Sun Don’t Shine: shaky cam noir

Kate Lyn Shein and Kentucker Audley in SUN DON'T SHINE

Thirtyish Crystal and Leo are on the run and coaxing his weathered (and probably uninsured) sedan through central Florida.  Crystal is a white-hot mess.  I was going to describe her as needy and erratic, but those adjectives seem inadequate.  She is a unfiltered, explosive bundle of nerves, filled with impulses that are unfailingly ruinous.  The suspense in Sun Don’t Shine stems from whether Leo can navigate an escape path through her emotional minefield; we can tell from the neo-noir undercurrent that she’s going to bring him down no matter what.

In her first feature, writer-director Amy Seimetz combines a command of pacing with a Malickesque visual sense.   Watching her sweaty characters, we can feel both the Floridian humidity and the relief from air conditioning in a tourist trap. (A promising actor, Seimetz just turned in a compelling performance in the controversial Upstream Color.)  

The strength of the screenplay is that the audience only gradually learns why the two are on the run, from what and to where.  However, those revelations are not surprising.  Fortunately, Seimetz has chosen not to send her characters on yet another hyper-violent nihilistic crime spree.

But why doesn’t Leo leave Crystal on the side of the road and drive the hell away?  After about fifteen minutes, we know that’s his only chance.  He’s not very bright, but he is grounded in reality, and we wonder why he is so drawn to this wackadoodle. It may be a fim noir, but she sure isn’t Mary Astor’s Brigid O’Shaughnessy in Maltese Falcon

Watching Sun Don’t Shine is a 96-minute simulation of having an annoyingly clingy and scarily volatile girlfriend.  Long ago my friend Steve advised me, “Never sleep with anyone crazier than you are”.  Sage words, my friend.

Sun Don’t Shine is available for streaming from Amazon Instant and other VOD outlets, and is beginning a limited theatrical release.

Upstream Color: “enigmatic” is an understatement

UPSTREAM COLOR

I have never been as ambivalent about a movie as I am about Upstream Color.  (More about that later.)

A character named Thief concocts a drug from corpulent worms, doses a woman and scams her out of her savings.  Another character, named Sampler, deworms her in a surgical tent at a pig farm.  This experience washes away her memory, and she happens into a relationship with a man, another loner trying to move on from a traumatic episode.  Along the way, we see vividly colorful shots of the human bloodstream and riparian ecology.  Sampler periodically reappears to solemnly observe the goings on and experiment with sound recordings, and he spends lots of time with the herd of pigs.

Yes, this is one trippy movie.  The worming and deworming scenes could fit in a sci-fi or horror movie.  The second half has the air of a romantic thriller.  The overall tone is of an art film or experimental film.  Upstream Color is written, directed, produced and co-edited by Shane Carruth, who also plays the male lead and composed the score.  Indeed, the cinematography and Carruth’s editing and music are strikingly unique and effective.

Even viewers who admire Upstream Color find it baffling.  What’s going on and what’s it all mean?  Halfway through, I put it all together:  Sampler represented the writer himself who was imagining – and trying on – different characters, plot elements and settings.   So I thought this was a brilliant film about the creative process.  But then Carruth himself set me straight.  At the screening Q & A, Carruth said that I was wrong about Sampler, that the film is about how people might relate if their identities are stripped away, and that Upstream Color is intended to be a coherent narrative.

So here’s my problem –  it’s not a coherent narrative – not even close.  If Sampler is merely an observer, how can he play a critical part in the plot by deworming the woman?  Why are the characters doing the same thing simultaneously at the pig farm and in the highrise? And what gives with the bearded guy and his wife (seemingly unrelated to the other plot threads)?  So I don’t think that Upstream Color is a success on the filmmaker’s own stated terms.  But my interpretation did work for me, and the music, visuals, editing, and lead actress Amy Seimetz combined to make the overall experiece worthwhile.

Amy Seimetz is excellent as this haunted and confused character.  (Seimetz is a director in her own right and is getting enough acting parts now to demonstrate that she has the chops of a potentially significant actress.  (BTW 25 years ago, Lindsay Crouse would have played this role.)

If you like your movies understandable, stay away from Upstream Color – you will hate it.  If you want a unique art film experience, go with it.