Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: The Happy House vs. Sun Don’t Shine, two independent films about young couples on trips gone horribly awry.
PremiseWhile the road trip/couples vacation is well trodden terrain in the movies, anyone who has traveled extensively with another person can tell you that in no other arena of life does the adage about “If something can go wrong, it will” so aptly apply. With chaos inevitably ensuing on even the most mundane of weekend getaways, it’s no wonder that vacations and road trips create the perfect framework for all sorts of films: adventure, drama, comedy and horror. The Happy House is independent director D.W. Young’s well-lit, cheeky black-horror comedy about a young Brooklyn couple that travel to a bed and breakfast to spend a weekend among a motley crew of guests and innkeepers, including a butterfly researcher and a serial killer. Sun Don’t Shine is Amy Seimetz’s feature debut, and tells the mysterious story of a young couple traveling through rural Florida, tension in their relationship mounting insurmountably for murky reasons (hint: there’s a body).Advantage: The Happy House
DirectorBoth The Happy House and Sun Don’t Shine are feature narrative debuts by up-and-coming independent directors, and both have performed well on the film festival circuit. In terms of notches on belts: The Happy House is directed by D.W. Young, the New York-based filmmaker who made the acclaimed 2010 short-film favorite Not Interested, as well as earlier shorts and documentaries. Amy Seimetz, the director and writer of Sun Don’t Shine, is an actress, appearing most notably in Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture and as a regular on AMC series The Killing. She’s also produced several films, cementing her status as the current all-encompassing, indie darling.Advantage: Sun Don’t Shine
Location, Location, LocationThe primary goal of any trip is to get away, and both The Happy House and Sun Don’t Shine are transportative in their location scouting. You can tell that the yuppies in The Happy House are out of place on their vacation because when they’re pulled over to the side of the road with a broken-down car, an uncomfortably friendly truck driver stops to ask if they’re doing all right. They’re definitely not in New York anymore! From there, things continue to go downhill. The B&B itself seems pretty on par with other representations of rural, north of the city inns: cuckoo clocks, homemade muffins, old and slightly creepy owners. Lush, blue lighting and dusk filming gives the film a dreamy quality that suggests awareness of tropes it presents. Sun Don’t Shine ventures into less trodden territory—it takes place in the heat of summer in central Florida, and the characters are consistently drenched in sweat. Their anguish seems palpable as they drive through the odd palm groves, strip malls, and muggy glades of around St. Petersburg. At various hysterical points they are indoors, or traveling frantically on boats, but for the most part the film seems to take place in the car, a level of humid anxiety coating the traveling couple.Advantage: Sun Don’t Shine
State of the Union In both films, the relationship between the young lovebirds hangs in the balance. The couple in The Happy House feels familiar: she seems rather neurotic and high-strung; he’s more gregarious, handsome, and dim. They hope a relaxing B&B will soothe out any kinks in their happiness. Athough they do not wish for the trauma their trip entails, we predict it will ultimately bring them closer together. Conversely, the couple portrayed in Sun Don’t Shine seem to have some problems that can’t be worked out by a weekend Groupon. Namely, that body in the trunk. They are young and beautiful, but threaten to murder each other several times in the trailer alone. We don’t see this one lasting. Advantage: The Happy House
Danger! The situation at The Happy House is definitely precaious, and this is definitely sensed by the female half of the lead couple, Wendy, who nervously exclaims to her handsome, doofy boyfriend, “Dude, I’m kind of freaking out!” A strangely intense butterfly researcher doesn’t seem to help them feel safer, and a visit by a policeman, warning the B&B guests about a loose serial killer, really seems to send things over the edge. There’s some screaming, and gunshots, and a sinister-looking guy chopping logs with an axe, which he clearly might be using for things other than wood. The couple is the Sun Don’t Shine are also being hunted—though in this case, they appear to have committed the crime, and are desperately trying to cover it up. The problem seems to be that the woman, played with psychotic ferocity by Kate Lyn Sheil, is unraveling, and shakily waves kitchen knives and pistols at her pouting other half, hysterically sobbing and screaming. He seems more subdued, but the tension is still palpable.Advantage: Sun Don’t Shine.
The VerdictWe love how The Happy House seems to play on different horror tropes to make something utterly unique and darkly funny, but even watching the trailer for Sun Don’t Shine made us jittery with thrilling, sun-drenched Floridian tension.Winner: Sun Don’t Shine.
Trailer Face-Off runs every Thursday. For more, click here.