The subject of drug addiction and trafficking is a common story that spans the entire planet. Australian filmmakers Tristan Barr and Michael Gosden tell the not-so-unfamiliar story of a family torn apart by drug abuse in the small rural town of Kerang, Victoria. The catch is Barr and Gosden tell their story in one continuous 80-minute shot. Think of it as 24 without commercials.
Watch The Sunset opens with a quick one-minute documentary on the Australian heroin epidemic. It shows the damaging effects of drugs on its citizens, and the lengths people will go to obtain their next fix.
“…shows the damaging effects of drugs…and the lengths people will go to obtain their next fix.”
The credits then roll overlooking Kerang landscape from a car window. It pans to the driver Danny (Tristan Barr) and a girl clearly out of sorts and coming down from a serious high. As Danny pulls into a local motel, the camera remains in the car, looking out the front windshield, as Danny struggles to lock the girl in the motel room.
As the film continues, we become the literal fly-on-the-wall following Danny, who chases down his estranged wife, Sally (Chelsea Zeller) and his young daughter, Joey (Annabelle Williamson) at the local church daycare center. In an attempt towards reconciliation, the three go to a local park where Joey wanders off and is kidnapped by Danny’s drug dealing brother, Shane (Aaron Walton). Apparently, Danny has something that he took from Shane.
Watch The Sunset is an ambitious film tied to its main gimmick, the single continuous shot. It’s a little hard to believe that film was actually shot in one take. I could not detect any cuts or wonky transitions. So, if the film really was a single shot, then this is the greatest piece of filmmaking ever.
That said, Barr and Gosden’s planning regarding the camera’s every movement is amazing. It feels like you’re on a dark ride at Disneyland if that Disney story was about rescuing your daughter from a drug-dealing kidnapper. You’re being carried in and out of the car, and your POV turns in time to catch the next action. Then you fly invisibly alongside Danny and Sally arguing as they walk down a pathway.
These shots are clearly not improvised, but meticulously planned in both movement and composition. This is especially true as young Joey plays in the playground, when suddenly the camera pans to the ominous appearance of Shane and his henchman.
“It feels like you’re on a dark ride at Disneyland if that Disney story was about rescuing your daughter from a drug-dealing kidnapper.”
While following the story in this unique way is captivating, Watch The Sunset sometimes falls victim to its own gimmick. Essentially the story takes place in three locations: the motel, the park and Shane’s hideout. It would have been great to have these locations next to each other, but they aren’t. So we have to drive to each location more than once. There’s a lot of driving going on, and like life, sometimes we just sit there in silence rather than talk to fill time. As real as this is, it can get a little boring.
As far as the story goes, Watch The Sunset is not the most original story of a father trying to get his family back together after finding sobriety. His final act of redemption comes when he confronts his brother Shane and leads to a satisfying, yet arguably predictable ending.
The gimmick of Watch The Sunset succeeds in elevating a standard story of drugs, family, and redemption and rarely feels forced. Barr and Gosden manage to make their storytelling gimmick feel less like a gimmick.
Watch The Sunset (2017) Directed by Tristan Barr and Michael Gosden. Written by Chelsea Zeller, Tristan Barr, and Michael Gosden. Starring Tristan Barr, Chelsea Zeller, Annabelle Williamson, Aaron Walton, and Michael Gosden.
3 out of 5