Early on in Amy Seimetz’s “Sun Don’t Shine,” it becomes very clear that this isn’t just your average young-white-couple-with-relationship-problems-on-a-road-trip indie flick that we have come to expect from festivals like SXSW. Oh, Crystal and Leo have problems alright. And a bad relationship. And a road trip to go on. But the one very big problem that lies at the crux of “Sun Don’t Shine” is rotting in their trunk. That pretty much eclipses the “who else have you slept with” conversations they might have (but they’ll have those too).
“Sun Don’t Shine” is a dreamy, watercolor wisp of a film, a sort of hazy, scattered approach to the traditional murder mystery. This stylistic approach works in its favor, as the film is told through the point of view of Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil), who seems distracted, delusional, like she just woke up from a nap, still half in her dream world at all times. This is in sharp contrast to her boyfriend Leo (Kentucker Audley, a Garrett Hedlund doppelganger), who is frantic, worried, the gears in his head constantly grinding. He’s trying in vain to keep Crystal in check, to not call attention to themselves as they speed toward the Everglades.
Though the gritty handheld cinematography is grating at times (especially after a week of it at the fest), the visual aesthetic and the sound design plants you firmly within Crystal’s confused perspective. And yet, sometimes you ache to be free of the perspective of an abused woman driven to kill her husband in order to be with her boyfriend. This isn’t something we get from being inside Crystal’s head, it’s something that’s explained to us in a few expository conversations. Though it seems simple enough that Crystal stabbed her husband in order to escape her abuser and take off for freedom with her boy-toy (leaving behind her mother and daughter), that’s just too easy an explanation, and it refuses to go any further. Despite our alliance with her, we never understand Crystal, or why she says or does the things that she does. Maybe it’s that Crystal doesn’t understand herself either.
Sheil is beautiful and compelling and she gives a performance that embodies Crystal’s wavering between childlike naivete and dark, destructive instincts. There are a few moments of subjectivity that offered more insight into Crystal’s inner workings — a dream sequence here, a sound cue there — but nothing resulting in a cohesive pattern that might actually reveal something. Audley also gives an impressive performance as the harried Leo, struggling to make choices and do the right thing.
This is the feature directorial debut of actress Amy Seimetz, and while it doesn’t quite go all the way, it demonstrates an interesting sense of style and a firm handle on expressing an inner world on film. Yes, it’s gritty handheld, but it’s gritty handheld that’s trying to express something, which is more than we can say for some of the other films we saw at the fest. It’s an interesting hybrid of the relationship movie, mumbly indie and dark murder film, and the combination works here, for the most part. The storytelling is the weakest part of the film, which feels more like a half-drawn sketchy portrait of a troubled woman. However, the potential seen in the talent here makes us look forward to more from Seimetz, Sheil and Audley. [B-]