Advertisement

Sundance movie review: 'Little Death' needs a lot of work

David Schwimmer stars in "Little Death." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
David Schwimmer stars in "Little Death." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

PARK CITY, Utah, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Little Death, which won the Next Innovator Award at the Sundance Film Festival, jams a lot of ideas and techniques in its run time. Unfortunately, there are few rewards for this assaultive experience.

Martin (David Schwimmer) narrates his story. He's a TV writer on a sitcom hoping to direct his autobiographical screenplay.

Martin's narration runs through a lot of concepts about perception and reality. As big as those ideas may be, director Jack Begert uses the same old cinematic techniques to convey them.

Hyper montages turn thoughts on pharmaceuticals, sex or violence into cacophonous collages. Closeups and voiceover indicate what Martin is thinking.

The film uses computer generated surreal images to depict some of Martin's thoughts and anxieties. The ones generated by AI stand out as noticeably worse than traditional human-made digital graphics.

Jena Malone stars in "Little Death." File Photo by Christine Chew/UPI
Jena Malone stars in "Little Death." File Photo by Christine Chew/UPI

For example, one montage realizes several images as paintings and it's completely obvious no painter rendered the paintings. Simulated paintings, among other effects, are glaring.

At one point a different actor plays Martin for a while, but even that is a technique David Lynch has already used in the film Lost Highway.

Angela Sarafyan plays a literal dream woman in "Little Death." File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Angela Sarafyan plays a literal dream woman in "Little Death." File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI

Few of Martin's thoughts are original. He has opinions about millennials watching content on their screens.

Martin and his friends rant about wokeness and cancel culture but nothing that's not already posted on social media daily.

David Schwimmer plays a TV writer hoping to direct a screenplay in "Little Death." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
David Schwimmer plays a TV writer hoping to direct a screenplay in "Little Death." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

The big issue is the financier of Martin's movie wants it to have a female lead. That's a very privileged problem to have if a screenwriter can't make his personal movie exactly the way he wants it.

The script by Begert and Dani Goffstein pays lip service to the notion that men like Martin are oblivious to their privilege but it feels entirely disingenuous. Martin even repeats cliches about needing sex because of evolution.

Jack Begert co-wrote and directed "Little Death." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
Jack Begert co-wrote and directed "Little Death." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Martin is unhappy with his fiancé (Jena Malone) and dreams of sex with a woman (Angela Sarafyan) who validates his work. Some characters call out Martin on his needy privilege but the film itself drops the ball intentionally.

Halfway through the film shifts to follow two different characters. Their story is even less interesting.

Worse, it means Begert and Goffstein never even have to follow through on the first one. It's a total cop-out.

If there is a sincere message somewhere in Little Death, it got lost in all the noise. This isn't an innovative perspective. It's just a remix of all the old ones.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.