Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Sundance with Abe: Mayday

I’m thrilled to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the eighth time. This year, I’m not in Park City, Utah, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

Directed by Karen Cinorre
U.S. Dramatic Competition

Many people dream of escaping their lives, desperate to get away from the banality or misery of their everyday experiences. While there are ways that people can change their circumstances, it’s not usually possible to literally travel to another place where things are radically different and the world looks nothing like the one left behind. Such solutions are rarely permanent, and it’s not easy to put aside all doubt about the authenticity of this new reality and the likelihood that it will eventually cease to be a sufficient remedy.

Ana (Grace Van Patten) is treated cruelly by her unforgiving boss on the day of a major job. When she opens an oven, she finds herself in a completely unrecognizable world. Marsha (Mia Goth) is the fierce leader of a group of women that includes Gert (Soko) and Bea (Havana Rose Liu), and the foursome spend each day putting out distress signals on the radio to trap the military men aboard ships in dangerous storms, after which they are hunted and killed by the women. Though the nature of their ongoing war is not defined, Ana understands her new purpose, loyal to her new commander yet haunted by splintered memories of her past life.

This is a film that doesn’t provide answers to explain its mysterious developments, instead inviting the audience along to learn as Ana does. She turns out to be a natural shot and quickly learns how to perfect her radio voice to ensure that anyone on the other end takes the bait. The lack of clarity and murkiness of the central conflict make it feel like a game, but one that Ana must play, even if she does not understand the true consequences and whether this place is a dream or something much more real.

Part of the appeal of this film is not really knowing what’s going on and being drawn in by that mystery. It’s reminiscent of another recent entry from Sundance, “Paradise Hills,” where characters seem aware that all is not right but can’t precisely identify what it is that is wrong. There’s a minimalism to the filmmaking style that is complemented well by its costumes and scenery, and that only heightens the effect that this unknown place has on its characters. The actresses embed themselves into their characters, and this film delivers many intriguing and lasting moments that, put together, add up to a mesmerizing if not entirely satisfying whole.


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