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Sundance 2022 Capsule Reviews: 'After Yang,' 'Piggy,' 'Dual,' and 'The Territory'


Go here to view all my Sundance 2022 coverage

Colin Farrell as JAKE in AFTER YANG

Kogonada's After Yang

After Yang introduces viewers to a futuristic world in which humans, clones, and AI (and perhaps other unexplored lifeforms) co-exist side-by-side. Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) purchased an AI named Yang (Justin H. Min) as a big brother for their adopted daughter named Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), to help keep her connected to her Chinese heritage. But when Yang malfunctions, Jake looks for someone who can restore Yang to working condition. His search leads him down unexpected paths.

Kogonada made a splash at Sundance 2017 with his feature film Columbus, which had beautiful architecture, a strong sense of place, and themes of family and heritage. After Yang continues this thread but increases scope to include existential questions about the nature of life itself and what makes a human. Yet these big questions never dominate the narrative. It's only after the story ends that you find yourself asking what it all means. The majority of the story focuses on Jake's search – first, for how to fix Yang, then how things look through Yang's eyes. As usual, when AI and humans mix in movies, questions arise about who is more "human": the creator or the created. Without going into spoilers, Jake has ample opportunity to contemplate different ways of viewing the world and clues he might have missed.

More than anything, After Yang has a strong visual aesthetic. You want to soak in the images and sense of calm that hangs over this world. Gentle performances by Farrell, Turner-Smith, and Min cast a fairy tale spell. Partly this supports Kogonada's worldbuilding, and humans have little to no emotional affect. But Jake also has room to grow into a person with more empathy because he starts out so repressed and unable to show up for his family like he should. Jake's job as a salesman and connoisseur of tea also carries a certain elegance.

Final score: 4.5 out of 5

Laura Galan as SARA in PIGGY

Carlota Pereda's Piggy

The blood-spattered Piggy takes us into a small Spanish town in the heat of summer. Sara, a teenage girl who is bullied for her weight, has to choose how to proceed when her tormentors are kidnapped by a mysterious predator.

Audiences will root for Sara after witnessing the cruel way she is taunted by a group of mean girls. In Piggy, Pereda offers a compelling portrait of a girl who has been treated poorly by everyone, except possibly her father. Even her mother seems to make Sara feel like a loser. The one person who offers her continual kindness is the predator who abducts the mean girls. Pereda's lovingly crafted horror-morality tale will challenge viewers' to consider where their loyalties lie. In a world of body shaming, bullying, and adults who sideline kids, speaking up means sticking out and risking retribution, so what's a teen girl to do? Without no agency, sometimes silence is the smartest path.

Laura Galán, who plays Sara, gives an outstanding performance. Sometimes her crying jags went a little overboard, but this character goes through a lot, both emotionally, physically, and mentally, and Laura is on screen in almost every shot of the movie.

As the stakes rise, Sara must choose whether to speak or remain silent – to get revenge or do the right thing. Using the cinematic language of 70s horror films, especially Carrie and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Piggy keeps the adrenaline pumping, just like a midnight movie should.

Final score: 4 out of 5

Karen Gillan as SARAH in DUAL

Riley Stearns' Dual

Riley Stearns has made a name for himself with his signature dry humor paired with witty dialogue, as well as repressed individuals finding self-expression in combat. So it's no wonder he has found his perfect match in Karen Gillan, who has perfected these qualities in her characterization of Nebula in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How did these two not pair up years ago?

Sarah (Gillan) learns she is going to die. Rather than have the difficult conversations with her partner and mother, she decides to undergo the procedure known as Replacement and allow herself to be cloned. Sarah's clone (also played by Gillan, of course) begins to take over Sarah's life and role, and, like all good upgrades, she seems like the "new and improved" Sarah 2.0, making the real Sarah feel like an interloper in her own life. When Sarah learns her demise is no longer imminent, clone Sarah chooses to take legal action and schedules a duel to the death for the right to be Sarah. Sarah hires Trent (Aaron Paul) to ready her for combat.

This satirical science fiction comedy proposes a preposterous but scary "what if" scenario and takes the thought experiment to the extreme, with amusing results. Gillan plays a quirky character with a logical brain who doesn't play well with others. While the story is offbeat and creative, the same story could have been told as a TV episode or short story. Don't get me wrong – I enjoyed seeing Paul learn hip hop dance, but I didn't feel invested in the story. Part of the reason may be the emotionless characters, but also the story takes an unexpected turn and fails to make good on the promises anticipated. In the end, it feels very much like a Black Mirror episode that could have been made more efficiently.

Final score: 3 out of 5

A still from THE TERRITORY

Alex Pritz's The Territory

In this compelling documentary with an obvious call for action, the Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people of Brazil look for allies in their fight to protect the forests that are their ancestral home.

The filmmakers don't hide their allegiance to the Uru-eu-wau-wau people in this conflict, but they don't start there. We start with farmers who desire to own land of their own and see the promise in the lush and plentiful rainforests. They plan to do everything by the book and use legal channels to earn possession. These farmers earn an amount of sympathy. On the other hand, other land grabbers enter violently and illegally to burn and tear down the trees, making a mess and breaking our hearts. 

The camera captures them all, speaking their true thoughts and giving all three parties a chance to be heard. The story makes a compelling case and allows viewers to make their own judgment about what they observe. The Uru-eu-wau-wau people do get more screen time, though, and that took away from the strength of the story. Very little time was spent understanding how the farmers or deforesters viewed the claims of their Indigenous countrymen. Hearing their views on why they think they have the right to any of this land would have allowed for a more balanced storytelling line. Documentaries can have a side, but they must present all the ideas before the case can be made. These unanswered questions created room for doubt.

Apart from the story and call for action, the outstanding visuals create their own case for preserving these forests and the wildlife inside.

Final score: 3.5 out of 5

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