Well, it wouldn't be Sundance if you didn't miss a movie or two, or three. The price of partying is that you oversleep your alarm clock with reckless abandon and miss those early morning Eccles screenings of hot fest films, such as Saturday's Celeste and Jesse Forever with Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones. (One day I'll make a collage out of all my old unused Sundance tickets -- and L.A. parking tickets). I'd heard mixed things from equally reliable sources but the truth is, as most Sundance veterans will attest to, these big-ticket movies are the ones most likely to come to a theater near you. So, the joy comes from catching something small, weird, odd, which may never see the light of day. Also, it was snowing. Really hard.
After trekking through sludge-filled streets, which look liked someone dumped a giant can of ash-flavored applesauce on Park City, I was rewarded for my lack of diligence with a nice little discovery, The Pact. I'd heard some buzz from a fellow blogger covering the Midnight screenings series, and The Pact is the kind of movie that shows not every Sundance film follows navel-gazing hipsters bemoaning the loss of true love. A solid horror film with a masterful sense of slow-corkscrew-turning tension, Nicholas McCarthy's film follows Annie (Caity Lotz) who returns home after her mother dies and her sister disappears while minding their childhood home -- despite having a young daughter of her own to take care of. If the flickering light bulbs and eerie shadows don't tip you off pretty fast, it looks like their mother's house is haunted, and not just by an abusive family past. Aiding Annie in ghost-busting her house is a far-too-pretty cop played by Casper Van Dien. Despite the hair-model casting, though, Van Dien acquits himself well, and McCarthy takes all the tropes of the low budget B-horror film and infuses them a humanity and urgency that makes you care a whole lot more when your main character gets flung through the air by mysterious, malevolent forces.
The true find of the day -- the kind of jaw-dropping, breath-taking movie that gets applause even in a press screening -- was Toronto hit The Raid. Following in the extreme action footsteps of films like Tony Jaa's Ong-Bak: Thai Warrior and The Protector, The Raid showcases the beautifully choreographed mayhem of an elite Indonesian SWAT team as they storm the fifteen-story compound of a ruthless drug lord. Of course, things aren't quite what they seem (are they ever?). Now, the plot won't wow you with fancy twists, and it has its fair share of tropes -- but the pure kinetics of the filmmaking is phenomenal. Which goes to show that the difference between archetype and cliché is often just a matter of execution. Gareth Huw Evans' directing is flawlessly tense and he knows exactly when he wants his audience to cheer, and when he wants them to grip the arms of their seats. The Raid will most definitely be coming to a theater near you, as it should, so you can marvel at all the ingenious new ways Indonesian filmmakers can think of to break someone's back.
However, the purest pleasure of Sundance, I suspect, comes from having a film of your own in the festival. The heady mix of anxiety and exuberance -- celebration and preparation -- as you show your baby to the world. Getting the barest taste of that, I had dinner with the friends and filmmakers behind Save the Date, Mike Mohan's film starring Lizzie Caplan, Mark Webber, Geoffrey Arend, Martin Starr, and Alison Brie. Much to my delight it had been getting positive buzz, and there was joy among the crew at dinner and the breathing-room-only after party for their film. The film didn't screen until the next day, Sunday, so there was an undercurrent of anxiety. Still, it was soon drowned out by a wave of Stella and scotch, and the bacchanalian-vibe of a crew of close friends completing a long journey confirmed my hunch that Sundance is just as much for those who make the movies as it is for those of us who watch them.