For a place that has so much beauty, Florida certainly has its uglier sides, like alligators, Casey Anthony and the Jacksonville Jaguars. And, if the indie thriller Sun Don’t Shine is any indication, there are still plenty of other dark spots within the Sunshine State.

Like most couples on a road trip, Crystal and Leo (Kate Lyn Sheil, Kentucker Audley) don’t seem to be able to stop arguing. As they drive along the highway in a beat-up Oldsmobile, the sweltering heat outside is nothing compared to the tension between the two of them in their car, and the closer they get to their coastal destination, the more the young lovers squabble. With a dark secret behind them and something even worse tucked away in the trunk, both of them are unsure what they can expect from each other, not to mention the fear that they are being followed. Worst of all is the shared realization that no matter what happens to them, their relationship may be well beyond the salvage point.

Though the beginning of the film makes us think she’s about to be the victim of roadside rape, Sheil’s energy consistently tells us Crystal has more gumption than she lets on. As the story unfolds, you don’t know whether to feel sorry for her given her rough past or condemn her as being manipulative and clingy toward her beau. Audley is more mysterious and an even harder nut to crack as roughneck Leo, dealing with a woman in the passenger seat who needs constant reassurance on every little thing, a radiator on the fritz in a car that’s already on its last legs and last but not least, the worry that he’s bound to find trouble no matter where he goes, be it an encounter with a Good Samaritan (A.J. Bowen) on the road, or meeting up with his ex (Kit Gwin), leading Crystal to fly off the handle.

With the quiet ambiance of Badlands and the dysfunctional love affair of The Honeymoon Killers, this small darling of last year’s film festival circuit takes its cues from the best of the “lovers on the run” brand of movies. Writer-director Amy Seimetz captures all the seediness her Florida filming locale affords her, and crafts an unsettling narrative amid the humid setting. The chaotic connection between Crystal and Leo — as well as the events marking their coming together that set their trip in motion — drives the action and only gets more and more embroiling as they try in vain to fix what they’ve done, but when it all comes to a head, the film loses much of its established magnitude. It’s an unwritten rule of independent movies that they must end with a whimper or a bang, and having the former as a conclusion is somewhat of a letdown when you’re anticipating something more explosive.

Seimetz’s directorial debut may hit a road block in its final moments, but Sun Don’t Shine still stands out as the kind of low-budget feature that shows off-the-beaten-path cinema is still going strong. Crystal and Leo might be unavoidably doomed, but brighter things are clearly in store for Sheil, Audley and the filmmaker who brought them together.

Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars

“Sun Don’t Shine” is currently playing in theaters nationwide and is also available via video on demand services like iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Sony Playstation and XBOX.

Featured image: Pictured: Kate Lyn Sheil in “Sun Don’t Shine,” a film by actress/filmmaker Amy Seimetz. Photo Courtesy of: FACTORY 25.

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