Busy indie thesp and sometime-producer Amy Seimetz’s feature debut as writer-director, “Sun Don’t Shine,” is an unconventional, unsettling couple-on-the-run tale set in the multihyphenate’s native Central Florida. More satisfying as an exercise in ambiguous atmosphere than as a fully realized narrative or character study, the film nevertheless picked up a 2012 SXSW special jury prize and Gotham nom for “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You.” Actually, it’ll be playing soon enough: Factory 25 plans simultaneous theatrical and digital release April 26. Prospects are modest, but the pic confirms Seimetz as a talent to watch, whatever hat she’s wearing.
The film opens with a discomfiting physical altercation between a man and a woman by a lake. At first, it seems like he’s abusing her, but soon (and increasingly as the film proceeds) the realization sets in that he’s simply trying to tamp down her penchant for hysteria. Back in their car, en route to the Everglades several miles south, puzzle pieces emerge, but take a long time fitting together. Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Leo (Kentucker Audley) appear to be a couple, yet she mentions a husband, and has left a young daughter in her mother’s care. Meanwhile he’s evasive and she’s jealously suspicious about a recent girlfriend whose house they’ll be stopping by later that day.
Why are they so nervous about attracting attention from police and passersby? (Fellow indie staple A.J. Bowen plays a good Samaritan whose intervention is unwanted when their automobile overheats.) Why are her moods so mercurial, and her verbal ramblings so frequently arbitrary and irrational? Why is there a handgun in the glove compartment? Perhaps most importantly, just what (or who) is it they’ve got stashed in the trunk?
Answers, to a degree, gradually emerge. But the focus is primarily on the dynamic between the two main characters, a relationship that would likely be stressful even without their shared criminal secret, since Crystal seems several slices short of a full loaf. Indeed, her reliably bad judgment and uncontrollable behavior look to be a worse threat to the duo’s mutual safety than anything external. When they meet a third party, she’s bound to recklessly turn any potential benefit into a worsening of their desperate straits.
In short, Crystal is an exasperating half-wit the movie fails to make into a more complex character; and Leo’s ex, Terry (Kit Gwin), turns out to be no winner, either. This doesn’t make much sense given the apparently grounded, focused tilt Seimetz and thesp Audley lend his character. Why can’t/wouldn’t he do better?
But psychological realism isn’t “Sun’s” primary agenda. Still, it just about gets away with its shortcomings, thanks to a dislocative aesthetic fed by Jay Keitel’s restive 16mm lensing, David Lowery’s impressionistic cutting, and sparsely utilized but effective original music. Seimetz takes advantage of the eccentric cultural/natural landscape of central Florida to vivid effect, gets impressive if seldom endearing work from her actors, and seems very much in charge of an assertive if not always explicable presentation.
Reviewed at San Francisco Independent Film Festival, Feb. 16, 2013. (Also in 2012 AFI, SXSW film festivals.) Running time: 80 MIN.
Directed, written by Amy Seimetz. Camera (color, 16mm-to-HD), Jay Keitel; editor, David Lowery; music, Ben Lovett, John Garland; production designer, Lanie Faith Marie Overton; sound, Pete Horner; sound designer, Ben Huff; assistant director, Michael Wilson.
Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Kentucker Audley, A.J. Bowen, Kit Gwin, Mark Reeb, Gregory G. Schmidt, John Athanason.