February 4, 2023

Sundance 2023 Reviews: “Sometimes I Think About Dying,” “Bad Behaviour,” & “Divinity”


SOMETIMES I THINK ABOUT DYING:  The Office, for depressives.  Fran (Daisy Ridley) is the most anonymous member of a nondescript shipping department in a small Oregon town, wrapped in so many layers of emotional insulation that she can’t make the smallest of small talk and flees from any interaction with her officemates.  When Robert (Dave Merheje) joins the company, she’s forced to exert herself a tiny bit, and is shocked, agonized and a little bit thrilled when he responds.  Rachel Lambert’s film, from a script by Kevin Armento, Stefanie Abel Horowitz and Katy Wright-Mead, celebrates odd bits of human connection, and appreciates the effort required for even the most incremental change.  Luckily for Fran, Robert is a man of almost infinite tolerance, and he withstands her deep awkwardness and occasional hostility, appreciating the moments where she makes contact in an off-kilter way.  Most amusingly, Fran’s off-hours habit of fantasizing about her own death–not in a suicidal way, exactly, but as an exercise of despondent imagination–comes in handy when she’s at a party and has to play a murder game.  This is the performance of Ridley’s career thus far, buried so far in her own head that she practically has to put a note in a bottle to make contact with others.  The slightest variation in her expression relays a multitude of emotions.  Merheje is a font of low-key charm and patience, and there’s a splendid ensemble surrounding them, including Meg Stalter, Brittany O’Grady, and Parvesh Cheena.  Lambert doesn’t fall into the traps a story like this provides, neither overemphasizing the dullness of Fran’s surroundings nor turning the characters into sitcom quirk-machines.  She has respect for Fran’s distinctive personality, and when a hint of radiance starts to emerge from Fran’s gloom, the emotion feels well-earned

BAD BEHAVIOUR:  Oddly (or maybe not), Alice Englert’s debut as a feature writer/director works best in the story’s first half, in which she barely features as the film’s co-lead.  That portion is mostly set at a retreat where former child actress Lucy (Jennifer Connelly, fully committed) has gone for a psychic cleanse led by guru Elon (Ben Whishaw, in fine form).  Lucy is narcissistic and loaded with issues about her age and her own mother, and there’s an instant antagonism between her and a fellow attendee, influencer Beverly (Dasha Nekrasova, who practically walks away with the movie).  When Lucy and Beverly are teamed for a role-playing session, the tension between them explodes.  Bad Behaviour up to this point has shrewdly balanced satire of the self-help movement with some effective exploration of the characters’ depths.  But here the movie sharply shifts gears, and Englert’s own role as Lucy’s stunt-woman daughter Dylan comes into prominence.  (It’s hard to watch this story about a daughter trying to cope with her well-known, demanding mother and not register the fact that Englert is the daughter of Jane Campion.)  Dylan is less complex, and frankly less interesting, than the other characters, and the film loses steam and cohesion as it settles into a more hackneyed tale about whether mother and daughter will be reconciled.  It’s never good form to say that a filmmaker should have made a different movie, but the dangerous Lucy/Beverly relationship had far more drama than what Englert choose to pursue instead.  In many ways, Bad Behaviour represents a skilled debut for Englert, who garners fine performances, and whose work with cinematographer Matt Henley and production designer Heather Hayward is sharp and atmospheric.  Nevertheless, the pieces don’t come together into a satisfying whole.

DIVINITY:  They handed out promotional VHS tapes to the audience at Divinity‘s Sundance premiere, and that self-conscious gesture says a lot about Eddie Alcazar’s retro cult-movie object.  (“Presented by” executive producer Steven Soderbergh, no less.)  Divinity has been made for a midnight movie market that doesn’t really exist anymore, the young crowds of the pre-DVD era that would show up over and over to enjoy (often with some chemical assistance) hallucinatory works like Eraserhead and El Topo and campy comedies like Pink Flamingos and Plan 9 From Outer SpaceDivinity‘s attempt to replicate that cult movie experience is a low-budget, (almost entirely) black and white piece of sci-fi pulp.  Trying to make sense of the schlocky plot wouldn’t be of much use to anyone, but it’s set in a future where mad scientist Jaxxon Pierce (Stephen Dorff) has marketed a serum called Divinity, which was supposed to provide immortality but has instead enslaved the world.  A pair of otherwordly brothers (Moises Arias and Jason Genao) arrive at Pierce’s desert castle to confront him and overdose him with his own drug, transforming him into a creature-feature monster, while a cadre of catsuited Amazonians led by Bella Thorne root for a sex worker (Karrueche Tran) to help them.  The production values are–presumably on purpose-nil, and although Dorff throws himself into the nonsense, the performances are more presentational than what’s ordinarily considered acting.  Alcazar is clearly fine with alienating anyone who isn’t on board with wanting a recreation of movies that often weren’t good to begin with, and in this he’s unquestionably succeeded.

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."