Dramatic comedies have the ability to cover the breadth of human emotion in such a nimble fashion, alternating between the light and dark of life with ease. They can touch on a variety of themes from semi-autobiographical reflection to social commentary to good, old-fashioned morbid humor and everything in between. In this report from Sundance, we’ll be taking a look at Little Death, Veni Vidi Vici, and Kidnapping Inc., each from a different part of the world and focusing on a different theme.

Little Death (dir. Jack Begert)

From a young age, the human psyche has been a focal point in Martin’s  (David Schwimmer) life. Once, as a test in human perception, his face was plastered on milk cartons in a grocery store; he stood next to them for six hours and no one noticed. That, or they didn’t care. Now, as a middle-aged TV writer who laments that Gen Zers don’t appreciate “the communal aspect of cinema,” he attempts to navigate the world of selling his feature-length script, along with the cynicism of his partner Jessica (Jena Malone) and his ever-growing plethora of psych prescriptions. A peek inside his mind is no better than the world around him as we’re treated to frenetic images in the style of a lot of AI art. One day, his life collides with that of two friends, Karla and AJ (​​Talia Ryder and Dominic Fike), with a plan to own a taco truck and hunting for their next fix along the way. As their night goes awry, they find themselves on a quest across Los Angeles in search of AJ’s missing backpack.

Little Death (2024) – source: Sundance Film Festival

A very successful music video director, writer-director Begert has delivered an incredibly unique feature debut, with vibes akin to Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s surrealist character studies. The shift in tone and focus, while reminding me of films I can’t disclose without spoiling this one, is more uneven than it has to be. Perhaps even maintaining the recurring AI-driven psyche montage throughout could have smoothed things a bit. Nonetheless, Schwimmer and Malone are great both separate and together, even in the most tense of scenes. Similarly, Ryder and Fike are quite convincing, and both make portraying their characters look so easy, to say nothing of the wild ensemble of supporting characters, including some fun minor appearances.

Little Death is an interesting look into the minds of Angelenos from different generations, on opposite ends of the pill-popping spectrum. No prescription needed to take this ride.

Veni Vidi Vici (dir. Daniel Hoesl and Julia Niemann)

For some, money may not buy happiness, but it sure can buy you impunity. In Veni Vidi Vici, Daniel Hoesl and Julia Niemann’s class and social satire, the billionaire Maynard family can buy that in spades. Amon (Laurence Rupp) is a shrewd investor opening a new battery factory, with the Minister’s help, and takes over a company without the owners even realizing it. And that’s just his day job. In his leisure time, he likes to commune with nature and hunt, but he would never harm an animal. Instead, he almost nonchalantly travels around town, sniping random civilians. The public lives in fear of this sniper, unaware he’s often right there among them, but a journalist (Dominik Warta) is on his trail.

Vent Vidi Vici (2024) – source: Sundance Film Festival

From the program description, one would think this film might be a modern take on The Most Dangerous Game. Instead, it lacks the thrill of the hunt. To be sure, that’s the idea: Wealthy people can get away with anything, and that sucks, don’t it? Prior to the online screening, there’s a clip from Hoesl where he says that he hopes “you will think about rising up after.” The Maynard family’s constant deflecting of punishment, or really any accountability, is a clear reflection of the elite classes around the world, and that their experience isn’t too far from reality should be maddening. However, in holding up that mirror, any semblance of stakes fades as we’re instead treated to a slice-of-life of a charming family that we just can’t stand.

Veni Vidi Vici is a sardonic satire that pulls no punches with its disdain for the wealthy, but in doing so hits a little too close to reality and thus diminishes its narrative stakes.

Kidnapping Inc. (dir. Bruno Mourral)

In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, thousands of people are kidnapped every year, according to the intro of Kidnapping Inc., directed and co-written by Bruno Mourral. In the film, one had the misfortune of being picked up by Doc (Jasmuel Andri) and Zoe (Rolaphton Mercure), two amateurs desperate to make a big ransom, as he’s the son of a presidential candidate just days before the election. In a spectacular show of ineptitude, the duo find themselves on the run from an assassin and embroiled in a political conspiracy. The film maintains a breakneck pace filled with violence while also putting a spotlight on Haiti’s corruption and class inequality.

Kidnapping Inc. (2024) – source: Sundance Film Festival

Mourral’s directorial debut, one of quite a few in this year’s festival, hits the ground running, steals a car, and speeds into Port-au-Prince traffic. Andri and Mercure are a delight as the bumbling criminals and Spanish fútbol supporters, and every scene, every chase they participate in is electric. The film’s kidnapping plot is also not too far off from the real thing, a situation which became scarily real when three of the film’s crew were kidnapped during production. While the first half really propels the film forward, as the true story unfolds, it begins to meander a bit, but manages to find its way back home for a powerful conclusion.

Kidnapping Inc. is a fierce introduction to Mourral’s work, and I can only imagine the trajectory of his career from here. This film is a style all its own, with a message that reverberates in every frame. If only it could have maintained its tone and pace along with it.

Follow our Sundance coverage here.

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