Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I couldn't be at Sundance this year, but thankfully we've got some friendly AICN readers who did make the fest. One of them, calling himself DJGingersnaps, has seen a few flicks and wanted to share his thoughts with you guys. Below you'll find reviews of Jeff Nichols' MUD (a movie I saw at Cannes and loved), Shane Carruth's Primer follow-up UPSTREAM COLOR and HELL BABY, the horror comedy from the Reno 911 guys.
Without any further ado, here's the man brave enough to endure the cold and watch some flicks for us.
Well hello Aintitcool,
January in Utah means a few things. Crappy, funky air from the stupid inversion we get here. Some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. And of course the Sundance film festival. I make it a point to go to a few movies every year, but I've discovered over the years that it's a daunting task selecting movies that won't either stink (I watched a movie called Vampire two years ago made by Shunji Iwai that was soul-crushingly terrible.) or that actually will stick with you (I did see 28 Days Later at the Eccles theater when it premiered and loved every minute of it.) Most of the press and focus is usually on the big movie star driven films and of course I like movie stars and whatnot, but come on it's supposed to be an indie festival! So this year I've seen some films that are very different from each other and thought I'd share.
First up is Hell Baby, from Reno 911 masterminds and all around funny guys Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon. The setup is a classic horror movie standby. A pregnant couple (played by an understated Rob Corddry and a unhinged Leslie Bibb) move into a new house in New Orleans that has bad juju. Of course the pregnant Bibb starts acting a little wacky and everyone in the world can see what will happen next. It's called Hell Baby, for fucks sake! The plot is pretty much secondary to the performances, not exactly surprising. Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer get good laughs from being the cops who just happen to show up every time something odd happens. Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon ham it up as a couple of Vatican priests sent to take care of business, with bad facial hair and even worse accents. Keegan Michael Key steals every single scene he's in, playing the neighbor/squatter who is quite knowledgeable in the history of the evil house. There are also a few funny cameos from familiar faces in the indie comedy world. I guess it comes down to this. What do you want from a horror parody? Cheesy yet entertaining special effects? Check. Over the top gore? In spades. Titties? Yes indeed, and on both the "Ah hell yeah" and "Oh sweet Jesus no" level. Sure, this movie isn't gonna change the world, but you get exactly what you expect from something called Hell Baby. A nice, lightweight horror comedy that hits the mark more than it misses.
Mud is the new film from writer/director Jeff Nichols. I was a big fan of his last film, Take Shelter and wow Mud is a totally different kind of movie. It's the story of two teenage boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who live in Arkansas. They find a boat up in a tree on secret island along the river they both live on/near, and decide it will be theirs. Except for the fact that someone is clearly living in it. Enter Mud (Matthew McConaughey), an outlaw who is hiding from bounty hunters and hoping to meet up with the love of his life Juniper (a smoking Reese Witherspoon). Mud enlists the help of the boys to get his treebound boat running so he can sneak off towards the gulf and escape his pursuers. McConaughey keeps his renaissance that began last year going strong, with a tricky performance which always keeps you on your toes. Is Mud a good guy that has some bad luck or a bad guy who knows how to manipulate? Guess you have to watch to find out. Even though the movie is called Mud, Ellis is truly the star of the show. Tye Sheridan is great as the tortured kid whose parents are close to divorcing and is struggling with young love. His performance is the centerpiece of the film and he crushes it. His buddy Neckbone is the comic relief and he gets quite a few laughs. The rest of the supporting cast is excellent, especially Paul Sparks as the lead bounty hunter. This feels like more of a step towards the mainstream for Nichols, although it still has plenty of beautifully shot exteriors and a show stopping climax that almost seems like it belongs in a different film. Good stuff, and I can't wait to see what Nichols does next.
Finally there is Upstream Color. This is the hardest one to try and summarize without spoiling, so I'll try to tread carefully. Kris (Amy Seimetz) is abducted from a bar and drugged. She ends up being coerced into giving her captor all her money. When she comes to, her life is changed because this process took days or maybe even weeks, it's unclear. Then by chance she meets Jeff (writer/director Shane Carruth), a man who also had a similar experience. They fall in love and try to get on with their lives. But something is still very wrong. So yeah, that's it for the specific details. Just know that worms, pigs, orchids, and Thoureau's Walden all play an important part to the plot. It was a very odd and also visceral experience. Carruth and Seimetz are both magnetic on screen, although Seimetz gets to do most of the heavy lifting and pulls it of easliy. The music and score is very overbearing but not to the point of annoyance. I came into this having seen Primer a few times and so I thought it would be similar. I was very wrong. While the dialogue and verbiage of Primer is one of it's defining characteristics, Upstream Color is more focused on using film as a language. There is barely any dialogue for the last thirty minutes, which sounds like it could be unbearable but actually it's just the opposite. When it was over I still wasn't sure what exactly happened and what it all meant. And I think that's the point, to challenge the audience with something that isn't easy to grasp. Carruth is an exciting filmmaker and with Upstream Color he delivered something that is truly original.
I guess that means that this year I'm 3 for 3 so far. I'm seeing a few more this week and hope they continue not sucking. If you use this, call me DjGingersnaps.