January 26, 2022

ShowbuzzDaily Sundance 2022 Reviews: “Emily the Criminal” & “blood”


EMILY THE CRIMINAL (no distrib):  John Patton Ford’s feature debut is a lean, gritty, accomplished thriller with a smashing star performance from Aubrey Plaza.  Plaza (who also produced) plays the titular Emily, an aspiring artist whose career got derailed due to a violent incident in college, giving her a record that’s preventing her from getting any decent jobs.  She’s barely scraping by, making corporate food deliveries while she tries not to get buried by the $70,000 she owes in student debt.  One day out of the blue, she gets the chance to make a couple of hundred bucks of easy money.  All she has to do is commit a bit of credit card fraud as part of a crew working for Youcef (Theo Rossi).  It turns out that she’s good at crime, and she likes it.  When she catches Youcef’s eye, she gets the chance to move up in the ranks.  All the way back to Parks & Recreation, Plaza’s comic persona has had a trace of savagery held back by a basically good heart.  As Emily, she gets the chance to slide that better nature aside, and and demonstrate that her range includes a criminal the likes of which Michael Mann might appreciate.  Ford and editor Harrison Atkins keep the pulse racing even when the script pauses to develop the relationship between Emily and Youcef or to put Emily into a disastrous job interview.  Although one could see commentary here about student loans and the gig economy, Ford is making a genre movie, not a social statement.  He even sticks the story’s landing, no mean feat.  It’s the rare Sundance film that makes the viewer hope for the possibility of a sequel, but this criminal Emily would be worth seeing again.

blood (no distrib):  What’s the line between a Hollywood product and a film festival-worthy piece of work?  Bradley Rust Gray’s blood raises the question because the basic story it tells is so conventional.  Recent widow Chloe (Carla Juri) travels to a far-off place, in this case Japan, for a photography job, and over the course of time begins to work through her grief and open herself up to the possibility of love in the person of single dad musician Toshi (Takashi Ueno) and his darling little daughter Yatsuro (Issei Ogata).  There’s even a sequence where we see that although Chloe has said she has no romantic interest in Toshi, her dreams tell a different story.  You could fill in the blank with any number of actresses who’ve played the equivalent of that lead role in big-studio projects, and more than likely they’ve been dismissed as “soap operas.”  Yet here blood is in the Sundance US Dramatic Competition.  The stylistic differences are clear, as Gray stages his scenes at much greater length than a commercial movie would allow, with dialogue that’s largely small talk, and mostly without the close-ups, orchestral score or other props that Hollywood provides.  That certainly makes blood feel weighty, but artistic rigor isn’t necessarily the same as dramatic or emotional validity, and being less enjoyable to watch isn’t a virtue in and of itself.  (Drive My Car, another film about grief set in Japan, is a contrast because for all its length and deliberate pace, it’s brilliantly constructed to comment on art as well as life and provide emotional payoffs.)  Juri provides some touching moments, and there’s a variety of pleasing Japanese sightseeing moments, especially a visit to an active volcano.  In the end, though, blood feels like performative austerity, a hipster restaurant as art film.

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."