By Peg Aloi
When I have a choice, I tend to choose films that are quite painful to watch. The next three Sundance Fest films on my slate were often disturbing, but also powerful and inspiring on many levels.
Alice is an inventive historical/fantasy hybrid, inspired by real cases of black people being kept as slaves a century after the declaration of emancipation in the United States. At the start of the film, Alice (Keke Palmer) and a number of other slaves suffer degrading and harsh treatment on a plantation in Georgia. Alice watches helplessly as her husband, whom she had to marry in secret, is severely beaten. One day, she takes the opportunity to escape by running into the woods. She arrives on a highway full of cars and is shocked to realize it’s a hundred years later than she was told. A trucker named Frank (Common), who was active in the civil rights movement in the 60s, picks her up and helps her acclimate to her new life. Her transformation from 19th century slave to empowered 20th century woman happens so quickly and easily that realism falls by the wayside. Yet early feature director Krystin Ver Linden’s eclectic setting stands as a powerful allegory as well as a triumphant tale of survival. Palmer’s excellent performance reaches into the character’s deep pain and anger, and Common shines as a man disillusioned by years of injustice. The film’s unusual, layered timeline – underpinned by a richly detailed production design – successfully evokes a strong sense of deja vu and timelessness: Alice offers a powerful reminder that the fight for racial equality is continuous and seemingly endless.
I’m always interested in actress Rebecca Hall’s work (and was blown away by her 2021 directing debut Who passed). In the film by writer-director Andrew Semans Resurrection, Hall plays Margaret, a successful executive who has complete control over her life. She’s having a low-stakes affair with a married co-worker (Michael Esper) and may be a bit overprotective of her teenage daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman). When her former partner (Tim Roth in a subtle and terrifying performance) begins to appear in strange places, Margaret’s unresolved trauma from their decades-old relationship erupts, shattering her stable existence. The uniformly compelling cast transcends what I found to be a rather ill-conceived plot that really never makes much sense: the very real, human horror of being tortured by a psychopath is overshadowed by a bizarre plot point which tries for magical realism but is instead confusing and seems totally out of place for Margaret. Despite the film’s tense pace and suspenseful arc, ResurrectionThe increasingly inscrutable narrative made it hard for me to appreciate Hall’s white-hot performance.
In this first feature documentary, Nothing compares Kathryn Ferguson charts the supernova rise of a young Sinéad O’Connor, long considered one of the most iconic and unique pop stars on the international music scene. The director draws on archival footage that spans four decades: O’Connor’s low, deep voice stands in stark contrast to the softer, higher pitched tones we hear in her previous interviews. The film explores the performer’s abusive childhood, his dealing with the misogynistic domination of the Catholic Church in Ireland and his prodigious talent, which earned him platinum sales and numerous awards in the early years. 2000.
The film also examines O’Connor’s seemingly abrupt fall from grace: his performance on saturday night live, in which she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II, unleashed a storm of ridicule and hatred. Despite returning to touring and recording after a hiatus, the singer continued to struggle with depression, her condition no doubt fueled by the harsh and continued public judgment of her unapologetic activism and signature androgynous style. I was unexpectedly moved by Nothing compares‘ intimate tone, her unflinching look at the career and legacy of an outspoken female performer, much maligned and misunderstood by a world that just wasn’t ready for her.
Peg Aloi is a former film critic for boston phoenix and Fellow of the Boston Society of Film Critics. She taught film studies in Boston for over a decade. She writes about film, television and culture for web publications like Vice, Polygon, Restlessness, microphone, Orlando Weekly, twisted marqueeand Bloody disgusting. Her blog “The Witching Hour” can be found at themediawitch.com.