Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sundance: The Thrill is On

[Film Fest] People see a lot of quirky comedies, minimalist dramas and other theoretically high-brow fare at Sundance. But why don’t people generally think of scary movies when they think of the festival?

History suggests Sundance thrillers should warrant more attention, between those that were box office hits (The Blair Witch Project, Saw) and those that triumphed artistically (last year’s Joshua and The Signal). Still, the creepy stuff generally finds itself relegated to the Midnight Category, far out of the limelight. You’d think the cinematic establishment didn’t really respect the thriller as a genre. Oh wait …

This year’s festival hasn’t exactly been swimming in thrillers. Michael Haneke’s English-language remake of his own 1997 film Funny Games made an appearance, but it’s scheduled for a theatrical release in just over a month. And I’ll have plenty more to say about Haneke’s little experiment in self-replication at that time.

Otherwise, you’re left with something like the high-seas high-tension of Olly Blackburn’s Donkey Punch. Three young women from Leeds, England – on a Spanish holiday to help one of them forget about a bad breakup – hook up with a group of seemingly charming men, only to find a trip back to their yacht turning into a nightmare. The closed environment of a boat on the water should lend itself to nerve-wracking action, but the film never manages to move beyond lurid to find something genuinely unsettling. People die at all the predictable intervals, though they do so in some relatively creative ways. But the really scary thing is how something with this much sex, drugs and violence can end up leaving a viewer faintly bored. (Scott Renshaw)

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