June Butler looks into the future with Kevin Ryan’s dystopian Bad Suns.
A razor-sharp scrutiny of humankind’s ability to self-destruct with aplomb. Wickedly droll and firmly ensconced in the realm of irony, Bad Suns is a stark signifier of what lies ahead when viewed through a looking glass of terrifying bleakness. What saves the film (not that it needs saving) is writer, director, and actor Kevin Ryan’s steady hand in determining the story’s outcome and his sense of humour in the telling.
Set in the near future, modern civilisation hovers on the brink of catastrophic annihilation until such time as Jake (Kevin Ryan) presses ‘the button’ and catapults the USA into a deadly and ultimately losing collision course with China. This ‘new order’ presents China as the victors with the rest of the world struggling to accept the status quo and find some method of resistance. The sense of Bad Suns is one of instability and tacit acceptance of defeat with an underlying implication that bad things are fast approaching. Cue Jake’s entrance in a fast car all windswept and brooding. He hurtles along in what appears to be an unending road-trip to places unknown. While speeding past a deserted petrol station, Jake sees a scared young girl on her own. He screeches to a halt and offers her a lift. Lilly (Breaunna Bryan) provides a balance to Jake’s slightly more active role but both characters even each other out as they enter a perfect reciprocal partnership. Lilly is emotive Yin to Jake’s stoic Yang. The recipe for an ideal buddy/road movie.
As writer/director and lead role in Bad Suns, Ryan has embraced a level of hubris that makes his one-man foray into righting all the wrongs in the world, seem eminently plausible. At key moments in the drama, other players come into the frame – a wonderfully thrilling incident plays out when Jake and Lilly encounter two random thugs on the highway. James Jones III (Timothy V Murphy) and Lance Barrington (Dylan Townsend) provide a clear and present threat to the wellbeing of Jake and Lilly. Timothy V Murphy’s character in particular simmers with menacing intent – truly the kind of people your parents warned you about (but you considered hanging out with anyway).
Bad Suns is a great yarn. It’s filled with action, witty asides, and packed full of drama. Jake and Lilly are immensely likeable characters and Kevin Ryan has managed to propel the audience into the thick of things without labouring the point too much. The downside (or upside, reliant on vantage point), of making a short film is that the director has really only minutes or seconds to relay the story and to make audiences care about the outcome. It’s a skillset that isn’t easy to learn and even more difficult to put in place. Kevin Ryan makes it appear effortless. Perhaps a full-length feature could be waiting in the wings? With Ryan at the helm, it is sure to be a success.
Bad Suns screened at The Dingle Distillery International Film Festival 11 November – 13 November 2022.