A couple Sundance babies

A few movies I caught at Sundance in January hit theaters this week.

For those who enjoy the narrow but uncomplicated communal thrill of a good horror flick, The Descent delivers. Every bit of marketing for the movie, from the poster to the trailer to pictures and advance reviews, diminishes the fun. Don't read or look at any of it. The less you know about the movie, the greater the rush. Just grab some fellow horror movie fans and wear blinders until the lights go down. Do know, however, that the movie includes some attractive girls who, like Buffy, aren't afraid to muss their hair when push comes to shove.

I knew little to nothing about the movie when I caught it at Sundance. It played at midnight at the Egyptian Theatre, however, always an omen of disturbing fare. Past movies I've caught at that series include Wolf Creek, Three Extremes, and Oldboy. I walked in sleep-deprived, drowsy, and half-frozen by the Park City winter. I walked out of the theater with palms sweating and heart racing.

There was some controversy after the screening because the ending of the cut we saw at Sundance differed from the ending of the original that showed in the UK. Whenever something like this happens, horror fans lament that studios water down movies for American audiences because of their preference for happy endings. Director Neil Marshall said that was not the case, that he had always wanted to try two different endings. I believed him, and at any rate, the American ending works just fine. You could, in fact, interpret them the same way if you wanted, and at any rate, I'm sure the special edition DVD will include both. You can also look up a description of the UK ending in IMDb's news forums after the fact, as I did after Sundance.

In a somewhat disappointing lineup of movies at Sundance this year, Quinceañera was the big winner, capturing both the audience and jury award for narrative film. It is a movie with a strong sense of place, set in Echo Park, a Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles that is a layer cake of conflict between the generations, classes, and sexes.

A girl prepares the traditional celebration of her 15th birthday, her Quinceañera, but when she discovers she's pregnant, her strict and traditional father reacts as you'd predict. She and her friend's brother Carlos, also a pariah from his own family because of his sexuality, find refuge at their great uncle Tomas's house.

This feels like a Sundance movie to me. The writer, director, and actors were all unknown to me. It is not a genre film, and though so many pieces of the story are familiar, the movie moves with an organic energy. I did not anticipate Tomas becoming the wheel on which the movie pivots back on itself. The film has a warm spirit and no desire to shock or awe, a rarity in these times. Though it sometimes feels rough around the edges and never lifted me out of my seat, Quinceañerais the right movie for the type of person who wants a movie at the far opposite spectrum from The Descent.