Downcountry Pale: Sun Don't Shine 

SUNDONTSHINE_Kate-Lyn-Sheil.jpg

Sun Don't Shine
Directed by Amy Seimetz

“Will you please just act normal?” the on-edge man behind the wheel pleads to the restless naïf riding shotgun. They’re on the lam, though neither of them appears cunning enough to stay under the radar for long. Writer-director Seimetz—cast by Shane Carruth as the lead of Upstream Color partly on the strength of this feature debut—opens the film with a thrashing-limbs skirmish between Leo (Kentucker Audley) and Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil), scrambling about in some water puddled next to their parked Oldsmobile, the camera tossing around as if caught in the tumult. We soon learn that Leo has a gun in the glove compartment and won’t let Crystal use the payphone, but it also emerges that she’s left a husband and child behind to be with him. She’s not on the road against her will, as it initially seems—turns out she might have something to do with that garbage-bagged body they’re planning to dump in the Everglades.

A thriller of sorts with an atmosphere of threadbare foreboding, Sun Don’t Shine follows the central couple as they sputter through the outskirts of Tampa, where Leo hides Crystal away, hoping to secure an out-of-town alibi by visiting a former fling (Kit Gwin). The drifting, shallow-focus scenes surrounding this intended seduction are sharply choreographed, with a sullen Leo first brushing off Crystal’s hey-stranger role-play overtures at a local dive, then facing full-on revulsion at the prospect of picking up with the older bartender. As the reluctant outlaws’ plan threatens to unravel, Seimetz sidles up closer to Crystal’s perspective, registering the mixed-up impressions of a woman who’s been repeatedly backed into corners and written off as dumb.

The main players on both sides of the camera—Seimetz (a veteran of multiple Swanbergs), Audley (director of Open Five, also featuring Seimetz) and Sheil (most recently seen moping through Somebody Up There Likes Me)—might be members of the mumblecorps, but Sun Don’t Shine calls to mind material from well outside the borders of that often-insular microbudget milieu. The 80-minute two-hander’s focus is decidedly small-scale, but it does key in to a more expansive fractured-hopes dimension, the Sunshine State having long appeared as a cesspool of crackpot schemes in both headline news and literary fiction, which has been dredging up Southeastern scuzz at least since Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Seimetz’s film has a bit of the flavor of O’Connor’s Southern-gothic story while also harking back to shoestring filmmaking of an earlier era (Malick’s Badlands, Barbara Loden’s Wanda) in its throttling tragedy of circumstance. But the psychological underpinnings don’t feel the least bit derivative—Audley and the haunted-looking Sheil convey the queasy desperation of wading through a world both too delicate and too brutal for words.

Opens April 26

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