9 Sundance 2015 Films We Are Dying to See

by Zach Seemayer 9:12 AM PST, January 22, 2015
Photo: Sundance Film Festival

The 2015 Sundance Film Festival kicks off Thursday and with it come some of the most groundbreaking, experimental, and challenging independent films from Hollywood and around the world.

From films about infamous psychological experiments to degenerate gamblers, and the post-apocalyptic worlds to ill-fated emotional journeys, these are the nine films from this year's Sundance Film Fest that we can't wait to watch.

1. The Stanford Prison Experiment

Photo: Sundance Film Festival

Starring: Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Kyle Patrick, Tye Sheridan. (Dir. Kyle Patrick Alvarez)

What It's About: The Stanford Prison Experiment tells the real life story of an infamous psychological study examining the effects of imprisonment. Two dozen student volunteers are randomly assigned to be guards or prisoners in this mock jail and, as the experiment unfolds, the students begin to disturbingly fall into their roles.

Why We Want To See It: The real experiment was a frightening yet fascinating examination of psychological conditioning and the man who ran the experiment, Dr. Philip Zimbardo – played in the film by Crudup – served as a consultant on the movie.

2. The Experimenter

Photo: Sundance Film Festival

Starring: Peter Sarsgaard, Winona Ryder, Kellan Lutz, Jim Gaffigan, John Leguizamo. (Dir. Michael Almereyda)

What It's About: Like The Stanford Prison Experiment, this film also examines a real-life psychological study by social psychologist Stanley Milgram. The so-called "obedience experiments" examined what happened when people, in a lab setting, were asked to deliver painful shocks to a stranger they couldn't see but could hear screaming. While in reality no one was being harmed, the test subjects didn't know this, and many continued to administer the "shocks" because they were told to by an authority figure. The film focuses on the much-maligned Milgram – portrayed on screen by Sarsgaard - his own strange life and mental state.

Why We Want To See It: Milgram's experiments, like the Stanford Prison Experiments, revealed a dark, bizarre side of the human psyche, and an examination of the psyche of the man who uncovered this is bound to be incredible.

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3. Z for Zachariah

Photo: Sundance Film Festival

Starring: Chris Pine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie. (Dir. Craig Zobel)

What It's About: After a disaster wipes out almost every human on the planet, a young women meets a terminally ill scientist and together they find another male survivor. Soon, the two men develop emotions for someone who might be the last woman on Earth and then show their true colors when they begin to compete for her love

Why We Want To See It: First off, the cast alone should sell this movie to anyone. Secondly, smart sci-fi and emotionally impactful post-apocalyptic stories are rare, and when told well should be celebrated. Hopefully, director Craig Zobel (Compliance) was able to tell it well.

4. The D Train

Photo: Sundance Film Festival

Starring: Jack Black, James Marsden, Jeffrey Tambor, Kathryn Hahn. (Dir. Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel)

What It's About: Jack Black plays Dan Landsman, the head of his high school reunion committee who everyone in high school mocked endlessly. Obsessed with trying to gain approval and respect, he manages to convince the most popular kid in his graduating class, Oliver Lawless (Marsden), to come to the reunion. Dan ends up ruining his relationship with his family and friends in order to gain a fake friendship with the former popular kid.

Why We Want To See It: Black, Marsden, and Tambor were born to do dark comedy, and this story of a sad, pathetic, but ultimately likeable tragic hero might be able to find that perfect middle ground of emotionally heart-wrenching and hilarious.

5. The Bronze

Photo: Sundance Film Festival

Starring: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Thomas Middleditch, Cecily Strong. (Dir. Bryan Buckley)

What It's About: Rauch stars as Hope Ann Gregory, a washed-up Olympic bronze medalist in gymnastics. Hope lives at home with her parents in their small town, but her life is disrupted when a young gymnastic with dreams of the big time asks Hope for help. Hope is then forced to decide if she's going to mentor the young girl or destroy her out of jealously and spite.

Why We Want To See It: In the Sundance Program, Rauch's bitter Hope Ann Gregory is described as "a lovably loathsome character who makes Tonya Harding look like Grace Kelly." Enough said!

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6. Stockholm, Pennsylvania

Photo: Sundance Film Festival

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Cynthia Nixon, Jason Isaacs. (Dir. Nikole Beckwith)

What It's About: Ronan plays a young woman who is reunited with her parents 17 years after getting abducted. Raised for most of her life by kidnappers, who tell her that the world outside has come to an end, Ronan must now readjust to a life she doesn't understand and live with parents she barely remembers.

Why We Want To See It: While it admittedly looks like a huge bummer, Ronan has the ability to truly change her countenance into the haunted visage of a tormented soul. And it's her enchanting performances in difficult, alienating roles in the past that make us want to see what she does with this fascinating character.

7. Slow West

Photo: Sundance Film Festival

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn. (Dir. John Maclean)

What It's About: This period piece set in the late-1800s follows a 17-year-old Scottish aristocrat named Jay (Smit-McPhee), who travels to America to find a woman he used to love. Once in the Wild West, Jay befriends Silas (Fassbender), a mysterious and tough traveler who helps Jay on his quest.

Why We Want To See It: Michael Fassbender is in it, and literally anything he is in is worth seeing. However, he also stays as a mysterious (and likely violent) stranger in this American Western made by a Scottish filmmaker.

8. Hellions

Photo: Sundance Film Festival

Starring: Robert Patrick, Chloe Rose, Rachel Wilson. (Dir.) Bruce McDonald

What It's About: Halloween has come to the town of Waterford and with it are a gang of masked, demonic entities known as Hellions that target a random teenager named Dora and begin to torment her as she's trapped in her home.

Why We Want To See It: There's always the chance that this could become the next Halloween classic, and it's good to see Robert Patrick carrying a shotgun again.

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9. Mississippi Grind

Photo: Sundance Film Festival

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Ben Mendelsohn, Sienna Miller. (Dir.) Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden

What It's About: Mendelsohn stars as Gerry, a talented by degenerate gambler who befriends young, hotshot poker player Curtis (Reynolds). Together the two hit the road and gamble their way across the South before ending up at a high-stakes poker game in New Orleans.

Why We Want To See It: Ryan Reynolds needs a win. He's charming, handsome, funny and talented, but he just hasn't found a vehicle that can spell box office success or awards season love. Hopefully, with Mississippi Grind, he can get back some of the respect he deserves.