Timothy E. RAW thrills to micro-budget veteran Kate Lyn Sheil who shines bright in SUN DON'T SHINE, a humid, hellish poverty row noir made in the threadbare spirit of the Edgar G. Ulmer classic Detour. It's currently available on the US iTunes store.
Sprocket Holes is an irregular column focused on small release films either playing limited engagements in major cities or available on VOD. As well as appreciating indies on the fringes of the festival circuit, it also takes a second look at under the radar, underappreciated, unheard of films that have slipped through the celluloid cracks.
Crystal and Leo (Kate Lyn Sheil and Kentucker Audley) are a murderous couple as memorable as any you might pull from cinema's pantheon. In a linage stretching all the way back to They Live By Night through Badlands and Natural Born Killers, here's a pair of killer performances that once seen are never forgotten.
Crystal and Leo's ill-fated escape to the Everglades leaves fewer bodies in its wake than many lovers-on-the-run films, but everything the lovers do with their own bodies is substantial and significant. Every intimate moment between them is loaded with knife-edge uncertainty; caresses feel like strangleholds and it's often hard to tell if they're leaning in to kiss or head-butt one another. Trapped together in the confines of a rust bucket car with busted air conditioning, as the odometer ticks on and tempers boil over in the sweltering Florida sunshine, you're not waiting for who they might kill next but when they'll kill each other. Like the hitchhiker and gambler thrown together by fate in Edgar G. Ulmer's 1945 classic Detour, the perverse love-hate relationship that develops between them takes precedence over the question of scratching noises coming from the trunk and whether the couple will get away with murder, which per the noir tradition, is never in doubt.
Shooting in direct sunlight, cinematographer Jay Keitel's grainy, Kodak Super 16 stock replicates the queasy, washed out pastel-puked blur of a contemporary Florida perpetually stuck in an early nineties time warp. Sickly looking Crystal is the focal point of the harshly lit landscape, sweat-slicked hair clumped around her features, a heavy sheen of perspiration covering the pale complexion of a face in extremis. What she's running from or to is never stated up front but her heat-exhausted, flailing frame invites interpretation. An opening scene mud wrestle between the runaways shows Leo strangling Crystal, the sight of her choking and clawing in the muck encapsulating her decision to hit the road and what will come of it: this hopeless, emotional self-harmer has fled from a place where she had no options, only to settle upon a deathly final solution.
An unruly, unthinking woman who does as she pleases, Crystal has abandoned her child and traded the abuse of her husband for that dealt to her by Leo, her liberator, protector and kidnapper. Intermittently exploding in fits of inchoate rage, Crystal begs to be taken to a motel to make love. "I need to get this out!" she pleads, screaming a Molotov cocktail of fear, guilt and disappointment she's unable to articulate. The one scene we get of Crystal talking at length about the life she left behind is similarly murky in regard to her motivations, yet telling in its tiresome details. She relates to Leo, the story of a co-worker who took advantage of her and stole her lipstick with the kind of "he said, she said" particulars that frame it in a larger, more profoundly painful context. For Crystal, this trip is about a fresh start and proclaiming her worth as a person.
Sweaty, crest-fallen but undefeated, Kate Lyn Sheil's feral performance is one of Streepian intensity. Mumblecore, micro-budget mainstay Sheil is a dab hand at unraveling otherworldliness (see Silver Bullets and Green) but here under the harsh rays of the sun, her looks of duress are so pained, her face takes on a waxwork quality, appearing to melt right before our eyes. Even as the cheeks sag and the brow furrows, those eyes remain rigidly set with a stare so concentrated, a sudden eruption of Carrie-like telekinetic powers would not be at all surprising.
Internal contradictions play across Sheil's vulnerable, liquescent surface, capriciously shifting depending on how the light hits it. On the one hand she's a masochistic victim, slave to her sexual lust for Leo exacerbated by the heat. On the other hand she is capable of tremendous endurance: suffering willingly at the hands of the man she so desperately wants to believe is in love with her.
Leo has helped Crystal out of her "fucked up situation" for reasons left vague beyond a quick lay. Play acting at being caring and sensitive doesn't suit him and no sooner has he used his strong-arm charms on the impressionable young girl to get her to run away with him, he's insisting she spend her nights in a tent while he shacks up with an old flame. Leo's mind isn't nearly so impenetrable as Crystal's, just simple. He reckons the two of them are good together because he's the planner while Crystal is the spontaneous one, but if that's the case, his plans aren't thought out more than a few steps ahead. Multihyphenate actor-filmmaker Kentucker Audley (Bad Fever) is an imposing figure next to Sheil's abductee waif, filling up space between them with his bare-chested bod instead of words. Under the circumstances, Leo's stilted, hesitant manner is as much a coping mechanism as it is a sign of his intelligence and Audley plays him in volatile single notes, never deviating from what's right in front of him.
Though her abundant use of close-ups is confrontational, actor-turned-filmmaker Amy Seimetz (about to blow-up with both this and a starring role in Upstream Color, the long awaited follow-up from Shane Carruth, who designed the scratchy end titles for Sun Don't Shine) doesn't let the explosiveness of her two performers overwhelm the film. With expert editing from David Lowery (recently making his own directorial mark with the much buzzed about Ain't Them Bodies Saints) she crafts a seamless wave of sunburnt, punch drunk visuals and non-diegetic sound, turning this cataclysmic drama into something spectral and dreamy, heightening the senses and lodging itself in the memory.
Sun Don't Shine can currently be purchased in HD for ($12.99) or rented ($4.99) via the US iTunes store here.