'Sunset Edge' Presents a New Kind of Ghost Town
Set in and around an empty American trailer park, Sunset Edge is an effective thriller, focused on four teenagers who have no idea what haunting awaits them.
Sunset Edge begins with chimes, a humming voice, and the image of blinding sun behind Dora May Moon (Liliane Gillenwater). Her body is motionless, her long nightgown is white, her thin silver hair flows like a river. She straightens, her head eclipses the sun, and a halo encircles her death mask-like face. With this apparition, we are spirited into an unsettling yet captivating world of myths and ghosts.
Set in and around an empty American trailer park, Sunset Edge -- a thriller now available on YouTube and Vudu -- focuses on four teenagers. For a day, they lounge on asphalt and record themselves with a video camera. They're comfortable and unsuspecting, and their story seems simple. While Blaine (Blaine Edward Pugh) and Jacob (Jacob Kristian Ingle) root through old housewares and toys, Haley (Haley Ann McKnight) and Will (William Dickerson) take some time alone to nurture their budding romance. They all drowse off and, by the time they wake up, there's a stranger among them.
This stranger, another teenager named Malachi (Gilberto Padilla), is introduced by an eerie scary movie device, when Will wanders into the woods and finds an eerie face etched on the tree bark. This face calls to him, silently, causing Will to lose his direction and marking the film's change of focus from the teens to Malachi. As we begin to see this boy's background in flashbacks, we come to understand his connection with the trailer park and the tree-face, as well as his attraction to the other kids.
Malachi's arrival changes the film's rhythm: before he shows up, Sunset Edge pulses with a sense of immediacy, of casual observance. Mobile, low-level framing situates us among the kids as Haley mixes their “Suicide Soda”, a foaming mixture of sugary drinks and candy. As they turn their video camera on each other, we see their broad smiles and easy antics, their present vibrantly contrasting with the trailer park's dusty past. Will observes, “That's how important we are. We're a grain of sand on the beach of life,” his way of celebrating their anonymity and freedom.
We don't know until later why and how the kids have come to this park. We do know more about Malachi than they do. His flashbacks stutter back and forth between his childhood and recent past, the movie rewinding to show us how different he is from his new acquaintances. Malachi's taciturn grandfather, Pop (Jack Horn), raises him with a firm grip and few words. When Pop dies in his sleep, leaving Malachi to manage on his own, Malachi develops relationships with the ghostly woman of the film's first scene, and with the strange, pale face Will discovers on the tree bark.
Malachi's existence almost seems fictive. The trailer park seems an apt metaphor for his life without parents or friends or a connection to the world, a life that appears painfully lonely. His awkward shyness makes his reaching out to the invading foursome the tensest part of the film, intimating Malachi's desperation but not clear about his intentions.
Daniel Peddle's film surrounds Malachi with a complicated mythology, leaving us clues about the boy but not exactly explaining him, like so many films about teenagers tend to do. The other kids are pulled into that mystery: when Haley re-hangs a fallen nightgown on a clothesline and takes a selfie of herself behind it, she leaves an image of flesh and blood in place of the ghost from the opening scene. The face on the tree bark lures Will away from his friends, before we understand the isolation and also the protection it represents for Malachi.
The abandoned, empty trailer park is filled, briefly, by the interloping teens' imaginations. And this film is a little like that, so laced through with gaps onto which we might project or own desires, and also ponder our part in the storytelling.