Amy Seimetz’s debut feature Sun Don’t Shine conveys a brilliant mental space that is at once both familiar and unfamiliar. The film portrays the irritability brought on by inescapable summer heat, the heavy hazy air that makes everything seem hopeless and stupid and nasty, and a scientifically proven phenomenon that reportedly explains the rise in violent crime during the summer. Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Leo (Kentucker Audley) are stuck in an overheating car on a road trip to the Everglades, but this isn’t an exhilarating couple’s getaway—these folks are on the run. Sure, the summer heat can make us do crazy things, but in the case of Crystal and Leo that also includes murder.
Few details are provided about the origins of their unfortunate predicament, though the film slowly reveals that Crystal killed her husband in a fit of rage and is now receiving the assistance of her boyfriend Leo to dump the body in the swamp. The two have planned separate alibis for their trip in Florida in order to give the impression that they didn’t run away together. It’s up to Leo to ensure the slow-witted, easily emotional Crystal doesn’t screw it up, which she does repeatedly, for seemingly no reason other than poor impulse control. Leo plans to stay at an old girlfriend’s place for the night, while Crystal is supposed to camp out in a nearby park. She can’t keep away out of jealousy, though, ruining one of many intricacies in their not-so-perfect getaway.
The couple appears inherently doomed; their fate, along with their agitated states are partially why many critics have compared Sun Don’t Shine with the noir genre. What this film does better than most noirs, however, is elucidate an all-absorbing atmosphere that is at once stifling and frustrating. Sun Don’t Shine isn’t truly about its narrative elements. It’s not all that interested in the outcome of the corpse or their successful escape. The film focuses instead on the dynamic between Crystal and Leo: strained, uncommunicative and at times, explosive. The film captures their mental prisons perfectly through the claustrophobic presence of the heat with its sun-soaked cinematography and its characters’ sweat-and-mud-stained skin, recalling the formal touches of the opening to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.
The film ends up feeling more like an experience than a story; fortunately it works better as the former than the latter, anyway. Yet there are tiny non-sequitur details about the two characters that become easily hardwired in the brain, and it’s to Seimetz’s credit as screenwriter that the film remains so unforgettable. The voiceover shares snippets of their throwaway conversations non-diegetically, revealing the intimacy of a trip that is too long to show onscreen in real-time. Crystal shares several lackadaisical anecdotes that expose a tragic undercurrent beyond her current troubles; some are about childhood, others about a pipe dream of a future. The way Leo sullenly ignores her as she relates a tedious story about a co-worker stealing her lipstick—with that kind of overdetailed explanation that would prompt a “Cool story, bro” response—is particularly mesmerizing, especially as Crystal tries increasingly harder and harder to regain his attention as the two sit around at a bar. She eventually succeeds in making him smile. Oh, the things we do for love.
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