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Sun Choke (2015)

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Janie's just trying to get well.

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Cast

Cast overview:
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Janie
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Savannah
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Irma
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Boyfriend
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Attacker
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Officer Olson
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Janie's Dad
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Young Janie
Diana Nguyen ...
Paramedic
Derek Bevil ...
Paramedic
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Savannah's Friend
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Storyline

As she recovers from a recent violent psychotic break, Janie (Hagan) is subjected each day to a bizarre holistic health and wellness regimen designed, and enforced, by her lifelong nanny and caretaker, Irma (Crampton). Janie begins to veer off the road to recovery when she develops an obsession with a young woman, Savannah (Lane), that Janie feels an inexplicable yet profound connection to. The obsession turns increasingly invasive, and wedges all three women into an ever-tightening, and terrifying struggle for control. Will Janie pull herself back from the precipice of insanity? Or will she go over head-first, taking anyone nearby down with her? Written by Lodger Films

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5 August 2016 (USA)  »

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1.85 : 1
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Sun Choke. It took my Breath Away.
15 November 2016 | by (Canada) – See all my reviews

Firstly, if you: Considered Lynch's "Lost Highway" / "Mulholland Drive" or Lyne's "9 ½ Weeks" to be pointless, plot less & boring drivel in any way; Prefer reading cereal boxes over poetry any day; Think that anything not plot driven is pretentious;

Then: This one's not for you. Move on and spare us from yet another barrage of unwarranted "Boring" and "Goes Nowhere" posts and reviews identical to all those that litter every independent film's page.

For the more adventurous viewer: Ben Cresciman's "Sun Choke" has absolutely no clear-cut links with the aforementioned films—they're the better-known examples that readily came to mind--but if you enjoyed some aspects of those, then the story-telling mode employed here will definitely not feel alien to you or be an obstacle to the film's many appealing qualities.

And no, being a fan of poetry is not necessary, but keep in mind that this film, like a fine poem, demands a certain degree of patience, receptivity, and abandon if the viewer is to reflect any meaning upon the prudently crafted images that play upon our senses; if anything, this film positively drips sensuality, though one that never draws its potency from sexuality/eroticism albeit the actual, eye-appealing nudity, which there's plenty of.

Of course, composition and framing are a big part of Cresciman's success in that respect, but it is in fact, contrary to most who've dealt with such a subject, the use of a highly-curtailed palette that moves heavily towards light and limited contrasts, rather than darkness, that establishes him as someone with a clear intent and a firm control over his medium; this alone is a refreshing change for the genre. Combine this with remarkable, understated performances and the overall effect hypnotizes as it seeks to quietly unsettle. Barbara Crampton discreetly gives life to a character none of us would want in our lives even if no one can satisfactorily explain why, and images of Sarah Hagan, who plays the unstable lead hauntingly, will surely linger in your mind for some time.

Despite all that, I don't entirely feel comfortable limiting Sun Choke's scope to art house or character study. Certainly, exploration is a big part of it, but not in any narrowly definable way; suggesting it's an examination of lunacy and control dynamics (as seen through the interplay of three women) Is entirely accurate, but also feels deeply lacking. Still, even if blurred, narrative and genre are patently excluded from this examination. So, why have I avoided discussing the story line up to now?

Well, at this point, I'm assuming you've already read at least one synopsis and my goal isn't to tell you the story—the film does that— but to help you decide whether you should invest time and attention watching it. For that reason, and the fact that I sincerely believe that the story presented is so dull it doesn't even warrant mention, I strongly encourage anyone who's not put off by anything I've mentioned so far to forgo any attempts to learn more re the plot until you've given it at least one view.

Despite what's being said, all the story elements are there; we don't need anything more. Sure, our mind, preoccupied with the details, seeks answers and is left unsatisfied. That's our problem, not the filmmaker's, for the story is that banal and can't be improved with details. Accept it. In a way, it's similar to Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream", which presented nothing but the clichés associated with an already overdone subject,but did so by focusing on a slew of fresh technical aspects, the sum of which gave us something that felt so very new.

Here, through Cresciman's work, we're granted a highly intimate and revealing view of insanity, one that lets us access new feelings, but only if the viewer willingly accepts that uncertainty vis-à-vis reality along with a marked irrationality (i.e. unjustifiability of actions) are part and parcel of psychosis… Isn't madness to absolutely want to apply logic where none can be had?

Nonetheless, those desperately seeking to piece together, and cling to, some deep, hidden meaning have plenty to work with—all the elements are there for that as well—though I suspect you'll never find satisfaction if taking that route.

Is "Sun Choke" the result a fluke, or does it herald a new, bona fide artistic force? I, for one, am anxiously looking forward to Ben Cresciman's next project.


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