I was lucky enough to be invited to watch the award winning Sunset Contract at its BIFA screening. It is an inventive adaptation of the genie story that most of us will know from Aladdin. However, in his first feature writer/director Marc Conen plants Sunset Contract firmly in the 21st century with a reversal of the gender roles. It is a witty, insightful and carefully crafted film with a social commentary on the way we live now.
Peter Nicholas, Paris Jefferson and Anna Nightingale are the three actors who play their roles with gusto in Sunset Contract. The beginning of the film is misleading as we believe that Brad (Peter Nicholas) is juggling two women when in fact nothing can be further from the truth. The film is told in three parts and that helps to break up the narrative heavy film: The Merchant, The Jester and Ms. Eve.
Brad is granted three wishes by the genie but everything comes with a price and Brad has until sunset to decide if that price is too much for him.
Does it work? Is It diverse storytelling?
Yes. When the film first starts and for much of the first two parts of the film, the viewer begins to think that the mysterious woman in red (Paris Jefferson) is actually the devil in the guise of a woman. However this is not the case.
The film is inventive and it certainly passes the Bechedel test- with the main character being female talking to another female actress on screen. There haven’t really been many films to take on the negative effects of social media and the effects it might. Sunset Contract questions why do we all want to be popular on social media and have we lost our morals. Ex Machina explored this in 2014 in its futuristic tale as does Black Mirror on the small screen. However, Sunset Contract’s take on this does feel more accessible.
Low budget independent films can sometimes suffer from gaps in the film where the story doesn’t flow or something wacky happens for no apparent reason. This doesn’t happen in Sunset Contract. What we get instead is a finely observed commentary on people’s quest to appear successful and have everything. It all builds up to an ending where Brad has to make a moral. Does he still have any morals and can he be selfless?
For a low budget independent film the cinematography is of a very high standard and there’s even a few special effects thrown in for good measure.
It was nominated for 5 awards in the British Independent Film Awards held on Saturday 2 June included – Best Film, Best Cinematography, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and unsurprisingly, Paris Jefferson won the Best Actress award. She is ably helped by the performances of the two other actors; Anna Nightingale and especially Peter Nicholas as the hapless Brad.
Narrative driven films such succeed or fail on the quality and casting of the central actors. Paris Jefferson absolutely deserved her award, she is mesmerising in every scene that she in. Sunset Contract does have echoes of the 2010 thriller, The disappearance of Alice Creed and the two films with limited budgets have most of the action take place in one location. Possibly the only issue with that is there does need to be a little bit more action to keep the viewer engaged and it may have benefited from a tiny bit less dialogue.
However, if you like narrative driven films that require you to engage your mind as well as your eyes then look out for Sunset Contract.