA-affiliated brothers or face prison in England, Collette risks her own life by becoming a Scotland Yard informant.
Eschewing political comment in favour of a tense, foreboding case study of the street-level conflict, Marsh’s film is both expertly crafted and authentically played, although its slow-burn approach can be a bit of a struggle at times.
Scoffing down our dinner at breakneck speed, we then ran through Park City's sleety streets to catch a late-night screening of surreal horror comedy John Dies At The End, written and directed by cult horror helmer Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-tep).
The film follows the exploits of layabouts John and Dave who, with the help of a psychotropic drug known as 'Soy Sauce', take it upon themselves to defend the Earth from a variety of otherworldly demons.
We wish we hadn’t bothered: despite a promising opening, John Dies At The End quickly descends into nonsencial drivel, full of painfully unfunny set-pieces and shonky production values. We’re talking Dude Where’s My Car-standard filmmaking, with not even an "And then…" gag to save it.
Still, onwards and upwards... As Day 7 dawned, first on our list was Simon Killer, a moody and mesmerising drama that was so good we had to make it our film of the day (you can find out why below).
Reeling from Killer, we swayed back to the bus depot and caught a ride uptown to queue up for Irish monster movie Grabbers, which stars Richard Coyle and Russell Tovey as residents of a remote Irish village who fend off weird alien beasties.
Clearly influenced by other genre stalwarts (Alien, Slither), Grabbers stops its been-there-scared-that premise getting stale by filtering the clichés through a boozy, foul-mouthed Gaelic filter. The Irish love for a tipple even forms the crux of one particularly hilarious plot twist.
One failed attempt to get across town later (for a screening of That’s What She Said), we hitched a ride back to Sundance HQ in our German journo friend’s 4x4 (hey Nina!) to regroup before this evening's screening: the Emily Blunt-starring comedy dramaYour Sister's Sister (you can read our verdict tomorrow).
One thing's for sure: Sundance is nothing if not eclectic...
Film of the day: Simon Killer
As emotionally volatile as its title suggests, Simon Killer comes from the same creative team behind the phenomenal Martha Marcy May Marlene – which had its debut at last year’s Sundance festival and hits UK screens this week.
It’s not hard to see the through-line. Killer is just as darkly bewitching, presenting a troubled, inscrutable protagonist in Brady Corbet’s Simon, who gets lost in the seedy underbelly of modern day Paris.
Inverting Paris’ image as the city of love, Killer pulses with seedy clinches and queasy camerawork as director Antonio Campos explores the darkside of voyeurism with unflinching grit.
Not only that, but Killer also has one of the coolest synth-pop soundtracks since Drive. Even there, though, Killer doesn’t let you off the hook, breaking tracks off partway through so that we’re never given a chance to take a calming breath.
Damn near a modern day Vertigo, Killer will be studied, analysed and discussed for years to come.