Shock Q&A: Stanley Film Fest Premiere, Sun Choke

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Intimate and utterly mad, Stanley Film Festival World Premiere Sun Choke is a tale of seclusion and psychotic break. It’s the feature debut of Ben Cresciman and the latest film from horror idol Barbara Crampton, whose genre resurgence has been a display of stunning taste. Here, she is as you haven’t seen before, something more manipulative, something more overbearing, an integral piece of this psychotic puzzle that Cresciman puts together in dreamy, visceral fashion. Shock Till You Drop spoke with the filmmaker about Sun Choke, both its inspirations and its ambitions.

Sun Choke follows Janie’s (Sarah Hagan) quest to recover from a psychological break under the intense care of her lifelong nanny. After developing an obsession with another young woman, Janie quickly veers off the path to recovery and wedges all three women into an ever-tightening, and progressively terrifying struggle for control.

Shock Till You Drop: Talk about crafting a new entry into psychotic woman subgenre

Ben Cresciman: Yeah, that’s where it would go in Blockbuster, for sure. I knew I wanted to make a horror film. I knew that was going to mean doing something that was going to be unique. “How do I create tension and horror out of a character driven story,” was the big challenge. The characters and the story came from, “what is it that scares me?” Loneliness was what I settled on. I was at a point in my life where I was dealing with a lot of uncertainty, and I guess that germ started to inform all of it. I knew I wanted to tell a story about somebody who would ultimately pursue another person, sort of stalk her. For me, it was an interesting opportunity to flip the standard paradigm of who we expect to be stalked by whom, you know? Finding this character who was dangerously fascinated with the outside world, because she’s spent so much of her life locked away from it was the beginning of a really interesting, conflicted character.

The extent to which she falls into the canon of those kinds of characters—there’s definite influence from things like Repulsion and more recently, Antichrist. The female breakdown is certainly a well-trodden subgenre, but I wanted to see if I could do something to it that would ground it in a more character driven sensibility, where the fear is an emotional state.

Shock: What are you aware of, or trying to be aware of, as a man writing a film primarily focused on women?

Cresciman: I was raised by a single mother. My life has been propped up by a lot of strong, wonderful women. I think, for that reason, my mother hates the film [laughs]. For that reason, it made sense to me to explore that side of humanity. The way in which these women deal with each other, there’s an aspect of universal experience. Everybody can relate to feeling lonely, everybody can relate to feeling out of control. That I was lucky enough to get these three really talented actresses allowed me to tell the story that—probably, in writing it, I didn’t even fully understand. Ultimately, what they brought to each of their roles tells the other half of that tale. I’m really fortunate.

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Shock: Barbara Crampton has displayed real taste in her recent return to horror. This seems like a vote of confidence for Sun Choke. You’ve also got Sarah Hagan in an unexpected role.

Cresciman: Getting performers who are as talented as they are, and so engaged, and brought so much life and inner dimension to the characters, and also got what I was trying to say with this script; that was a tremendous boost. As far as Barbara goes, she’s this genre icon, which I didn’t fully understand when we first started talking with her. She’s been making excellent choices and so it’s really cool to be a part of her coming back into the world and I think this film is a side of her nobody’s ever seen. Likewise, with Sarah Hagan, this is Millie from Freaks & Geeks and she was on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and people understand her as the geeky friend. I’m really excited to see how people are completely bowled over by how far from whatever their conceptions of her she’s gotten in this role. It was an experience for me just to watch it happen.

With Sara [Malakul] Lane, this is somebody who’s acted in a lot of films and is another person who I think is extremely talented. I’m really fortunate to be able to put them all into this bizarre stew. They ran with it. As a film lover, once action was called, I could sit and watch. That was a really remarkable experience.

Shock: Stanley is proud of the fact Sun Choke was a proper submission to the fest. What made this a fest you wanted to submit to and ultimately premiere at?

Cresciman: Horror film fans are some of the most film literate and enthusiastic audiences that you can show a film to. The community that seems to have built itself around the Stanley is something that I’m really excited to be a part of. For us, it was a unique opportunity, a big honor to be part of that. It’s a genre festival that has such a high taste level, such a unique and qualified pedigree. The people that attend the festival, the people that program the festival; it’s a really special thing.

Shock: So, how weird does Sun Choke get?

Cresciman: It gets pretty fucking weird. I knew I wanted to take people on a bit of a ride. It’s my own kind of ride, so that’s something people can check out when they see it. It’s bizarre and horrifying, but also tempered with moments of class and serenity. That’s the balance that was so crucial in finding the film’s aesthetic. How do we scare the shit out of people right after we’ve given them a nice warm hug?

Sun Choke premieres Saturday, May 2nd at 5:00 p.m. For tickets and info, head to the Stanley Film Festival.

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