Sunset Edge’s first image is of an elderly woman clad in a white gown and bathed in autumn sunlight, cathartically opening her eyes as her pale, wispy hair undulates in the wind. Off screen, wind chimes rattle and a girl hums a chilling tune on the soundtrack to supplement the film’s initially arresting mood. It’s a fitting prologue to a suspense flick with a simple but promising premise: On a derelict trailer park somewhere in the forested outskirts of North Carolina, a group of bored high schoolers wake up from a midday nap to discover that their belongings have been taken by an unseen visitor. But the grandeur of the film’s inaugural image only promises a Southern-gothic tale of high mystery. In Sunset Edge’s middle act, a mishmash of flashbacks concerning the tragic history of the trailer park and its relation to the teenagers’ interloper, so much is unabashedly revealed that writer-director Daniel Peddle, whose roots are in the fashion industry, loses the sort of ambiguity necessary for sustaining the suspense he so meticulously establishes in the first act.
Still, Peddle reveals a trained eye for naturalism and brings it to bear in his use of close-up. Like Larry Clark, the filmmaker finds endless fascination in the closed rituals of the young. Using bumpy handheld and natural light, he compulsively shoots his characters skateboarding, taking naps, or mixing together copious amounts of junk food into cocktails. Yet their indulgences don’t include sex and drugs; their curiosities largely extend only to seeing what might be in the other room of an abandoned trailer. Maybe because of the scarcely intrusive nature of Peddle’s documentary-like gaze, the teens get away with saying things such as “a grain of sand on the beach of life” without sounding bogus. But the filmmaker’s anthropological concerns never really wed themselves to a sturdy narrative bedrock. Sunset Edge is a historical tragedy about the folks who once lived on the trailer park and their continued influence on its lone survivor, as well as a lackadaisical portrait of kids hanging out in the woods, never taking flight as either. Peddle tries to make good on his initial promise toward the end with a host of chase sequences through tall wheat fields scored to luscious ambient music, but they only seem to make more apparent the film’s unfulfilling, if seductive, frisson.