The employment of non-linear, disconnected voiceover has been so thoroughly bound up with the films of Terrence Malick for such a long time that the first reaction of most upon hearing it used by people other than Terence Malick is usually to accuse its user of plagiarism (of style, at the very least). Amy Seimetz, no doubt fully aware of the baggage that this technique comes bundled with, uses it so well that any and all similarities to its revered master quickly recede, allowing us to appreciate just how effective it becomes in her capable hands. This has been a pretty good year for Seimetz, who’s probably going to be most well known for co-starring in Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color. Although, to me anyway, this work will be able to stand well enough on its own.
We meet Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Leo (Kentucker Audley) in the middle of a fight in the middle of a mud puddle in the middle of nowhere in Southern Florida. The ferocity and unpredictability of Crystal is pretty well established by the time the opening credits start to roll, Ms. Sheil excellently imbuing her character with the air of a trapped animal. Leo, on the other hand, presents himself to us as almost totally passive, grief-stricken, and resigned. The two are on the lam, heading South to the Everglades in a barely functioning sedan and generally not getting along that well. It’s fairly obvious that, aside from any sensational criminal naughtiness involved, Seimetz is chiefly interested in exploring the way these two characters act toward each other while under duress.
Another element of this film that draws ready comparison to Malick (although by no means is it primarily his domain) is the use of nature as a character. The washed out, sun-bleached and generally gritty environment of Florida is as much a driving force in the action of the film as the two frantic leads. We’re treated to a smattering of sometimes lengthy, rhapsodic shots of the open road and the strangely empty looks on Crystal and Leo’s faces while the previously mentioned voiceovers slowly coalesce into a discernible narrative. The timing at play here is crucial, as Seimetz only makes things clear when she feels they matter.
The dreamlike quality of many of Sun Don’t Shine’s scenes provides a stark contrast to the utterly grotesque vagaries of which its two troubled main characters are capable. One particularly otherworldly moment of calm is furnished by Crystal’s unlawful entry into an underwater retelling of The Little Mermaid care of some uncannily offputting mermaids at a ramshackle theme park just off the highway, deftly intercut with some truly ghastly shit Leo’s getting into down the river. Crystal and Leo’s unsavory activities may provide the framework upon which Seimetz builds her laconic and meandering tale, but it’s their interaction that allows it to truly fly.
Amy Seimetz has crafted something truly beautiful and tonally intriguing with this film. Managing to hold together a story with as few direct instances of dialogue as possible is no mean feat, and the attempt often lends itself to ruin and self-parody. If her debut is any indication, we can look forward to a challenging new voice in contemporary American cinema. And, with the backing of someone like Shane Carruth, who produced Sun Don’t Shine, she just might have the wherewithal to craft a decent number of these inventive and refreshing films.