Sun Don’t Shine, the feature film directorial debut by hardworking and talented independent film actress Amy Seimetz, is a hazy, semi-trippy road movie that takes us through some of the backwaters and chintzy tourist towns of Florida. It tells the story of two lovers, Crystal and Leo, who are on the run from something, arguing and discussing their relationship as they crisscross the highways and sun baked roads in their 1990’s era car. Crystal, played by Kate Lyn Sheil, seems to be like a once new and majestic porcelain doll who had the misfortune of being manhandled by sadistic children during its whole existence. Stress is biological time-travel, aging us at speeds that NASA can only understand with the most scientific of instruments. Crystal is also prone to fits of extreme jealousy and chastises her lover Leo (Kentucker Audley) for amorous hook-ups, probably both real and imagined. Leo is not above using casual physical and verbal abuse on Crystal, who seems to be a magnet for such behavior. When we first meet the two, they are throwing each other around in the marshes the way two children imitate a wrestling match between Bob Backlund and Superfly Snuka.
Seimetz gets to showcase her talents as both writer and director in this low-budget movie. The plot is something you have seen in those old black and white movies on late night television, or read in the great crime novels of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Seimetz, however, doesn’t focus on whatever crime has been committed and we only get the brief lurid details in a conversation between two characters. Instead, Seimetz the writer and director, shows how this event has affected the two and their relationship. This doesn’t make it any less tense, as I kind of got the feeling that both Crystal and Leo were no strangers to violence and it was not something they were appalled by. People on the fringe only need a nudge to be shoved into the darkness and, sometimes, they aren’t too resistant against the push. Giving in to what they may see as inevitable is sometimes easier than scraping by, living off the leftovers of regular citizens.
There is a particularly well shot and tense scene when a passerby (AJ Bowen) pulls off the highway to offer Crystal and Leo assistance, as their cranky shitbox refuses to drive unless it gets more water. Audley and Bowen play the scene very well and it enables the tension to build without the need of ADD editing or the swelling of ominous music as if a gilled monster with sharp claws was rising out of a bubbling swamp. Bowen’s character is one of those over friendly guys you may meet on line at a store. He is the dude that feels like they have to tell you half their life story just because they let you cut in front of them. If this jerk’s life was so interesting his bestselling bio would be sold next to the tabloid newspapers claiming Elvis was spotted flipping burgers in an Oregon greasy spoon. No thanks, guy. I appreciate the offer, but I will stay behind you and please, do me a favor, annoy the sap in front of you who doesn’t understand that if you wipe your ass with the outside of your shorts you are supposed to wash them before you put them back on and hit K-Mart. You can see the tension on Audley’s face as Bowen tries to assess the vehicle’s situation, asking if there are jumper cables in the trunk because, you know, the same thing happened to him and he lost out on a real estate sale. You can almost feel the knots in Leo’s stomach as he does his best to politely send Bowen away.
Kate Lyn Sheil gets her moments to shine as the used up, pushed around Crystal. When we first see her she is childlike, saying things and staring out the car window in silence the way a nine year old girl may do. Crystal admits that when people first meet her they think her stupid because she is quiet. However, we learn that this is not the case. Crystal is never going to split the atom in a science lab, but she is not a silent dullard relegated to watching daytime soaps as she draws pictures of Barney the Dinosaur on the backs of take out menus. She is a battle scarred veteran of life’s wars. Crystal is to be pitied, but her feelings of jealousy make her a threat to Leo and herself. Those we can sympathize with sometimes are the most dangerous of monsters.
The cinematography by Jay Keitel adds to the unorthodox structure of the picture. The movie seems to have been shot completely by hand held cameras. This can be a distraction sometimes, but there are enough inventive camera angles and shots that it keeps the audience off balance and interested. I especially like the scenes inside the car as they are driving and searching for answers as if they were located on a road map. The camera always seems to manage to pick up the sun and its harsh light shining on the two as if it wants to either investigate them or perhaps show them the way out of their mess. The sparse score by Ben Lovett sometimes seems to conjure up faint memories of Carl Orff’s Gassenhauer used in Malick’s Badlands.
I didn’t find the film to be completely free of faults. It runs barely 90 minutes and it still drags in certain parts as it seems they make pit stops simply to have one more disjointed conversation about their relationship and the predicament they find themselves in and who is to blame. I found myself thinking that I would just like them to stop mumbling to each other and get to where they need to be. I think this is a minor quibble and Seimetz should be commended for writing and directing a film that makes an oft told story seem fresh and new. I will eagerly await the next film she directs.