Directed by: Amy Seimetz.
Written by: Amy Seimetz.
Starring: Kate Lyn Sheil (Crystal), Kentucker Audley (Leo), Kit Gwin (Terri), AJ Bowen (Highway Angel), Mark Reeb (Boatman).
Amy Seimetz has been a very busy actress in indie movies over the last few years, but it wasn’t until Shane Carruth’s brilliant Upstream Color earlier this year that she really made an impression and me – and what an impression it was, as her performance was wonderful. Now comes her directorial debut – Sun Don’t Shine – that she actually made before Upstream Color, but finally found a limited release (as well as VOD release – I saw it off iTunes) this year. Although the film is very, very different than Upstream Color – it does share two things in common with the other film. The first is that it is heavily inspired by Terrence Malick – the film really is a low key take on Malick’s Badlands – and the second is that it is one of the must see films of the first half of 2013.
The film opens on the face of Kate Lyn Shiel (another very busy indie actress) as she seems to be gasping for breath. She’s seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, with only a man (Kentucker Audley) with her. Is he friend or foe? Is he really trying to strangle her, as she will later accuse, or is it something else? The scene is one of the great things about the film – Seimetz throws us right in the middle of the story, and only gradually reveals the details. Shiel is Crystal, an almost childlike woman, and the man with her is Leo – her lover. They are travelling across Florida with a body in the trunk of their car, on their way to a “friend” of Leo’s who can help. Almost immediately, the two characters paranoia is palpable – and yet they seem to be paranoid about different things. Leo is paranoid that someone will discover the body in the trunk, or that Crystal will blow it and let someone in on their secret. Crystal is paranoid that this friend – Terri – isn’t really a friend at all, but another lover. You would think you should trust your lover, who has helped you kill someone and put them in the trunk of the car, but Crystal isn’t all that bright. Like Sissy Spacek in Badlands, she doesn’t seem to fully comprehend everything that is going on around them or just how serious the situation is. She is as insecure as a teenage girl.
Or is she? One of the things I admired most about Sun Don’t Shine is how we are never quite sure of what to make of Crystal. We understand Leo – he’s not overly bright either, but he has a plan, thinks it will work, and is trying hard to make sure it does. But with Crystal, we are never quite sure if she is as simple-minded as she seems, or if everything she does is an elaborate ruse. Is she as in love with Leo as she says she is, or is she simply using him to get him to do what she needs him to? Its credit to Shiel’s wonderful performance that right up to and including the final frame of the movie, you’re never quite sure. Because Leo’s plan isn’t precisely a good one – it’s certainly not one that would stand up to any kind of scrutiny, especially if Crystal is as simple as she seems. But if Crystal has a plan, it’s pretty brilliant.
It’s clear in this movie that Seimetz had almost no money to make the film, yet her movie shows why you don’t need a lot of money to make a visually interesting film. For much of the running time of Sun Don’t Shine, Crystal and Leo are in the car together, and Seimetz finds oddly angles intimate angles at which to shoot the two of them – and the nature or rundown small towns that surround them. She creates atmosphere in the movie, when many directors with a similar script, wouldn’t have been able to come up with anything visually interesting to do.
In short, Amy Seimetz is having a great year. She has delivered the best performance of the year so far in Upstream Color, and has made a remarkably assured directorial debut in Sun Don’t Shine – one of those films that simply gets deeper the more you think about it.