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Sun Choke (2015)
Director: Ben Cresciman
Genre: Drama
XLrator Media

Synopsis: A troubled young woman is subjected to strange treatments while developing a dangerous obsession with a stranger.

Overview: Fans with their eye on a festival horror roundup have been anticipating the streaming release of Sun Choke for quite some time. This art house gem is gorgeous to look at with with its sterile, clean white palette and hazy dream-like sequences. Sarah Hagan plays Janie, a woman who may be suffering from an undisclosed mental health issue and recovering from a psychotic break. You might remember her as Millie, the well-meaning and awkward religious friend from Freaks and Geeks. Surprisingly, she looks much the same employing her lanky posture and far-off look to emphasize the eeriness of her character. Hagan’s performance is strong throughout and she grows in confidence and intensity to a sizzling tension. She consistently holds an air of quietly crazed indecision, capturing the instinctual fear of the unpredictable and misunderstood. There is a struggle to consistently view her with empathy as her decisions become more dangerous and erratic and she strangely appears all the more calm for it.

Barbara Crampton falters playing the ghoulish quasi-therapist and nanny Irma, employing bizarre holistic treatments for Janie’s supposed well-being. Not all of Irma’s techniques are spacey, it’s obvious she is not exempt from the pull to be a smoothie-drinking, yoga-posing rich elite. She fancies herself a real martyr for Janie’s sake and her treatments frequently cross the line into abuse. She speaks almost in riddles, delivering villainous one-liners, alluding to past wrongs Janie’s committed and the risk of losing all the “progress” that’s been made. Progress from what is not really clear, and maybe not even necessary; nothing is very clear in Sun Choke. It’s unclear what Janie suffers from, and it’s unclear why and how Irma is allowed to “care” for her.

Besides Irma’s treatment of Janie, boundaries are crossed in all aspects of the film. Once she is permitted to leave the house, Janie’s obsession with Savannah (Sara Malakul Lane) skips the curious phase altogether and moves straight into peeping tom territory. Viewers will want to check around every corner to ensure a lurker isn’t slinking about and think twice about leaving their spare keys under flower pots. Witnessing Janie’s treatments, specifically her weird tuning fork-induced seizures, is uncomfortable at best and heartbreaking at worst, regardless of what twist of fate got her there in the first place.

Despite its dark themes, it can’t be overstated how clean and bright this film is. This makes the gruesome imagery even more disturbing whether it is fetal birds in broken eggs or blood splattered across a blank white wall. Though minimal for most of the film, the violence seems  more visceral and harder to swallow. Sun Choke isn’t the kind of movie you put on at a party. It’s a slow burn through someone’s mind through a foggy lens, the viewing of which is marred by big fat question marks that some viewers will find difficult to ignore. At times it feels like a bold experimental move for writer and director Ben Cresciman with more attention paid to mood and atmosphere than anything else. For some, this will be its greatest strength. Those who came for the mysteriously vague plot will likely stay for Hagan’s impressive and quiet performance. New ground isn’t ever really broken, and any intended messages might be too garbled to make out, but art house fans should appreciate and take advantage of the chance to view such a film on Netflix.

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