Sundance Film Festival: ‘On The Count Of Three’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

On the Count of Three is the definition of what a “ride or die” friendship is. The opening scene sets the tone for the film, as the title of the film is tied to the discussion of suicide. Val and Kevin are lifelong friends and they have been through everything with each other. Val (Jerrod Carmichael) goes to visit Kevin (Christopher Abbott) in the rehabilitation center and he ends up breaking him out. They are both in a very bad headspace, so they promise to live one last day to their fullest, before they end their lives.

This was such a great surprise for me because I didn’t know what to expect. The open discussion about depression and suicide was important because of the different views from both of them. Kevin has been struggling with his mental health for years and it was caused by childhood trauma. Val, on the other hand, has struggled with processing his relationships and how they have affected him. The script was great because it explored these issues but it also had a pop of dark humour at the best moments.

Christopher Abbott and Jerrod Carmichael gave great, committed performances. Their chemistry and genuine bond with each other really worked for this film. Kevin and Val were compassionate with each other, looked out for one another, but most importantly called each other out on their bullshit. They are so different from each other and that’s why this 24 hour journey they went on together made for an interesting watch.

On the Count of Three was a fun directorial debut from Jerrod Carmichael. The script is well-written (except for that ending) and it created a space where these thoughts could be explored. There are so many unexpected moments, which were fun and Abbott honestly stole the show. Can’t wait to give this another watch.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘Passing’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Passing is a mesmerizing and highly stylized film for Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut. The black-and-white aesthetic combined with such beautiful framing takes you back into an old Hollywood style. Hall brings such richness within the frame, there are interesting choices made from scene to scene, that left me rather impressed with her debut. The story is also incredibly layered as it dives deep into conversations about race, love and social hierarchy.

It is categorized as a psychological thriller but it’s so much more than that. We all have our own secrets, that we keep to ourselves but are we really living our truth or are we just existing? On a beautiful, hot summer day in New York, Irene (Tessa Thompson) heads to the Dayton Hotel’s tea room. As she sits at her table, she is taken by this beautiful blond woman sitting across from her. The way Hall moved the camera and switched the pov from Irene, to Claire (Ruth Negga) was one of the many great choices she made. From that moment on, I was hooked.

Irene and Claire rekindled their friendship, only to be consumed by the thought of each other. Thompson and Negga had wonderful chemistry. Their relationship was perfectly balanced because they were total opposites. They kept parts of themselves hidden, as if they were passing for something they’re not. The idea of hiding your sexuality or your emotions is difficult to process and you may not even realize you’re doing it. As the film goes on, Irene’s obsession with Claire got worse and the jealousy came out. It was almost like, if Irene couldn’t get the attention from Claire, then no one could.

Passing covers so many bases and has dialogue that highlights all those important issues. Sure, it grazes the surface of each but humans are complex and that is why it works. People have so many different parts of themselves that they also hide. So to dabble in all these conversations about race, sexuality, social status and finances didn’t seem forced at all. It actually flows quite nicely because of the placements of certain conversations.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘Mass’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Mass is an extremely emotional and harrowing story about the loss of a child. In Fran Kranz’s directorial debut he shows the simplicity in capturing a high tension conversation. Four parents enter a room in a church basement to have a discussion. The discussion was about their children and how they have processed their own grief. Kranz observed each parent – Richard (Reed Birney), Linda (Ann Dowd), Jay (Jason Isaacs), and Gail (Martha Plimpton) – and brought out such fantastic performances from his cast. The beauty of this screenplay is that even though it was emotionally straining and heavy, he was able to keep the conversations grounded.

The screenplay was structured extremely well. The first act sets up the issue that needs to be discussed and it has an impressive line of questioning. Both sets of parents are there to settle their feelings with one another about their sons. It slowly builds because of the underlying story that the audience doesn’t seem to know yet. That is what made this film so interesting. So many things are running through your head as you’re watching this. When we find out about the tragedy that caused them so much pain, the tone and the ambience in the second half of the film changes.

The energy in the room is heightened and the line of questioning becomes an interrogation. It also highlights the fact that parents do not know their children. Parents have no idea what affects them or what goes on in their head. Hearing that the parents had no idea that their son was depressed but they noticed the signs and did nothing happens way too often. It was the acknowledgement in hindsight that will hopefully force parents to understand that this is an important issue. The aftermath of such a disastrous event left these parents completely wrecked with it being impossible to move on.

The tension created within those four walls was astounding. The performances from Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton will move you to tears. Mass is very well-written because it is a story that we’ve all heard many times but no one has ever translated it to screen as well as Fran Kranz. The emotional analysis of this side of the story, from the parents is cathartic and it shows that forgiveness is the most powerful thing. A beautiful debut from Fran Kranz!

Sundance Film Festival: ‘In The Earth’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Ben Wheatley never fails to amaze me.

In the Earth was created during the pandemic. It definitely speaks on everyone’s mental state during the pandemic and how we all handled isolation towards the beginning of all of this. What Wheatley does best is plays with the confines of the location he chooses. Whether it’s a hotel, mansion, warehouse or in this case a forest, he finds ways to use every inch. The film integrates horror and experimental elements that will put you in a deep trance. The mixture of strobe lights, static audio feedback and different sound frequencies will bring you into that forest with them.

This is a science fiction horror film that uses the pandemic as a reason why people have fled their city. As a deadly virus ravages the world, Dr. Martin Lowry ventures out to reach a test site in the middle of the Arboreal Forest. He is accompanied by a park ranger named Alma. They are aware of this mythological creature that haunts the forest but they think it’s an old wives tale, until they experience an attack in the middle of the night. When they wake up they are disoriented and shoeless. As they continue on, they meet Zach, a man living off the grid entirely.

What Zack teaches Alma and Martin is that trusting everyone you meet, after they show you kindness, is not always the best decision. This also parallels the government’s trust in the people during the pandemic. The script is well-written and explores the psychology of humans. Wheatley has a lot to say about our connection with the Earth and how no one knows how to function anymore. Even in regards to survival, people do not use their instincts unless they are pushed to their very limit. In the Earth tests Martin and Alma by having them face these obstacles. He slowly builds up to the violence and the gore, while increasing the emptiness of the forest atmosphere.

There is also a contrast in the idea of isolation. We complain that we are isolated at home, in a safe environment with everything we could ever need. Meanwhile you could be isolated in a forest with barely any supplies or proper shelter. In the Earth has wonderful horror and experimental elements, which elevated the second half of this film. However, it is about a half an hour too long and does not have a strong ending to feel satisfied with the film as a whole. There are great moments and I was put in a trance during scenes where the sound frequency was high, the strobe lights were at full force and the editing was jumpy. What a fun ride!

Sundance Film Festival: ‘John And The Hole’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

John and the Hole directed by Pascual Sisto and written by Nicolás Giacobone is a dark, psychological thriller that doesn’t quite find its footing. The film begins with a young thirteen-year-old boy named John (Charlie Shotwell) who is completely emotionless. We see that there is tension with his parents and his sister because no one seems to even care about him. He feels alone and he does not want to deal with the pressure they put on him. John doesn’t want to think about what his parents want him to do. He wants to just live his life without any responsibility.

Here’s what makes it interesting. After John drugs his family and places them in the hole (almost as if it were punishment), John takes on even more responsibility. He is living all by himself in this big, empty house and he is the one who has to take care of everything. He has to cook for himself, make his appointments with his tennis instructor and clean the house. In a short period of time, he understands what it’s like to be an adult and we all know that it comes with a whole other set of responsibilities. What Giacobone wanted to do was show – in a very twisted way- the pressures of growing up.

Even when we are grown, we never fully accept the fact that we have a new set of responsibilities. It’s the same cycle, when we are teenagers we want to be adults, so we act older than we should. Then when we hit our twenties, we regret growing up so fast. John’s idea of freedom is compromised once he realizes that life is even more repetitive and quite boring. This is when the depression hits him. He’s alone in the house, even inviting a friend over doesn’t help him. He thinks even if his family treated him poorly, it’s still better to be with them than to be alone.

John and the Hole is a psychological family drama that has John living his best life, until he realizes that there’s a whole different manual that comes with it. It’s a good lesson in wanting to grow up too fast but the story gets lost in the style of the film. The focus was more on the camerawork and sound design (which was awesome) instead of structuring this story. It had good ideas but the execution was a bit weak. Charlie Shotwell gave a great performance and he kept me interested until the end.