Lawrence Toppman

‘Sunset Edge’ leaves you with questions, sticks in memory

Blaine and Jacob at a truck in "Sunset Edge."
Blaine and Jacob at a truck in "Sunset Edge." Cavu Pictures

I’ve seen movies about haunted high schools, colleges, mental institutions, hospitals, automobiles, farms, department stores and ocean liners. But until “Sunset Edge,” I had never watched one about a haunted trailer park.

Or did I? The ending suggests that what transpires may, after all, be a dream.

The film has not done well with voters at the Internet Movie Data Base, and I can see why. It jumps around in time without clear signposts. If the ending is realistic, it’s a small payoff; if fantastic, it may leave you feeling unfulfilled.

Yet the first fiction feature by writer-director Daniel Peddle casts a slow, somber spell. Its edge-of-civilization atmosphere and its melancholy, fragmented narrative have stuck with me days afterward, and I’ll try to tell you why.

We begin in the company of four teens who have driven to Sunset Edge, an abandoned trailer park, to spend an aimless day. They break windows, suck down sugary drinks, discuss their own unimportance in Forsyth County when measured against the universe. (Peddle, who comes from Winston-Salem, shot in that county and a few points west. He plans to hold Q-and-A sessions after the 7:20 p.m. showings July 31 and Aug. 1 at Ballantyne Village.)

They drift indolently through the day, unaware they’re being watched by a fifth boy, Malachi. He was raised in a nearby farmhouse by a taciturn grandfather, now dead, who wanted to isolate him from society. We find out through flashbacks and flash-forwards that Malachi’s father went on a killing spree at Sunset Edge; his son never knew that story until he became a teen and now drifts through the trailers, gathering artifacts as he ponders the past.

Sometimes Peddle seems to be telling a spooky story; sometimes he veers toward a coming-of-age piece. But he does two things unusually well. First, he captures the anomie of a summer day when time seems to stop, and we look forward into a hazy future and feel we’re drifting through life. Second, he reveals the loneliness of a young man with no moorings in society, no family story, no friends his age. Malachi seems a threat at times, but he’s really more of a ghost in his own life.

Peddle, a prominent New York casting director, worked entirely with non-professional actors here. He gave the five very little dialogue; on this showing, Gilberto Padilla (who plays Malachi) seems likeliest to have a future as an actor.

Peddle’s also a painter, so he has a well-developed visual sense. Along with cinematographer-editor Karim López, he creates a mood that’s hard to shake. Conventional, it’s not. Memorable, at least to me, it is.

‘Sunset Edge’

Writer-director: Daniel Peddle.

Length: 87 minutes.

Rating: Unrated (some language and spooky images).