I was recommended Sunny in the Dark by one of my line friends from Sundance. This is how you discover movies at film festivals. It’s not just the ones that are showing. You can talk to line friends about movies they discovered elsewhere. I’m glad he did because this movie is right in my wheelhouse and I respect and admire the way director Courtney Ware and the cast presented it.
Jonah (Jay Huguley) is a marriage counselor still reeling from his own divorce. He gets called on a two year old wait list for a posh new apartment, into which he moves by himself. Sunny (Hannah Ward) has been living above the ceiling, and she simply adjusts to Jonah’s schedule when he moves in so that he never notices her.
The housing crisis begets stories like this. Although that’s not overtly what Sunny in the Dark is about, that’s what I got from it. Someone may lose their home and have to resort to a drastic lifestyle change to maintain shelter. Likewise, someone may have the advantage to move into new housing, but it could be built on top of someone else’s tragedy.
Overtly, Sunny in the Dark is about loneliness, both Jonah’s and Sunny’s. Jonah wants to get back together with his ex but she’s not interested. His mother visits but only to pressure him to settle for anyone just to give her a grandchild. He spends most of his free time alone and the film makes strong parallels to his life and Sunny’s solitary existence.
This could be horror movie. In fact it has been several horror movies about a killer living in the crawlspace. But Sunny in the Dark is gentle and sensitive. When she ventures downstairs, Sunny eats just enough that Jonah won’t notice. Of course there is a component of delusion and fantasy to Sunny’s lifestyle and the script by Mike Maden is sensitive to her as well.
Cinematography can be what makes or breaks a shoestring indie. Few things give away amateur filmmakers more than bad shot composition. The widescreen frame of Sunny in the Dark is expertly composed. The camera moves through space to reveal what we need to see. To illustrate isolation, character are justified to the extreme left or right of frame. The key is that the framing all looks deliberate, and we still have something to captivate our eye in the empty portion.
But a film like Sunny in the Dark lives or dies on its characters. I love both Jonah and Sunny, so I was fully invested in what happened to them. Jonah’s therapy is 100% right. He says the greatest human desire is be known, but it is also the most feared. It’s true. I want more than anything for people to know me. That’s why I write. I’m still working on first, so I haven’t quite gotten to the fear part yet. Sunny doesn’t say much because she has no one to talk to, so Ward conveys almost everything in body language, posture and expression.
Sunny in the Dark is the kind of film I would love to discover at a film festival, but watching it now brought the thrill of discovery home. Sunny in the Dark is available on Vimeo On Demand, iTunes, Amazon Prime and more.