• Nate Adams

Sundance 2022 Day 6 review: 'Honk for Jesus,' 'Palm Trees and Power Lines,' 'Emily The Criminal'


Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

 

This is the final day of our Sundance coverage. Thanks for reading!

HONK FOR JESUS. SAVE YOUR SOUL.

A satirical send-up of megachurch culture, Adamma Ebo’s directorial debut of her own short film, “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” benefits from the charisma of Regina Hall and Sterling K Brown playing southern baptists whose business operation of preaching the good book comes under fire after several allegations dry up the donation well. The film threads the needle as it struggles to find balance between dark comedy and serious drama. Fortunately, Hall and Brown are given meaty speeches to chew on, but some of the transitions are jarring and the resounding impact doesn’t hit nearly as hard.


Ebo, who hails from Atlanta and grew up questioning the methods of several local megachurches, still puts together a solid debut that will make her next project more intriguing to watch. Hall and Brown play Trintie and Lee-Curtis Childs, the latter catching fire from the community after it was revealed he was exploiting young men and is now trying to rebrand and rehabilitate his image. They plan to reopen their church, Wander to Greater Paths, on Easter Sunday though they face stiff competition from the Sumpters (Nichole Behari and Conphidance) who have relished in the downfall of their former mentors. “Honk for Jesus” also tries to be a faux documentary, splicing back and forth between the mockumentary being made about their righteous comeback while throwing in serious down-to-earth moments behind the scenes.


Ebo yields several dramatic moments from her cast, especially Hall in the closing minutes where she questions all that came before, to help mull over the inconsistent tones. There are some laugh out loud moments to be sure and Brown, who hasn’t been given much opportunities for slapstick or lowbrow comedies, thrives in this setting. Yeah, go ahead and give it a honk.


Grade: B


HONK FOR JESUS. SAVE YOUR SOUL debuted in the Premieres section of the Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.


PALM TREES AND POWER LINES

One of the more polarizing films to debut in the US Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival, Jamie Dack’s “Palm Trees and Power Lines” shows a distributing meditation on the predatorial lure sex trafficakers can have on young, impressonable woman. In this case, Lily McInerny, in a breakthrough performance, plays 17-year old Lea who is yearning for something to take her away from the mundane and routine lifestyle of contending with her single mother’s boyfriend rotations and best friend’s possy of immature boys who have exactly one thing on their mind.


Naturally, Lea is going to be interested in good-looking older men and that’s something Jonathan Tucker’s Tom knows all too well. When he begins complimenting her beauty and allure, the foundation is already set. The two can’t get enough of each other and Tom plays the game, grooming her until she’s firmly within his grasp. The film’s subject matter isn't taken lightly and Dack composes a thoughtful examination on predators through the lens of Lea which McInerney grounds beautifully. Tucker is also sinister and captivating in the way he maneuvers inside the mind of a man keenly aware of his mission. It all builds to one of the harshest and not easy to stomach sequences in the festival, but it’s also the most important. It’s a wake-up call and gut punch all in one swoop of how this repetitive cycle is hard to contain despite those in the situation calling for help.


Grade: A-


PALM TREES AND POWER LINES debuted in the US Dramatic Competition of the Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.


EMILY THE CRIMINAL

Taking a refreshing detour from her previous works, Aubrey Plaza channels newfound intensity in the race-against-the-clock and socially relevant thriller “Emily The Criminal.” She plays Emily, of course, a low-paid gig worker with a minor blemish on her record and thousands of dollars in student loans and decides, in an effort to pay the bills, becoming entangled in a stolen credit ponzi scheme and, eventually, upstarting her own operation is the way out. Stop me if you’ve seen or heard that premise before: someone down on their luck reverts to a life of crime for cash infusion. Thankfully, John Patton Ford’s screenplay (he also directed) doesn’t throw Emily into the same predictable scenarios and genuinely keeps us on our toes even through the laggy middle portion of the film where it can’t decide which direction it’s going.


Plaza lets loose and handles the unnerving moments of suspense and tension like the season pro she is. This is a rare dramatic turn for the actress that requires minimal comedic timing and she also has budding chemistry with Theo Rossi playing Youcef, the one who got Emily into the underground world of illicit credit card spending. “Emily the Criminal” runs a taunt 90-minutes as if it were a gritty, guerilla style B-action movie you’d rent at Blockbuster on VHS in the nineties. It knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything different. Strap in.


Grade: B


EMILY THE CRIMINAL debuted in the Premiers section of the Sundance Film Festival. It is seeking distribution.


All above photos courtesy of the Sundance Institute.