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5 Sundance Films With Families to Avoid This Thanksgiving

A still from ‘We Are What We Are.’

Nate von Zumwalt

The holidays seem to invariably arrive wrapped in complaints — about premature decor, about delayed shipping, about… family. That last one we hope to preempt this Thanksgiving, if only by way of the old “it could be worse” adage. Dysfunctional families have long made for well-trodden material among indie filmmakers, but these 5 recent Sundance Film Festival selections feature families (I use that term loosely) that straddle everything from the bizarre to the macabre to the downright depressing. Here are five families to avoid this Thanksgiving.


Hellion

Motocross, alcohol, and guns generally aren’t the pillars of a thriving father-son relationship – even if they’d make for one hell of a Thanksgiving. In Hellion, Kat Candler’s chaos-fueled drama, Hollis (Aaron Paul) and 13-year-old Jacob’s (Josh Wiggins) delinquent ways force Child Protective Services to take away the youngest member of the family. Suffused with a timeless Texas ethos, Hellion asks not merely if men can change, but if they can save others while doing so.

KNUCKLE

The beauty of KNUCKLE lies in its unfettered and absurd brand of brutality. Ian Palmer’s 2011 documentary follows a group of Irish Travellers among which longstanding animosity (between relatives, no less) is frequently resolved through bare-knuckle fighting. Imagine your Dad and Uncle coming to blows over a dried-out turkey – that’s Thanksgiving with the subjects of KNUCKLE.

SOUND OF MY VOICE

Not unlike most, I’m utterly fascinated by cults. I also can’t conceive of a worse cohort of creeps to spend the holidays with. In Sound of My Voice, a stunning Brit Marling plays an enigmatic cult leader from the future whose community is threatened by an inquisitive young couple posing as ‘believers.’ Zal Batmanglij’s debut feature is an uncomfortable thriller worth every ounce of its challenging narrative.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS

So it’s got ‘Christmas’ in its title, whatever. Director Joe Swanberg (Uncle Kent, Drinking Buddies) once again shares his incisive and droll take on interpersonal turmoil with Happy Christmas. When Jenny (Anna Kendrick), a newly single woman with a penchant for getting drunk and stoned, moves in with her brother’s family, she cultivates an unlikely bond with her sister-in-law whose own discontent begins to come to light.

WE ARE WHAT WE ARE

Whatever you do, don’t have Thanksgiving dinner with the Parker family. Employing an ominous cinematic aesthetic, director Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are invites viewers into the Parker family’s seemingly chaste home, where the head of the family, Frank, protects a disturbing (and unsavory) family secret—even at the cost of his own kin.


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