Sundance 2013 Preview: Park City at Midnight

Park City at Midnight is Sundance’s way of playing in the sandbox of horror and demented comedy without spoiling the very serious dramatic competitions.

This is usually the most unique and exciting section at the festival. It’s always an eclectic collection of movies that cover everything from crap-your-pants horror to hilarious comedies. Last year, the acclaimed horror anthology ‘V/H/S‘ premiered at Sundance and went on to become something of a cult phenomenon. Other movies that have come out of Park City at Midnight include ‘Splice‘, ‘Black Rock’ and the fantastic ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil‘.

I never know what to expect from the films in this section, but I’m typically excited to find out what’s in store.

‘Ass Backwards’

Director: Chris Nelson
Screenwriters: June Diane Raphael and Casey Wilson
Cast: June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Alicia Silverstone, Jon Cryer, Paul Scheer and Brian Geraghty

Synopsis: Loveable losers Kate and Chloe take a road trip back to their hometown to claim the beauty pageant crown that eluded them as children, only to discover what really counts: friendship.

Thoughts: For a first time director, Chris Nelson has sure been able to assemble a cast of familiar faces for ‘Ass Backwards’. The synopsis makes the movie sound like a tired mess of road trip movie clichés. A hunch tells me that, given the cast of funny people, the movie might actually be a spoof of the genre. We’ll have to wait and see.

‘Hell Baby’

Directors and Screenwriters: Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon
Cast: Rob Corddry, Leslie Bibb, Keegan Michael Key, Riki Lindhome, Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel

Synopsis: An expectant couple moves into the most haunted fixer-upper in New Orleans – a house with a demonic curse. Things spiral out of control, and soon only the Vatican’s elite exorcism team can save the pair – or can it?

Thoughts: This is the movie I’m most excited about in this section. The screenwriting duo that wrote the book ‘Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can, Too!‘ is doing a comedic horror film. Just take a look at that cast and tell me that this isn’t going to be one of the hits of Sundance. I’m predicting that this gets the same critical and audience love that ‘Tucker and Dale’ got when it premiered. However, who knows about distribution? ‘Tucker and Dale’ got screwed in that respect.

‘In Fear’

Director and Screenwriter: Jeremy Lovering
Cast: Alice Englert, Iain De Caestecker and Allen Leech

Synopsis: Trapped in a maze of country roads with only their vehicle for protection, Tom and Lucy are terrorized by an unseen tormentor exploiting their worst fears. Eventually, they realize they’ve let the evil in – it’s sitting in their car.

Thoughts: Here’s another movie that seemingly sounds like a clichéd horror tale, but somehow this synopsis provided by Sundance sounds tongue-in-cheek.


Director: Christina Voros and James Franco

Synopsis: A story of sex, submission and big business is told through the eyes of the unlikely pornographers whose 9:00-to-5:00 work days are spent within the confines of the San Francisco Armory building, home to the sprawling porn production facilities of (Documentary)

Thoughts: Last year, I sat through a movie called ‘Young and Wild’ about a promiscuous teenager who had sex with anything that walked. I sat a few seats away from the young actress who I was watching on screen performing various sex acts. It made me uncomfortable. 1) I was in a theater full of people watching something that was nearly a porno, and 2) I was sitting within a stone’s throw of the girl on screen. It was weird. I have a feeling that a documentary about the porn industry might make me feel the same way. It’s co-directed by James Franco, though (who is involved with a number of Sundance films this year), so that’ll draw in the crowds.

‘The Rambler’

Director and screenwriter: Calvin Lee Reeder
Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Lindsay Pulsipher, Natasha Lyonne, James Cady and Scott Sharot

Synopsis: After being released from prison, a man known as “The Rambler” stumbles upon a strange mystery as he attempts the treacherous journey through back roads and small towns en route to reconnecting with his long-lost brother.

Thoughts: You want to know why I’ve completely written off this movie from my list without even seeing it? Because director Calvin Lee Reeder also directed a Sundance film a couple years ago called ‘The Oregonian’. In short, it was one of the worst movies I’ve ever watched at the festival. It was a David Lynch wannabe without any subtext or creativity. It was an excruciating 90 minutes of senseless horror imagery with no meaning, substance or entertainment. I say good day to you, ‘Rambler’! I will not watch you.


Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Edúardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans and Jason Eisener
Screenwriters: Simon Barrett, Jamie Nash, Timo Tjahjanto & Gareth Huw Evans and John Davies
Cast: Adam Wingard, Lawrence Levine, L.C Holt, Kelsy Abbott and Hannah Hughes

Synopsis: Searching for a missing student, two private investigators break into his abandoned house and find another collection of mysterious VHS tapes. In viewing the horrific contents of each cassette, they realize there may be terrifying motives behind the student’s disappearance.

Thoughts: Sundance is in the sequel business, apparently. Last year we got ‘V/H/S’, and now another group of directors has been assembled to create a mash-up of horror movies just like the first. Something notable here is that Gareth Evans is involved. He’s the guy who directed ‘The Raid‘.

‘Virtually Heroes’

Director: GJ Echternkamp
Screenwriter: Matt Yamashita
Cast: Robert Baker, Brent Chase, Katie Savoy, Mark Hamill and Ben Messmer

Synopsis: Two self-aware characters in a ‘Call of Duty’-style videogame struggle with their screwy, frustrating existence. To find answers, one abandons his partner and mission, seeking to unravel the cheat codes of life.

Thoughts: Uh, two words: Mark Hamill! Six more words: You better believe I’m seeing this!

‘We Are What We Are’

Director: Jim Mickle
Screenwriters: Nick Damici and Jim Mickle
Cast: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Michael Parks, Wyatt Russell and Kelly McGillis

Synopsis: A devastating storm washes up clues that lead authorities closer and closer to the cannibalistic Parker family.

Thoughts: I already had my fill (so to speak) of cannibal cinema with ‘I Saw the Devil‘ a couple years ago at the festival. Cannibalism is something that I can’t quite stomach. (I’m really not trying for these puns.) I can take a lot of different, unusual subject matter, but cannibalism isn’t something I like exploring.

Leading up to Sundance we’ll continue to post articles like this that will help you get excited about and understand the movies that will be shown at the festival in early 2013. What are some of the movies on this list you’re excited about? Please let us know about it in the comments.

[Note: The Sundance Film Festival is really the only time I ever use Twitter. Follow me at @AaronPeck to keep up to date with all my movie watching and line waiting when the festival arrives.]

1 comment

  1. EM

    Virtually Heroes does sound like fun.

    The description of In Fear reminds me of a 1980s Saturday Night Live sketch in which Debbie Harry is seen receiving threatening phone calls and trying to get the police to trace them, as a thunderstorm rages outside—much in the style of urban legends and the early ’80s horror flicks that drew from them. Finally the police call back and announce they’ve traced the calls: they came from inside the car!!. And sure enough, Harry’s all along been in a parked car (a less common place for phone calls in those days), the setting hidden with closeups. As I recall, she runs out of the car, but the killer emerges from the trunk…

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