SUN DON’T SHINE B-
USA (82 mi) 2012 d: Amy Seimetz
USA (82 mi) 2012 d: Amy Seimetz
Everything about this movie is extremely well-crafted except for the deplorable two lead characters that couldn’t be less interesting, yet they’re onscreen for nearly the entire film, where the sagging weight on their shoulders is more than they or the audience can bear, ultimately sinking an otherwise stellar effort by this first time feature filmmaker. Seimetz may be better known for her acting role in the recent Shane Carruth film Upstream Color (2013), and prior to that Adam Wingard’s A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE (2010), Lena Dunham’s TINY FURNITURE (2010), and a host of other smallish indie films. To put it mildly, she is an atrocious director of acting performances, feeling indifferent, allowing performances to drift into self-indulgence, as the two leads here are among the worst ever in an otherwise excellent film. She apparently directs by not directing, allowing the actors to simply improvise their way through a movie, and the result is awkwardly uncomfortable and purely amateurish. For all practical purposes, this is a loose remake of Terrence Malick’s BADLANDS (1973), a lovers on the run movie with a mind-altering sound design that is easily the best thing about the film, where one imagines they spent their entire budget on a first rate, Hollywood quality production design, leaving nothing left afterwards, where they likely felt they could manage to figure it out, making a kind of mumblecore horror film. While Seimetz is the writer, director, editor, and producer on the film, with Shane Carruth as a listed producer in the credits, it shares the same feeling for stylistically proficient but total lack of character in Carruth’s films, while at the same time Seimetz was an associate producer for Barry Jenkins’ Medicine for Melancholy (2008), which features two highly appealing and incredibly naturalistic lead performances. So in small indie films, one never knows what to expect, as performances are all over the map, some quite compelling, but not here, where the performances literally ruin the film.
Something of a schizophrenic film, as clearly this is an experiment gone wrong, where one half is nearly an A while the other half is nearly an F, one would think this might have been noticed before the release, because to screen it in this way feels like a lazily incomplete film, like what we are seeing are the performance outtakes, where one might think they have no professional acting experience, but both have an extensive history working in low budget films in recent years. Leo (Kentucker Audley) and Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) are the lovers on the run, where their relationship is abusive from the outset, as Leo is overcontrolling, physically hurtful, and psychologically demanding, while Crystal apologizes for every little thing, as she is made to feel like everything is her fault, even getting choked and physically manhandled. The superb handheld cinematography by Jay Keitel is often stunning, beautifully capturing the mix of Central Florida’s natural beauty and the tawdry kitsch of the commercial tourist industry. Like being trapped between two worlds, this couple travels in their broken down car which itself barely runs, as it’s literally falling apart, requiring frequent stops to add water to the overheating radiator, doors that need to be opened from the outside, and a trunk that opens only with the aid of a screwdriver. Their car feels like a trapped character just crying out for help, but remains ignored and unattended throughout, where the bulk of the film is witnessing the disturbing interplay between the two lovers, where Crystal often has a punishing, overly smothering effect with her unending, mindless chatter, evoking the simplistic state of mind of Sissy Spacek in BADLANDS, but taking it to her own level of shallow insecurity, where she is constantly asking for her possessive love to be returned. Leo, on the other hand, is constantly on the verge of blowing a gasket through utter frustration, angrily blaming Crystal for everything, even as he is the one that never stops making mistakes. Leo is such a control freak that once he has a thought, he refuses to alter it, even if there’s a better idea. That’s not in the cards for Leo, who has to live with the consequences of his overly self-absorbed philosophy.
By the time the film’s secrets are revealed, the first thought that jumps to mind is how many opportunities they have throughout their travels to solve their problems earlier and make things easier on themselves, as they are often seen traveling in remote and isolated spots, but these two crackpots would rather make things as difficult as possible, where each slowly unravels before our eyes, becoming a darker and more noirish film, though it occurs almost exclusively in the oppressively bright sunshine, where tourists rarely feel so annoyingly intrusive, becoming an instrument of a deteriorating state of mind. Unfortunately, these aren’t the actors to express this mental fissure as they simply don’t have the range. The result is one can appreciate the visual expression and an utterly enthralling sound design, which combine to establish a murky atmosphere of fear, dread, and approaching danger, where the details of their lives slowly emerge into an approaching catastrophe of enveloping horror. Much of it set in the director’s home town of St. Petersburg, Florida, the overall atmosphere is poisoned by a toxic stench of suffocating paranoia and distrust, growing more disturbing until their lives are completely contaminated. While the atmosphere is drenched with complexity, these two nitwits don’t have an ounce of brains or mystery between them, existing only on a superficial periphery, where they are the vast internal wasteland of disorientation and human dysfunction, of little consequence to the overall outcome, as so little sympathy is ever generated toward either one. This odd imbalance of such insipidly ill-matched characters caught up in such an eerily seductive, yet rotting atmosphere does resemble Barbara Loden’s remarkable Wanda (1970), an unflattering portrait of another woman with such low self-esteem and no ambition, but in Loden’s film, her very existence was a revelation to cinema. Half a century later, perhaps Seimetz is suggesting we haven’t made much progress.