We open with a gasp. Amy Seimetz’s feature directorial debut, Sun Don’t Shine, kicks off with its lead actress (Kate Lyn Sheil) fighting for breath under the blazing Florida sun, thanks to a knock-down-drag-out fight with her boyfriend (Kentucker Audley) in an empty slice of wetland far from any prying eyes. The two struggle in the mud and sand, until the scuffle is finally over and they resume driving far away from something very bad, very bad indeed. An understated take on the classic Bonnie and Clyde trope with a mumblecore vibe, Seimetz’s film centers on two runaway losers who need to get somewhere far from home – and fast.
While it’s fairly obvious from the start just what Crystal and Leo have done and why they are on the run, Seimetz clarifies things a bit with an impressive and unsettling dream sequence near the tail end of the film’s first act. The film could use more of that sort of thing, but Seimetz’s inclusion of said sequence signals her understanding of the mechanics of that kind of scene and the effect they have on an audience. Should Seimetz decide to direct again, she’d likely have success with a more straightforward thriller or even a horror flick, as she’s clearly got a handle on what to show and when to show it in order to gut-punch her audience.
Set in Seimetz’s native Florida, the film feels a bit like a fever dream, much of it thanks to the oppressive environment of Florida itself – a humid, sweaty, suffocating place prone to weird spats of violence that Seimetz wanted to explore. Composer Ben Lovett crafted the film’s deeply unsettling soundtrack by recording different music boxes, and then slowing down and picking apart the subsequent tracks. The result is recognizable songs turned sinister, complete with building tones, drones, and pulses. Paired with the film’s inhospitable environment, Lovett’s work adds significantly to the quietly freaky tone of the film.
Yet Seimetz’s film owes its greatest debt to an impressively unhinged performance by its lead actress. Kate Lyn Sheil has built up a solid body of work in independent features, and while her presence is generally welcome and a bit reserved, she’s reached a higher register in Sun Don’t Shine. Sheil has made her typically bright blue eyes go nearly dead in her role as Crystal, accompanying a deceptively blank face and slack jaw. While Audley’s Leo is initially the more energetic and aggressive one, Crystal is concealing a wealth of emotion and calculation, and the film is at its best when Sheil is at her most explosive and unpredictable.
The Upside: Creepy and freaky tone; Kate Lyn Sheil’s performance; Lovett’s score.
The Downside: It never quite capitalizes on its most tension-filled sequence, making much of its middle third feel like a woefully missed opportunity.