Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (Premieres)

Folks, we’re about to enter Zac Efron season in a pretty major way. While he’s probably best known as a teen heartthrob or Instagram thirst trap, Efron has worked with interesting directors like Richard Linklater and Lee Daniels throughout his career – and the Neighbors series showed he could have some fun toying with his pretty boy image. He might be going full Robert Pattinson starting in 2019, beginning with Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (which is somehow not the title of a documentary about the child separation policy) in which Efron portrays notorious serial killer Ted Bundy.

Can’t make it to Sundance? Watch this at home: The film’s director, Joe Berlinger, is no stranger to films about infamous public figures. As a documentarian, he followed the saga of the West Memphis Three, a group of teenagers falsely prosecuted for murdering children. But since that whole debacle required a trilogy of documentaries to chronicle, stick with his more manageable Whitey. It’s the film about Whitey Bulger you probably wanted Black Mass to be. (Available to stream for free to Hulu and Hoopla subscribers)

The Sunlit Night (Premieres)

The “woman embarks on a journey of self-discovery after her life falls apart” movie has a long history at Sundance, and it’s one that often pays mixed dividends. But Jenny Slate, a comic actress with tremendous heart and sensitivity, is the kind of performer who could probably make just about anything work. The Sunlight Night sees her character Frances impulsively take an art residency in Norway following a tumultuous stretch in her life – just the kind of fish-out-of-water scenario in which Slate can shine.

Can’t make it to Sundance? Watch this at home: While The Sunlit Night sounds like a nice, inoffensive comedy, it might shock you to learn that the most notable credit from its director David Wnendt is … decidedly not family-friendly. Wetlands, his 2013 sex comedy romp, is about as taboo-shattering as they come. The film does not just provoke because it can, however. Sex-obsessed protagonist Helen just wants her divorced parents to get back together and is willing to go to some gross places to get the attention she craves. Wetlands is decidedly not for the faint at heart, but those who can stomach it will be amazed that such emotional earnestness can coexist with such raunchy behavior. (Available to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

The Lodge (Midnight)

What’s scarier than two young kids (and twins, to boot) on a mission? That’s what Riley Keough’s Grace is likely to find out in The Lodge, a horror film about a potential new stepmother to two children and the torture she faces at their hands. The twins, uneasy about young Grace supplanting their biological mother, put her through the ringer while the three of them are trapped together in a winter lodge. Maybe this will be the movie that finally makes Keough happen, too – she’s been overdue for a major breakout since at least 2016’s American Honey.

Can’t make it to Sundance? Watch this at home: Does this concept sound vaguely familiar? It might recall the last movie by directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, Goodnight Mommy, in which two children torment their mother as she recovers from a major cosmetic surgery. While I was a little skeptical about the film’s big twist, Goodnight Mommy is a truly chilling horror flick that builds dread and unease like few films in the genre can. (Available to stream for free with ads on Vudu)

MEMORY—The Origins of Alien (Midnight)

Documentaries exploring the making of iconic films often assume a hagiographic tenor, exalting the brilliance of all those involved and privileging anecdote over analysis. MEMORY – The Origins of Alien looks like a joyous exception to the rule. Filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe goes beyond “behind the scenes” navel-gazing on how Dan O’Bannon’s 1971 script for Alien morphed into Ridley Scott’s 1979 film. It explores how the film resonates by effectively tapping into mythology.

Can’t make it to Sundance? Watch this at home: Philippe is no stranger to breaking down famous films and placing them in historical context. In his previous documentary, 78/52, he devoted an entire feature to analyzing the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Philippe nimbly balances an aesthetic appreciation of the master of suspense while also examining why it made such an impact on the national psyche – and how it continues to influence genre filmmakers to date. (Available to stream for free to Hulu subscribers)

Love, Antosha (Documentary Premieres)

With time, I feel confident that we will look back on the passing of Anton Yelchin with the same gut-wrenching sense of loss that we do when considering Heath Ledger or James Dean. Yelchin had the full package: sensitivity, empathy, mystery and rage. A new documentary premiering at Sundance, Love, Antosha, will shine a light on just how special a talent he was. The inclusion of interviews from co-stars like Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pine makes me think a pack of tissues might be a necessary companion for viewing.

Can’t make it to Sundance? Watch this at home: Admit it, you miss seeing new Anton Yelchin performances, too. Luckily, Netflix has quite a few standouts of his on their service. It’s pretty easy to get a scope of the full Yelchin package from 5 to 7, in which he plays a hopelessly romantic lead locked in an affair with a woman who won’t leave her husband, and Green Room, where he leads his punk band in fending off violent skinheads after a concert. (Available for free to Netflix subscribers)

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