After its first virtual-only year, the Sundance Film Festival is going for a hybrid model (at least, as of this publication—the latest variant may yet shut it down to the digital space) in 2022. “I’ve gone away from even describing what we’re doing as a virtual festival,” fest director Tabitha Jackson told us last year. “It was a festival. It was a festival with real feelings, real work, real experiences, real encounters.” After that success and the proliferation of COVID-19 vaccines—which has led to increased safety protocols for the in-person event—it’s no wonder that they’re feeling more confident. Worst comes to worst, they’ve proven that they can hold a hell of a festival safe and sound from home. This confidence has translated to its filmmakers as well: The Sundance program has increased from 72 films in 2021 to 82 in 2022.
Paste will be on the ground (or floating through cyberspace) pumping out reviews throughout the fest’s run from January 20 – 30, but based on synopses and talent alone, we’ve already found a few films that’ve caught our eye. If these pique your interest and you want to learn more, or if you just want to take in the flood of films that may soon be dominating indie movie conversations for the next year and change, you can find the full program here.
Here are Paste’s 10 most anticipated films at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival:
Writer/director Riley Stearns, whose oddball films Faults and The Art of Self-Defense have won him some degree of loyalty from a certain sect of weirdos, returns with his third: Dual. What looks to be a two-hander between Karen Gillan and Aaron Paul is actually a three-hander…because Gillan’s dying character is helping train her cloned replacement. Sounding a little between Black Mirror, Westworld and the work of Dostoevsky, Dual looks like a tonal match made in a lab for Stearns and his cast—and you just know there gonna be some funky murder-doppelganger business going on.
When You Finish Saving the World
Speaking of The Art of Self-Defense, its star, Jesse Eisenberg, will be making his directorial debut at 2022’s Sundance. His film, When You Finish Saving the World, looks particularly…well, Sundancey. A folk-singing teen (Finn Wolfhard) getting radicalized to impress a girl, his domestic abuse shelter-running mom (Julianne Moore), plenty of family issues and gaps of understanding on all sides—if Eisenberg wasn’t adapting his own award-winning Audible Original, you’d think it was put together specifically with the fest in mind. That said, Eisenberg’s history of written work and actorly abilities make this more than your typical performer-turned-director debut, especially as it tries to bridge a generational gap he strides himself.
Filmmaker Chase Joynt’s inventive look at the first trans woman to become a sociological subject takes a slew of trans stars and has them reenact aspects of her and others’ cases in acts of reclamation. Expanding on his and Kristen Schilt’s 2018 doc short, Joynt looks to dive into these particular studies while bridging the decades-long arcs in trans history since the ‘60s. Joynt’s No Ordinary Man touched on a similar subject, in terms of a trans narrative taking on more weight in the present than in its own time—and the complexities of our ever-evolving understanding and appreciation of people as they are and as they fit into their own cultural contexts—which sets Framing Agnes up as another fascinating, academic, bold piece of queerness.
In a programming slate well-familiar with setbacks current and looming in the realm of reproductive rights, Call Jane stands out from The Janes and a few other films dealing with pregnancy and/or abortion (including Aftershock, Happening and Klondike) by virtue of its filmmaker: Phyllis Nagy. The longtime writer and Carol scribe is directing her first non-TV movie, and giving Elizabeth Banks a lead role she’s needed for years in doing so. Set in 1968 Chicago, the film explores one woman’s discovery of the city’s underground abortion movement known as the Jane Collective. Also featuring Sigourney Weaver, Chris Messina, Kate Mara, Wunmi Mosaku and Cory Michael Smith, Call Jane has everything going for it to be a hit: A timely topic, great cast and well-suited director. And if this one doesn’t quite fulfill its potential, the documentary side of things has a few other acclaimed filmmakers offering up their take on the same subject in Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes.
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.
One of two Regina Hall films at this year’s Sundance (the other being the far more serious-minded race-horror Master), Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. has had me laughing since I read the title. Hall and Sterling K. Brown lead writer/director Adamma Ebo’s megachurch satire as she expands upon her short film. With some faux-doc stylings and a deliciously self-important subject—just go watch The Righteous Gemstones, y’all—Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. has me hoping for a big, sharp, hilarious stab into the heart of capitalist religion. Or is it religious capitalism?
You Won’t Be Alone
What’s up, witches? The debut of writer/director Goran Stolevski, You Won’t Be Alone sees Noomi Rapace in another bizarre folkloric tale after bringing us the muttonheaded Lamb last year. This time, she’s just one of a slew of actors portraying a shape-shifting spirit. It sounds nasty and sublime in its exploration of identity, and with that formal gimmick as just one of many selling points, it’ll be something for the genre fans among the fest-goers to cling onto. An expansive tale set in 19th-century Macedonia, the supernatural horror might seem a bit Elevated for some, but that’s not necessarily a dirty word—especially with a premise this ambitious.
As a certified Maika Monroe believer, psychosexual thriller Watcher speaks to me. About a woman that finds herself alone in a new city—in a new country—only to spy someone spying right back at her, Chloe Okuno’s film (which follows her V/H/S/94 segment from last year) grips with its simplicity. A woman, watching, is watched. A killer is in the city. As Monroe has proven multiple times over the course of her career, she’s one of our best at portraying dread. Here, in a grounded and realistic (nearly throwback-sounding) film, she might have a showcase role to remind us how great she can really be.
Something in the Dirt
As far as being a certified believer goes, I certainly am one of filmmaking duo Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson. The pair of indie all-stars have made some of the best genre films of the last few years (seriously, go watch The Endless right now) and are making their Sundance debut with Something in the Dirt. The writers/directors/editors/stars/probable caterers this time give us the following high concept: A “leaving Hollywood” tale warped by greed, need, and the supernatural. What will surely follow is another entry in their filmography that blends inventive effects and a sharp execution of a heady premise with the complex and prickly bonds between damaged men. If you’re not aboard the Moorhead and Benson train yet, now’s as good a time as any.
A Love Song
There’s little you can do to win me over to a film more than if you cast a beloved character actor in a front-and-center lead role. A Love Song does this not once, but twice. Dale Dickey and Wes Studi star as a reconnecting couple decades in the making, finding each other again for one night in the wilderness. Max Walker-Silverman’s debut seems like it might contain what Robin Wright’s Sundance film from last year, Land did not, while playing with the same aesthetic and location. Even if it doesn’t all work, I’ll just be happy Dickey and Studi got the rare opportunity to shine—and in a romance, no less.
Lensed through the process of creating artisanal tequila, Dos Estaciones looks to zoom deeply in on its characters and its community—full of pride despite hardship, hardened against the world yet dependent upon its business. Teresa Sánchez leads the way in writer/director Juan Pablo González’s film, providing a strong central presence in a Mexican drama that looks to approach economic realities with an unflinching gaze.
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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