After Venice Film Festival held the premiere of Alfonso Cuaron‘s Gravity (reactions here), one of fall’s other most-anticipated films has now been screened. Getting the jump on its Toronto International Film Festival premiere, Telluride held a “secret” preview of Steve McQueen‘s period drama 12 Years a Slave. Although only a few critics were in attendance, we’ve rounded up a batch of reactions, which are heavy on the positive side, praising Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s lead performance.

While there are one too many mentions of next year’s dog and pony show, check out the reactions below for the film also starring Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt and Alfre Woodard, which will be updated as more reviews come in. One can also check back for our full review, which will arrive next week during the film’s official world premiere and if you missed the news, it’ll be screening at New York Film Festival ten days before it hits theaters.

Peter DeBruge at Variety:

Had Steve McQueen not already christened his previous picture thus, “Shame” would have been the perfect one-word title to capture the gut-wrenching impact of his third and most essential feature, “12 Years a Slave.” Based on the true story of free black American Solomon Northrup’s kidnapping and imposed bondage from 1841 to 1853, this epic account of an unbreakable soul makes even Scarlett O’Hara’s struggles seem petty by comparison. But will audiences have the stomach for a film that rubs their faces in injustice? As performed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Northrup’s astounding story is too compelling not to connect with American audiences, and important enough to do decent business abroad as well.

Eric Kohn at Indiewire:

There are echoes of the paranoid urgency and claustrophobic McQueen memorably built around a single setting in “Hunger,” but “Slave” carries them to a grander emotional scale. As Northup is thrust on to a boat with other frantic new captures, Hans Zimmer’s pulsating score compliments an intense montage of whispered exchanges between Northup and the other prisoners. The strength of the images shot by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (“The Place Beyond the Pines”), first glimpsed in the prologue, provide an intricate clash of colors — from the sharp blues of the surrounding ocean to the murky shadows of the ship’s belly.

Alex Billington at First Showing:

There are scenes, master shots, where watching the camera linger on Ejiofor’s face will bring tears to your eyes. The incredible depth and the earnestness behind this man, and all that he has to endure, is enough to make a grown man cry. McQueen is a master of the lingering shot, focusing the camera intently on the faces, on raw scenes of slavery brutality, and letting the audiences sit (occasionally uncomfortably) soaking up the images on screen. It’s very brave filmmaking, the kind that pushes the audience to understand and accept what they’re seeing even if it’s despicable or just disgusting. This film is extraordinary in the way everyone involved, from the actors to producers to the crew, committed themselves to making something so powerful.

12 Years a Slave opens on October 18th.

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