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“SUN CHOKE” (Stanley Film Festival Review)

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To be honest, the particular brand of psychological horror that SUN CHOKE provides isn’t necessarily going to be for everyone. On one hand, it’s a unique and nightmarish look into a young woman whose struggle for internal and external freedom leads her to utter darkness and depravity. On the other hand, it’s a often-disorienting and logic-bending slow burn that requires patience and more than a little cinematic masochism. In any case, however, SUN CHOKE is an undeniably surreal and disturbing vision, with a rare aesthetic that will likewise please fans of both gruesome fare and art house horror.

In essence, SUN CHOKE follows a traumatized woman who struggles between her self-destructive and psychotic impulses while dealing with an abusive (yet ambiguously well-meaning) caretaker and a stranger with whom she becomes obsessed. But there’s a bigger and more complicated picture to SUN CHOKE than what meets the eye, and the pervasive visual style of the film reminds the viewer around every corner. SUN CHOKE’s biggest narrative asset is its atmosphere, and as the film descends further into disorienting territory, that atmosphere becomes more and more unnerving.

However, the oblique and strange experience of SUN CHOKE is also one of style over substance, and while certain scenes, including the incredibly creepy stalking sequences, work brilliantly, other sequences feel all-too-familiar in the lexicon of unsettling content. While these sequences are often elevated by the exceptional performances and striking cinematography, there’s a certain level of expectation to which they play to, and from which they are often glossed over without second thought. In doing so, the horror of SUN CHOKE is much more subtle than its contemporaries, but also lacks a gratifying payoff once the film is effectively under your skin.

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In his work on SUN CHOKE, director Ben Cresciman offers an innate understanding of evoking fright from nuance, and the petrifying power of suggestion. Cresciman and Mathew Rudenberg create a dreamlike tone throughout SUN CHOKE, with becomes progressively nightmarish as the film becomes more and more visceral. The film also features a meticulous score from Bryan Hollon, which certainly helps keeps the audience entranced during the slower sequences in the film. And special note should also go to editor Jason Jones, who cuts the film like a cerebral and chaotic puzzle that, when assembled, leaves an affecting aftertaste.

Impressively, Cresciman’s skills as a director are proven with both technicality and actors in SUN CHOKE, as the film sports a genuinely great cast throughout the madness. Sarah Hagan is outright mesmerizing as Janie, delivering a transformative and deliberate performance as the troubled woman at the center of SUN CHOKE. Sara Malakul LANE is also great, albeit much more restrained and humane, as Janie’s object of desire, Savannah. However, the MVP of SUN CHOKE is Barbara Crampton as Janie’s sadistic and manipulative caretaker, Irma, who delivers a spine-chilling performance with even the most simple remark.

Though not the most accessible or most engaging horror film of its ilk, SUN CHOKE has an admirable sense of individuality in its frightful presentation. Cresciman focus on delivering a very specific type of psychological torment is effective, especially when also offering the occasional bloodletting and physical torture as well. And though SUN CHOKE doesn’t necessarily trod the newest territory, slipping into the eyes and ears of Janie is guaranteed to rattle the most seasoned nerves.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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