Sun Choke, 2015
Written and directed by Ben Cresciman
Starring Sarah Hagan, Barbara Crampton, Sara Malakul Lane
Janie’s just trying to get well.
Sun Choke is a movie that questions the very idea of nature vs. nurture. It’s a brutally honest movie with two incredible central performances, and a gripping narrative that won’t let go until its conclusion.
Sarah Hagan, perhaps best known as the church-going Millie from cult TV show Freaks & Geeks, gives a career making performance as Janie – a confused young woman who seems unsure within her own body. The movie tells us that something bad has happened to Janie in the past, and so her step mother (an equally spellbinding Barbara Crampton) has kept her captive in her own home as a way to rehabilitate her. But when Janie is finally allowed to venture into the real world, her true character fully comes to light.
What makes Sun Choke such a brilliant movie is that, like last year’s The Babadook, director Ben Cresciman tows the line of fact versus fiction without guiding the viewer too much into either direction. Is Janie unhinged because of her step-mother’s bizarre upbringing and parenting methods, or are seemingly cruel tactics a necessary evil to contain Janie’s madness? There’s never a clear answer to either point and it make Sun Choke a naturally gripping film.
As stated earlier, Hagan is simply sublime in this movie, providing a quiet yet commanding performance that equally skirts round insanity just as the director does misdirection. When she’s on screen, you simply cannot take your eyes off her. And if you’ve known her in the past as Freaks & Geek’s Millie, this will be a truly eye opening portrayal. But she is nearly matched – but not quite – by the legendary Crampton as her stepmother.
It’s also important to note that the movie features little-to-no male characters. Janie’s father is mentioned but rarely seen (another possible plot point that’s brilliantly never fully explored) and there is a single man whom Janie takes a fancy too one night, but the story is focused on female relationships, both platonic and paternal. Horror as a genre has always had a bum rap from the general masses as a medium that hates women (which is frankly untrue), and it’s really refreshing to see a movie like Sun Choke not be afraid to centre a film around female issues. It’s not the first of course, but it’s nice none the less. Even in its moments that could be seen as exploitative, Sun Choke is always mature and responsible – something that cannot be said for other films at the festival like Landmine Goes Click.
But even taking that away, Sun Choke is a brilliant movie that should be seen by as many people as possible. As a film, this hits the mark on every level, but as a form of pure entertainment perhaps Sun Choke has a couple of pacing issues (this is why Flickering Myth has the best rating system in the world). But with two brilliant central performances and a captivating narrative, Sun Choke is an exceptional piece of cinema and one that will stick with you for days on end.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.