The Sundance Film Festival is a prestigious program of the Sundance Institute, a non-profit organization founded by Robert Redford in 1981. Committed to the growth and nurturing of independent artists, the annual film festival is a showcase for premieres of bold, innovative, and inspiring work that amplifies voices on an international scale.
Each year, I make it a personal mission to add every film from the Midnight programming section to my watchlist. The Midnight category is dedicated to films that might keep you up at night for one reason or another. It could be a horror film, a comedy feature, or even a film that defies all genre categorization. Either way, it’s exactly why this section is my favorite of all categories at the Sundance Film Festival.
This year, Sundance promised to shake things up after releasing the synopses of each feature in Midnight. From the shocking films with the perfect jump scares, to the slow burns that end in gory bliss, all expectations were surpassed. Simply put, this Midnight gal is happy with the chills that ran down my spine thanks to nearly every film in this category. So without further ado, here is my ranking of the Midnight section of programming from the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
6. Meet Me in the Bathroom | Directors: Dylan Southern & Will Lovelace
Sundance Synopsis: Welcome to pre-9/11 New York City, when the world was unaware of the profound political and cultural shifts about to occur, and an entire generation was thirsty for more than the post–alternative pop rock plaguing MTV. In the cafés, clubs, and bars of the Lower East Side there convened a group of outsiders and misfits full of ambition and rock star dreams. When The Strokes secured a residency at the Mercury Lounge in 2000, the scene that had previously been ignored by record labels and music magazines took off.
Review: Every so often, there’s a film in the Midnight section that just seems to be an outlier when it comes to quality and concept. For Sundance 2022, that film is Meet Me in the Bathroom. This documentary explores the rock music scene around the events on 9/11, but it does no justice to both filmmaking and rock-‘n’-roll. Simply put, it’s just not very well made. There are some surprisingly great behind-the-scene footages that should get anyone’s head bopping. But it merely wasn’t enough to convince me that it was as important as it claimed to be.
5. Fresh | Director: Mimi Cave
Sundance Synopsis: Frustrated by scrolling dating apps only to end up on lame, tedious dates, Noa takes a chance by giving her number to the awkwardly charming Steve after a produce-section meet-cute at the grocery store. During a subsequent date at a local bar, sassy banter gives way to a chemistry-laden hookup, and a smitten Noa dares to hope that she might have actually found a real connection with the dashing cosmetic surgeon. She accepts Steve’s invitation to an impromptu weekend getaway, only to find that her new paramour has been hiding some unusual appetites.
Review: Though it’s a familiar story to tell and adds nothing new to the conversations about dating, Cave does a nice job with Fresh thanks to her ability to use women’s bodies as an allegory for physical horror with respect to getting to know someone personally, sexually, and emotionally. On the flip side, screenwriter Kahn doesn’t know what to do with Noa’s Black friend Mollie… Jojo T. Gibbs does all she can to elevate this thin character beyond the “gay Black friend,” but I need filmmakers to understand that this should not have ever been good enough, nor will it ever be moving forward. Full review on Fresh here.
4. Babysitter | Director: Monia Chokri
Sundance Synopsis: Middle-aged sexist Cédric (Patrick Hivon) gets suspended from work after drunkenly kissing a female reporter during a prank on live TV. Stuck at home with his long-suffering girlfriend, Nadine (director Monia Chokri), and their incessantly crying baby, Cédric teams up with his sensitive brother, Jean-Michel (Steve Laplante), to co-author a confessional book apologizing for their past misogyny. Enter Amy (Nadia Tereszkiewicz): a mysterious and provocative young babysitter, who, like a Mary Poppins of the libido, forces the trio to face their sexual anxieties while turning their lives upside down.
Review: The Sundance Film Festival always includes that one feature film whose content and themes run rampant with hilarity and quirkiness. For me, that film was director Monia Chokri’s sophomore feature Babysitter. Chokri has an eye for visual levity in this vibrant story about misogyny and sexual anxiety. It’s the perfect execution of drawing attention to unacceptable behavior while simultaneously making fun of its targeted audience. Simply put, this feature rocked!
3. Hatching | Director: Hanna Bergholm
Sundance Synopsis: Tinja’s mother showcases their family’s existence on her popular blog “Lovely Everyday Life” as a brightly hued domestic idyll set amid manicured suburban perfection. Beneath the impeccable veneer, though, friendless tween gymnast Tinja is struggling, spending most of her time striving to please her image-obsessed mom and appease her shrilly obnoxious little brother. After finding a wounded bird in the woods, she brings its strange egg home, nestles it in her bed, and nurtures it until it hatches. The creature that emerges, christened Alli, becomes Tinja’s closest friend, surrogate child, and living nightmare in this tremendously twisted coming-of-age body horror film.
Review: Fans of body-horror epics need to look no further for their next favorite feature. Hanna Bergholm’s audacious and bold story centered around motherhood is one of the best films of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The feature showcases some grotesque and viscid scenes that wholly enhance Bergholm’s story of neglect, making it equally enthralling as it is grotesque. But I simply could not look away. This is what the Midnight section is all about, folks.
2. Speak No Evil | Director: Christian Tafdrup
Sundance Synopsis: While on holiday in Tuscany, a Danish family becomes fast friends with a fellow traveling family from the Netherlands. Months later, when an invitation arrives encouraging the Danish family to visit the Dutch in their countryside home, they don’t hesitate to plan a quick getaway. Free-spirited and adventurous, the Dutch welcome the Danes for the weekend, channeling an energy that rouses their visitors as drinks flow and they start to let loose. But what begins as an idyllic reunion soon takes a turn as the hosts increasingly test the limits of their houseguests. Now the Danes find themselves caught in a web of their own politeness, trying to understand whether their new friends are merely eccentric… or hiding something more sinister.
Review: If you ever need a reason to believe that extreme politeness can have its disadvantages, watch director Christian Tafdrup’s debut feature, Speak No Evil. This appalling and cautionary tale of overt and excessive civility is as uncomfortable and unsettling as it sounds. I couldn’t help but to scream at my television almost from beginning to end. Without spoiling the film, I’ll just say this – beware of unduly charming strangers.
1. PIGGY | Director: Carlota Pereda
Sundance Synopsis: With the summer sun beating down on her rural Spanish town, Sara hides away in her parent’s butcher shop. A teenager whose excess weight makes her the target of incessant bullying, she flees a clique of capricious girls who torment her at the town pool, only to stumble upon them being brutally kidnapped by a stranger, who drives off with them in his van. When the police begin asking questions, Sara keeps quiet. Intrigued by the stranger — an interest that’s mutual — she’s torn between revealing the truth and protecting the man who saved her.
Review: Director Carlota Pereda’s enthralling feature PIGGY was one of the few films at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival to receive a perfect rating from me. This straightforward story about bullying harnesses the simplicity of its narrative while giving a complex and deep dive into the many sources of the main character’s anguish. Think of PIGGY as a slow burn with themes of mistreatment, captivity, and fixation. You might be thinking that this is a film whose director couldn’t decide on its conceptual elements. But let me be the first to share with you that director Pereda elegantly molds these concepts into one so perfectly that you actually realize how they are one in the same. This genre-blending feature is as emotional at it is piercingly fun. And Laura Galán (Sara) simply gave the best performance in the entire fest. This is the Midnight section done right.
Thank you for reading my ranking of the Midnight section of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival… Until next year!