CALGARY UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: Sundown (2021)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joseph Perry writes for the film websites Gruesome Magazine, The Scariest Things, Horror Fuel and Diabolique Magazine; for the film magazines Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope and Drive-In Asylum; and for the pop culture websites When It Was Cool and Uphill Both Ways. He is also one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast and can occasionally be heard as a cohost on Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era podcast.

Some films are difficult to write spoiler-free reviews about, and then there is writer/director Michel Franco’s French/Mexican/Swedish coproduction Sundown, a genre-defying work that goes beyond being a textbook example of that and takes the concept to a whole ‘nother plane. If films that leave you with many questions to ponder long after the ending credits roll are your style — and they almost always are for yours truly — then Sundown is absolutely worth your time. 

As the film opens, we meet the Bennetts: Neil (Tim Roth), Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and older teens or young adults (their ages are never mentioned, one of the many puzzle pieces that Franco leaves for viewers to ponder) Colin (Samuel Bottomley) and Alexa (Albertine Kotting McMillan) as they lounge around poolside at a luxury resort in a beach locale disclosed later in the film. Alice falls apart emotionally when she receives a phone call that her mother has died, and as the four family members rush to the airport, Neil can’t find his passport, and the youngsters lead a distraught Alice to the plane as Neil promises to catch the next flight.

I’ll let you know that Neil doesn’t make good on his promise, and leave the plot description at that. Sundown is a slow burn, focused mainly on Neil and his behavior after he parts with the other family members. Although the premise might not sound exciting from my description, it works magnificently as Roth puts on an absolute acting clinic as a low-key man who is an utter mystery. Franco sprinkles bread crumbs here and there and then sends the proceedings in wholly unexpected directions. One of the first major reveals of the film happens in an understated “Did I hear that correctly?!?” manner, and from there, sudden shocking jolts and subtle divulgences occur, adding to the enigmatic ongoings as clarifications usually only lead to more mystifying situations.

Franco has constructed a remarkable head-scratcher that demands constant attention. He is aided by a splendid cast, which also includes Iazua Larios as local shopkeeper Berenice and Henry Goodman as family attorney Richard. Sundown also boasts gorgeous cinematography by Yves Cape that captures both the beauty and dark side of its setting (again, revealing it here would be a spoiler). Franco and his film ask a lot of its viewers, but if you give yourself over to its decidedly unhurried telling, you may find that it makes a case for being one of the year’s best cinematic offerings.

Sundown screens as part of the 19th Calgary Underground Film Festival, which takes place April 21–May 1, 2022 both at Calgary’s Globe Cinema and streaming on demand online. For more information, visit https://www.calgaryundergroundfilm.org/.

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