January 29, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Sundance Film Festival Reviews: “The Sunlit Night” & “Wounds”


THE SUNLIT NIGHT (no distrib):  The last thing one would have expected from the director of the genuinely scabrous Wetlands was a follow-up that seems to trying to meld NY Jewish comedy with the kind of enchanted romcom spirit of Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero.  But that’s what David Wnendt has given us, and the result is sweetly warmhearted, but more twee than magical.  The conceit of Rebecca Dinerstein’s script (based on her own novel) follows two stories that are fated to coincide.  In one, struggling painter Frances (Jenny Slate) flees her busted romance, her neurotic family (her parents are played by David Paymer and Jessica Hecht, in high kvetchy mode) and her career troubles for an apprenticeship with a demanding Norwegian artist (Fridjov Saheim) that requires her to paint the interior of a barn in precise shades of yellow and red.  In the other, a young New York baker named Yasha (Alex Sharp) travels to the same area of Norway because his recently deceased father wanted to be buried “at the top of the world,” which somehow came to mean a Viking funeral presided over by a very committed American Viking reenactor (Zach Galifianakis).  It takes a very long time for Frances and Yasha to meet–Wnendt and Dinerstein have to spend time not just on Frances’ family but on Yasha’s troubled relationship with his long-vanished mother (Gillian Anderson, sporting a Russian accent that makes her sound like Danny Kaye).  When the two protagonists finally do encounter each other, sparks do not fly, and destiny doesn’t feel as though it’s on the line.  What The Sunlit Night does do well are the details about life in rural Norway, and the developing bond between Frances and her eccentric boss.  Also, the scenery (the cinematography is by Martin Ahlgren) is gorgeous.  A mainstream narrative film, however, shouldn’t be stolen by its own landscapes.

WOUNDS (Neon):  Those who aren’t serious fans of cockroaches should steer clear of Wounds, which features hordes of them.  For reasons that the script (based on the novella “The Visible Filth”) by director Babak Anvari never makes clear, there’s a connection between some kind of spell launched by some very stupid millenials to make contact with greater beings, gaping human wounds, video footage of what seem to be biological tunnels, and lots (and lots) of cockroaches.  When New Orleans bartender Will (Armie Hammer) finds a phone left behind in the bar by one of the millenials, he looks at some of the phone’s photos and gets infected, as does his girlfriend Carrie (Dakota Johnson, in a particularly flat performance).  The effect on Will is to make his temperament notably unpleasant, including to his favorite customer Alicia (Zazie Beetz, pretty much the film’s only bright spot).  Also, Will’s friend Eric (Brad William Henke), his cheek sliced in a bar fight, rots from his face out and refuses to see a doctor.  None of this makes sense, and although Anvari received wide praise for his Iran-set horror movie Under the Shadow, here he relies on tired tricks like sudden screeching effects and a pounding soundtrack.  Hammer seems to relish the chance to shake up his matinee-idol image, and the early sequences with him at the bar have charm.  Once the incomprehensible plot kicks in, though, Wounds is less frightening than merely unpleasant.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."