Boston Underground 2024

Sydney Sweeney in Michael Mohan’s Immaculate (2024)

Before she turned twenty-six last fall, Sydney Sweeney had been nominated for two Emmys for her performances in two hit series, Euphoria and The White Lotus. She’d appeared in Jean-Marc Vallée’s Sharp Objects (2018), David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake (2018), and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), and in Variety, Jessica Kiang called her portrayal of whistleblower Reality Winner in Tina Satter’s Reality (2023) “revelatory.” In December, Sweeney and Glen Powell defied critical indifference to Anyone but You, directed by Will Gluck, and turned the sexy romantic comedy into a word-of-mouth box-office hit.

This month alone, Sweeney has hosted Saturday Night Live and launched Immaculate, a gory nunsploitation horror movie, at SXSW. Sweeney plays Cecilia, an American nun who arrives at a remote Italian convent, where more than a few nasty secrets are barely hidden beneath its picturesque facade. Immaculate reunites Sweeney with director Michael Mohan, who worked with her on the 2017 Netflix series Everything Sucks! and the 2021 erotic thriller The Voyeurs, and before Immaculate hits theaters on Friday, it will open the twenty-fourth Boston Underground Film Festival tonight.

“Mohan and cinematographer Elisha Christian create a genuinely ominous atmosphere, employing elegant camerawork and some clever uses of candlelight to ratchet up the sense of dread that comes to grip Cecilia as she gradually comes to realize the predicament she finds herself in,” writes Derek Smith for Slant. Immaculate is “a clear cut above the likes of Corin Hardy’s The Nun and Julius Avery’s The Pope’s Exorcist, thanks in large part to Sweeney’s performance. Her expressive eyes communicate the wavering fear, confusion, anger, and general disorientation that Cecilia goes through as her dream of communing with God becomes a hellish nightmare and her search for transcendence soon leaves her with a total loss of bodily autonomy.”

Sweeney “rarely if ever switches up her distinct millennial drawl or the endearingly self-conscious way she carries herself, which practically breaks the illusion and invites the conflation between her own public persona and the people she plays,” writes Radheyan Simonpillai for the Guardian. “For some movies, that could be detrimental. But Immaculate, a fun and nasty little throwback to Rosemary’s Baby and giallo films like Suspiria, is all the better for it.”

“BUFF isn’t programmed with specific themes in mind, but when putting together a slate of films, it’s impossible not to see certain patterns emerging,” writes Sean Burns in his overview of this year’s edition for WBUR. “There’s a lot of dread this year,” programming director Nicole McControversy tells him. There’s also, as always at BUFF, an emphasis on local talent. In Strange Kindness, a bloodied gunman turns up in the living room of an unfazed woman after a mass shooting, and interdisciplinary artist Joseph Mault shot the film on Cape Cod with local talent.

Talking to Stephen Schaefer in the Boston Herald, BUFF artistic director Kevin Monahan calls Strange Kindness “a quiet, low-burn, character-driven piece” and adds that “we’d love the community to come out specifically for this.” For Burns, this is an “elliptical, empathetic movie [that] never quite goes where you’re expecting, in ways both memorable and mannered. (I’m still thinking about it, for better and worse.) Strange Kindness is screening on March 21 with The Thaw, a chilling, beautifully shot black-and-white short by BUFF regulars Sarah Wisner and Sean Temple, set during a brutal nineteenth-century Vermont winter when a family’s hibernation plans go bloodily awry.”

Running through the weekend, BUFF 2024 will present more than seventy short films and fourteen features, including a few arriving from other festivals to make their local premieres. Amanda Nell Eu’s Tiger Stripes, in which a young Malaysian woman comes of age in terribly disconcerting ways, won the Grand Prix at Critics’ Week last year.

From Sundance comes In a Violent Nature, the first feature from Chris Nash and a slasher movie shot from the point of view of the slasher. “With grim patience, vibrant realism, and a genre-savvy sense of humor,” writes Paste’s Jacob Oller, “Nash marches us one plodding bootstep at a time through the procedure of slashing.” In a Violent Nature “isn’t scary because of the kills, but because of how easily you’re shifted into the movie’s mindset.”

Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping’s Femme premiered in Berlin last month, and in Variety, Guy Lodge called it “a tense, sometimes startling revenge drama.” Lodge noted that Femme features “a pair of sensational performances by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Candyman) and George MacKay (1917), locked in a nervy duet as two men with virtually nothing in common but their sexuality.”

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