Sun Choke: Whatever Happened To Grande Dame Guignol?

sunAnyone who knows anything about me knows I’m not good at the whole delayed gratification thing. See, back in April, I posted a list of movies I want to see based entirely on their previews.

I am a sucker for previews.

My original plan was to wait for all these movies to come out and do a series of posts reviewing each one. One problem is Good Tidings won’t be out until Christmas. A bigger problem is that K-Shop and Sun Choke are out now.

I wanted to start with K-Shop which I am dying to see, but I can’t. I’ll explain why once I finally get a chance to watch and review it.

Sun Choke was an extremely close second.

Confession time. I thought I had this one figured out about fifteen minutes in, and it was with good reason my cinematic hubris was aroused. Sun Choke displays many of the hallmarks of the finest films in the Grande Dame Guignol tradition.

1)  Older (not necessarily elderly) and/or more physically and/or mentally able woman left to care for younger and/or less physically and/or mentally able woman

Check. Irma (horror staple Barbara Crampton, Re-Animator to Road Games) is the therapist and caretaker for Janie (Freaks And Geeks’s Sarah Hagan). Irma is every bit at nurturing as Nurse Ratched, at times flat out torturing Janie. We also see evidence that she has been abusing Janie her entire life.

2) More capable woman tries to make and/or keep the less capable woman insane and/or incapacitated and therefore dependent

Check. Irma constantly infantilizes Janie, often referring to her as “little girl,” and has her on truly bizarre psychological and nutritional regimens. Me personally, seeing Irma hand Janie a smoothie also takes me directly to Rosemary’s Baby.

3) Mysterious backstory

Check. Like the truth in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane, Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte, or Strait-Jacket, we don’t know exactly what Janie’s condition is or what caused it. The difference here is that we never find out (in this case that works well).

4) Power struggle in which the victim makes several attempts to assert her independence

Check. Janie takes increasing liberties with the scant freedom she is given, with dire repercussions.

5) At least one murder

Check. Giant red check. And this is where Sun Choke takes a hard left. I was fully prepared to end this review with praise tempered by disappointment: praise over the treatment of these classic Grande Dame Guignol themes, disappointment that no new ground was broken in the plot resolution department.

I am so happy to admit that I was so wrong.

Without getting too specific, what I expected to happen is exactly what happened, but it was sooner than I expected. From there, Janie’s mental state goes into a drastic tailspin.

As Janie, Hagan is disconcerting. Her little girl voice masks her cunning, violence, and lack of remorse. At the same time, she’s fascinating. We can’t help being on her side, especially after the events of the first fifty minutes of the film.

Crampton is pure evil. There is not a second during which Irma appears to harbor anything but resentment and malice for Janie. She makes this clear about a half hour into the film: “When your mother died, I made a promise to your father. That promise means I’m going to spend the rest of my life worrying about you and caring for you whether either one of us likes it or not.”


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