Dir: Ben Cresciman
Starring: Sarah Hagan, Barbara Crampton, Sara Malakul Lane
Plot: Janie (Hagan) is a troubled girl under the supervision of Irma (Crampton). Janie is being treated in her home and in recovery for a violent past. When her treatment seems to be going well, Janie is permitted to have time out in the rest of the world. However when Janie starts using this time to stalk Savannah (Lane), a girl she has become infatuated with, it becomes questionable how much good her treatment is or how much harm it’s causing.
Sun Choke is the kind of horrific mystery story that I find myself loving more and more as years go on. It’s the kind of film that makes you connect dots and gives out clues sparingly. The film begins with little introductions, starting with Irma testing Janie, a test that is aimed at children. The nature of their relationship is unclear, Irma may be Janie’s doctor, therapist, carer, her mother, or something else entirely. Whatever their relationship is, it appears to be a caring one. The nature of Janie’s problems or specifically the event that got her put in Irma’s care is left to the thoughts of the audience except for a couple of glances at traumatic events.
Gradually the film becomes darker as Janie is let loose on the world and first spots Savannah. Savannah is everything that Janie wants to be (or at least that’s how I interpreted it, Sun Choke is not the kind of film who’s characters actual say how they feel) and Janie becomes more and more invasive as she becomes more obsessed. Watching soon is not enough as Janie lets herself into Savannah’s home or gets close to her boyfriend.
Irma’s behaviour also becomes more troubling, punishing Janie in more and more severe ways. It’s the way the film starts to embody the theme of abuse, specifically growing up in an abusive environment and how it effects behaviour and perpetuates further abuse. Janie’s obsession with Savannah is an extension of this theme, it’s her attempt to escape her abuse through the life of someone else.
The cast of Sun Choke is amazing, focusing on the relationship between these three women. Hagan gives Janie an odd balance between childlike naivety and brutally vicious. Crampton’s Irma also has a similar duality, her caring side warring with her abusive side, making her abuse emotional as well as physical. Lane rounds it off as the innocent victim, the collateral damage in this cycle of abuse.
This is definitely a thinker of a film, I find myself comparing it to Under The Skin, another film I really enjoy but recognise that it’s not a film for everyone. It’s requires patience and thought, and it rewards you with a rich story and beautiful visuals.
During the Q&A with the director and Barbara Crampton, it was asked if this film potentially demonises mental illness. I don’t think that it does, Janie might be suffering from a mental illness but it’s the result of the abuse that she’s endured and the violence that results when that’s all you know.
Sun Choke was one of my favourites from this year’s Fright Fest. It’s an original story that’s dark and intimate and let’s you discover it rather than telling you it blatantly. It’s a film I can’t help but recommend highly.