Sundance Wrap-Up: Reviews of ‘Blindspotting’, ‘Wildlife’, ‘Leave No Trace’, and more

So, Sundance 2018 has come and gone, much like the flu that I caught while I was in Park City, and the whole damn industry is left to pick up the leftover tea leaves and try to read them. You never know what will become a big ol' hit and shock the world (what's good, Call Me By Your Name) and what might turn out to be some hot garbage that clutters up multiplex screens come August (we see you Patti Cake$). But that never stops people from trying.

There are a number of films that I’m personally bummed that I missed while I was down there. That’s normally true with any given festival, but especially so this time, given that my illness caused me to leave before I could see stuff like Sorry to Bother You or Tyrel or Hereditary or Eighth Grade (let it be known that I would have stayed longer if I could have walked across a parking lot without feeling like I was going to faint). Thankfully, all of those will be seeing some sort of major release at some point later on this year, and who knows? They might even make an appearance at this year’s IFFBoston if we’re lucky enough.

That said, I’m extraordinarily pleased with what I did manage to see at the festival this year, and I have a weird feeling that at least one of the films featured -- Lynne Ramsay’s astonishing You Were Never Really Here -- will endure its way to my top ten list at the end of the year, give or take some sort of Cannes insanity.

But there are still some small reviews to get out of the way, for some damn solid films and a few mediocre ones, from the ones with the biggest buzz to the small ones that surprised everybody with their quiet power. So that's a wrap on Sundance 2k18, but we'll be feeling the effects of this one for a while.

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Leave No Trace

Director Debra Granik, best known in the popular consciousness for kickstarting Jennifer Lawerence’s career in Winter’s Bone, has returned with a new film, about a father (Ben Foster) and daughter (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) who live off the grid in a forest outside of Portland, Oregon and are tested once they’re found by the state government, will break you in half if you have a heart beating away in your chest.

Leave No Trace is a gorgeously shot and deeply felt depiction of the end of adolescence, and it’s reminiscent of other hyped Sundance films along similar thematic lines that failed to live up to their pedigree- namely Beasts of the Southern Wild and presumably Captain Fantastic (which I have never seen, but read a great deal about the reaction to). It’s another reminder that Granik is one of the best directors currently working in the American Indie scene, and that her work deserves your undivided attention.

Foster is always a treat to watch, though I can understand the concerns some will have about whether or not he has the essential warmth required to pull off a father/daughter relationship without coming off as alienating or abusive (which the worst version of this movie would make a great big deal out), and it helps that he’s paired with an astonishing young actress in McKenzie, who is on a similar wavelength and makes their relationship feel natural. We’re mainly experiencing the story from her perspective, gleaning bits and pieces of knowledge about her father in the way that she would — finding an old news clipping about his former unit’s struggles with Mental Illness, for one — and we empathize heavily with her, especially as she begins to acquire a taste for modern life that her father can’t totally abide.

Again, it’s to Granik’s eternal credit that Leave No Trace is never once played for after-school special morality and that she never goes for the easy and cheap reaction here. It’s a gloriously heartfelt and complicated film, and I can’t wait to write more about it once comes out later this year.

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