We humans are pattern-makers. We look for connections where there may be none, in a valiant attempt to give order to the chaos of existence. And of film festivals.
Sometimes the threads that link themselves across Sundance movies are obvious: Parker Posey, Iraq, butt-ugly videography. Then there are such seemingly disparate movies as The Signal and Black Snake Moan, both of which address the consequences of being unable to controll one's basest impulses. Also, people get smashed in the face a lot in both movies. But I digress.
The Signal, from the filmmaking trio of David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry, has at its foundation a single high-concept idea (strangely similar to that of Stephen King's Cell): A mysterious transmission, broadcast through every possible electronic device, making people homicidally crazy. It's more properly thought of as an anthology, though, since it's broken into three segments, each directed by one of the co-writers individually, and each with a very distinct tone. While the bookend segments both lean towards conventional horror, the middle segment (by Bush) is the wildest and most entertaining, veering into pitch-black comedy as a few survivors hole themselves up in an apartment on New Year's Eve. And if I were putting early money on who'd I'd favor for the best supporting performance of 2007, I'd go with Chadrian Morris, playing an oblivous dude who shows up for a party and never seems to have a clue that there are bigger things going on than whom he might be able to hook up with that evening. The tonal shifts may be jarring for some, but there's no question that The Signal is a distinctive, unconventionally satisfying piece of work. Also: Brilliant opening sequence.
The Signal fusses with subtext about how easily people can be distraced from what they know is true by the clutter of the modern world, but it doesn't devote much energy to they "why" behind its characters' breakdowns. Black Snake Moan, on the other hand, winds up spending way too much time in that area. Hustle & Flow auteur Craig Brewer concocts a great B-movie premise -- a emotionally wounded bluesman (Samuel L. Jackson) taking it upon himself to cure the town slut (Christina Ricci) of her hunger for sex -- and then proceeds to let it all fall apart in the third act. This movie ending in a mutual therapy session after its down-and-dirty early vibe is pretty inexcusable. Providing yet another weird connection point with another movie -- two characters synchronizing their watches so they can be thinking of each other, just like in Grace is Gone -- is just plain weird. (Scott Renshaw)