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Sundance 2022: “When You Finish Saving the World,” “Emergency,” & “Fresh”

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The first review roundup from Sundance 2022 includes 3 major premieres films. We look at the  3 different movies (2 of which are directorial debuts) and mostly belong to three different genres. In the following post, we look at Jesse Eisenberg’s “When You Finish Saving the World,” Carey Williams’s “Emergency,” & Mimi Cave’s “Fresh.”




When You Finish Saving the World

When You Finish Saving the World Emegency Fresh
Finn Wolfhard and Julianne Moore appear in When You Finish Saving the World by Jesse Eisenberg, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Beth Garrabrant.

When We Finish Saving the World tells the story of Evelyn and Ziggy. Evelyn is an Indiana social worker who runs a women’s shelter. Ziggy, on the other hand, is a mostly apolitical, privileged kid who cares about nothing but his music and his YouTube fandom. Both would dearly love one thing – to replace each other. This is because, in their pursuit of doing what they do well, they come off as real narcissists, as pointed out by their patriarch later. Their visibly tart relationship finds them seeking comfort in other places. The essentially woke Evelyn is obsessed with the teenage son of her newest refugee. The essentially apathetic Ziggy suddenly grows an interest in political issues because of liking an activist classmate. In this pursuit, what follows between them is absolute neglect for each other’s existence and obsessions that are farcical.

Everything you think would ensue in the comedy of their relationship, does. However, Jesse Eisenberg is brilliant about it. It’s a confident directorial debut – he never holds his brutal humor back. Laying back with minimalistic aesthetics, he approaches his characters with minuscule empathy. The entertainment value of his storytelling is instrumental in churning out a real energy and vibrancy out of his characters who are often put on relentless exchanges. His writing is also delightfully self-aware and original. The histrionics are very Eisenberg, and they ensure that the film is more enduring beyond its coming-of-age relationship drama trappings. It also benefits from the excellent performances delivered by Finn Wolfhard and especially the terrific Julianne Moore, who sinks her teeth into Evelyn’s overbearing niceness.

At times, you might feel that the familiarity is taking a toll on the film’s health and level of originality. Actually, it’d divide its audience because of the exact same reason. However, it was exactly the kick I needed to start my morning in this part of the world. It’s a charming film which is compelling and not too full of itself. Additionally, it marks a great directorial debut for one of our finest actors.

Shashwat Sisodiya




Emergency

RJ Cyler, Sebastian Chacon and Donald Elise Watkins appear in Emergency by Carey Williams, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Based on directed by Carey Williams’short of the same name, Emergency follows two African-American students, Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and Sean (RJ Cyler) as they plan to have the most epic night of their lives. Given how Kunle is studious and a little uptight, he is reluctant to do the Legendary Tour (that’s the name of the trip full of alcohol and weed through various frat houses) and instead focus on his graduation project. But Sean convinces him anyway and they begin their outing by making a quick pit at their home. That’s when they come across a White girl passed out on their living room floor. So, instead of partying, Kunle, Sean, and their Latino roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) are forced to decide whether they should call 911 (and risk being accused of intoxicating the girl), dump the girl at the frat house she was probably partying in, or take her to the hospital.

From the get-go, Williams establishes what’s going to loom heavily throughout the movie by putting Kunle and Sean in a class where a British White woman repeatedly says the N-word and then proceeds to ask Kunle and Sean why it’s making them uncomfortable. And he maintains this balance between dark comedy with things going hilariously wrong for the duo and the absolute fear that things are going to go terribly wrong and it won’t be funny. It is a much-needed subversion of the stoner comedy sub-genre (Project X, The Hangover series, 21 & Over) in which we are used to seeing White protagonists getting into the most preposterous situations and coming out without a hint of trauma. But in Emergency, Williams keeps the focus on the characters’ skin tones, the times they are living in (times where racism is bubbling right underneath the surface), and why their story ends differently than the characters’ White counterparts.

Emergency does suffer from some pacing issues. There are times where it feels like Williams, Dávila, and editor Lam T. Nguyen could have trimmed down some of the dialogue-heavy scenes or shown some more urgency because Sean, Kunle, and Carlos ultimately have a passed out girl on their hands. In fact, there’s a moment in the third act where you think that the movie is going to end because DoP Michael Dallatorre pulls out of the scene in a pretty conclusive fashion. Then the movie continues for a good 20 minutes after that and it seems that it is overstaying its welcome.

However, it’s during those 20 minutes where Williams really hones in on Watkins, Cyler, and Chacon’s already amazing performances to remind us that we are actually watching college students. Not just any college students though, but college students who are dealing with a bizarre state of affairs, while also having the pressure of being Black or Latino in a subtly racist America. And that’s not only what redeems Emergency, but also makes it one of the most important dark comedies of 2022.

Pramit Chatterjee




Fresh

Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones appear in FRESH by Mimi Cave, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The opening credits of this extremely perverse debut feature film come somewhere around the 30 minutes mark. Up until that point, it feels like a swoony, romantic comedy that looks closely at a lonesome, struggling-to-online-date young woman named Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones). Then, in what feels like a total 360 degree lateral shift, turns into a film about a psychopath who is out for not just blood, but the bodies around it. 

Screened at the festival’s Midnight section, Mimi Cave’s “Fresh” is a fucked up film. From its opening moments to its bloody finale, there’s a constant unsettling feeling of dread that one can feel as we follow Noa around. This isn’t just because she is alone in this world, but her life is constantly shifting from one repressive man-figure to another. 

This tale might be seen as a fair warning that men with red flags are not just out there objectifying women on the web, but also roaming around in-person flirting awkwardly in superstore aisles. And while the horror antiques here feel dated, they work within the context of this film. Thanks to a brilliant psychotic turn by Sebastian Stan and writer Lauryn Kahn’s dry wit, Fresh feels like a horror film that is both urgent and entertaining.  Kahn does the impossible here – injecting chuckle-worthy laughs in the most intense situations without making it feel out of place. 

That doesn’t mean it truly stands out though. The plotting is fairly predictable from the get-go. We are always aware of the turns the film is going to take, but the fact that it constantly reels you in, every time you start losing interest is why it excels. 

Shikhar Verma




The films screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival

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