Written and directed by Olivier Bernier, The Sunset Sky chronicles the story of Jennifer, a 26-year old troubled young woman who becomes the sole caretaker of Charlie, her 20-year old autistic brother, after their mother dies of cancer. Their home is foreclosed upon, so Jennifer decides to leave Kansas, the only place she and Charlie have ever known, and drive across the United States to New Jersey, in order to deposit Charlie with a father he has never met.
Jennifer quickly runs out of money and becomes desperate, committing petty crimes, and getting herself and Charlie into dangerous and life-threatening situations. As she runs from the law, traveling dusty back roads through the Midwest, both she and Charlie begin having flashbacks of their painful childhood. When their journey grows from dire to worse, she uncovers a painful incident from her past, and is forced to face the truth about herself and the situation in which she has placed them. In the midst of it all, Jennifer battles with blinding revenge, powerful regret, and discovers that she needs her brother just as much as he needs her.
Filmed entirely in the Midwest and the Northeast, the geographic settings of the film are more than background scenery; they act as a third character in the film, mirroring Jennifer and Charlie’s inner emotions and struggles. As Jennifer drives from the rolling Flint hills of Kansas, to the dusty and desolate backwaters of Missouri, onto the Northeast, where developments and buildings help to create a sense of claustrophobia, you get a window seat into her inner journey: from false freedom, to struggles of abandonment, to the walls closing in. As Jennifer gets closer to what she feels is her goal, and then discovers her true purpose, Jennifer’s and Charlie’s journey ends at the open waters of a sunset sky.
Caitlin Brown brings Jennifer to life with a vulnerability and innocence that is laced with sadness and pain. Her body language and eyes reflect betrayal and bitterness, showing what buried secrets and unforgiveness can do to the soul.
Joel Brady does a fine job as the autistic Charlie, and gives solid glimpses of the challenges, difficulties, and pitfalls of caring for an autistic loved one. Where the film shines is in the chemistry between Caitlin and Joel as Jennifer and Charlie. Their interaction, sometimes stilted, sometimes fluid, make their relationship and circumstances believable, and help to solidify the dysfunctional family story and sibling bond.
The film does a service in bringing more awareness to autism, and supports the advocacy of organizations such as Autism Speaks and The Autism Society. More research is needed into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism and autism spectrum disorders, as well as assistance and support for individuals with autism and their families.
Where the movie falters are holes within the plot, particularly concerning Jennifer’s criminal activity and brushes with danger. Her sometimes narrow escapes stretch credulity, and the resolutions to each situation come off as too pat and easy. While the character is tormented, there are no huge consequences to what are volatile situations and unstable actions that would cause injury or death to Jennifer or Charlie under any other circumstance.
Despite these weaknesses, the film strikes a chord with those who have navigated grief, pain, abuse, or dysfunctional family struggles, and celebrates the unbreakable bond between a brother and a sister.
The Sunset Sky released on iTunes on December 15, 2015, and will release on Amazon Prime on February 8. For more information about the film, visit The Sunset Sky website or Facebook page.