Writer/director Matt Ross’ second feature effort, Captain Fantastic, might be the Sundance-iest film to ever waltz out of the yearly Utah based festival. It’s the dictionary definition of “a Sundance film” in all the worst possible ways. Sundance has produced its share of wannabe, quirky crowd-pleasers (Little Miss Sunshine, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Sunshine Cleaning), and most of them get by on an often uneasy balance between irreverent comedic beats and resolutely dark subject matter. Some of these films have been good, and some of them have been atrocious, but I don’t think I have felt more outright hatred of a Sundance debuting production than I feel towards Captain Fantastic. I’m not easily offended by films on a thematic level, and my intelligence has been insulted so many times at the movies that I’m pretty much immune to that, but there have been few times in my life when I felt like something was manipulating me as blatantly and poorly as Ross’ dire claptrap.

Captain Fantastic tells the story of Ben (Viggo Mortensen), who depending on how you view him is either an anarchic bleeding heart libertarian or the alt-left equivalent of The Great Santini. Ben lives with his six kids – all with unique, quirky, nonsense names – off the grid in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. He teaches them to hunt, fight, climb cliff faces, and forage. He homeschools them with the works of Chomsky, Chairman Mao, Dostoyevsky, and Jared Diamond. Ben finds himself at a crossroads after he begrudgingly lets his wife go to see a doctor in the big city. When she doesn’t return to their base camp, Ben calls some of his wife’s relatives to find out where she went. It turns out that his wife has killed herself, and that the family is expressly unwelcome at her New Mexico funeral by his former father-in-law (Frank Langella, playing the only sane human being in the film). Ben ignores the family’s wishes – citing his bipolar wife’s conversion to Buddhism and desire to be cremated as a reason to crash the proceedings – and brings his kids on a cross country trek that none of them are prepared for because they’ve never interacted much with the outside world.

Let’s start at the beginning with the obvious. No one in Ross’ story is a likeable or well rounded human being. Considering that Ben and his wife created a world of their own, the latter half of that makes sense, but considering that this patriarch has created automaton children living unhealthy lifestyles based on fervent misunderstandings of liberal ideologies and a litany of disgusting cultural appropriation, one would think that Ross could put down his research materials long enough to deliver real human beings instead of quirk vessels who spout aphorisms from whatever the writer/director read that morning and felt inspired by. It’s a film where people speak in speeches, not like real people with real problems would. Ross is so intent on sounding intellectually smart that when he talks about the film’s inciting suicide, all he can muster is “sometimes sick people die.” His efforts have been expended elsewhere.

Ben’s selfishness has been imprinted onto his kids, some of whom get side plots involving what it’s like to meet a cute girl for the first time or finally realizing that your dad might not be a good person. None of them are given personalities beyond individual scenes where the young actors either have to deliver a speech cribbed from better literary material, or random moments that are largely left hanging or ill explained. Not that anyone else in the film fares better, especially once the road trip leads Ben to visit his resolvedly capital-A American sister (Kathryn Hahn) and brother-in-law (Steve Zahn), who have a pair of constantly plugged in boorish teenage boys of their own. These scenes exist solely to make Ben’s family look well adjusted by comparison, but it only serves to underline how much I don’t want to be around any of these people, ever in my life, for any reason, for any length of time. It’s oversimplification on both sides of an argument taken so ludicrously far in the name of seeming irreverent.

Not once does Ross care about developing characters or a genuine sense of empathy. He’s firmly on the side of Ben, and once the production starts espousing the character’s way of life as not being so bad, it becomes apparent that Ross wants to do something more than assert his moral and intellectual superiority complex over the audience. That something more is blatant emotional manipulation. Ross isn’t interested in nuance. He’s only in this for the big reveals. Everything has to be played to the rafters and cranked to eleven, even if it’s just people talking in a room.

When the family arrives at their dead mother’s funeral – mid-service, decked out in the quirkiest attire possible – I had to leave the theatre. I almost walked out, but I persevered to the end. I needed a break from all this dark tinted quirkiness. I couldn’t take it anymore. The film had broken me. It’s mocking of loss and mental illness for the sake of one storyteller’s desire to sound intelligent had finally gotten to me.

I thought for a moment about my own struggles with depression and the loss of my mother years ago, and I had a hard time reconciling how intensely awful Captain Fantastic made me feel. Sometimes critics can’t push every bad feeling out of their body, but Ross’ efforts here triggered something in me that was soul crushing. I felt insulted and used. I reminded myself, however, that this was only a movie; a bad one, one that I will never have to think about ever again.