Director: Chelsea O’Connor
Cast: Jessica Howell
Plot: The year is 2035 and Susie Sunshine (Howell) is one of several girls who are asked to use their personality to fuel the world’s resources.
Susie Sunshine is a short film that can be viewed for free right here.
Right from the off, Susie Sunshine is a short film that has production values, camera techniques and acting prowess worlds away from most of the competition. As it opens up, on a train carriage, on a bright summer’s day, we are no longer in the world of independent cinema, but a short film production company that have a vision and one that they stop at nothing from portraying online to the best of their abilities. I am pleased to say their finished work is a true testament to their credentials as film-makers.
The film throws you into the sci-fi universe without so much of a warning siren. If I could pick one fault with this film is that it could have used with a slower and more exposition-friendly means of setting up its extensive universe. Then again, there is a lot to cram in here. We are in the future and the world’s resources are no longer manufactured naturally, but created through the energy and life-force of women. Electricity is produced by brainy girls in purple clothing, who are tasked with brain-teasers that set off the sparks that produce electricity. Fire is made by fiery redheads, using their lust to provoke the fire into existence. And Susie Sunshine is a part of a group of doe-eyed blonde girls who use their outward happiness to bring sunshine to the world. Our heroine is a world icon, akin to a celebrity, famous for being the highest sunshine producer in the city, a position she adores, a smile never leaving the character’s face. However, as the story progresses, a standard day in the life of Susie, there is something afoot. Another sunshine creator recently burned out, complaining about a grey spot that materialised in her office, causing her to overcompensate and use up all of her sunshine-creating abilities. Anything out of the ordinary is repressed, in order to keep the girls happy, and producing electricity. With their prime emotions compromised, they can no longer do their work. However, Susie Sunshine begins to follow the same path as her burned out friend and struggles to keep control of her working life. Like any good Sci-Fi universe (and there is a touch of Divergent here, especially with the factions putting everyone into a set way of life), there is a lot of material to explore here. Female power is fascinatingly portrayed here, because technically, they have all of it. Without women, humanity would be unable to function. However, the men, perhaps intimidated by their inability to exist without the opposite gender, have degraded the girls into objectified tools. They are forced to use their bodies to keep the human race ticking over and they are treated as naïve fools, because of it. Even the men who respect and adore Susie, don’t quite see her as anything but a smiling means to an end. However, the men’s power is totally imagined. There is nothing but the fictional authority keeping the women from taking control of their lives. Chelsea O’Connor has created a Sci-Fi universe that has more subtext than most Hollywood creations in the same genre.
Jessica Howell makes for an interesting hero to lead the story with. In this kind of story, you would expect a rebel figure, someone who has always suspected that there is something wrong with the system, and as the narrative stars, she finally makes a decision to get to the bottom of it. Not Susie. Susie Sunshine is a well-meaning part of the machine; an outstanding performer as it happens. She does not want to break the machine and her rebellion isn’t born from malicious saboteur motivations, but for a genuine desire to work with the heads of the corporation to improve working conditions. She is trying to help everyone. There is a Marxist, or perhaps political debate to be read there, as the system is clearly degrading those working hard to help it, suggesting a change needs to be made in not just this fictional workplace, but businesses in general. Howell’s performance is strong here, portraying Susie as a chirpy individual that clings to her happiness to keep her strong, slowly figuring out that this is what the business wants. It makes for every drop in her happy persona a devastating character point, grabbing the maximum punch from the smallest of emotions. It is heart-breaking to watch this character so keen and eager to help wander into situations that are designed to step down on her. At the same time, Howell has a character written that defies stereotype. Her big smile and 1950s vintage Stepford wife image suggests that she is a dim-witted fool. However, while her male oppressors purposefully keep her naïve, she is not stupid, one scene seeing her effortlessly complete a logic puzzle that would have most people reaching for the migraine tablets. The entire character screams that women are more than the tidy images we have of them in our heads and are much more complex that man has a habit of making them out to be.
You feel that Chelsea O’Connor is itching to get her hands on the budget to make this a feature. Susie Sunshine leads you down an interesting debate, throws up a dark climax and then finds itself with nowhere to go. There is no time, or budget, to tear down the system. It would hurt the message if the business was crushed in the space of a short film. O’Connor’s choice of ending is an attempt to suggest what could be, but as a result, it comes across as an unfinished story. Susie Sunshine is the first twenty minutes of a blockbuster movie, rather than a full narrative in its own right. It is a shame, but that doesn’t take away from a well-crafted cinematic end result. Susie Sunshine leads the way in independent cinema.
Final Verdict: Half a story, but a very good half, anchored by a strong female lead and an interesting debate on male oppression.