Sunday, March 01, 2020

Short Film: Suicide by Sunlight

Thanks to Everlost for referring me to this 17-minute-long short film that was directed by Nikyatu Jusu and released in 2019. It is absolutely a joy to watch such a well put together short and even the title, in this case, is cleverly done.

So, Suicide by Sunlight spins your mind, as a title, in a certain genre direction – pre-empting the direction you believe the plot will take you. However, whilst the trope is accurate the direction is not.

So, we start with a nurse, masked, walking with blood samples on a tray. As she walks, we get a moment of eye-shine – the way the film does vampiric eyes is really nicely done.
A halo glow within the iris betrays the person as a vampire, though you might also get a glimpse of retractable fang. As the title screen shows we start to hear a broadcast about vampires – despite being in the background it is very important and we will return to it. We see Valentina (Natalie Paul), the nurse, without mask, woken from a daydream by another nurse (Deanna Henson) who tells her that a particular patient is asking for her.

random infant vampire
She goes to the room of a young, desperately ill boy named Micah (Destin Khari). He doesn’t seem to be there. The TV broadcast we heard is coming from the TV in his room. We hear about violent vampires (vampires are a known thing) with a rebuttal that says most are not killing, the ones that are, well they are outliers. As we see the TV we hear that the discussion is about African American vampires and a question is asked about white vampires. The response suggests that white vampires have a disadvantage as they cannot pass amongst white humans during the day – it would be suicide by sunlight.

subway vampire
This, of course, tells us a few things. Firstly, black vampires are daywalkers and this is due specifically to protection from the melanin that gives them their skin colour. This is something that was explored marvellously in the book Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler. But the other thing is the understanding that whilst a disadvantage for white vampires is mentioned, they are still privileged. It is the black vampires the press is talking about, demonising – despite the retort that only outliers are violent. This being the case, whichever allegorical lens you read the short through, the short suggests that the black population is still demonised, that crimes might be committed by anyone but the light unfairly shines on those who are black.

part of a binge feed
Micah is play-hiding and comes from behind a screen and Valentina gets him to bed, telling him he has to eat. His mother (Ellie Foumbi) comes in, grateful for the attention the nurse offers her son. It is clear, though, that her vampirism is a secret also, as caring and maternal as Valentina is drawn, we then discover that there is a tragedy at the centre of her being. That her ex, Langston (Motell Gyn Foster), is keeping her from their daughters – this is entirely down to the fact that she is a vampire. When she discovers that he has moved a new lover in, the pressure on her increases and we see her turn to binge feeding from multiple people.

a bite
I won’t spoil the story any more as it is wonderfully realised. Not only around Valentina’s journey but also in general world building. The filmmakers draw a world that feels complete in only 17 minutes, from interactions on the subway train to a pastor (Souleymane Sy Savane) preaching about the end of times we are drawn into this world and it feels authentic, rounded. No mean feat generally, especially not in just 17-minutes. The film is gloriously shot and very well acted. Highly recommended.

The imdb page is here.

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