Stanley Film Fest REVIEW: SUN CHOKE

SUN_CHOKE-PosterThere’s something incredibly remarkable that comes along with coming across a film that not only entertains you, but makes you feel such a wide range of emotions while taking a journey with the film’s characters. When films that play within those vastly huge range of emotions, it’s easy for them to transcend whatever “genre” they’re expected to fall into and become something much greater, something that not only makes its viewers completely engrossed and enthralled, but also becomes an important film for a wide range of reasons. They make us think about not only the characters, but also about our own troubled psyche, and it becomes incredibly easy to find some form of relation to characters that are written so very well. Such is the case in Ben Cresciman’s profoundly effective and absolutely beautiful yet hauntingly dark second feature film, SUN CHOKE.

Following a somewhat vague and very violent incident, the fragile Janie (a career defining performance by Freaks and Geeks‘ Sarah Hagan) is under the care of her longtime caregiver/nannie/guru Irma (Yet another standout performance by YOU’RE NEXT and RE-ANIMATOR star Barbara Crampton). While Irma’s methods of helping Janie cope with the aftermath of the mysterious events that had previously transpires seem innocent enough, it doesn’t take long for us as viewers to realize that something just isn’t right all across the board. When finally granted permission to leave the house for a bit, Janie sees and instantly becomes obsessed with Savannah (12/12/12‘s Sara Malakul Lane), a sexually active woman who quickly becomes the object of Janie’s obsession, for reasons unbeknownst to the viewer. Feeling like she’s losing control of Janie, Irma begins to instill some intense and somewhat inhumane forms of punishment, ranging from a shock collar, to performing his own test of if Janie has been sexually active herself.

It’s that strange, and very unsettling atmosphere that really makes SUN CHOKE such a memorable and very interesting film. As Irma’s methods become more and more shocking and cruel, we begin to see Janie loses her grips on any form of stability that she’s fought to regain, and as the film goes on, there’s a sense of dread and an oncoming storm that it’s so enthralling to watch. You can almost FEEL a sense of violence coming, a slow and very creepy switch in Janie that is made so very effective by one of the best genre performances in recent time, thanks to the VERY good performance by Hagan as the fragile and increasingly violent young woman.

While the previously spoken of sense of dread and oncoming violence does get stronger as the film goes on, what never changes is how beautiful the film looks, even under its dark (and I mean DARK) second half of the film. Cresciman has such a great eye for not only a tone and look for his film, but it’s apparent that his intention was not to make yet another horror film that could be spoon-fed to the masses. It’s a far cry from the typical genre films we as audience members are given these days, and I, with complete honesty, cannot think of a better, well executed film as SUN CHOKE is. It’s an absolutely beautiful film, filled with standout performances by three very impressive lead actresses, all of which do such wonderful jobs, that you will not be able to take your eyes off of a single one of them, until the film’s end credits roll. Easily the best film of 2015 thus far.