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Crime News Movies & TV

The Best True Crime-Inspired Features From Sundance And How To Watch Them In 2020

Buzzy movies include "Lost Girls," which is based on the Long Island Serial Killer case, and "Zola," inspired by an insane viral Twitter thread.

By Gina Pace
Sundance 1

Whether the stories were ripped from the headlines or from a viral Twitter thread, films that were inspired by tales of true crime made a strong showing at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

“Lost Girls,” starring Amy Ryan and set to debut on Netflix in March, will make the biggest waves for those obsessed with serial killer stories, but there are other movies that debuted worth keeping your eye on to catch at theaters or stream at home later this year.

Lost Girls Netflix 2

"Lost Girls" 

Based on Robert Kolker’s investigative novel, “Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery,” the film focuses on Mari Gilbert (played by Amy Ryan), a mom driven to find her missing daughter, Shannan, and who must battle to overcome what she believes is police inaction in the case.

Gilbert’s prodding of police for answers in her daughter’s 2010 disappearance led to the discovery of 10 sets of human remains at Gilgo Beach, many believed to be sex workers. It’s unclear if the murders were the work of one killer — dubbed the Long Island Serial Killer — or different killers as the slayings remain unsolved to this day. Director Liz Garbus said at Sundance that she hopes the attention the movie brings to the case will lead to justice for the victims. Netflix will release “Lost Girls” in select theaters and on the streaming platform on March 13.

The Assistant

"The Assistant"

This look at one day in the life of an assistant at a film production company examines how sexual abuse by powerful men can remain hidden. Harvey Weinstein is never named — nor is the producer in question directly shown in the film — but the allusion is clear and the presence over every interaction is oppressive. Julia Garner, in a tightly-wound performance, does everyday duties from washing dishes to cleaning stains off an office couch that show how systematic abuse can become mundane tasks as everyone shares complicity. Currently playing in theaters.

Charm City Kings

"Charm City Kings"

This adaptation of the documentary “12 O’Clock Boys” follows Mouse (Jahi Di’allo Winston), who idolizes Baltimore’s dirt bike gangs, as he must choose between his goal of becoming a veterinarian or earning money from the gang’s drug operation. Rapper Meek Mill, who is an outspoken advocate of criminal justice reform, plays Blax, an ex-con who runs a bike shop and is trying to turn his life around in circumstances that make it nearly impossible. It’s set for release in theaters on April 10, 2020.



This Swedish movie about divorce makes “Marriage Story” look like a rom-com. After getting a panicked call from her son in the middle of the night, Alice (Ane Dahl Torp), in the middle of a custody battle, kidnaps her two children and takes them on a trip to the Canary Islands. Throughout, the viewer wonders if her children really are in danger from their father, or if it’s a manifestation of Alice’s anxiety over losing her family. 



This otherworldly feature from director Miranda July may not be based on a real-life criminal family, but plays on the sort of era of the grifter zeitgeist we’ve seen in the last few years with Theranos, the Fyre Festival, and Anna DelveyEvan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, and Debra Winger play a family of low-level scammers in Los Angeles whose status quo is rocked when they meet a gregarious outsider (Gina Rodriquez) in the bizarre and beautiful film. Focus Features has acquired rights for U.S. distribution. 



With an opening line like, “You wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense,” how could viewers not be hooked on this adapted-from-Twitter story? Azila “Zola” Wells told the (partially-fabricated) tale in 2015 of a cross-country trip from Detroit to Tampa with a woman she met at Hooters named Jessica, Jessica’s boyfriend, and Jessica’s pimp that was pitched to Zola as a quick trip to make money stripping but became a tale of prostitution, murder, and someone jumping out a four-story window. It’s like hipster “Hustlers” meets “Spring Breakers,” and if that hasn’t sold you, Cousin Greg from HBO’s “Succession” (Nicholas Braun) plays Jessica’s boyfriend. A24 is planning a summer release for the film.