Filmmaker Michel Franco’s latest film “Sundown” didn’t make much of a splash at Toronto last year — in fact, I don’t think it was included in my extensive coverage of the film festival. That’s too bad, because “Sundown” was a particularly shocking surprise, especially with its effective 83-minute running time.

Franco has been a steady filmmaker, with international sleepers like “After Lucia,” almost always tackling tough subject matters like he did with Tim Roth in the Cannes winner “Chronic.” He and Roth collaborate again here in a film that plays on viewers’ incorrect assumptions of the characters. The film takes wonderfully wild turns as it deepens its narrative and subtle commentary on class and other topics best left discovered on your own.

On vacation in Acapulco, Neil (Roth) and Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) find their lavish getaway cut short with an emergency phone call that devastates their entire family. Neil, who appears distant compared with the very in-control Alice, forgets his passport and must return to their hotel, leaving his family to travel back alone.

The events that occur next change the dynamics of Neil’s family forever. Deliberately making choices that could improve or devastate his life, Neil sets out a new path for himself and come what may.

One of the most fascinating elements to Franco’s work here is how the film has conversations with the audience without saying much verbally. Franco really runs with the idea of “don’t tell me, show me” with great success. Interestingly, one reviewer noted that no two people will see this film the same way, which is another exciting aspect not many films can claim.

The need to explain each detail isn’t present here, which could infuriate some casual or passive viewers, yet Franco gives us the moving pieces and much of the time we interpret what they mean. One of the greatest compliments to bestow on any movie is that you can’t predict where it’s headed, and that’s “Sundown’s” greatest asset.

Franco often presents Mexico as bleak in his storytelling. However, it’s the subject matter and circumstances of his complex characters that contain the darkness this time, not the visually stunning locations like the touristy part of Acapulco. Roth (“Luce”, “The Hateful Eight”) is no stranger to diverse and edgy roles.

His performance as Neil is one of his most intricate, acting with body language more than dialogue, and certainly one of his most memorable. Gainsbourg is perfectly cast, and as always, adds a sophistication to whatever film she takes part in. If you have been craving a good mystery that will bring you to the edge of your seat, “Sundown” is the existential ticket.

Final Thought

Edgy and unpredictable, Sundown vacations on new ground in the suspense genre.


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