The Sundance film festival is slowly inching towards its close, and there are more candidates for "year's most exciting indie movie." You've already seen our first breakdown of this year's exciting science fiction and fantasy movies. Now, here's the last collection of indie movie standouts (and fall-downs) that the critics have weighed in on.
What We Do In the Shadows
Synopsis: A vampire movie starring Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords)! Directed, penned and acted by Taika Waititi (Eagle Vs. Shark, Boy) and Clement himself, this movie centers around vampire roomates: Viago (379 years old), Deacon (183 years old), Vladislav (862 years old), and Peter (8,000 years old). The foursome all share an apartment in New Zealand (which makes sense, considering the cast). Unfortunately these very, very old monsters have lost touch with reality, thanks to their bloodlust. So they've decided they want to assimilate back into modern day society. And they've allowed a documentary crew to film their attempt to blend back in.
The Verdict: Funny. Very funny. Twitch Film says "What We Do In the Shadows will make you laugh 'til you bleed." Badass Digest calls it both shaggy and amiable. Claiming that the real charm in this comedy is that it was "made by people who actually get and understand the old-fashioned horror conventions they're toying with." And The Hollywood Reporter thinks it's "hilarious."
Life After Beth
Synopsis: Zach (played by Chronicle's Dane DeHaan) is super excited when his dead girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) comes back from the dead. He vows not to waste this opportunity and sets about making their second chance at togetherness perfect. Unfortunately, Beth came back wrong.
The Verdict: Not great. IndieWire accuses Life After Beth of lazy storytelling. Struggling with the giant leaps the audience is forced to take thanks to a lot of missing logic. Slashfilm gives it a 4 out of 10. And Joblo reiterates, "Life After Beth isn't that great." However, Fangoria disagrees stating that the amazing cast (which includes John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon and Paul Reiser) balances "the film's penchant for go-for-broke, out-there humor and hilarious observation of suburban family life is perfect tonal balance."
Jamie Marks Is Dead
Synopsis: Carter Smith's follow up to his acclaimed horror flick The Ruins is set in a small, snowy town where the body of teenager Jamie Marks is discovered. This unremarkable student becomes the fascination of the star of the high school track team, Adam. Then Jamie's ghost appears to Adam and another classmate (who found his body). And Adam is sucked into the world of the undead.
The Verdict: Variety lauds the artistic style of this film, but labels the supernatural drama "murky." Screencrave agrees that Jamie Marks is Dead is indeed a beautiful film, and praises its spooky tone that is maintained from "start to finish." And while Geek Tyrant agrees that while the constant, eerie vibe gives off the chills, their end result was a pass. "If the movie ever ends up getting released, it's something you can wait for when when it pops up on Netflix."
Synopsis: The most buzzed about genre film at Sundance. Hands down. Almost everyone is praising the puzzles and ambition in this work. The plot is a bit tricky, so we're going to just give you the official synopsis:
Nick and Jonah are MIT freshmen with a passion for hacking. While driving cross-country through Nevada with Nick's girlfriend, Hailey, they follow rival hacker Nomad's clues to a location 180 miles away. After a terrifying confrontation with Nomad in the middle of the desert, the trio regain consciousness in captivity. Struggling to comprehend the true nature of their confinement, they discover they are part of a plot much larger than themselves.
Verdict: Slashfilm adored the many puzzles hidden in this feature, comparing it to the classic Twilight Zone series. THR's bottom line was split, "Beautifully executed, not-quite-satisfying sci-fi head-scratcher." Drew McWeeny of Hitfix also remarked on the hugh-reaching film tweeting that,"The Signal is wildly ambitious and visually inventive sci-fi. William Eubank is swinging for the fences with it." The Huffington Post offered up some of the highest praise stating: "as taut and imaginative a sci-fi tale as I've seen since District 9." That's a lot of good buzz. And now that the movie has been bought by Focus Features, hopefully we'll get to see it soon!
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
Synopsis: The first ever Iranian Vampire Western, this black and white monster movie follows a lonely vampire who stalks the inhabitants of an Iranian ghost town.
Verdict: The Hollywood Reporter calls writer and director Ana Lily Amirpour's film "gorgeous." But a difficult commercial sell — eh, who cares about that? Indie Wire gives A Girl an A (and reveals that the project was produced by Elijah Wood). And continues on praising the director's attempts to play with the strict dimensions of Iranian society and women with a dash of vampire morbidity.
Synopsis: You've seen the trailer for this Aussie horror film, which gives off a few good chills. But the meat is in the brand new monster created — finally, new monsters! This movie follows a widow and her strange son, whose tantrums are getting progressively more and more violent, and the two struggle to maintain some sort of relationship. Meanwhile a children's book called The Babadook mysteriously appears in their home. Once read, it's like they've invited the boogeyman inside their lives forever.
The Verdict: Slashfilm calls it, "is the best possession movie in years." Twitch Film is a bit more restrained, remarking that even though The Babadook doesn't "stick the landing" it's certainly a wonderful debut for horror director Jennifer Kent. And they want to see much more from her. Hitfix went more personal with their review, praising it for playing upon the very real paranoid fears many parents face daily.
Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead
Synopsis: More undead Nazis, but this time they've called the Americans in to come help clean up the zombie mess. And what do the Americans do? Resurrect more World War 2 zombies. Oh and Martin Starr is in this sequel, so that's a win.
The Verdict: You're getting what you expect. Variety labels the sequel "broader [and] dumber" than the first, which kind of makes sense. This is basically what we were expecting. Crave Online concurs, and blames the failure of this film on its obsession with being "cool." However they did like this mysterious, musical end scene that everyone is whispering about. So maybe it's not a total waste.