“Sun Choke” is certainly not for everyone. It’s an intentionally ambiguous, atmospheric little horror film that only gets more thoroughly unpleasant as it goes along.
Sarah Hagan, best known as supporting character Millie on “Freaks and Geeks,” stars as Janie, a troubled young woman trying to recover from some unseen horrific incident that caused a total psychotic break. Horror legend Barbara Crampton (“Re-Animator,” “From Beyond“) plays her live-in caretaker Irma, and subjects Janie to a rather strange holistic regimen as a means of getting better.
For the most part, Janie is not permitted to leave her home in the Hollywood Hills, but when she starts making some progress, Irma lets her out for a couple hours a day, and that’s when things get really strange. In this free time, Janie develops a dangerous obsession with a random woman and everything soon spirals out of control.
“Sun Choke” would be nothing without its lead performances — Hagan is spectacular in her first real leading role, and fans of “Freaks and Geeks” will be overjoyed to see her playing so against type. She is equal parts unsettling and sympathetic, as we gradually learn more and more about her past traumas and why acts the way that she does. Barbara Crampton, who recently starred in 2011’s excellent “You’re Next,” delivers a more subtle but equally gripping performance as her overbearing caretaker, and the chemistry between the two is outstanding.
There’s nothing supernatural or other-worldly here — the horror is all psychological and practical. At times, it feels like a voyeuristic stalker thriller akin to “Maniac,” and others it’s a purely hypnotic, visually stimulating and dreadful nightmare like something out of David Lynch’s ouvre. The excellent, mood-setting score properly accents all the dread, hitting the crescendos at just the right moment for maximum effect.
There’s a surreal, dreamlike quality that coats the film that helps make things more mysterious and compelling. For a film that gets so ugly, it’s surprisingly nice to look at — cinematographer Matthew Rudenberg and director Ben Cresciman bathe the film in sunlight and totally master the use of the ethereal.
Plot details and background information are purposefully vague — the movie is really about Janie’s mental breakdown and what happens as result of it. As she dives deeper into her psychosis, the real horror begins, and it’s not afraid to go there. Things get bloody.
“Sun Choke” is a film that horror fans will love, but that general audiences might not have the patience for. It’s an abstract, psychological headtrip anchored by great performances and some truly cringeworthy, gory moments.
Check out the trailer below.
“Sun Choke” just had its world premiere at the Stanley Film Festival, release date TBA.
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