“Happiness is overrated.” Val (director Jerrod) wants to die, so he breaks his suicidal buddy Kev (Chris Abbott, both of these guys great) out of psych hospital so they can die together. Kev stalls, says let’s die at the end of the day, and they set out to right some wrongs (beating up Val’s dad, bringing cash to pregnant gf Tiffany Haddish, murdering abusive doctor Henry Winkler), then Val decides to live as they flee the cops. Of course he does – it’s a Sundance movie – but Abbott still gets to die, and the long postscript closing shot is necessary to come down from the tension (similar to Good Time). Won a writing award, nice music by Final Fantasy, and wow, I correctly identified The Free Design on the soundtrack.

Cute low-budget movie, black and white with star wipes, the sound cutting out during close-ups. Leo (played by our director) is an out-of-work stylist, picking up men online for money (guy at a cafe says he wants to be pissed on this tuesday, and won’t pay much) while her mom (played by her mom) stays home and puts curses on her enemies.

When they go out, mom shoplifts and puts meals at the titular restaurant on the tabs of local politicians. Leo flirts with Chen Zhou (The Cloud in Her Room), goes home with him, then finds out he’s married. Both women have their pains and need pampering, seem like fun little frauds though they are in real trouble, basically homeless. Mom doesn’t tell her daughter when the police finally come for her.

Watched this for being Vadim Rizov’s reported highlight of Sundance 2021. That’s the one I “attended” fourteen months ago, tho it seems longer. What would be my highlights… mostly the obvious choices:

Summer of Soul
In the Same Breath
Strawberry Mansion
All Light, Everywhere
Faya Dayi
In the Earth
The Sparks Brothers

Still want to see:
The Pink Cloud
I Was a Simple Man
On the Count of Three
The Cursed / Eight for Silver
Judas and the Black Messiah
The World to Come

I bailed on this after a couple scenes at Sundance, but only because I had work in the morning, not because I didn’t want to watch the rest. Still bugged by the new guy (Joel Fry of Paddington 2) being allowed into the lab unmasked before passing his array of pandemic-virus tests. He’s assigned a guide (folk-horror vet Ellora Torchia of Midsommar) and heads into the woods to do something or other, despite being bad at the outdoors, and hopefully run into his boss Dr. Wendell. There’s talk of underground network “like a brain” between trees, and later we’ll get a nice spore-releasing montage (the earth breathing) and ritual mushroom water – after A Field in England, it’s Wheatley’s second piece of mushroom art.

First they find Wendell’s ex Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen), who kidnaps them, then Wendell herself (Hayley Squires of Colin Burstead), who blasts the movie’s Clint Mansell score through tree-mounted speakers with accompanying strobe lights, and each tries to convince the newcomers that their ex is the crazy one. There’s a powerful ancient stone with a hole through it, and arguments over everyone’s intentions. Dr. Wendell claims both of the men were drawn towards her experiment when they contracted ringworm (a fungal infection: more mushrooms). When they finally enter the spore cloud, the movie goes psychedelic. Good pandemic movie – besides the plague in the cities, it is kinda about people going nuts in isolation.

Who’s crazy – mum?

Or dad?

And that’s it for SHOCKtober 2021. Final ranking:

1. Mad God
2. The Empty Man
3. Detention
4. The Devil’s Candy
5. Malignant
6. Office Killer
7. Final Destination
8. Parents

Casey is eating string cheese in the opening scene, says she’s taking the World’s Fair Challenge. Repeats the words, stabs herself with a pin, then hits play on a video which based on the reflections on her face appears to be the end of Lux Aeterna. Alex G music and Albert Birney video game animation. Abandoned strip mall aesthetic when she goes outside. Multiple creepypasta and Paranormal Activity references. “I love horror movies and I thought it might be cool to try actually living in one.” She’s using Photo Booth app for video recording, I don’t think that’s a thing? Sleep?walks to the shed and admires daddy’s rifle, then watches ASMR videos. Commenter JLB sends her a laughing-clown twisted picture of herself, claims to be “nobody” just wants to help her. We soon see JLB, a bald Tim Roth-ish guy. Then a cheap cinematic adaptation of the same story as an autoplay video. I like that she’s going through all this and her channel videos only have 50 views… but what is she even going through? And what does JLB know, or is trying to help her from? She makes a response video addressed to him, a tarot card reading accusing him of being pathetic. Problem with found footage films is that in seeking authenticity, your movie looks very bad. 70 minutes in the major event that’s happened as a result of her Challenge is that she’s torn up her favorite stuffed animal then cried about it – or maybe this was normal sleep deprivation / moody teen / youtube overdose behavior. “They’re just videos” JLB: Casey… “That’s not even my name” She calls him a pedophile and hangs up. A year later she contacted him and they met up in NY. After Saint Maud this is my second movie of the month that hints at horror but ain’t horror.

“At least it’s more lively than Possum,” I wrote in my notes, trying hard to look on the bright side after a long movie day. Molly is released from the psych ward and set up in an overheating apartment with a stain on the ceiling, crying in the vents, and a constant S.O.S. knocking sound in the walls. She keeps bugging the neighbors and the cops (complete with a rare use of body-strapped Pi-cam) trying to get to the bottom of the sound, afraid that somebody is in trouble. Bad use of birds – a precious birdie dies, a finch keeps slipping off a metal railing – some cool cranes appear in a video, at least. At the end, she’s crazy AND she’s right, but I’m tired of playing “is this real? OMG is anything real” in these movies.

Paper-cutout people make out in a lovely owl forest. The man dreams of breaking past a line of police and storming the D.C. Capitol – this is set in Vietnam-era, but January 2021 is funny timing for such a sentiment. A burst of nudity, profanity and violence after they scale a fence and the man is impaled by a unicorn, and I was ready to write this off as low-rent edgelord animation, but the movie changes course dramatically – I got caught up in it, and gotta admit with its scale, ambition and budget, the animation gets the job done.

Lauren Grey is a globetrotting zoo agent, capturing mythical creatures (cryptids) and giving them nice captive zoo-bound lives, fighting off enemy agents who want the cryptids for private sale… the zoo’s real motives are questioned as its moneyed owner fucks a bigfoot in her castle tower, tables are turned, the traumatized woman from the beginning releases the most dangerous caged beasts, and all hell breaks loose.

A girl drowning while her neglectful parents fight inside reminds of Don’t Look Now, but Udo Kier appearing with a wormhole does not. Years later, the drowned girl’s twin sister is in college, drawings of wormholes covering her wall, decides to do herself in. The tough girl with the beret from Mayday was in this, according to imdb, so she appeared in two separate movies premiering the same day at Sundance where suicidal girls travel to fantasy realms filled with transformed people from their lives.

Back in the real-world-or-is-it?, Margaret (Young, starring in the movie she wrote/directed) visits her parents, still wasted and fighting, hangs out with some old friends. There’s lots of metaphysics in this, maybe aimed at Donnie Darko fans. By the time she’s walking down a Caligari-shaped, Argento-lit hallway towards demon Udo Kier, it all looked pretty cool but I wasn’t too interested anymore. She has to defeat three demons in a certain time, first her mom in a house of sand, doing that fantasy thing where every line is slow and portentous. Margaret trades her shoes for a glass of water, I think door #2 is her childhood home and door #3 is herself, then she banishes Udo and chills at home with a Panda Bear song.

It was a twitter post by director/star Kentucker Audley which first alerted me to the online nature of Sundance this year, both that he had a cool-sounding new movie, and that ordinary punters like myself could watch its premiere for a reasonable cost, so I felt I owed it to him to watch this… though at this point in the late afternoon, an overall Sundance skepticism had set in, and I’d lost my hopes that it would be great. Thankfully, it was great, or at least good enough to seem great after Mayday – a hundred times wackier than that movie, beautifully imaginative and very fun to watch.

A year-2035 dream auditor has to visit an offline old woman who still stores her dreams on analog tape, to calculate how much she owes in taxes based on the objects her subconscious summons – or how much her estate owes, since she passes away while he’s on the job. Her VHS dreams start bleeding into his own life, and are more pure than the auditor’s own dreams. This is because she knows that companies beam advertisements into dreams, and has developed a protective helmet as an ad-blocker.

The woman knows about the dream-ads because her son is in charge of the ad agency, and when he arrives after her death he determines that the auditor knows too much, and tries to burn him alive in mom’s pink house to destroy all evidence. Asleep in the flames, he bonds with a young dream-Bella on a small island, making this my second movie in a row about an island-bound dreamer needing to awaken to their dangerous real life. Scenes from earlier that felt randomly eccentric return as sense warnings. Despite his meaningless job working for the man, the auditor deserves happiness because he stops to save a pet turtle on his way out of the burning house.

Tyler Davis’s Vanity Fair review is good at noting what makes this movie special, while accidentally summarizing my own Sundance experience:

Like Ham On Rye, another recent fantastical low-budget film, Strawberry Mansion puts modern dread at the fore through a series of dynamic set pieces that reveal just how many obstacles are placed between us and our inner lives … The boundaries between our imagined lives and the ones we try to lead in the midst of never ending sales pitches has thinned to a sliver … It’s easy to mistake Strawberry Mansion for a simple parable about advertising and the federal government. But ultimately, it’s a strange film about art and its conditions … Increasingly, as we’re asked to look at more and more yet with less and less of our minds activated, all the watching becomes unbearable. Strawberry Mansion takes a wild swing at yanking its protagonist—and us—out of this predicament.

My first feature at Sundance was one of the ones with uncomfortable covid-pandemic resonances. But first, it’s the neighbors griping at Sebastian (played by the director’s brother) that his dog cries too loudly while he’s at work… then work telling him that he can’t bring the dog into the office. We never hear the dog at all, until it cries out one time then is dead and buried, represented by drawings. In general the movie is crisp b/w, the cameraperson setting up still frames but stubbornly refusing to use a tripod.

Some unquarantine behavior as Seb scarfs a sandwich left behind on the train. He can’t find work, stays with his mom, and now he’s shaven and tending an old man who’s on morphine, and I’m not sure how fast time is passing. He joins a co-op farmer’s market truck that flees from cops (illicit veggie delivery), later dances with a hot girl at his mom’s wedding, then they’re having a kid together… and then the near-apocalypse comes. Cool scene, out in the field and everyone who stands up passes out… illustrations of a meteorite hitting, and we’re told that due to atmospheric changes, nobody can lift their head more than a couple feet off the ground without wearing a diver’s helmet. “In less than a year we’ll go back to normal, god willing.” A short movie that feels both slow-paced and full of incident.