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Sundance 2022 Capsule Reviews: 'Speak No Evil,' "Good Luck to You Leo Grande,' 'Resurrection,' and 'Something in the Dirt'

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A still from SPEAK NO EVIL

Christian Tafdrup's Speak No Evil

While Christian Tafdrup has already directed two feature length films, Speak No Evil is his first horror film – and it really packs a wallop. After befriending a Dutch couple during a vacation in Italy, Bjorn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch), a Danish couple, accept an invitation to that family's home six months after they meet. "It would be impolite not to accept," Bjorn decides. While Louise feels uncomfortable, she can't exactly explain why. After all, it's just a weekend -- what could possibly go wrong?

Tafdrup takes the setup to the extreme, poking fun at the way Westerners feel obligated to avoid making a fuss. The Dutch couple, Patrick (Fedja van Huet) and Karin (Karina Smulders) feel no shame, while Bjorn and Louise allow their boundaries to be crossed time and time again. Who's to say which is right and which is wrong? The situation grows more absurd and awkward as the weekend goes on, and Bjorn and Louise even decide to end their visit early, but a favorite lost toy forces them to go back and continue the proceedings.

Viewers watching will recognize the discomfort that comes from being somewhere you don't want to be, and the horror depicted is more psychological here than violent – until about the last 15 minutes. The conclusion is shocking, brutal, and worth the wait. The operatic musical score hints at the danger we can't see until it's too late. Once it ended, I wanted to go back and watch it all again to admire the brilliant and masterful direction of Tafdrup's vision. Speak No Evil will be distributed by Shudder in late 2022. My interview with score composer, Sune Kolster

Coming to Shudder September 15, 2022

Final score: 4.5 out of 5

[L-R] Daryl McCormack as LEO, Emma Thompson as NANCY in

Sophie Hyde's Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

Nancy, an uptight woman (Emma Thompson) in the autumn of her life who has never had an orgasm decides to book a young sex worker named Leo (Daryl McCormack) for a series of five meetups, all taking place in one hotel room.

Nancy has only slept with one man – her now deceased husband. She feels embarrassed about everything – her body, her age, her decision to hire Leo for her own purposes. Leo comes in feeling confident and determined to put Nancy at ease. As their connection grows, their roles of customer and worker become blurred, and intimacy grows both physically and emotionally. Thompson gives a bold performance as Nancy, a woman who needs permission to do things for and blossoms from receiving that. McCormack is just as endearing as Leo, a man that wants to be fully known but only allows part of himself to be seen by any one person. Nancy comes close to seeing the whole picture and that boundary becomes confusing for both of them to navigate.

Leo Grande could easily be adapted for the stage, with its one location (only one scene occurs outside the room) and long stretches of dialogue. This film truly relies on the bold and brave performances of its two leads, and Thompson and McCormack are both up to the task.

While not a traditional romantic comedy, Hyde and screenwriter Katy Brand make use of that genre's conventions to unveil the way Nancy and Leo negotiate and make room for each other in their lives. There are open and candid discussions about sex but most intimate acts occur offstage. This unconventional romantic comedy has much to say about intimacy, desire, self-love, and acceptance. And the portrait of Thompson as an older lady who learns to embrace her body and sexuality is something to cheer, regardless of personal views about sex work.

Coming to Hulu June 17, 2022.  

Final score: 4 out of 5


Andrew Semans' Resurrection

Rebecca Hall stars as Margaret, a cool and unaffected career woman whose carefully ordered world turns upside down when an unwelcome guest from her past returns to inflict terror. For the first third of the movie, we observe Margaret from a distance. She takes the time to listen to co-worker's problems, works out, and takes care of her only child, a daughter named Abbie. Then Abbie gets into an accident and Margaret becomes very protective. Sure … wouldn't any parent?

But, as we learn, Margaret isn't just any parent. She's a parent with a dark past she has tried to bury for the sake of her daughter. And now David (Tim Roth) has returned and wants Margaret to play his games again. Resurrection offers Rebecca Hall another opportunity to prove she's one of the strongest actors in the genre industry. She offers a compelling portrait of psychological and mental abuse and the hold the abuser has on his victim even after the hardship is over. Margaret's terror alienates her from everyone, even the daughter she loves so much. Tim Roth is the very essence of a narcissistic abuser and knows how to use manipulation tactics to bring Margaret to her knees.

Whether intentional or not, the thumbprint of Hitchcock's Vertigo is all over Semans' terrifying visuals. The camera follows Margaret around the city as she tries to make sense of David's plan and playbook. In one scene, Margaret even visits the hotel where David stays and is told he doesn't live here (like when Jimmy Stewart visits the boarding house Madeleine goes to when she's in a trance). The story keeps viewers in suspense, and the open-ended conclusion offers maddening opportunities to theorize what it all means.

In theaters July 29, 2022. Coming to Shudder November 2022.  

Final score: 4 out of 5

[L-R] Aaron Moorhead as JOHN, Justin Benson as LEVI in SOMETHING IN THE DIRT

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's Something in the Dirt

Something in the Dirt gives me those Vast of Night vibes minus the atomic era wrapper, and that's a very good thing. This genre-defying film mixes the tropes of science fiction, mockumentary, found footage, and true crime into a delicious rabbit hole inside a puzzle box.

The lives of Levi (Justin Benson) and John (Aaron Moorhead) become intrinsically linked when they decide to investigate the strange paranormal phenomena happening at their LA apartment building. Levi is only planning to stay in the Hollywood Hills apartment a short while until he moves out of L.A. He and John meet only because they are temporarily neighbors. The men couldn't be more different, but they both enjoy a good smoke and have a natural curiosity about the world. Their good natured banter comes to a halt when some invisible presence fills the apartment with light and lifts a heavy glass ashtray off the ground. Is it a ghost? Is it gravity? Geological anomalies? They decide to investigate together and film their experiments for posterity.

Benson and Moorhead made this film with a spare crew of three, and the results are delightful for fans of X-Files type "truth is out there" stories. The story continues to shift. The stretches of story with Levi and John are interrupted by interviews of talking heads – everyone from scientists to detectives -- who muse about what happened between these two. After a while, we can no longer determine if what we are seeing is the truth or a fabrication. Did the neighbors actually witness anything or did they manufacture it for some easy cash? Each segment only offers more questions. Benson and Moorhead obviously had great fun making this film and creating these characters, who seem very much like people everyone has met. The film won't mesh with everyone, but if you like films like Primer, Vast of Night, or found footage hybrids, you will love this movie.

Editor Michael Falker had his work cut out for him in bringing all of the various camera formats together and mixing them with montages that pair with the stories Levi and John tells along the way. My interview with Michael Felker can be found here. Visual effects and sound design are also on point.