By Steve Greene | Criticwire April 26, 2013 at 12:10PM
Amy Seimetz' "Sun Don't Shine" is one of two new additions to our Criticwire list of the Best Reviewed Movies of the Year so far. Clocking in at an "A-" average, the film also placed at the top of our Best Undistributed Film category of our year-end 2012 poll. But aside from the Indiewire-specific accolades, there's another similarity amidst the feedback to Seimetz' debut. Many reviews focus on the themes of memory and regret in the plot, and nearly all of them touch on the film's palpable sensory appeal.
The story unfolds with a meticulous structure. Vital narrative insights are withheld until after the multiple reels have passed. As a result, the accompanying actions and character choices are punctuated by strong audiovisual aides. (It's a filmmaking style that had a handful of critics drawing comparisons to Terrence Malick -- not too shabby for a movie from a first-time filmmaker.) Even though the audience can only see and hear the proceedings, many of the film's supporters have noted how the specified, heightened approach feels like it spills over into the other three.
The film opens with a jolt to the eardrums, with sound preceding the first image. From there, as the plot unfolds, there are a handful of carefully edited montages that dispense key character insight via voiceover. But perhaps most importantly, there are sequences that unfold largely in silence, where the absence of sound brings faces and reactions into clearer focus.
Cullen Gallagher, Filmmaker Magazine - "We hear it before we see it. A sharp, resounding slap jumps out from the soundtrack. Milliseconds later, the first jittery, violent, sweaty images of Amy Seimetz’s 'Sun Don’t Shine' flash across the screen."
The tension between the central couple, Crystal and Leo, is largely driven by the type and frequency of contact that they make. That opening scene features an altercation that sets up the dynamic between the two, one that remains uneasy through moments of intimacy and paranoia. Even though their communication is driven by their willingness to embrace each other physically and emotionally, there are cinematic forces greater than them at work: Nearly all of the reviews for the film reference the scorching environment of the southeast.
Jesse Klein, IONCINEMA - "'Sun Don't Shine' seethes with an intensity that burns through its characters' eyeballs, through the Florida heat they're trapped in, through the love they need but can't fully understand."
This one is perhaps the biggest stretch, since any perceived sense of taste is likely an extension of touch. But aside from the anecdote mentioned below, the sense of taste also provides a curious overlap between "Sun Don't Shine" and a film in which Seimetz recently starred, "Upstream Color." At one point in Shane Carruth's film, Seimetz' character is informed, "The water before you is somehow special. It is better than anything you have ever tasted." While this is likely more coincidence than connection, it's interesting to see her and Carruth exploring these thematic ideas in their own distinct ways.
Chase Whale, Twitch - "There's a small scene in 'Sun Don't Shine' that keeps playing over in my head. A woman is telling a story about the time she was making a pizza and almost burned her house down. She mixed her prescribed sleeping pills with wine and passed out during the aforementioned pizza-making. Hours later, she woke up to a smoke-filled house...[in her mind], it's in no way her fault that the sleeping pills made her fall asleep, resulting in a non-edible pizza and near non-existent house."
Once again, this sense is as important for what isn't perceptible as what is. Bruises, scars and wounds all play into critical moments, both real and imagined. But when narrative-altering decisions are made based off assumptions that don't come from direct visual evidence, the result is a shift in the story's balance of power. Seimetz' direction, along with Jay Keitel's camerawork and David Lowery's editing, function in much the same way. By toying with the film's chronology, they also keep the audience's allegiances on uneasy footing.
Jake Cole, Spectrum Culture - "Elsewhere, though, the shots bounce around in darts: a close-up that picks up on the way ratty windshield wipers merely rearrange rain drops instead of sweeping them aside, or a craning look up from the floorboard of the driver’s seat that fixates on the way a steering wheel’s hand grips make it look like a toothed gear in a machine."
There's a particular detail that goes largely unreferenced in reviews of the film, most likely to appease those looking to avoid plot specifics. But it does indeed center around a strong smell that pops up as the driving mystery is slowly unfurled. Combine that with the aforementioned heat of the environs and the fact that the source of said smell is never fully shown (continuing the trend of sensory deprivation) and you have a set of details designed to prod your imagination even further.
If this all seems a little vague, it's almost certainly by design. Seimetz delivers a certain tantalizing ambiguity that persists all the way through the final line of the film. As a result, it's difficult to delve into plot specifics for those who haven't had a chance to absorb those sensory accompaniments. As the above excerpts can attest, any satisfaction comes from experiencing it for yourself.
"Sun Don't Shine" is now available in select cities and on VOD.