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This year's Midnight premieres lineup at the Sundance Film Festival proves there is room for more than just blood and gore.
"Over the last couple of years, I have really turned against this idea that there is a certain type of Midnight film," said senior Sundance programmer Charlie Reff. "Everyone deserves the opportunity to go have fun at a Midnight film it's not just the people who want to see terror and blood and guts."
This year's Midnight lineup, Reff said, defies genre expectations by bending the realm of horror into angles of dark comedy, with films like "The Little Hours," which stars Alison Brie, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza and Molly Shannon. There's psychological exploration in films like Marianna Palka's "Bitch." And there's a chance to celebrate being a film nerd with Alexandre O. Philippe's "78/52," which closely examines the 2-minute shower sequence in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho."
For Reff, the appeal of Midnight programming is unabashedly expecting the unexpected. Midnight films are an outlet for the wildly weird to come out in worlds created by the film's directors.
"I have always had a passion for Midnight films because to me, the exciting thing about film is the limitless world-building that you can compare to normal life," said Reff. "You can create anything you want. I always really look to films that play the Midnight section to create their own realities. I like the punk-rock attitude for going broke and going crazy."
Midnight programmers added a shorts program that features what Reff refers to as "totally unique and wild" works exploring comedy, horror and animation. This year also marks the first time that Midnight programmers opened up submissions for episodic features for a special event showcase.
Festivalgoers wanting to take a walk on the late-night wild side also have the opportunity to participate in a Midnight secret screening on Monday for a film that won't be revealed until the movie title stretches across the screen. The Midnight section has hosted secret screenings the past two years, but this year, programmers sold tickets in advance by putting the event on the schedule.
"It's a big horror film that will be coming out within a couple of months after the festival," said Reff. "It's going to make a big splash when it comes out. It is one of my favorite films in the entire festival."
This year's Midnight lineup also is garnering attention for premiering more films directed by women than ever before. Films include Palka's "Bitch" and "XX," which features four shorts directed by four women including the directorial debut of Annie Clark, aka electronic/indie musician St. Vincent.
Palka, bringing her fifth film to the festival, said she appreciates that "Sundance has always been proactive in the sense that they have pushed for female directors.
"Allowing for whatever an individual female voice happens to be in the conversation is absolutely vital in order for us to go back to the original Hollywood, which was actually run by women," said Palka, who directs and stars in "Bitch."
Questions of gender stereotypes in the home are explored in Palka's dark comedy. She stars as Jill, a lonely housewife with four children and a husband (Jason Ritter) who is so focused on his job and his affair that he is oblivious that his wife is breaking down and taking on the psyche of a vicious dog.
"Marianna is doing something entirely unique in how she's setting up what seems like this very horrific scenario. But the way she explores it and resolves it is unlike anything I have ever seen before," said Reff.
Palka said her film carries a positive message about marriage and family despite the dark territories that it crosses in the narrative.
"There is a huge range of what is a thriller; what is a horror film," she said. "The Midnight section doesn't have to be one element. It can be all the elements of horror."
Palka said part of the appeal of being in the Midnight program section is that it doesn't take itself too seriously.
"It's fun and you can have some genre-defying stuff going on," she said. "It's a really interesting, thought-provoking, curious, engaging section. It's fiery and lively you get to be part of the story in a way that you're not with another movie."
Midnight at Sundance
Here are the films premiering in the Midnight section and related events. For a list of all screenings and ticket information, visit sundance.org.
"78/52" • Director Alexandre Philippe's documentary looks at the screen murder that changed movies forever: the shower scene from "Psycho." Premieres Monday, 11:45 p.m., at the Egyptian Theatre, Park City.
"Bad Day for the Cut" • (Northern Island) After years of living with his mother, a middle-aged Irish farmer (Nigel O'Neill) seeks revenge when she's murdered. Premieres Sunday, 11:45 p.m., at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City.
"Bitch" • Writer-director Marianna Palka ("Good Dick," SFF '08) stars as a woman who snaps under pressure and takes on the psyche of a vicious dog forcing her absentee husband (Jason Ritter) to become reacquainted with their four children and his sister-in-law (Jaime King) to weather the crisis. Premieres Friday, 11:59 p.m., Library Center Theatre in Park City.
"Bushwick" • When Texas tries to secede from the Union and attacks New York as a bargaining ploy, a young woman (Brittany Snow) must team up with an ex-Marine (Dave Bautista) to survive across five blocks of her Brooklyn neighborhood. Premieres Saturday, 11:59 p.m., Library Center Theatre, Park City.
"Killing Ground" • (Australia) A couple (Ian Meadows, Harriet Dyer) go camping, but find an abandoned SUV and tent and a distressed child wandering in the woods in this thriller by writer-director Damien Power. Premieres Friday, 11:45 p.m., at the Egyptian Theatre, Park City.
"Kuso" • Steven Ellison, the music producer known as Flying Lotus, makes his movie directing debut with this story set in the aftermath of L.A.'s worst earthquake ever with stories of survival told through a makeshift network of discarded televisions. Premieres Saturday, 11:45 p.m., at the Egyptian Theatre, Park City.
"The Little Hours" • In medieval Tuscany, a servant fleeing from his master takes refuge in a dysfunctional convent in this dark comedy directed and written by Jeff Baena ("Life Before Beth," SFF'14; "Joshy," SFF'16).Premieres Thursday, 8:30 p.m., at The MARC, Park City; screenings continue Friday (9 a.m. Library Center Theatre, Park City), Saturday (6:30 p.m. The Grand Theatre, Salt Lake City), Tuesday (11:59 p.m. Library Center Theatre) and Thursday, Jan. 26 (11:45 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City).
"XX" • Four female directors Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent), Karyn Kusama, Roxanne Benjamin and Jovana Vukovik tell four horror stories with women protagonists. Premieres Sunday, 11:59 p.m., Library Center Theatre, Park City.
Midnight Shorts Program • Premieres Friday, 11:30 p.m., at Prospector Square Theatre in Park City.
Midnight Episodic Showcase • Two episodic stories, "Pineapple" and "Snatchers" (read more below), for the after-dark audience; screens Saturday, 11:30 p.m., Prospector Square Theatre in Park City, and Monday, 9:45 p.m., at Broadway Centre Cinema 3, Salt Lake City
How to Sundance
When • Thursday to Jan. 29
Where • Park City and venues in Salt Lake City and the Sundance resort in Provo Canyon.
Passes and ticket packages • On sale at sundance.org/festivals. Most are sold out, but some are still available.
Individual tickets • Tickets are $25 for the first half of the festival in Park City (Jan. 19-24), $20 for Salt Lake City screenings and for the second half in Park City (Jan. 25-29).
Information • sundance.org/festivals 'Snatchers,' horror web series filmed in Utah
The new web series "Snatchers," previewing at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, has aliens, pregnant teens, blood and gore and it's all made in Utah.
The story starts with status-obsessed Sara Steinberg (Mary Nepi) waking up to find she's nine months pregnant. Thing is, she only lost her virginity the night before. Realizing she's soon to give birth to an alien, Sara turns to the only person she can trust: Her nerdy ex-bestie Hayley Chamberlain (Gabrielle Elyse).
Eight episodes of "Snatchers" will screen in the Midnight Episodic Showcase, in the festival's Special Events program.
Sean P. Means