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“So much of horror takes place in darkness,” says Ben Cresciman, whose horror movie Sun Choke will debut next month at the Stanley Film Festival. “I bring that kind of story into the sunlight.”
The film centers on the mentally disturbed Janie, recovering in isolation under the close eye of her caretaker. When she’s released from her home, she forms a relationship with another young woman that becomes invasive and obsessive.
Cresciman centered his first horror film (marital drama Negative Space, which he wrote and directed) on loneliness, with inspiration from the “isolation and abandonment” he saw in “nanny kids” he knew growing up in Los Angeles.
“Loneliness is one of the most universal experiences, but people don’t think of it in terms of it being a terrifying experience. But there’s nothing for me more terrifying,” says Cresciman. “It’s about what happens when that loneliness meets the real world.”
He rejected jump scares in favor of “cultivating the atmosphere of dread” with Janie’s unpredictable psychoses. “Where the scares come from are what will be the next turn in this increasingly complicated relationship with her caretaker, and how her increasingly obsessive relationship with this new young woman she encounters drives her to deeper and more terrifying depths of invasiveness,” he says.
Playing Janie is Sarah Hagan, best known for supporting roles on Freaks and Geeks (the religious Millie Kentner) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (potential slayer Amanda). “People know her in a very particular way, and this is in every way a breakout performance for her. It was kind of remarkable to watch,” says Cresciman.
Barbara Crampton — a horror veteran with credits from Re-Animator and From Beyond to the recent You’re Next and Rob Zombie‘s The Lords of Salem — portrays the caretaker, while the upcoming Kickboxer remake’s Sara Malakul Lane plays Janie’s friend.
The title doesn’t directly refer to the vegetable (a sunchoke is an edible sunflower root), Cresciman tells The Hollywood Reporter. He says it’s metaphorical, but he won’t reveal its meaning. “I wrote those words on the page and had that moment of realization, this is the title,” he says.
Lodger Films and Easy Open produced the thriller. The filmmakers are currently looking for distribution.
THR has the exclusive first look at the trailer.
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