There is a moment in Michel Franco’s latest film that captures both the appeal and the weakness of Sundown in an instant. A man pulls up to a packed beach on a jet ski, pulls out a gun and assassinates another man, who up until that moment has been enjoying a day in the sun. While people gather around in the aftermath, Neil (Tim Roth) the films’ protagonist, simply takes the hand of the young woman sitting next to him and walks away without so much as a backwards glance.
Neil is on holiday with his family in an upmarket resort in Mexico – Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and the two younger members Alexa (Albertine Kotting McMillan) and Colin (Samuel Bottomley) when a phone call shatters the uneasy relaxation that they have fallen into. A death in the family sends the quartet scrambling for the airport where Neil feigns losing his passport – his choice to stay behind sends shockwaves that echo far beyond the small family unit.
Sundown is a film that plays its cards too close to its chest – a slow, quiet contemplation on privilege, wealth and apathy that never focuses for too long on any of the topics that emerge. Instead, it casts a passing glance over them and moves on – leaving the blood soaking into the sand, mingling with the water and growing frustration at a film that never wants to dive deeper.
Franco’s camera observes from a distance – never far away to fully commit to the voyeuristic conceit, yet not quite close enough to ever give a true sense of the characters’ interior lives, or emotions. Nothing in Neil’s life appears to hold any significance for him – and nothing in the film holds much interest for the audience.
Roth shuffles around the streets and beaches of Acapulco, barely picking his Birkenstock-clad feet off the floor, speaking in a half-slurred monotone that never rises in passion or anger. He is the very definition of a midlife crisis – down to a relationship with Berenice (Iazua Larios), a younger woman – if this is acting out, it is muted to the point of inaction. They meet her friends, drink on the beach, have sex in his red-lit room, yet it is only shown in glimpses – tiny little moments of intrigue that fizzle away into the background. He has stopped caring – has stripped away any humanising aspect of his personality and is only focused on what makes him happy.
Sundown lingers in the mind – whether it ends up being more than a passing curiosity depends on the viewer’s desire to embrace Franco’s frustrating style, but there is no doubting that Roth’s oddly haunting performance is one to be admired.
Sundown is currently showing in UK cinemas.
by Rose Dymock
Rose is a film critic , who graduated from the University of Liverpool with an MRes in Film Studies. She loves thrillers, Al Pacino, and multilingual cinema and she’s not entirely sure if she’s a millennial.