By Jonathan Monovich.

As the most attended year yet, the year’s CCFF provides reassurance that a love for film and film criticism is very much alive and well.

Just weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the closing night of the 25th Ebertfest at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois. The festival was founded by its namesake, the late Roger Ebert, and his wife Chaz, with the intention of recognizing overlooked films. This year’s grand finale was a special presentation of the Andy Kaufman “anti-biopic’ Man on the Moon (1990) with writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski in attendance. Before the one-hundred-and-three-year-old movie palace’s elegant red curtains opened and the lights went down, Mrs. Ebert took the stage with a powerful speech from the heart. In the fantastic documentary, Life Itself (2014), based on the autobiography of the same name, Roger Ebert passionately said “the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and emphasize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears.”1 Chaz echoed this sentiment, recalling that her husband referred to the Virginia Theatre as a “temple of cinema” and a place that should “bring joy and help people connect.”2

After R.E.M’s “Man on the Moon” played over the film’s credits and the curtains closed, Mrs. Ebert welcomed Alexander/Karaszewski to the stage along with’s Managing Editor, Brian Tallerico. It was a gripping discussion and a genuine blast from the past for one of the greatest writing duo’s of all time to relive old memories with many laughs along the way. This was an excellent precursor to attending the 11th Chicago Critics Film Festival (CCFF) at the Music Box Theatre. Produced by Tallerico and Erik Childress, the CCFF is the only film festival solely curated by a critics group. Selected as one of this year’s Chicago Film Critics Association & Rotten Tomatoes Emerging Critics Program honorees, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet some of the association’s members and see a week’s worth of exciting new releases. Following Sundance and South by Southwest, the festival’s lineup featured films from the leading indie studios, IFC, A24, Neon, Magnolia Pictures, Metrograph Pictures, Shout! Studios, Well Go USA Entertainment and more, supporting filmmaking from around the globe. As always, it was enjoyable to hear Dennis Scott, the Music Box’s organist, in between films. When he asked for song requests, I recommended “Singin’ in the Rain”. A testament to his expertise, Scott proceeded to play a medley of nearly the entire Singin’ in the Rain (1952) soundtrack.

Just as the Virginia Theatre was Ebert’s “temple of cinema,” the Music Box Theatre serves as the CCFF’s and offers a wonderful opportunity for the city’s film fanatics to congregate and connect in the spirit of Roger Ebert’s vision. Moreover, with this being the most attended year of the CCFF yet, this provides reassurance that a love for film and film criticism is very much alive and well. With the incorporation of a 25th anniversary 35mm screening of Martin Scorsese/Paul Schrader’s magnificent Bringing Out the Dead (1999), I couldn’t help but think of the important relationship between filmmakers and film critics. Knowing the poignant story from Like Itself of Scorsese crediting Ebert’s invitation for a honorary award at the Toronto International Film Festival as the reason to keep on living during his darkest moments, it’s impossible to not think that Scorsese consciously thought about Ebert’s angelic role in his life while making this exceptional film about life, death, and the in-between. Schrader, a previous guest of the CCFF for First Reformed (2017), also began his career as a film critic before turning to writing/directing. Just like Schrader, Peter Bogdanovich, François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and other critics turned filmmakers, it’s undeniable that film criticism has played and continues to play an integral role in the history of film. The art form has been sparking discourse for over one hundred years, and the Chicago Film Critics Association is helping to keep these conversations ongoing with their festival. All awards are determined by the audience at the CCFF, encouraging even the fans to become critics.


Writer/director Jason Yu’s Sleep (2023) explores the horrors of sleepwalking. While this has become a sub-genre onto itself, what separates Sleep from the other thematically similar works is that this is really a horror film about marriage. Early on in the film, it is said that “marriage is about tackling problems together.” This theme of marital complication and joint decision-making is the lifeline of the film, stringing the feature along. When Hyun-su (Lee Sun-kyun) begins to unknowingly perform strange acts of self-harm during his slumber, his wife, Soo-jin (Jung Yu-mi) fears for his wellbeing. Soon, these bouts become more gruesome and Soo-jin rightfully grows concerned. Hyun-su repeatedly wakes up covered in blood and faces several near-death experiences from his unusual sleepwalking patterns. Well along into her pregnancy, Soo-jin supports her husband to find the needed medical care to help cure his sleep behavior disorder. When the doctor’s recommended prescription is unsuccessful and Hyun-su’ symptoms escalate in becoming a threat to Soo-jin, their Pomeranian, and their newborn, the young family resorts to a peculiar shaman recommended by Soo-jin’s mother. From here, things get weird quickly. Overall, Yu does a nice job with pacing and builds up to a climax sequence that viewers will be sure to remember.

The late Lee Sun-kyun, best known for Parasite (2019), and Lee Sun-kyun, remembered from Train to Busan (2016), both have strong performances in Sleep. Their presence in nearly every scene ties the film together, and their dedication to their roles is crucial in making the film work given that the majority of Sleep takes place in the confines of their small South Korean apartment. Yu, who served as the second-unit director for Bong Joon Ho’s Okja (2017), makes his feature film debut with Sleep. While Sleep sometimes has a television feel and may not specialize in spectacle, it strives in originality. Like marriages, Sleep has its ups and its downs. The film has just enough oddity to intrigue and though the couple faces plenty of hurdles, Sleep manages to avoid crashing like a disastrous divorce.

Sleep will be available September 27th via Magnet Releasing.

In a Violent Nature

Though In a Violent Nature (2024) is riddled with general slasher genre conventions, writer/director Chris Nash’s film is particularly indebted to the Friday the 13th franchise. Nash revisits the tropes of the Friday the 13th films, particularly parts 1-6, but it is not In a Violent Nature’s homage that makes it appealing. What makes In a Violent Nature most interesting is its style, which is more akin to the lethargically deliberate tracking shots and unhurried pans of Gus Van Sant’s early-2000s “death trilogy.” What Jason was to the Friday the 13th films, Johnny (Ry Barrett) is to In a Violent Nature. The two characters share many similarities, but the catch of In a Violent Nature is that the camera primarily follows Johnny in a videogame-like fashion reminiscent of Friday the 13th:The Game (2017).

The catalyst for Johnny’s mayhem is initiated when a group of teenagers walk off with a golden necklace at the site of a dilapidated fire tower. This awakens Johnny who emerges from the ground of the Canadian wilderness in search of his prized possession. The young campers are aware of the “white pine slaughter,” a horrific mass murder that occurred at the town’s old logging camp decades ago, but they don’t realize that their actions have woken the spirit of the event’s infamous killer. In search of his necklace and those that took it, Johnny slowly walks through the woods to the serene sounds of nature. This peace is upended by Johnny’s unforgiving interactions with those who stand in his way. Of the bunch, Kris (Andrea Pavlovic) gives the strongest performance.

In a Violent Nature director reveals how movie's most brutal kill was shot  - Dexerto

Predictably, In a Violent Nature has several gory sequences. What will make these grotesque sequences memorable is not their imagery but the way in which Nash and cinematographer Pierce Derks have staged them. In a Violent Nature is an exercise in experimentation and there are noticeable plot holes, though its originality is what makes the film worthwhile. The film tests viewers’ patience and certain creative decisions even offer unexpected darkly comedic undertones at times. Had Nash fully committed to the idea of having the film told solely through Johnny’s perspective, it would have been more effective. Nash’s central ploy works for the most part, except when he abandons it. In a Violent Nature is a film made by a horror fan for horror fans and a likely contender for a Fangoria Chainsaw Award. It is also the rare kind of horror film that will pique the interest of arthouse audiences.

In a Violent Nature was released theatrically by IFC Films on May 31st.

The Dead Don’t Hurt

Following his debut as both a writer and director, Falling (2020), Vigo Mortensen continues to exemplify his talent in both realms with The Dead Don’t Hurt (2023). The film is a western in a classical sense with its landscapes, saloon brawls, gun fights, and focus on good vs evil but its choice in being set during the Civil War and making the war never actually seen makes it stand out. In terms of the film’s timeline, Mortensen chooses to bop back and forth between the past and the present. In the film, Mortensen portrays a Danish man, Holger Olsen, who settles in Nevada with a French immigrant named Vivienne Le Coudy (Vicky Krieps). Their love story is a beautiful one as they settle down in a small desert cabin. One of the film’s most touching shots sees the couple holding hands while beside one another on horseback. With the onset of the war and the town’s agitator, Weston Jeffries (Solly McLeod), the couple’s marriage is tested.

Just as he did in Hidalgo (2004), Mortensen pulls off the role of a “cowboy” quite well. Though, the true star of the film is Krieps whose performance is on par with Phantom Thread (2017). With The Dead Don’t Hurt, Mortensen has crafted what is clearly an anti-war film. Rather than seeing men fight, Mortensen plays with audience expectations by making the film be told from a woman’s perspective when her husband leaves for war. In one of the The Dead Don’t Hurt’s most memorable moments, there is a flashback to Vivienne’s childhood. Here, we see her asking her mother “why do men fight.” Her brief response is “they have their reasons.” In the case of Holger, his reason is that “it’s the right thing to do.” This decision comes with consequences as Holger fights for a noble cause by fighting for the union to end slavery but simultaneously puts his wife in harm’s way as a result. In another flashback, Vivienne’s mother reads her the story of Joan of Arc. It is Vivienne’s remembrance of Joan of Arc’s courage that helps her to endure the abuse she faces during Holger’s stint as a soldier. By focusing Vivienne’s life at home and at work during this time period, viewers gain respect for the difficulties that women faced during the 1800s. While this allows for an original entry in what is for the most part a bygone genre, The Dead Don’t Hurt could have benefited from making the natural beauty of the west more prominent.

The Dead Don’t Hurt was released theatrically by Shout! Studios on May 31st.

I Saw the TV Glow

I Saw the TV Glow (2024, see top image) is A24’s newest entry. Like other film’s in the studio’s revered catalogue, Jane Schoenbrun’s feature focuses on outcasts struggling to find a sense of belonging. The story is held together by a fictitious late-night, young-adult television show named The Pink Opaque. The show’s premise follows two teenagers with psychic abilities that combat different monsters each week including evil ice cream men, creepy clowns, and the “big bad” Mr. Melancholy. Owen (Ian Foreman), curious yet too young to watch the show, befriends Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) when he sees her reading the show’s episode guide in their school’s cafeteria. Learning of his predicament, Maddie invites Owen over for a sleepover to watch The Pink Opaque unbeknownst to his parents. The two are separated by several years in age, making their friendship unlikely, yet the two are equally as awkward and develop an inseparable bond over their infatuation with The Pink Opaque and its luring/possessive qualities. 

Years pass by, and Owen is now older and played by Justice Smith for the rest of the film. He speaks in a monotone fashion and appears to be seriously depressed, as he doesn’t have much going for him. His mother’s health is worsening, his father is abusive, he has to walk on egg shells to escape via watching The Pink Opaque, and his only friend, Maddie, has disappeared. I Saw the TV Glow blends horror and mystery as Owen attempts to discover where Maddie went and why The Pink Opaque is so appealing to him. The film’s best moments are those that focus on The Pink Opaque. For those that grew up on grainy VHS tapes and children’s horror like Goosebumps (1995-1998), viewers will appreciate the look and feel of The Pink Opaque as it frankly could pass as an entry in the late 90s/early 2000s cannon of children’s network television. While likely therapeutic, Schoenbrun’s choice in eventually shifting and making I Saw the TV Glow overtly symbolic ultimately helps to make a first of its kind but it also masks the film’s mystique. What the film lacks in writing, I Saw the TV Glow makes up for in its imagery. Schoenbrun has created a distinct world defined by neon emerging through the darkness, though I Saw the TV Glow doesn’t shine as bright as it could have.

I Saw the TV Glow is now exclusively in theaters via A24.

The Last Stop in Yuma County

“A knife salesman gets stuck at a gas station” sounds like the setup for a stand-up comedy punchline, yet writer/director/editor Francis Galluppi has managed to creatively make it the basic plot of The Last Stop in Yuma County (2023). The film follows, a knife salesman (Jim Cummings), whose journey to visit his daughter is disrupted when his car runs out of gas. Making matters worse, Vernon’s (Faizon Love) gas station also happens to be running on empty. Taking it up a notch, the knife salesman is forced to wait in the ghost town’s diner with a waitress (Jocelin Donahue), who also happens to be married to the town sheriff (Michael Abbott Jr.), until the fuel truck comes to replenish the pumps. Along the way, an elderly man/woman (Gene Jones/Robin Bartlett) and a rambunctious young couple keep Alex company at the diner. The wrench thrown into the mix is the arrival of two fugitives. One (Richard Brake) is serious, aggressive, and uncompromising. The other’s (Nicholas Logan) “Bigfoot for President” shirt comes as an obvious indicator for a contrasting zany persona. Unsurprisingly, they get on each other’s nerves. What makes Galluppi’s film  work is the tension that ensues from its play-like qualities. Overall, The Last Stop in Yuma County tells a gripping story that succeeds in keeping you on the edge of your seat. 

From the opening credits, Last Stop is a faux 70s thriller through and through. Paul Mariat’s harpsichord one hit wonder, “Love is Blue,” plays against lively yellow font reminiscent of B-movie title cards like Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)from the decade that Galluppi attempts to emulate. Though set in the 70s, Last Stop feels more like a film that would have been released in the 90s. These films seem to have disappeared from the current cinematic lexicon. I applaud Galluppi in filling a void. Striving for an obviously Tarantino-influenced style, Galluppi employs hicksploitation-esque dialogue, references to Psycho (1960), Badlands (1973), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and Rififi (1955), and even a Mexican standoff. Like Alex’s knives, Galluppi’s writing and direction for The Last Stop in Yuma County is sharp but can’t quite match the razor sharp Hattori Hanzō sword quality of Tarantino’s work. Even so, Galluppi has followed in the footsteps of Tarantino to deliver one of the best debuts in many years. Galluppi is a name that you will surely be seeing again. Though Cummings’ acting seems out of character at times and the film’s ending falls a bit short of its buildup, Last Stop successfully combines its low-brow fixations with artful aesthetics for a great viewing experience. Galluppi has even caught the eye of Sam Raimi, convincing him to create the Evil Dead franchise’s next installment.

Released via Well Go USA, The Last Stop in Yuma County is in select theaters and available for streaming.


Haunted by his unmade documentaries while revisiting his prior work, Wilcha establishes that his artistic roots grew from his time spent working at Flipside Records in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey during the 1980s. Flipside’s owner, Dan, has an eclectic taste and helped create a safe space for the town’s misfits with his record store. Less tidy and modern than a nearby book store that only happens to sell records to stay afloat, Flipside is struggling to stay in business due to its new competition. Saddened by the current state of Wilcha’s beloved record store, he sets out to use his marketing expertise to assist in promoting the man he feels indebted to, Dan, as well as a regular customer who also happens to be a variety show legend, Uncle Floyd of The Uncle Floyd Show (1974-1995). In the film, the sagacious Herman Leonard also notes that “in photography, you have to wait for the moment… you can’t create it.” With Flipside, Wilcha reveals that the same is true of documentaries. Wilcha is a captivating storyteller and with Flipside has created something special that everyone can relate to—the complexity of the creative process.

Flipside was released theatrically by Oscilloscope Laboratories on May 31st in NY before expanding.

What You Wish For

The less you know about writer/director Nicholas Tomnay’s What You Wish For (2023) before watching, the better. That being said, viewer be warned, it is not for the faint of heart. What You Wish For, Tomnay’s follow-up to The Perfect Host (2010) is a disturbing tale that follows a chef, Ryan (Nick Stahl), on the run from his gambling debts. Fleeing the country, Ryan visits his old culinary school roommate, Jack (Brian Groh), in Latin America. Whereas Ryan constantly fears his next move, Jack lives what appears to be a carefree existence in a lavish jungle villa. Jealous of Jack’s luxurious lifestyle cooking for wealthy clientele at a secretive catering company, Ryan is surprised to learn that Jack seems to be dissatisfied with his life. After a late night conversation by the pool, Ryan awakens to find his friend hanging by noose. Desperate for money, Ryan disturbingly resorts to concealing the body and pretending to be his deceased friend to claim the hefty pay of his employers, Imogene (Tamsin Topolski)/Maurice (Juan Carlos Messier), of the cryptic “Agency.” Quickly, Ryan realizes he should have been careful what he wished for and that Jack’s life was very clearly not what he had thought. From here forward, Ryan must prepare the most daunting meal preparation he has ever experienced whilst navigating the immense anxiety of the situation.

Overall, What You Wish For plays as a long-winded PSA for gambling addiction and a very effective one at that. In the vein of Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), there is something very morally sinister at play in What You Wish For. Just as Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) disgustingly committed murder rationalized by supposed intellectual superiority in Rope, something similarly deranged brews in What You Wish For. Tomnay one-ups Rope in the realm of the unsettling, and his film is just as tense. Akin to the inquisitive Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) of Rope, What You Wish For’s standout is Detective Ruiz (Randy Vasquez). The reason What You Wish For thrives is because of Ruiz’s cunning, Columbo-like qualities that counter the paranoia of Ryan, the “Agency,” and their clients. The story arc’s structure and the cast’s ability to capitalize on Tomnay’s satirical critique of “foodies” also makes What You Wish For a suitable double feature with The Menu (2022). More than anything, What You Wish For is really an exploration of the downward-spiraling trajectory of humanity that stems from greed, excess, and envy.

Released via Magnet, What You Wish For is available for streaming.

Good One

Good One (2024) is a film designed to make you think. It is about a teenager witnessing midlife crisis and coming to the challenging realization that adults are often not as put together as one would think. Rising writer/director India Donaldson’s vision relies on the uncomfortable to construct a bildungsroman. The film’s plot follows 17-year-old Sam (Lily Collias) and her journey into the New York wilderness with her father, Chris (James Le Gros), and her father’s friend, Matt (Danny McCarthy). To keep Sam company, Matt’s son, Dylan (Julian Grady), was supposed to join the crew but Dylan’s contentious relationship with his father has caused him to bail last minute. Sam and the two men then awkwardly drive from the city into the Catskills. The journey is a bumpy one, and the trio’s camping trip fails to live up to their expectations. Conversations about life’s unexpected issues plague the trailside interactions, and Matt’s jealousy of Sam and her father’s relationship leads to hostility. Matt and Sam’s father gripe about their troubles, most of which are learned to be self-inflicted, but the point of Good One is in giving perspective that one’s teenage years are no cakewalk either. Along the way, there is much animosity but it is the beauty of the natural world that makes Good One worth enduring the unsightly scenarios that build along this backpacking adventure gone awry.

Good One' Review: Father-Daughter Relations Go Awry in Honest Indie

There are unlikeable characters in Good One, but that’s not what makes the film disappointing. It is the film’s lack of commitment that makes it end up being less effective as intended. Good One is ideologically serious but becomes overshadowed by the inconsistency of the film’s actors and the film’s struggle to find its tone. While unresolved endings can be a stylistic benefit, in the case of Good One it feels lackluster. While the film starts off well, it feels unrefined by the end. While Good One is a bit shaky in certain places, Donaldson has strength in developing narrative. The film’s focus on confrontation shows that Donaldson is unflinching in where she is willing to take her stories, and she does a nice job of focusing on problematic interactions. Viewers will likely leave Good One infuriated for the behavior of the film’s male characters but, like Sam, will be able to calm themselves by reminding themselves of the serenity of life’s greatest distraction—nature.

Good One will be released theatrically by Metrograph Pictures on August 9th in NY/LA and then will expand.

Handling the Undead/Håndtering av udøde

Handling the Undead (2024) is a fresh take on one of the most oversaturated genres—the zombie film. Writer/director Thea Hvistendahl’s choice in making Handling the Undead a slow-burning, art house film is a smart move. Whereas Train to Busan (2016)was recognized for the unique speediness of its zombies, Handling the Undead goes in the opposite direction. The deliberately slow pacing serves to the film’s advantage as it becomes obvious that something bad will inevitably happen but you don’t know when. Given the intensity of the subject matter, a central emphasis on grief, it’s as if Hvistendahl is toying with the audience in an attempt to make the viewer feel the same suffering as the film’s characters. An adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel of the same name, Handling the Undead explores three intersecting Oslo families grappling with the recent loss of a family member. For Anna (Renate Reinsve), it is her son. For David (Anders Danielsen Lie), it is his wife. For Tora (Bente Børsum), it is her partner. One day, the stillness and tranquility of the city are interrupted by an unexplainable occurrence characterized by screeching car alarms, shattering lightbulbs, static radios signals, and overexcited birds. Shortly after, the dead inexplicably become undead. Unsurprisingly, the film’s protagonists embrace the chance to reconnect with their loved ones. As the film progresses, the initial feeling of comfort becomes one of worry as it becomes clear that while recognizable in appearance the undead are not who they once were.

Handling the Undead is rooted in minimalism. There is great attention to the natural world and our relationship with it as humans. While heartbreaking, the film is also beautiful in its muted simplicity. Hvistendahl’s toned down approach assists in getting to the core of its fascination with human emotion. Following Reinsve and Lie’s noteworthy performances in The Worst Person in the World (2021), Handling the Undead proves that Norway continues to produce some of today’s finest talent. Bjørn Sundquist is also a scene stealer, portraying a grandfather who will do anything to relive the enjoyment of being accompanied by his grandson. In terms of aesthetics, the camera is largely still, there is little dialogue, natural lighting is frequently used, and the acting is never forced. Just as the camera frequently lingers after Handling the Undead’s characters leave the frame, the film is one that will remain in the thoughts of viewers after leaving the theater.

Handling the Undead was released theatrically by Neon on May 31st.


  1. James, Steve, director. Life Itself. Magnolia Pictures, 2014.
  2. Ebert, Chaz. “Man on the Moon Introduction (Ebertfest 2024).” YouTube, YouTube, 21 Apr. 2024,

Jonathan Monovich is a Chicago-based writer. His writing has been featured in Film International, Film Matters, Bright Lights Film Journal, and PopMatters.

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