What a Choke
Writer/director Ben Crescimen has made a very unusual psychological thriller in his latest film, "Sun Choke." At least that's what I think it is. Crescimen leaves us in the dark through most of it, which can be a very effective strategy. However, other things, like a coherent plot or a clue as to what is driving its central characters need be present if he wants to make it past the "novelty" stage. Neither can be found here and the result is a wandering semi-story that never quite works.
Janie (Sarah Hagan) is a young woman living in a house also occupied by Irma (Barbara Crampton), who is about the age to be a parent of Janie, but their relationship is so unclear for so long that it becomes a bit grating. Janie is at the very least, incredibly hesitant about everything. It's also possible that she is a survivor of a psychotic break. Whatever it is, Irma functions as Janie's caretaker, parent, disciplinarian and psychiatrist and part of the treatment involves keeping Janie a prisoner in the house.
It turns out that Irma used to be Janie's nanny. Why it is necessary to withhold this information from the audience for so long is entirely unclear, though perhaps leaving the audience guessing about the relationship is part of Crescimen's strategy? What is worse is that we are never clearly told why the ex-nanny is now in charge of the young lady. What this accomplishes is to make us try and figure out everything without at least dropping a few clues. How can we judge the value of what we are watching if we don't know why these two women are even in this house, together?
What Crescimen does show us is that Irma bombards Janie with a shopping list long series of exercises that appear to be nonsensical and punitive beyond reason, although we never get all of the details, keeping with the notion that we must be told as little as possible. The one clear certainty is that whatever is wrong with Janie, Irma isn't all there, either. Janie lives in fear and Irma exploits Janie's fears, further pounding Janie down.
Despite Irma's dominance, she allows Janie to finally leave the house. Why she finally allows it makes as little sense as everything that came before it. Outside, she meets and becomes obsessed with Savannah (Sara Malakul Lane), a woman she meets on her adventure outside. Again, I'm not sure why.
"Sun Choke" might mean something incredibly deep and profound, but if it does, I confess that it flew right past me. It's okay to have a few missing parts in a plot, but when you feel like you're reading one out of every four words in an essay, filling in the gaps is more frustrating than fun. By making it so indecipherable, Crescimen has effectively choked the life out of his own project.