By Steve Greene | Criticwire January 24, 2013 at 1:02PM
Dozens upon dozens of reviews have flowed out of the Sundance Film Festival this year, but we still have between now and Sunday to gobble up the initial feedback from all of the premieres. However, with a full week in the books, there's plenty to sort through from the first wave of critical response from various critics in our Criticwire network attending the festival. Here's a look at some of the average grades and reviews for a dozen films at this year's festival.
Remakes and Reimaginings
Whether remakes, sequels, or reimaginings, Sundance 2013 has featured a few returns to pre-existing cinematic universes.
First, back we return to the land of William Friedkin's "Cruising" for "Interior. Leather Bar." Time Out New York's David Fear writes of James Franco's involvement, "No, the creatively restless star/co-director does not don dead-animal hides and make out with dudes. Yes, he does prove that a life of perpetually treating stardom as a performance-art piece can belch out some interesting food for thought, even if said meals tend to be somewhat undercooked and overflavored." A common word in many of the reviews has been "deconstruction." In a way, reactions to the movie echo those for "Room 237" last year -- both are exercises about the process of drawing meaning from cinema.
Jim Mickle's "We Are What We Are" not only translates the title from Jorge Michel Grau's "Somos lo que hay," but moves the tale of a disturbing, ritualistic family from Mexico to upstate New York. The response to the film seems tied to an individual critic's opinion of how the film's deliberately paced middle section is handled. Eric Kohn, in his Indiewire review, describes how Mickle's "penchant for soft, picturesque visuals deepens the audience's morbid expectations," all the way until the big reveal that fans of the original know is coming. Drawing connections to 2011's "Martha Marcy May Marlene," Raffi Asdourian writes at the Film Stage that "part of what makes the film so effective is its unsettling mood, made more distressing by Mickle’s intense use of sound design and cinematography to heighten tension."
In no time at all, the collective behind last year's hit "V/H/S" has returned with "S-VHS," albeit with some tonal and participatory changes along the way. Due to the overall anthology structure, it's more difficult than usual to give the entire film a single grade. The Playlist's Drew Taylor tackles his review of "S-VHS" in sections, evaluating the individual pieces on a case-by-case basis. The standout from this installment? A short from Gareth Huw Evans, who made more than his own share of ripples last year with "The Raid: Redemption." Here, Taylor explains, Evans "expands the 'V/H/S' framework in a way that doesn’t feel like a cheat, but [by] giving it some international scope and deepening the narrative elements within the segment." Joe Bendel echoes the praise for Evans' contributions (titled "Safe Haven"), but also points out that the overall film has a slightly different lasting emotional impact. "Like its predecessor, S-VHS is pretty scary stuff, but by offering more humor and gleeful gore, it happens to be more fun. A rare case of a sequel surpassing the original, S-VHS is enthusiastically recommended for midnight movie veterans," he writes at Libertas Film Magazine.
CRITICWIRE AVERAGES (Click the film titles to see individual grades and reviews)
Next page: Critics respond to first features, documentaries and more.