15 Genre Films We’re Looking Forward To at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival

From a period-piece werewolf film to a gonzo Western-Samurai-thriller starring an unhinged Nicolas Cage, and everything in between, this year’s varied selection of genre films set to play at the (virtual) Sundance Film Festival 2021 (January 28th-February 3rd) are sure to shock, delight, terrify, dazzle and provoke. Sundance has been the launching pad for scores of notable independent films, including genre breakouts like Get Out, Hereditary, What We Do In The Shadows, Tucker and Dale vs Evil, The Witch and The Babadook to name a few. Last year’s fest included buzzed-about genre stunners like Promising Young Woman and Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor.

Check out the lineup of our most anticipated genre films of the upcoming fest below, and grab your own tix for the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival here so you can watch along with us at home!

THE BLAZING WORLD

Carlson Young appears in The Blazing World. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Decades after the accidental drowning of her twin sister, a self-destructive young woman returns to her family home, finding herself drawn to an alternate dimension where her sister may still be alive. U.S.A. (Director: Carlson Young, Screenwriters: Carlson Young, Pierce Brown, Producers: Brinton Bryan, Elizabeth Avellán). Cast: Udo Kier, Carlson Young, Dermot Mulroney, Vinessa Shaw, John Karna, Soko. World Premiere

CENSOR

When film censor Enid discovers an eerie horror that speaks directly to her sister’s mysterious disappearance, she resolves to unravel the puzzle behind the film and its enigmatic director – a quest blurring the lines between fiction and reality in terrifying ways.

Censor is a faithful, creative ode to 1980s aesthetics and a twisted, bloody love letter to the video nasties of the era. United Kingdom (Director: Prano Bailey-Bond, Screenwriters: Prano Bailey-Bond, Anthony Fletcher, Producer: Helen Jones). Cast: Niamh Algar, Nicholas Burns, Vincent Franklin, Sophia La Porta, Adrian Schiller, Michael Smiley. World Premiere.

COMING HOME IN THE DARK

Daniel Gillies and Matthias Luafutu appear in Coming Home in the Dark by James Ashcroft. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

A family’s outing descends into terror when teacher Alan Hoaganraad, his wife Jill and stepsons Maika and Jordon explore an isolated coastline. An unexpected meeting with a pair of drifters, the enigmatic psychopath Mandrake and his accomplice Tubs, thrusts the family into a nightmare when they find themselves captured.

With its menacing performances and calibrated stakes, director James Ashcroft’s ruthless crime thriller careens into an unhinged road trip that leaves the viewer breathless through every piercing curve. New Zealand (Director: James Ashcroft, Screenwriters: Eli Kent, James Ashcroft, Producers: Mike Minogue, Catherine Fitzgerald, Desray Armstrong). Cast: Daniel Gillies, Erik Thomson, Miriama McDowell, Matthias Luafutu. World Premiere

EIGHT FOR SILVER

Alistair Petrie, Amelia Crouch and Simon Kunz appear in Eight for Silver by Sean Ellis. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

In the late nineteenth century, brutal land baron Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) slaughters a Roma clan, unleashing a curse on his family and village. In the days that follow, the townspeople are plagued by nightmares, Seamus’s son Edward (Max Mackintosh) goes missing, and a boy is found murdered. The locals suspect a wild animal, but visiting pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) warns of a more sinister presence lurking in the woods.

Writer-director Sean Ellis follows up his audience award–winning feature Metro Manila with this gruesome gothic spin on werewolf lore. Eight for Silver is a beautifully crafted period piece and a supremely effective horror tale. U.S.A., France (Director and Screenwriter: Sean Ellis, Producers: Mickey Liddell, Pete Shilaimon, Sean Ellis). Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly, Alistair Petrie, Roxane Duran, Aine Rose Daly. World Premiere

A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX

A still from A Glitch in the Matrix by Rodney Ascher. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Rodney Ascher (Room 237, 2012 Sundance Film Festival) returns to the Festival with this fascinating and visually stimulating documentary examining simulation theory—the idea that this world we live in might not be entirely real. Simulation theory is as old as Plato’s Republic and as current as Elon Musk’s Twitter feed. A Glitch in the Matrix traces the idea’s genesis over the years, from philosophical engagements by the ancient Greeks to modern explorations by Philip K. Dick, the Wachowskis, and leading scholars, game theorists, and enthusiasts. U.S.A. (Director: Rodney Ascher, Producer: Ross M. Dinerstein). World Premiere

IN THE EARTH

Reece Shearsmith appears in In the Earth by Ben Wheatley. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

As a disastrous virus grips the planet, a scientist and a park scout venture deep into the forest for a routine equipment run. Through the night, their journey becomes a terrifying voyage through the heart of darkness as the forest comes to life around them. United Kingdom (Director and Screenwriter: Ben Wheatley, Producer: Andy Starke). Cast: Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Hayley Squires, Reece Shearsmith. World Premiere

JOHN AND THE HOLE

Charlie Shotwell appears in John and the Hole by Pascual Sisto. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

A nontraditional coming-of-age story, set in the unsettling reality of John, a kid who holds his family captive in a hole in the ground.

In his directorial debut, visual artist Pascual Sisto mines this alarming pulp premise for an enigmatic and unsettling meditation on adolescent angst. Adapted by screenwriter Nicolás Giacobone from his own short story, John and the Hole is both a harrowing psychological thriller and a potent coming-of-age fable exploring the difficult passage from childhood freedom to adult responsibility. U.S.A. (Director: Pascual Sisto, Screenwriter: Nicolás Giacobone, Producers: Elika Portnoy, Alex Orlovsky, Mike Bowes). Cast: Charlie Shotwell, Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Ehle, Taissa Farmiga. World Premiere

KNOCKING

Cecilia Milocco appears in Knocking by Frida Kempff. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

What. Is. That. Noise. When Molly moves into her new apartment after a tragic accident, a strange noise from upstairs begins to unnerve her. As its intensity grows, she confronts her neighbors – but no one seems to hear what she is hearing. Sweden (Director: Frida Kempff, Screenwriter: Emma Broström, Producer: Erik Andersson). Cast: Cecilia Milocco. World Premiere

MAYDAY

Grace Van Patten appears in Mayday by Karen Cinorre. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

An unusual storm is approaching, and it’s about to change everything for Ana (Grace Van Patten). After a short circuit at her workplace mysteriously transports her to an alternate world, she meets a crew of female soldiers caught in an endless war. Along a strange and rugged coastline, men face the stark truth lurking behind damsels who appear to be in distress. Under the leadership of Marsha (Mia Goth), Ana trains as a sharpshooter and discovers a newfound freedom in this uninhibited sisterhood. She soon senses she may not be the ruthless killer they expect, though, and time is running out for her to find a path home.

U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter Karen Cinorre. Producers: Jonah Disend, Lucas Joaquin, Karen Cinorre, Sam Levy.) Cast: Grace Van Patten, Mia Goth, Havana Rose Liu, Soko, Théodore Pellerin, Juliette Lewis

NIGHT OF THE KINGS

Koné Bakary and Anzian Marcel appear in Night of the Kings by Philippe Lacôte. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Philippe Lacôte’s gripping second feature, Night of the Kings, has won acclaim at major festivals since premiering at the Venice International Film Festival.

A new arrival at Ivory Coast’s infamous MACA prison is quickly anointed the institution’s “Roman”—a griot instructed to tell stories for the population at the command of reigning inmate king, the ailing Blackbeard. Roman must ascertain his place in the prison’s dangerously shifting inmate politics, embrace his inner Scheherazade, and weave a tale that will get them all through the night and stave off impending chaos. France/Ivory Coast/Canada/Senegal (Director and Screenwriter: Philippe Lacôte, Producers: Delphine Jaquet, Yanick Létourneau, Ernest Konan, Yoro Mbaye. Cast: Koné Bakary, Steve Tientcheu, Digbeu Jean Cyrille, Rasmané Ouédraogo, Issaka Sawadogo, Denis Lavan

ON THE COUNT OF THREE

Chris Abbott and Jerrod Carmichael appear in On the Count of Three by Jerrod Carmichael. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Val (Jerrod Carmichael) has reached a place where he feels the only way out is to end things. But he considers himself a bit of a failure—his effectiveness lacking—so he figures he could use some help. As luck would have it, Val’s best friend, Kevin (Christopher Abbott), is recovering from a failed suicide attempt, so he seems like the perfect partner for executing this double suicide plan. But before they go, they have some unfinished business to attend to.

Jerrod Carmichael confidently directs and stars in On the Count of Three, a darkly comic debut feature about hopelessness, true friendship, and not always feeling in control. U.S.A. (Director: Jerrod Carmichael, Producers: David Carrico, Adam Paulsen, Tom Werner, Jake Densen, Ari Katcher, Jimmy Price) Cast: Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbott, Tiffany Haddish, J.B. Smoove, Lavell Crawford, Henry Winkler

PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND

Nick Cassavetes and Nic Cage appears in Prisoners of the Ghostland by Sion Sono. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

In the treacherous frontier city of Samuraitown, a ruthless bank robber (Nicolas Cage) is sprung from jail by wealthy warlord The Governor (Bill Moseley), whose adopted granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella) has gone missing. The Governor offers the prisoner his freedom in exchange for retrieving the runaway. Strapped into a leather suit that will self-destruct within five days, the bandit sets off on a journey to find the young woman—and his own path to redemption.

Sion Sono’s delirious mash-up of Western, samurai, and postapocalyptic thriller is a sly spoof of the mythical hero’s journey. Cage, in one of his most unhinged performances to date, swaggers through a wasteland populated by fearsome gunslingers, lethal swordsmen, vengeful ghosts, and a deranged desert cult. U.S.A. (Director: Sion Sono, Screenwriters: Aaron Hendry, Reza Sixo Safai, Producers: Michael Mendelsohn, Laura Rister, Ko Mori, Reza Sixo Safai, Nate Bolotin). Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes, Bill Moseley, Tak Sakaguchi, Yuzuka Nakaya. World Premiere, Narrative

FIRST DATE

Tyson Brown and Shelby Duclos appear in First Date by Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. .

Conned into buying a shady ’65 Chrysler, Mike’s first date with the girl-next-door, Kelsey, implodes as he finds himself targeted by criminals, cops, and a crazy cat lady. A night fueled by desire, bullets and burning rubber makes any other first date seem like a walk in the park.

First Date is a purely entertaining throwback, billed by newcomer directing duo Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp as a dark comedy and coming-of-age thriller (Superbad meets True Romance). U.S.A. (Directors and Screenwriters: Manuel Crosby, Darren Knapp, Producers: Brandon Kraus, Manuel Crosby, Darren Knapp, Lucky McKee, Charles Horak). Cast: Tyson Brown, Shelby Duclos, Jesse Janzen, Nicole Berry, Ryan Quinn Adams, Brandon Kraus. World Premiere

WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR

Anna Cobb appears in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair by Jane Schoenbrun. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Late on a cold night somewhere in the U.S., teenage Casey sits alone in her attic bedroom, scrolling the internet under the glow-in-the-dark stars and black-light posters that blanket the ceiling. She has finally decided to take the World’s Fair Challenge, an online role-playing horror game, and embrace the uncertainty it promises. After the initiation, she documents the changes that may or may not be happening to her, adding her experiences to the shuffle of online clips available for the world to see. As she begins to lose herself between dream and reality, a mysterious figure reaches out, claiming to see something special in her uploads.

U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Jane Schoenbrun, Producers: Sarah Winshall, Carlos Zozaya). Cast: Anna Cobb, Michael J. Rogers. World Premiere

WILD INDIAN

Michael Greyeyes appears in Wild Indian by Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr., Producers: Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr., Thomas Mahoney, Eric Tavitian) — Two men are inextricably bound together after covering up the savage murder of a schoolmate. After years of separation following wildly divergent paths, they must finally confront how their traumatic secret has irrevocably shaped their lives. Cast: Michael Greyeyes, Chaske Spencer, Jesse Eisenberg, Kate Bosworth, Phoenix Wilson, Julian Gopal. World Premiere

Bonus: GHOST DOGS (Short)

A still from Ghost Dogs by Joe Cappa, an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

U.S.A. (Director: Joe Cappa, Screenwriters: Joe Cappa, J.W. Hallford) — A family’s new rescue pup is terrorized by deceased pets in this mind-bending horror. 

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