DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

SUN CHOKE (director: Ben Cresciman; cinematographer: Mathew Rudenberg; editor: Jason Jones ; music: Bryan Hollon ; cast: Sarah Hagan (Janie), Evan Jones (Booker), Sara Malakul Lane (Savannah), Barbara Crampton (Irma); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Georg Kallert/Wandie Kabule/Peter J. Nieves / Rob Schroeder; Xlrator Media; 2015)

"An odd tale that blends together an obtuse horror film with a twisted psychological drama."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the second feature from writer/director Ben Cresciman ("Negative Space"). It's set in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. It's an odd tale that blends together an obtuse horror film with a twisted psychological drama. Flashbacks and surreal dream sequences inter-cut during the narrative, highlighting the madness of the protagonist who has trouble distinguishing between reality and fiction. What the viewer makes of it all is their call, since the filmmaker leaves things open-ended. Its agenda is to raise questions about nature vs. nurture when it comes to raising children. There are no strong male characters, as the film tries to get a better understanding of female relationships by focusing only on female issues..

Janie (Sarah Hagan) is a severely confused young woman in need of psychological and physical help, who lives with her controlling step mother Irma (Barbara Crampton) in the rich Hollywood Hills. Irma looks after the acting out Janie by giving her a series of holistic exercises, tough love and letting her outside only when she behaves. When the captive is outside, she begins to find her own identity with her female driver Savannah (Sara Malakul Lane) whom she obsesses over.  As this relationship is explored, the film moves into unpleasant dark territory.

We're left to figure out for ourselves if Janie is screwed-up because of the way her step-mother raised her or is the girl saddled with an inherited insanity. There's no back story on how Janie became disabled. No easy answers are forth-coming. Some viewers like such cerebral films, others want more of a linear  narrative.

The acting by Hagan and Crampton is strong. The
claustrophobic story is at times gripping. Its visuals are ethereal. The horror stays grounded in the psychological, with no supernatural events. But its ambiguity in the end proved too much for me to overcome, and though enjoying it in parts I can't say I did as a whole.:

REVIEWED ON 7/252016       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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