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Sun Don’t Shine | Review (AFI Film Fest)

Madlands: Seimetz’ Relationship Drama Takes Us on a Road Trip to Love Hell

Amy Seimetz Sun Don't Shine PosterManaging to balance an insanely busy schedule that boasts quality and quantity, actress/producer Amy Seimetz debuts her feature directorial debut with the histrionically inclined Sun Don’t Shine. A sweaty slow-burn thriller, she throws us right in the mix and manages to keep us intrigued with a satisfying mix of emotions and murderous intentions right to the very end. Popping up out of the Mumblecore crowd after working in several Joe Swanberg efforts, as a well working with Lena Dunham and Megan Griffiths, among many others, Seimetz won Best Actress at Fantastic Fest for 2010’s A Horrible Way to Die. With anywhere between ten or more projects per year, she somehow managed to make this enjoyable doozy of a feature, a vicious tale of a dangerous love.

Opening with a mud wrestling sequence, sparring couple Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Leo (Kentucker Adley) seem to be in the midst of a lovers quarrel. Struggling to the point of exhaustion, their perspiration drying, they continue on in what appears to be a road trip through Florida. As they converse, we get mysterious snippets of what it is they’re doing, and every minute seems to bring Crystal to the brink of tears or stupendous anger.

Stopping at a gas station, Leo berates her about whether or not she called her mother back home, which seems to have been a bad thing to do. Apparently she has a baby girl that she left with her mom, and she’s supposed to be off on a getaway with Greg, her husband. As their conversation overheats anew, so does the car, and Leo has to pull over to the side of the road. A kindly gentleman (AJ Bowen) pulls over to assist, and Crystal starts acting strange while Leo overcompensates, culminating in us finding out that there’s probably something in the trunk the kindly gentleman shouldn’t see. It turns out, Crystal’s husband, Greg, is indeed on a road trip with the couple. And so we finally get a taste of what Leo and Crystal are up to, but it seems like Crystal has no internal mechanism for self preservation, running solely on a wild emotional hurricane of nymphomania for Leo. As they inch forward to their destination, Crystal’s hysterical love threatens them at every turn, and Leo has to act quickly to clean things up for them.

There’s an inescapable claustrophobia to Sun Don’t Shine, ironically set almost entirely in the daytime of the Sunshine State, though our main characters have really nothing to feel light and sunny about. Utilizing a simple plot structure that almost solely involves the two leads for its entirety, it plays like one of those old classic black and white film noirs, like Detour meets The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Trapped in their run down jalopy, feeding off each other like some kind of Southern fried, psychosexual Polanski nightmare, these incompatible lovers are on an inevitable crash course from the first frame. “I’m better at being spontaneous,” muses Crystal, in one of her never ending soliloquies about their future plans, which she devolves into as if talking to herself. When she can’t muster that, she’s reading road signs, demanding they pull over into a motel for sex, or, failing to get a response from the brooding Leo, sputtering into hell-bent harangues about how he must not find her desirable any longer. Of course, the more we find out about what they’re really up to, the more hysterical and unbalanced we realize Crystal to be. In between her romantic proclamations, she looks like a fevered zombie, hopelessly clingy and repulsive. We want to run away screaming as much as Leo ends up wanting to do the same. In one particularly grating scene, Crystal literally follows him around a bar while he tries to get away, always breathing on him, wanting sex, wanting attention, and never getting enough of either. But it’s a scene involving another woman, Terri (Kit Gwin), intended to be an alibi for Leo, who has to stay the night at her house while Crystal sleeps in a tent down the road that proves to be the most fatalistic. Crystal, of course, doesn’t stay put, and she doesn’t like what she sees.

The further along they get, the more Crystal quickly regresses, sounding like an oversexed child, fascinated with the live “Little Mermaid” show happening at a nearby aquarium exhibit. “Mermaids live forever,” she says. “No, they don’t,” argues Leo, always the voice of reason, but so distracted he finds himself arguing about things that aren’t even real. And that’s just it—they’re lost in a fantasy world that’s quickly crumbling around them.

Oddly, Leo becomes the film’s sexual object, accosted by not only Crystal, but Terri, as well. He’s the one that gets stuck with the fuzzy end of the stick, though he reveals himself to be just as far adrift as his lady love, telling her “You make it so I don’t have to think about what to say.” Since we’re trapped with these two for nearly the entire running, a lot depends on the success of the actors, and much credit has to be given to Sheil and Adley, both managing to be eerily believable in their codependent weirdness. Sheil, like a sweaty pink flower floundering all over the lush foliage once again reveals her talents for psychosexual unbalance, another name sprouting out of the Mumblecore troupe. But it’s Adley who really shines in the subtle role as a man so glazed over with stress, he’s only beginning to realize the nature of what they’ve done, not to mention the child-like monster he has on his hands. Good hearts can do bad things, says the tagline. But neither of these people had one to begin with.

Reviewed on November 05 at the 2012 AFI Film Festival –YOUNG AMERICANS Programme.
82 Min.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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