The term “jaw-dropping” is easily one of the most overused pull-quotes in the film industry, yet Sun Choke made my jaw drop for a moment. It’s a strange tale of holistic healing and obsession that is devoid of a concise backstory. This ambiguous style of storytelling usually has a polarizing effect on the audience, and Sun Choke is no different. You’re either going to love it, hate it, or be downright confused by it.
We start right in the mix of things with Janie (Sarah Hagan) and her caretaker/therapist Irma (legendary Barbara Crampton). Both give stunning performances, which is vital to a film that really only features 3 characters. It is never clear what is happening, but you’re 100% certain that everything is not alright. If you thought Mark Duplass made your skin crawl in Creep, wait until you meet Janie. She very well may have invented crazy eyes.
The cinematography and sound design help guide you along this journey into insanity. Ominous droning tones, blurring images, and unexplained flashbacks are your constant companions. I dare say that if the images were more graphic, the movie would be too intense to enjoy. However, there is minimal gore or violence. Instead, director Ben Cresciman decides to rely on implied situations, which are highly effective. As uncomfortable as these can be, Cresciman makes sure to hit you with the occasional graphic scene, just to see if you were paying attention. It was one of these moments that left me actually slack-jawed. No sound. Just mouth agape.
Unfortunately it can’t all be positive. The writing, while solid, could have used some polishing on the ends. I’m not one who needs the entire plot spelled out for me, or to even have it wrapped up in a nice bow, but Sun Choke gives you very little to work with. An unclear starting point is fine, but as the movie dragged on and there were no forthcoming answers, I started to lose all empathy for any of the characters. The investment I had in learning the truth was quickly replaced by the desire to move on to the next big “WTF moment”. That feeling can work in an Eli Roth film, it’s just not the right mindset for this one.
Other nitpicks include a widely exaggerated depiction of a dog training device, the sharpness of a pair of scissors, and the always poorly portrayed police officer. With the suspension of disbelief, I can forgive all of those. Sadly, it’s harder to forgive a confusing plot that offers little to no payout when the credits role. When the entire story is being told by unreliable narrators, and it’s unclear where our empathy should lie, the chances of the audience emotionally checking out becomes damn near certain.
Sun Choke will leave you feeling something. Whether it’s love, hate, confusion, or indifference, a mark will be made. Perhaps that’s all Ben Cresciman hoped to achieve.
Sun Choke [Review]
Beautifully done in every aspect except storytelling, Sun Choke is destined to be a very polarizing film.