A kinetic tale of loneliness and madness, Stanley Film Festival World Premiere Sun Choke explores the psychotic break of a young girl and the bizarre holistic treatment her manipulative caretaker subjects her to. Ben Cresciman’s film is equal parts fever dream and bold horror that splashes crimson blood on the freshly washed sheets. Anchored by two solid roles in which genre icon Barbara Crampton and Sarah Hagan (Freaks and Geeks) both shatter any misconceptions you may have about them, the film is a divisive, hypnotic tale of female psychosis.
Something happened in Janie’s (Hagan) past to spark a violent breakdown. Ever since, she’s been left in the care of her live-in nanny Irma (Crampton), who keeps Janie isolated in a minimalistic secluded house. There she undergoes questionable treatments to help her reassemble her fractured psyche. As things progress, Janie is granted leave, if only for a few hours. During one leave, she is drawn to a beautiful stranger named Savannah (Sara Malakul Lane) and begins to follow her. Each leave sees Janie’s obsession with Savannah grow increasingly intrusive, culminating in a wickedly tense and nicely ambiguous third act that will leave many heads reeling.
Crampton takes a wicked turn here as the nanny/holistic healer whose intentions may be more sinister than bringing normalcy into Janie’s life. There’s a danger in the air every time she’s on screen. Sara Malakul Lane does a terrific job as the woman who genuinely means well, even towards her stalker. The scenes she shares with Hagan get gut-wrenching at times.
But here it’s Hagan that shines. She does an impressive job expressing the abstruse character of Janie – an emotional hodge-podge of mental issues and lethal ticks. Cresciman gives us a handful of brief flashbacks that contain sparks of murder and possible rape – though none of these are fully explained. Are they just dreams that Janie has? Why isn’t she being given proper treatment or simply thrown in a psyche ward? This ambiguity will make Sun Choke divisive for viewers, but for those that dig the vagueness, Sun Choke is a tremendously engaging work.