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Ranking: Sundance 2015 Films From Worst to Best

All 37 of our reviews ranked for your leisure.

Sundance Film Festival
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    Bookmark and follow our exclusive coverage of Sundance Film Festival 2015.

    sundance cos 2This year’s Sundance Film Festival was a gorgeous, week-long escape for the Chicago-based film writers of Consequence of Sound. As we trudge through the aftermath of one of the city’s worst blizzards, which unloaded over 12 inches of snow on our city streets, we look back fondly at the still weather of Park City’s snowcapped mountains, the cozy theaters and great films, and that time we saw actor Richard Kind walk through a pizza restaurant. We also saw Kristen Wiig the day before she officially became a Ghostbuster, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about.

    In our inaugural year of Sundance coverage, Michael Roffman, Dominick Mayer, and I managed to review 37 films from January 21st through February 1st. While a smattering of works inevitably did not live up to our expectations (ahem, The Bronze), many surpassed them (Digging for Fire). We even feel we have a head start when it comes to discovering near-certain Oscar nominees (Jason Segal as David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour), soon-to-be cult classics (Entertainment), and groundbreaking documentaries (Call Me Lucky). Most of these films found distributors during the festival run, and those desiring to catch them should be able to find them in theaters, cable, or even VOD before the end of the year.

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    Tucked away in the mountains of Park City, the Robert Redford-founded festival has been going strong for over three decades. This year’s screenings were held in not only local cinemas but at community colleges, auditoriums, and even hotels. Some of these spaces could only hold an audience in the hundreds, but some were able to pack in thousands who were hoping to catch “the next big thing” or hear from the directors and stars of the films featured.

    We came. We saw. We reviewed a lot of movies. Now, for your leisure, we’ve ranked them all in order from worst to best. Regardless of the grades, however, one thing’s for certain: We enjoyed the ‘Dance. Even if we missed out on The Witch.

    –Justin Gerber
    Film Editor

    Note: All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

    Hellions

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    Grade: D-

    Hellions has style to burn, but that only lasts for a few minutes before the film reveals itself as a disappointingly empty exercise in that and that alone. Whatever message the film has about the fear and/or joy in creating new life is lost in a fog of hackneyed character designs and nonsensical narrative turns that offer stylish images straight out of an industrial rock video but little in the way of anything truly frightening. It’s a film that assembles enough hallucinatory images and scary kid noises to masquerade as a horror movie but goes no further. It looks and sounds like a lot of other movies but never gets around to synthesizing those influences into something lasting, or even watchable. [Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review.]

    The Bronze

    the bronze Ranking: Sundance 2015 Films From Worst to Best

    Grade: D

    After a while, The Bronze’s uneven tone becomes grating, and after an even longer while (the film clocks in at almost two hours, which is well beyond unnecessary), it’s genuinely unpleasant. The film attempts to identify with its many misfits but ultimately either sells them short or actively savages them. And then there’s nasty, vicious Hope, whose early abuses are all both forgiven and forgotten by the film when it’s time for her to learn lessons about growing up. To a point, the film teases that maybe it won’t end so easily, that maybe any of the awful things she does will pay off somehow. But The Bronze is so satisfied with its own winking crassness that it lets epithets constitute everything it has to say. Between that and the film’s scene-by-scene tonal shifts, what could’ve been an off-kilter curiosity curdles into a dull roar of disappointment. [Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review.]

    Knock Knock

    knock knock e1422827751875 Ranking: Sundance 2015 Films From Worst to Best

    Grade: D

    Eli Roth’s career has taken a turn for the worst over the past three years. He filmed the cannibal-horror film The Green Inferno back in 2012, and it was due in theaters late last year, but behind-the-scenes issues with its distributor have shelved it indefinitely. Knock Knock can’t even satisfy his fans as a placeholder. If you want to see an unbearable, full-length adaptation of the scene in Gremlins 2 when Lenny the goofy Mogwai causes a mess in Billy’s apartment, then Knock Knock is for you. If not, all you’re left with is a film with direction, editing, and dialogue on par with a Lifetime movie. These are low blows to be sure, but Knock Knock deserves to be knocked out. [Read Justin Gerber’s full review.]

    The Nightmare

    the nightmare Ranking: Sundance 2015 Films From Worst to Best

    Grade: D

    Sleep paralysis is widely unknown to the public and is a subject ripe for the makings of a great documentary. Enter director Rodney Ascher, who experienced recent success with 2012’s Room 237. That documentary gave voice to those with wild conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining. In Ascher’s new doc, The Nightmare, the director gives a voice to eight people suffering from sleep paralysis, but he can’t use clips from a masterpiece to best tell his story. This go-round finds the filmmaker far more concerned with breaking the form of the traditional documentary than he is with providing any kind of narrative flow. [Read Justin Gerber’s full review.]

    Zipper

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    Grade: D+

    Zipper might be the tortured, unsung comedy of Sundance. There’s absolutely nothing promiscuous about this sexually-charged thriller. Instead, it’s a total romp with hilarious, predictable tension and unruly visual metaphors that press the tongue way, way beyond the cheek. We caught this film on a Wednesday afternoon at a Press and Industry screening and I lost count of the number of writers who picked up their belongings and shuffled out. It almost felt like a game of survival, seeing who could trudge through the next scene as the garbage piled higher in the theater. [Read Michael Roffman and Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review.]

    The Hallow

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    Grade: C-

    Corin Hardy has outright said this is a film about the struggles of parenting. That much comes across in the film — two parents fight to the death to protect their child from ravaging monsters, we get it — but none of it resonates. When Claire dives after her toddler into the lake, it’s undoubtedly a terrifying image, but missing is a certain gravitas. I just don’t care. It’s a strange predicament because all of the elements are there, and they’re all connected, but the power’s just not surging through. Perhaps it’s the boiler plate characters, perhaps it’s predictability. Whatever the case, The Hallow is exactly that: a hollow piece of fantasy horror that opens the door before knocking. Hardy sure has an imagination; he just needs to sort out the details better. [Read Michael Roffman’s full review.]

    Sleeping with Other People

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    Grade: C-

    Sleeping with Other People is the type of R-rated comedy you used to find a single video-box of on Blockbuster’s New Release shelf, displayed right beside The Phantom Menace’s 15. It’s the kind of straight-to-video rom-com that would have starred Jon Favreau and Famke Janssen or Edward Burns and whomever he was dating back in 2000. Director Leslye Headland’s problem is not that the story isn’t there; it’s that it was already there in the countless romantic comedies that preceded it. [Read Justin Gerber’s full review.]

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