Rating: 3.5/5Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) enters the frame with a ragged gasp of air. Covered in water and muck, Crystal’s sharp intake ushers in Amy Seimetz’s Sun Don’t Shine with a kind of birth. The truth, though, is more prosaic: she merely struggles with her lover, Leo (Kentucker Audley) in a muddy stretch of central Florida. Their fight comes to a stalemate, and they drive off under an armistice, with vague, anxious whispers in voiceover hinting that both are concerned with something outside mere domestic strife.
Seimetz withholds the details their preoccupation, only ever voicing the circumstances of the backstory after haunting glimpses clarify the source of their fidgety discomfort and nervous, spiky energy around strangers. Crystal lets a few other items slip, but always as frantic, unchecked references, said in the tone of voice of someone who thought she already mentioned an important piece of information and does not understand why Leo looks at her funny when she inadvertently confesses. For his part, Leo only brings up details of shared and personal background as savage barbs that suggest a man terrified by the consequences of his impulsive actions and chafing from Crystal’s suffocating, childish affection.
They head to home of one of Leo’s old friends (Kit Gwin), but Crystal’s sexual jealousy overrides the need for a solid alibi. Audley’s imposing, barely restrained violent streak shrinks in Crystal’s growing madness. The blood can rush to Sheil’s face with remarkable speed and nakedness, only compounding the image of her as a cornered animal with her wide eyes, raspy breathing and bared teeth. She struggles to find calm even in her disconnected voiceover, which hushes with bashful apology for her clingy behavior but trembles with a restlessness that predicts future outbursts. When those explosions come, Sheil devolves into a terrifying figure, barely capable of forcing words out of her clenched jaw as she shrieks and groans in betrayed fury.
Seimetz’s camera holds on such moments, less with a sense of piercing insight than an inability to escape. Elsewhere, though, the shots bounce around in darts: a close-up that picks up on the way ratty windshield wipers merely rearrange rain drops instead of sweeping them aside, or a craning look up from the floorboard of the driver’s seat that fixates on the way a steering wheel’s hand grips make it look like a toothed gear in a machine. The drifting shots contrapuntal to voiceovers that say more than on-screen dialogue conjure crude Malick comparisons, and Badlands could certainly be tied to the subject matter. But if Seimetz did aim for Malick’s debut, it refashions Holly as the real Caril Anne Fugate might have been: not a passive, romanticizing observer of horror but an eroticized conspirator and participant. An abused, small-town girl is unshackled from the ties that bind her, but she still feels psychosomatically bound by the cage. In the end, one is left to wonder whether she might have been safer staying inside the real thing. As to whether those around her would be safer, there can be no doubt.