Sun Choke (2015)

Review first published (in a different form) by Sight and Sound

The setting is a luxurious, sun-dappled, peaceful home and garden on the outskirts of Los Angeles, but with the strange, strained relationship between its two female residents gradually coming into focus, Sun Choke also proves to be, as its title implies, a suffocatingly claustrophobic film.

As Irma (Barbara Crampton) manages and monitors the (adult) ‘little girl’ Janie (Sarah Hagan) in a strict daily routine of children’s colouring-in exercises, yoga, hypnotherapy, physical check-ups and medication, we are left to wonder whether this regime is, as Irma insists in her calm tones, a ‘protection’ to help Janie ‘get better’, or an abusive, invasive measure of sadistic imprisonment. Where Irma imposes order, the slyly resistant Janie introduces chaos. Finally granted day leave as a reward for perceived improvement, Janie leaves the uterine safety of the home to transfer her emotional imprint onto a female stranger (Sara Malakul Lane) – and to unsettle the fragile balance that Irma has created for her.

A subjectified portrait of a woman whose emergences have always been messy, Sun Choke is, in keeping with a protagonist who comes in more than one ‘version’, a disorienting, dissociative affair, part Yorgos Lanthimos’  Dogtooth (2009), part, well, something else – and all beautiful, tense, hallucinatory and deeply disturbing. In his second feature, writer/director Ben Cresciman (Negative Space) has the confidence to unfold his richly heady narrative largely through suggestive symmetries and recurring motifs (eggs, water, blood). Here motherlessness and madness are portrayed inside and out – and the result is a puzzling, perplexing kind of perfection, with the flaws built in from birth.

Anton Bitel