Amy Seimetz is known for starring in Shane Carruth's Upstream Color and a regular part in The Killing. She's also acted in a wide array of independent films, including Alexander the Last and Tiny Furniture. Her career as an actor is going strong, but Seimetz has also found creative success behind the scenes. She produced Barry Jenkins' Medicine for Melancholy, a remarkable movie. It seems like a natural progression for her to shift behind the camera. After directing several short films, Seimetz has now released her debut feature with Sun Don't Shine. Originally appearing at film festivals last year, it received a limited theatrical release this spring. The low-budget production brings together a small cast to present a tricky story of murder, distrust, and seduction.
What’s the story about?
Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Leo (Kentucky Audley) are lovers on the run in Florida with a nasty secret in their trunk. Driving a beat-up car down the highway, they're suspicious of everyone and each other. The tension is nearly too much for each person to take, and it's exacerbated by the stifling hot weather. The couple tries to forget what happened, but only so much sex and fun can push it to the background. They're in way over their head, and the odds are high that they're headed for a tragic outcome.
What are the primary themes explored within this movie?
Rarely has Central Florida looked so bleak and claustrophobic. The film opens with Crystal fighting Leo and rolling in the dirt, and that chaotic tone continues throughout the story. She's a fire cracker that will go off at any time, and the emotions shift from lust to downright hatred. He takes the abuse quietly, but it's clear that Leo isn't such a stand-up guy. Seimetz also wrote the script, and her dialogue rarely explains what's actually happening. When the characters start to open up about their feelings, misunderstandings and stress keep them from connecting. She's clearly traumatized by events that happened in the recent past, and it's impossible for her to maintain a clear mind. The brutal heat just makes it more challenging and brings an extra layer of chaos to every interaction.
Which moments stand out as highlights?
Sun Don't Shine is a meandering film with frustrating characters that are hard to like. We spend a lot of time in the car, and it's easy to grow wary of their slow progress. The highlights occur during their rare meetings with others. When their car brings down and a friendly guy (AJ Bowen) stops to help, the tension grows when he doesn't get Leo's many hints. It's one of the most effective scenes because it shows the possible impact of their mania on the outside world. On the other end of the spectrum, Crystal gets a rare moment of calm when she visits Weeki Wachee and watches their famous mermaid show. Leo is doing the dirty work back at the car, and she takes a moment to enjoy the presentation. It's a fleeting experience and doesn't last, but also provides a much-needed respite for the audience. There's only so much conflict that we can take within a feature film.
Which characters (if any) really connect us to this film?
The major challenge with this film is staying engaged with the characters. Crystal is the more interesting one because there's more depth within her mood swings. Leo feels nearly empty, and it isn't clear why he would try to hook up with another woman right in the middle of this mess. Despite any issues, both actors do strong work and capably deal with the challenging scenes. The standout is Kate Lyn Sheil, who purposely makes us uncomfortable every time Crystal starts getting upset. When she catches Leo in a compromising position, it's clear that all hell is about to break loose. Sheil reveals the contradictions in a girl who can kill and then be overly sweet a moment later. She's dealing with a great trauma and is looking for any route to escape the ugly memories.
Does the director have an original vision and execute it well?
Seimetz does a good job throwing us right into the emotional drama between Crystal and Leo and maintains the unsettling feeling right to the end. Even so, it's hard to get too connected to the characters. The disorienting tone can work if that bond is stronger, but I remained at the distance from the material. Seimetz has an original perspective behind the camera and could have a bright future as a director. It's a notable debut with enough to make it worth checking out, yet it didn't leave a strong impression. I'll definitely keep my eyes out for Seimetz's upcoming work as an actor and behind the scenes. This year, she directed and starred in the short film When We Lived in Miami. This fictional tale set during Hurricane Isaac sounds like it matches the heavy emotions of Sun Don't Shine. She's clearly a strong voice in the independent world and has a intriguing future.
Next week, I'll join Lake Bell in the voice-over scene for In a World...