Sundance 2021 review: ‘Prime Time’ is a ceaselessly thrilling lesson in media manipulation.

PRIME TIME

New Year’s Eve 1999. Twenty-year-old Sebastian, armed with a gun, hijacks a TV studio and takes two hostages—a famous TV presenter and a security guard. His plan? No one seems to know, including Sebastian himself. His demand to deliver his message, whatever that may be, via live broadcast is repeatedly thwarted by an uncertain police force and an egotistical network chairman. As the night wears on, Sebastian and the hostages bond in unexpected ways, while those in power fumble to restore order.

Who is manipulating who? The immediate idea that this situation can be directed is stunning. Producer Laura is like Oz. She initially sees and hears everything that’s happening from the booth. But she only controls as much as Sebastian reveals in slow spurts. Once the police arrive, all hell breaks loose. Can the hostage negotiators find out what Sebastian wants? It will be a long New Year’s Eve. Prime Time is remarkably compelling. There is no time to take a breath as the mystery unfolds in real-time. The handheld camerawork adds to the chaotic nature. But the real drama lies within the “Why?” Sebastian’s backstory is devastating. Performances are phenomenal from the entire cast. We live in their fear and their ceaseless frustration. Bartosz Bielenia will blow you away.

The juxtaposition of what all other networks are airing during this incident is rattling. No one, outside the studio, knows what is occurring. Everyone is nonchalant or celebratory so when the danger escalates, seeing the calm on ancillary characters is unnerving. It’s fantastic. This script manages to tackle class structure and emotional trauma, with media profits as the underlying force of everything that goes awry in Sebastian’s “plan”. Prime Time does an incredible job of keeping you on the hook until the screen goes black. In a present era where every second of media is either controlled or completely reckless, Prime Time taps into every viewer’s own fear of being lied to. Sundance audiences will love this film.

You can purchase access to PRIME TIME’s second showing by clicking here!

About Liz Whittemore

Liz grew up in northern Connecticut and was memorizing movie dialogue from Shirley Temple to A Nightmare on Elm Street at a very early age. She will watch just about any film all the way through (no matter how bad) just to prove a point. A loyal New Englander, a lover of Hollywood, and true inhabitant of The Big Apple.