VOD Review: Blind Sun.
This french horror film about climate and refugees impresses with atmosphere but never quite pays out its premise.
The heat wave gripping the northeast reminded me of a horror thriller I watched earlier in the year. After my disappointment with Hulu’s climate catastrophe series Hard Sun, I was ready for something that would make more hay with that scenario. Enter Blind Sun, an exclusive offering from the horror movie service Shudder. Though created in 2015, the topics covered are still as timely as ever in 2018. Blind Sun deals with the dangers and desperation of refugees while positing a near-future scenario behind such a wave of migration: runaway climate change that has made much of the world a sun baked hell. The film does a deft job with its camerawork and setting, deriving much of its tension from a pervasive sense of dread. Unfortunately, the film’s open ending never quite gives a final crescendo to its constantly-rising pressure.
Blind Sun (2015)
Ashraf is a migrant worker newly arrived in Greece. An acquaintance has set him up with a job as a caretaker for a luxury villa, causing Ashraf to make the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean. He arrives just as the owners are all but fleeing the city – the brutal heat of a climate-changed Earth renders much of the country virtually uninhabitable. Water shortages, rising violence among those too poor to leave, and a xenophobic police force are just a few of the horrors awaiting Ashraf as he tries to survive the summer.
The immediate impression Blind Sun’s cinematography gives you is of austere and merciless beauty. From the waters of the Mediterranean Sea to the rocky cliff’s surrounding the town, to the sun-baked architecture of the villa, everything is gorgeously presented. It looks like paradise…ten minutes after a monstrous calamity has struck all of its inhabitants dead. Besides Ashraf and the local racist cop who torments him, the film is practically barren.
First time feature film director Joyce Nashawati composes her shots with care and an eye to sprawling vistas. She also deftly manipulates angles and perspective to make such large areas feel claustrophobic. Even when Ashraf is floating in the sea, the camera moves quickly from an establishing shot on the overlooking cliff to a tight close-up that feels suffocating. Minimal dialogue and lingering takes add to this aesthetic, giving you a film that is uncomfortably intimate but impersonal.
One Man’s Plight.
To say Blind Sun is impersonal is not to say that it doesn’t have well constructed characters. Ziad Bakri gives a good performance as Ashraf. The film keeps you very close to its lead and relies on this proximity to build tension. The film is constructed in such a way that the narrative serves to make him a lens and a proxy. He’s our view into the migrant experience, so it works better if he’s not too much of a distinct personality. Even what we do get of a personal backstory, such as that he’s extremely over-qualified for such a menial post, it is there to build our empathy with refugees as a class instead of sympathy with Ashraf as a person. (Besides, Ashraf is mean as hell to the villa owner’s cat, so I was never going to have sympathy for him anyway!)
The same goes for most characters: the owners are the careless, condescending bourgeois; the cop is the proxy for the racist and vindictive power structure; the rioters are the trampled upon masses; the water company everyone is protesting represents all of the companies profiteering off of short-sighted and cruel environmental policies. The only character who stood out as not a stand-in was an academic researcher who is working a dig site next to the villa. She felt like just a person. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t have much to do with the story.
Blind Sun is an unconventional horror thriller. Instead of frights, there is a long-building escalation of dread. Ashraf is essentially trapped in the villa due to the police taking his worker’s permit. It is also the only place safe from the sun, though events soon make the villa more of an existential threat to him than the heat. There are plenty of creepy moments and half-seen dangers lurking around the periphery of the narrative, but they never really coalesce. In the end, you never get the release of a big blow-out ending. For horror fans looking for a bloody crescendo, you’ll be left waiting.
Don’t Stare at the Sun.
Blind Sun is a movie that seems more appropriate to appreciate than to love. It is well made from a film standpoint, and showcases quite a bit of style and technique. It raises thorny issues about current topics, though some will disagree whether it says too much or too little. It can feel a bit on-the-nose at times, but it presents its material with such a high degree of polish that I didn’t mind. It can be frustrating to watch the film keep ratcheting up the tension without a catharsis, but I’d imagine making people uncomfortable was part of the intention of the film all along.