As home to the premieres of Hereditary, The Babadook, and Get Out, Sundance s Midnight program has developed a reputation among genre fans. And this year s lineup – on paper at least – looked set to hold up that legacy. There were a number of second features from directors who d shown scary-good talent with their debuts – including the second film from Under the Shadow s Babak Anvari and the duo behind Goodnight Mommy – and a film that had already been picked up by A24, the distributor that has become a kind of stamp of approval for fans of quality indie chillers. But did Sundance s 2019 horror offering live up to expectations? Will this year s fest gift us with another Hereditary? We checked out the films, and rounded up what the critics were saying, to give you the heads up on which Sundance horror films are most likely to make a splash when they hit screens later in the year.Little Monsters (2019) 79%Release date: TBDThis “Shaun of the Dead Down Under” zombie comedy is (so far) the best-reviewed movie from the festival’s Midnight Program. It’s sitting at 100% on the Tomatometer after early reviews and being declared “a new cult classic” by the likes of Nerdist’s Dan Casey. Time will tell whether that kind of talk is just hype, but this story of a group of Australian kindergarteners trying to survive a zombie attack during a field trip to a petting zoo certainly has its early fans. Most of them are singling out Lupita Nyong’o s performance as ukulele-plucking “kindy” teacher Miss Caroline, who – even as the groaning zombies close in – remains doggedly dedicated to convincing her troop of kids that it’s all just a game, and not at all the beginning of the apocalypse. (This gambit involves Nyong’o singing “Shake It Off” in what will be no doubt become a seminal moment in the zombie genre.)“Little Monsters is a testament to the fact that Nyong’o is a force of a nature who should absolutely be in more comedies,” writes Casey. Even critics who didn’t wholly fall for the movie’s charms sang the actress’s praises: “[Nyong’o] sings, gets laughs, talks tough, wields a shovel and pitchfork, and expertly navigates a big monologue about Neil Diamond,” writes Jason Bailey for The Playlist. “She’s so good, in fact, that the pleasure of her performance makes Little Monsters worth seeing. But just barely.” Meanwhile, Josh Gad gives an “unhinged” and totally un–Olaf-like performance as a foul-mouthed American childrens’ entertainer (and literal motherf—ker) who finds himself mixed up in the gory action.While many critics have noted the film can feel very familiar (you’ve seen this profane take on the undead in Shaun, Zombieland, and New Zealand flick Black Sheep), they also say its bigheartedness helps it stand out from the pack. The charming romance between Miss Caroline and slacker Dave (Alexander England), and Dave’s growing protectiveness of his nephew, are genuinely moving. (We re not going to say we cried, but we re not going to say we didn t either.) Katey Stoetzel at The Young Folks puts it best: “Little Monsters will be one of the best feel good movies of the year.”Sweetheart (2019) 95%Release date: TBDThis lean mean Blumhouse gem – “82 diamond-sharp minutes,” as Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri puts it – was one of the true highlights of the Midnight program. The plot is simple by-the-campfire stuff: a young woman (Kiersey Clemons) washes up on a deserted island and is forced to survive. By day that means gathering wood and food and tending to camp; by night that means steering clear of a mysterious sea creature that comes ashore after sunset with food and terror on its mind. It’s the kind of film that rests on the strength of its central performance and on its director’s ability to build tension then ratchet it up, and early reviews say it succeeds on both fronts.Clemons, who starred in last year’s Certified Fresh Hearts Beat Loud, is a dynamite and ferocious final girl (only girl?); “In mostly a one-woman show, Clemons does a great job being vulnerable and also tough as she faces off against the monster,” writes critic Rachel Wagner. Meanwhile, director J.D. Dillard (whose first film Sleight is Certified Fresh at 77%) constructs what Ebiri calls “an ingenious affair, a no-nonsense monster movie that uses its limitations effectively and tells its story cinematically.” Critics are split on the creature design, though – “cheesy” says Wagner; “well-designed” says the Hollywood Reporter’s John DeFore – but we can confirm the movie does feature one of the best monster reveals we’ve seen in years.The Hole in the Ground (2019) 83%(Photo by Courtesy of Sundance Institute )Release date: March 1 (limited)When a horror flick comes to us via A24, expectations are high – this is, after all, the distributor that in recent years has assaulted audiences with Hereditary, The Witch, and It Comes At Night. For some, “A24 horror” has become its own genre: unconventional and elusive family terror that digs right under the skin. On paper, The Hole in the Ground, which A24 acquired along with DirecTV before Sundance, mostly fits that bill.Director and co-writer Lee Cronin’s film focuses on a broken family – a mom and her young son living in remote Ireland – their dank and shadowy home, and the mysterious forest it backs onto (which contains the foreboding crater of the film’s title). The scares kick off when young Chris (James Quinn Markey, giving off serious young Haley Joel Osment vibes) starts acting differently and mom Sarah (Seána Kerslake) begins to question if he really is her son – and if that mysterious hole has something to do with it? Cue creepy kid antics and lots of menacingly innocent “Mommy, are you OK?” inquiries.If that all sounds familiar, it’s because it is: there is little in Cronin’s movie that you haven’t seen before – particularly if you’ve watched The Babadook, The Shining, or The Descent any time recently. For some, it s all a bit unexpectedly conventional for an A24 acquisition. “The Hole In the Ground is less subversive than we’ve come to expect from the indie distributor’s genre fare,” Variety’s Guy Lodge wrote in his review. “Compared to Ari Aster’s penetrating family nightmare Hereditary, which likewise debuted in a buzzy Midnight slot at Sundance last year, Cronin’s film is more of a straight-up spookhouse ride: jolting in the moment, but less likely to linger in the bones long after viewing.” Similarly, Nick Allen at rogerebert.com writes: “This is a story that errs toward the familiar instead of embracing strangeness, its freaky kid becoming the distraction when you just want more time with the hole in the ground.”Nearly all early reviews have noted that however familiar the story is, Cronin does do wonders with mood and delivers some effectively chilling scars (arachnophobics be warned: this one is not for you). The movie s excellent craft explains its current 91% Tomatometer. Writing for Digital Spy, Ian Sandwell went so far as to declare Hole the “first great horror of 2019,” and writes: “For the most part, Cronin avoids jump scares – although a couple of vivid nightmare sequences do go for the quick shock – and crafts an atmosphere of pure dread, combined with astonishing and immersive sound design.”The Lodge (2019) 74%(Photo by Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Thimios Bakatakis. )Release date: TBDDirectors Veronica Franz and Severin Fiala continue to mine mommy issues for scares with The Lodge, their English-language follow-up to Certified Fresh genre slow-burn, Goodnight Mommy. There are parallels to that film in The Lodge – an impenetrable and potentially dangerous mother, for starters – but critics have been pointing to another film when considering the pair’s latest work. “The film frequently recalls the atmospheric, strings-heavy A24 horror house-style,” A. A. Dowd writes in the AV Club. “In fact, its foreboding establishing shots, deliberate pacing, and dollhouse imagery specifically bring to mind Hereditary.” Emily Yoshida at Vulture similarly writes that “the eerie rhythms of the universe that gave us Deep Impact and Armageddon, Antz and A Bug’s Life, and Fyre and Fyre Fraud have conspired to make The Lodge exist in Hereditary’s shadow, but while some tonal and iconographic similarities exist, the two films jump off their shared diving board into very different corners of the psycho-mom pool.”The “psycho-mom” in question here is actually a stepmom and the lone survivor of a cult suicide; when circumstances put her alone with her two stepchildren in the titular lodge, the scares and psycho-mom freakouts begin. Critics have been unanimous in praising Riley Keough in the lead role, with The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney writing that the actress “goes all in with fanatical-evangelical whack-job fervor” and Yoshida writing that “Keough’s performance walks a tricky line skillfully.” It’s not quite enough to put the film at the level of Goodnight Mommy, nor Hereditary, but it delivers on scares – particularly in its opening moments. As Rooney writes, The opening 15 minutes alone is must-see stuff.”Wounds (2019) 47%Release date: March 29, 2019Armie Hammer had been leaving plastic cockroaches all over Park City in the lead-up to the midnight premiere of Wounds, a brutal little Cronenbergian body-horror piece from Under the Shadow director Babak Anvari. (Your RT correspondent got a rude shock when he sat down at the Library screening room and stepped on one.) See the film and you’ll get the gag: This is one roach-filled movie. And a scare-filled one. And a very Armie Hammer-filled one (he’s essentially in every scene). In Wounds, the actor plays a New Orleans bartender who unlocks a cellphone left behind by a group of kids, discovering some disturbing videos and images stored in the camera roll; things get worse for him when the texts start coming. It all has to do with “wounds,” and portals, and yes, roaches.Most critics agree that Wounds is probably the most surprising of Sundance’s horror offerings: Mashable’s Angie Han wrote in her review, “What this movie is about, what it’s trying to do, I couldn’t tell you. But it is never boring.” And many are praising Hammer for a big, Nic Cage-esque performance as the bartender increasingly on the verge of some kind of breakdown. For Film Threat, Norman Gidney writes, “Hammer’s performance is unhinged, insane, and totally relatable,” while David Rooney at The Hollywood Reporter writes that Hammer “gamely loses himself in the sweaty panic of the role, subverting his golden matinee-idol persona to explore the gnawing sense of inadequacy eating away at Will and steadily filling him with overwhelming rage.”Is the movie scary? At times it s plain terrifying; one late-night kitchen sequence was the freakiest thing we saw at the fest. But as many critics are noting, Wounds doesn’t quite live up to Anvari’s Certified Fresh first feature, which sits at 99% on the Tomatometer. As Rooney concludes: “There s nothing here that comes close to the fascinating cultural specificity, the sobering political perspective or the elevating personal connection of Anvari s first feature, set in the Tehran of his childhood, near the end of the protracted Iran-Iraq War. But the director nonetheless remains a skilled craftsman, subtly tapping into the flavorful history of New Orleans as a hub of dark magic, while wrapping the entire action in a soupy soundscape of ambient dread.”Corporate Animals (2019) 25%(Photo by Courtesy of Sundance Institute.)Release date: TBDCorporate Animals arrived at Sundance with big horror-comedy pedigree: writer Sam Bain was a co-creator of beloved British TV comedy Peep Show and director Patrick Bice gave us Netflix’s acclaimed low-budget chillers Creep and Creep 2. Plus, Animals features Demi Moore in a rare comedic role, playing the head of a company whose employees get trapped in a cave during a corporate retreat and resort to cannibalism – as you do.Still, in early reviews, many critics aren’t feeling it. The Hollywood Reporter’s DeFore writes that “Bain’s script is about as fresh as the air in a cave nine people without toothbrushes have shared for a week,” while Screen International’s Anthony Kaufman wondered whether the horror-comedy elements were working together as seamlessly as they should: “On an episode of Parks and Recreation, there might be instances of office politics, insults lobbed at the quirky intern, and general backstabbing, but it’s not remotely credible coming from a group of people who are trapped, starving, and dying of thirst.” Others, however, were digging Animals’ absurdist vibe and Moore’s comedic turn: The cast is full of comedians who deliver but they all orbit around Moore,” writes Fred Topel at Monsters and Critics. “She has never been this funny. I hope Corporate Animals is the beginning of a Demi Moore comedy renaissance.”The Sundance Film Festival runs January 24-February 3, 2019.
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Although women were present at the birth of cinema and helped pioneer a great many discoveries, women from marginalized backgrounds and communities had a tougher time breaking in the fledgling industry. Sadly, it’s an inequality that persists in the film world today. Despite these barriers, a number of Latina and Hispanic women in Hollywood and South America broke through biases, starting their own production companies, forging their own paths. They created opportunities where there were none, they landed their movies in festivals and challenged the male-dominated industry to take notice. Sadly, not all enjoyed the long illustrious careers their male counterparts did, but whether it was just one film or two, these nine filmmakers left their mark on film history and on screens far and wide. (Photo by Public Domain)Beatriz Michelena (1890–1942) Originally an opera singer, Beatriz Michelena made the leap from the stage to the screen becoming one of the first Hispanic silent movie stars with the movie Salomy Jane. On the side, she wrote an advice column for girls interested in becoming actresses like herself. After her first studio went bankrupt, Michelena formed her own production company with her husband, George E. Middleton, and produced her next movies, effectively becoming one of the first Hispanic women to do so. Sadly, like many upstart companies in the early days of cinema, it did not last, and most of Michelena’s film work was destroyed in a fire. Mimí Derba (1893–1953)When Herminia Pérez de León first entered showbiz as a teenager, the Mexican singer chose the stage name Mimí Derba. It would become one of the most recognized names in her country’s movie history. After the Mexican Revolution, Derba co-founded the Azteca Film Company, which produced five movies in its first year – two of which were written by Derba, including The Tigress, which she also directed. Her star was on the rise when financial setbacks interrupted her career and shut down her film company. She returned in the sound era opposite Lupita Tovar for Santa in 1931, which restarted her film career that ran through the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. Emilia Saleny (1894–1978)Although accurate details about her are scarce, Argentine director Emilia Saleny began her career as an actress, traveling between the Italian community in Buenos Aires and her family’s home country of Italy. She began teaching early in her career, founding one of the first film and acting schools in South America in the 1910s. She also pioneered children s films, movies made for younger audiences that followed stories told from a child’s point-of-view. Because of her collaborative approach to filmmaking and working with students, as well as early film’s less stringent standards of record-keeping, there is disagreement among scholars about her exact credits, but there’s no disputing she had an effect on Argentina’s early film scene. Adriana (1894–1972) and Dolores Ehlers (1896–1983)Mexican sisters Adriana and Dolores Ehlers worked as a team making documentaries, processing film, and creating political movies. At first, they began their careers as photographers, and their work won them a grant to study in the United States. After they made military films during World War I and completed more training, they returned home to Mexico, where they sold cameras and projection equipment and eventually landed jobs in the Mexican government overseeing a lab that processed film and censorship, flagging racist stereotypes in Hollywood movies. After more political upheaval, the sisters returned to making films independently, selling projectors and training projectionists. María Luisa Bemberg (1922-1995)Like Lucrecia Martel today, Argentine director María Luisa Bemberg had much to say about her country’s social issues through inventive movies. After beginning her artistic career creating feminist theater, Bemberg wrote scripts for other directors in the 1970s, but soon decided to make them herself, as she did with the scandalous period piece Camila, throughout the 80s and 90s. Many of her movies featured feminist themes and centered on strong women challenging men’s authority. (Photo by Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Elena Sánchez Valenzuela)Elena Sánchez Valenzuela (1900–1950)Mexican filmmaker Elena Sánchez Valenzuela wore many hats in her lifetime as a documentarian, journalist, archivist, and actress. Her screen career began in the silent era, but soon her focus shifted to journalism in the 1920s, and she soon began her writing for Mexico City newspapers, which led to assignments in Los Angeles and Paris. In the 1930s, Sánchez Valenzuela moved into documentary filmmaking with a feature on the Mexican state of Michoacán. She made one more career change in the 1940s when she helped found the Mexican National Film Library to preserve and promote films from Mexico and South America.Gabriela Von Bussenius Vega (1901–1975)Chilean writer Gabriela Von Bussenius Vega got her first taste of cinema when her new husband, Salvador Giambastiani, adapted her story The Agony of Arauco. While Giambastiani took over directing duties, Von Bussenius Vega handled the story and art direction, becoming one of the first women to have a hand in making a Chilean film. After Giambastiani’s death, Von Bussenius Vega stepped away from filmmaking and returned to writing books, essays, film criticism and plays.Sara Gómez (1942–1974)When Sara Gómez began working in the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry, she was the only woman and only one of two Black filmmakers in the government-sanctioned profession. Despite being the only woman in the Cuban film industry, she worked as a directors assistant to Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Agnès Varda, made a number of documentary shorts about Afro Cubans and women, and challenged sexism, classism, and racism with her one and only feature, the documentary and narrative film hybrid One Way or Another.Margot Benacerraf (1926–)Although Venezuelan documentarian Margot Benacerraf may only have two documentaries to her name – Reverón, a short study on Venezuelan painter Armando Reverón, and Araya, a feature on mining practices at a salt marsh – both of her works made it to international festivals. Reverón premiered at the 1953 Berlin International Film Festival, and Araya shared the Fipresci Critics’ Award with Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival. Later, she founded the National Film Library of Venezuela and co-founded the Latin Fundavisual with Gabriel Garcia Márquez. On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.