Sun Choke Movie Review
Written by Becky Roberts
Directed and directed by Ben Cresciman
2015, 90 minutes, Not yet rated.
Screened at Frightfest 2015 on 29th August
Sarah Hagan as Janie
Barbara Crampton as Irma
Sara Malakul Lane as Savannah
Janie (Sarah Hagan) is mentally ill, and with her mother gone and her dad working overseas, it’s up to her childhood nanny Irma (Barbara Crampton) to cure her psychosis and ‘help’ regain normality through her unorthodox treatment programme – a lifestyle-dominating series of bizarre rituals and wellness exercises. But the road to recovery is compromised when she’s let out of the house and stumbles upon a young woman that she instantly feels an inexplicable connection to. When curiosity turns to obsession, things spiral down a dangerous, violent path and the three women’s entangled lives hang in the balance of Janie’s wavering stability. Can she find a way back or will she make everything around her crash and burn?
And you wondered if Sun Choke might be about a killer funny-looking vegetable… (the film title’s reference to the edible sunflower root is, supposedly, metaphorical, but that’s down to you to work out).
Ben Cresciman’s psychological horror is intriguing from the off as we are introduced to the two women’s abnormal, complicated relationship and peculiar circumstance – it’s an intrigue that undercurrents the entire film, never waning.
Ultimately, Sun Choke asks more questions that it can answer: what led to her break? What did she do? Why is she left to Irma’s questionable devices? Context is only teased in the sparse dialogue and you spend the best part of 90 minutes waiting for a big reveal, even a clue of some kind, that never comes.
The fragmented, multi-layered narrative – as it skips back and forth from flashbacks to her current condition – is an obvious metaphor for Janie’s mindset, but narratively its disjointedness is hard to follow; not only are the pieces of jigsaw not put together, but you get the feeling that the puzzle is an incomplete one in the first place.
Still, run with Sun Choke’s unashamed ambiguity and there’s a disturbing, twisted tale to enjoy – not to mention inspiring cinematography to gawp at (its dreamlike, sunny disposition is remarkably at odds with its narrative mood, but works) and interesting characters nuttier than a fruitcake.
Hagan’s breakout performance is a highlight; how she balances Janie’s outwardly quiet, childlike demeanour and the sinister, off-the-wall alter ego that surfaces is spellbinding, forcing your feelings to flicker between sympathy and disgust. As we already know, Crampton is the perfect woman for a character as cold, brutal and unhinged as Irma.
Sun Choke won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but you have to give Cresciman credit; it’s a unique spectacle that shocks and frightens, and has a way of staying with you long after the credits have stopped rolling.