Julian Higgins’ God’s Country, Chloe Okuno’s Watcher and Jamie Dack’s Palm Trees and Power Lines are the three best Sundance ‘22 films. Or so it would appear to this viewer. I’ve seen ‘em all, and was seriously gripped and jarred. I was throttled by two, and fairly horrified by the most reality-rooted (i.e., not the genre-ish Watcher or God’s Country).
I haven’t felt this energized by a crew of Sundance breakout indies in a long time. These three will definitely be on my year-end “best of ‘22” list, come hell or high water.
Set in present-day Bucharest and costarring Maika Monroe (It Follows), Karl Glusman and Burn Gorman, Watcher is unquestionably scary and unnerving but stops short of elevated horror — it’s more of a low-key, Roman Polanski-level thriller in the vein of Repulsion and The Tenant. First-rate chills and creeps. The Scream-level morons may respond in their usual way, but Watcher is as good as it gets with this kind of palette and approach.
A violent socio-political allegory, God’s Country is a slow-build American gothic melodrama — patiently paced, melancholy, sparely crafted, thoughtful, Ex-New Orleans cop Thandiwe Newton, woke and angry, vs. Montana bumblefucks. Straw Dogs minus the sexual factor and the Peckinpah slow-mo. A touch of The Limey, a hint of High Plains Drifter.
I’ve been all but threatened with bodily harm if I reveal anything semi-significant about Palm Trees and Power Lines, but it’s a riveting, step-by-step, coming-of-age dramatic creeper (based on Dack’s 2018 short) about a 17 year-old fatherless girl (Lily McInerney) who gets involved with a 34 year-old (Jonathan Tucker). Gretchen Mol is McInerney’s stressed, somewhat self-absorbed single mom. The review embargo lifts early next week.