Imagine I wrote a review of this fantastic movie that you just absolutely had. to. see., but in describing it I only referred to the characters by the first names of the actors playing them, used the exact opposite punctuation each of my sentences would normally call for (“This was a very innovative film?”), and, once I was finished, went back and redacted, at random, twenty percent of everything I had written, and presented that as my finished review. Or: If the actual Ring video from The Ring were expanded to 80 minutes in length, and Paul Thomas Anderson (he of There Will Be Blood and Magnolia) were given the director’s chair—the end result would be a series of extremely unsettling and artfully constructed images and sounds that, taken individually, are all expertly composed and affecting but, on the whole, make for a confusing and overall incoherent mess. Take either of the above two hypotheticals, and you have about the best summation I can manage for the indy horror/melodrama/psychological suspense/WTF-fest Sun Choke from writer/director Ben Cresciman. This is a film that defies conventions of how you should or should not present a narrative through film, sometimes to great effect, and sometimes, well… not so much. This is the story of a young woman, Margot (Sarah Hagan – dorky Millie from Freaks and Geeks!), who for mysterious reasons is constantly under the watchful eye and health regimen of a Stepford Wife-like cheery lady (Barbara Crampton), a woman we at first assume is her mother, but who later is revealed to be Margot’s psychologist (or at least her doctor in some capacity). After achieving some level of success in whatever “progress” is being sought, the caregiver allows Margot the freedom to roam free outside the house. This new freedom, however, quickly leads Margot to become dangerously obsessed with another neighborhood woman, and things quickly get batshit crazy from there. (Side Note: I recommend watching this film, as I did, with the subtitles turned on. Normal explanatory text (i.e., “Classical Music Playing”) takes a more sinister turn in a movie like this. Early in the film, when Margot is using a blender in the kitchen to make herself some sort of protein shake, the accompanying closed caption crawl is “Grinding Noise”, which, damned if that didn’t creep me out for some reason.) The first two-thirds of the film follows the cycle of Margot going through her “regimen”, stalking her obsession in the neighborhood, then returning home to be punished for staying away past her “curfew” (rinse and repeat). And it’s all really just world building: showing us Margot’s day-to-day and this mysterious woman keeping her (seemingly) captive. With less capable actors and less assured camerawork, it would get boring, and quickly. But the film does a nice job of moving the overall story ahead just enough in each scene to keep us waiting for what comes next. Until the film’s final act, that is, when Margot decides she’s not a fan of new-age living anymore, and that simply watching the neighborhood girl from afar isn’t enough, and the whole thing just turns to something like torture porn. I have nothing specifically against the merits of movies like Saw or Hostel (or, rather, I do, but that’s an entirely different discussion), but from the moment Margot engages in a single act of brutally excessive violence, the movie becomes an entirely different film than what we started with; and it’s an unearned turn. As viewers, we can understand what brings Margot to the door of her soon-to-be victim, and we can even understand why he lets her in and how she gets him into a compromising position. But from the moment she picks up a large rock and completely changes the film’s trajectory, narrative congruity goes straight out the window. And the reason it doesn’t work—and, on the whole, it doesn’t, at all—is because while we have been given small snippets of information regarding Margot’s past, we don’t have nearly enough to fully understand, or appreciate, her turn. There is, in the last ten minutes or so, a short, jarringly out-of-place monologue that attempts to explain her motivations to a degree, but it’s not nearly enough to justify the leap of faith the movie’s asked us to take—and indeed seems like after the first cut of the movie, someone realized the film had devolved into an incoherent mess, so they re-shot the final sequence. And that is the biggest problem. Because when the climax has passed and the credits are rolling, the viewer is left with the unmistakable truth that nothing in this film—none of the core characters’ motivations—has been adequately explained. There are creepy flashbacks of Margot in an institution of some sort, with some chilling accompanying imagery… but we never find out how she got out, or even why she was there in the first place. And one sequence of a mostly implied sexual assault could explain a lot of what motivates Margot, but it’s given no context: when did this happen? Where did it happen? And how—if it all—does it inform her existence of yoga by the pool? There is a school of thought, of course, that says less is more, that it’s better to ask the audience to fill in some blanks themselves than to hand-feed them everything. At the same time, though, leaving too many unanswered questions is just lazy storytelling—if you, as a filmmaker, don’t know where your characters came from or where they’re going, then why should I, as a viewer, care? But there are moments of quiet brilliance throughout. The health regimen activities Margot and her caretaker are engaging in aren’t “evil”, but there’s an undeniable tone of unmistakable foreboding that’s impossible to ignore—credit must be given for successfully accomplishing this throughout the movie’s less overtly horrific moments to the cast and cinematographer. Margot is forced to hold a yoga pose for a long period of time, and is told if she falls, “We have to start all over.” And at one point our yoga guru tells Margot “You look dehydrated,” and before the viewer really has a chance to fully form the thought: Wait, what does “dehydrated” look like?, Margot is being forced to drink an entire liter-sized bottle of water. It’s not violent. It’s not overtly malicious, but still…. And the majority of the film’s dark deeds take place in full light of day, which manages to make the violence and terror that occur at night seem even more evil. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the performances of all three principal actors are amazing. This isn’t a good enough movie overall to thrust her into the spotlight, but Sarah Hagan may have just punched her ticket to indy-horror stardom with a performance that perfectly conveys her character’s barely-there grasp on her own sanity. And Barbara Crampton is so convincing and so nuanced, that even when she literally puts a shock collar around Margot’s neck, we’re left to wonder if maybe she does, indeed, have the girl’s best interests at heart. Even Sara Malakul Lane’s stalking victim, in a role that in less capable hands would just be a horror movie paint-by-numbers pretty girl trope, brings humanity and spark to her performance. So, if you must see this movie, see it for the acting—see it for, once and if Sarah Hagan becomes any kind of famous, evidence of the role that gave her her big break. See it for the cinematography and sound work. See it for the mystery it builds and the questions it asks through the first 60 minutes or so. Just don’t see it expecting any of those questions to be answered. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.