Review: SUNRISE Is A Surprising Supernatural Thriller

3.5 out of 5 stars

We go into films with certain expectations. We imagine what a film will be like, based on a title, a logline,  a poster or a trailer. I went into Andrew Baird’s Sunrise with a certain idea of what I thought I was getting. I expected a vampire western – with all the tropes you would expect with that kind of movie. I didn’t get that – but what I did get was a meditative supernatural thriller about loss and the struggle of the oppressed against tyranny. 

That’s the power of film, it surprises and subverts expectations, taking you to places you never thought you’d go. Sunrise is about vampires in the way Robert Eggers’ The Witch is about witches. Yes, of course, it’s about vampires – but it’s also about relationships and the struggle of living in harsh, brutal isolation. This is all pulled through by strong performances that add to the harsh milieu that Baird has created. It also serves as neo-western, a film with notes of Don Siegel’s Clint Eastwood starrer, The Beguiled. It sees the protagonist laid up and recuperating in an isolated abode, but Sunrise doesn’t have the psycho-sexual undertones of Siegel’s film, instead, the subtext here is more about the struggle between the greedy and the oppressed, the powerful and the weak. 

At the centre of Sunrise is a terse and truculent turn from Guy Pearce. Pearce has long been a reliable performer, and here he chews the scenery without ever veering into pantomime villain territory.  As the film’s vampire, Alex Pettyfer might be the nominal monster of the piece, but Pearce is the real beast in Sunrise – a brutal racist filled with rage and hate. Pettyfer’s role as the mysterious ex-policeman is less flashy, but he shows a quiet assuredness which shows that he’s entering an interesting phase in his career. Meanwhile, Crystal Yu’s performance as the mother terrorised by Pearce gives the film complexity and a strong emotional backbone. 

You can almost feel the tactile nature of Sunrise’s visuals. There’s a dreamlike quality to the film and the Northern Irish environs (standing in for the U.S.) offer up a haunting, yet luscious landscape. Baird and cinematographer Ivan Abel really make the locations work for the film, showing that when good scenery is integrated into a film it works as another character. 

The pace might not work for those looking for something fast and furious, but the tone and general vibe of Sunrise makes it an atmospheric piece that creeps under the skin. A supernatural thriller rather than a horror, this is a film that unfolds in surprising ways. If you’re in the mood for an off-beat genre film, then Sunrise is the title for you.