Sun Don't Shine: AFI Fest Review

Micro-budget constraints inspire a profitable focus on character and mood.

Intense performances characterize Amy Seimetz’s directorial debut about a married mom and her boyfriend on the run.

Actor-filmmaker Amy Seimetz (Medicine for Melancholy, Silver Bullets) pulls together her performance and producing experience on a string of indie releases to deliver this debut feature, an intense two-hander. Despite some rough around the edges production values, lead actors Kate Lyn Sheil and Kentucker Audley are intriguing enough to carry the slight, vaguely sinister narrative, making broadcast or VOD potential outlets.

On the run for mysterious reasons that become evident as the film unfolds, married mom Crystal (Sheil) and boyfriend Leo (Audley) desperately attempt to cross through the impossibly hot and humid region of central Florida to reach the Gulf Coast in a crappy sedan that’s constantly on the verge of breaking down.

Crystal is borderline hysterical the entire trip, alternating between despair at leaving her young daughter behind with her mother and passion -- begging Leo to pull over at the nearest motel so they can make love. For his part, her boyfriend grows increasingly aggravated with Crystal’s irrationality as he tries to coax the car as far as St. Petersburg while avoiding random encounters with law enforcement.

Their eventual arrival at the home of Leo’s attractive friend Teri (Kit Gwin) instantly inflames Crystal’s suspicions, as she accuses him of wanting to rekindle an old flame under the pretense of establishing an alibi in the event of uncertain future developments. With Crystal’s behavior threatening to expose the secret behind their clandestine trip, cracks begin to show in Leo’s façade of bravado as panic and heavy drinking begin to set in.

The trajectory of Seimetz’s script feels as oppressive as southern Florida’s summer heat, forcing the two characters into repeated rounds of confrontation and reconciliation. Since the action is fairly limited other than the couple’s road trip, Crystal and Leo’s dysfunctional relationship dynamics remain the focus of the film. Calling these characters flawed is a vast understatement – other than their shortcomings they have few distinguishing characteristics besides their misguided attachment to one another.

Both actors are fully vested in these challenging roles, although Sheil clearly remains the more committed. Even if her cycling emotional crises are revealing however, they’re sometimes exhausting to watch. Confronted by Crystal’s histrionics, filmmaker-actor Audley keeps a simmering lid on Leo’s emotions until they boil over with unpredictable results.

Like many of her micro-budget filmmaker contemporaries, Seimetz makes the most of limited resources and the Florida locations where she grew up, shooting on the run or in the actors’ car and using free or borrowed locations. Although the film may not always be as aesthetically involving as better-budgeted productions, the performances are really the point, so by keeping focused on her actors Seimetz succeeds in making it all work.

Venue: AFI Fest
Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Kentucker Audley, A.J. Bowen, Kit Gwin
Director/screenwriter: Amy Seimetz
Producers: Amy Seimetz, Kimberly Sherman
Executive producers: Tim Fargo, Andrew Krucoff, Shane Carruth, Mak Reeb
Director of photography: Jay Keitel
Editor: David Lowery
Music: Ben Lovett, John Garland
Not Rated, 80 minutes