Canadian Film Fest ’24: Daughter of the Sun

When I wrote about Ryan Ward’s directorial feature debut Son of the Sunshine, I was humbled by the filmmaker’s response to my unenthused review.  I had labeled his film as “maple syrup melancholy”, a term I coined to encompass Canada’s ongoing trend of churning out depressing, empty movies.  I thought the term was clever, Ward didn’t think so.  The Canadian writer/director advised that, while disliking a movie and its motives is fine, labelling art can be dangerous as it degrades the efforts of independent artists.

12 years later, I’m reunited with Ward’s filmmaking – a sequel to Son of the Sunshine titled Daughter of the Sun – and I can’t help but remember his rebuttal.  Ward is right: just like a critic’s star rating, using labels can provide mixed signals and inappropriately group art together that may not belong in the same company.  Daughter of the Sun has so many unique qualities that it would be a shame for someone to nonchalantly excuse it.  Especially considering how Ward has improved on his filmmaking since his 2009 festival darling.

Daughter of the Sun reunites the audience with Sonny Johnns (reprised by Ward), but also his teenage daughter Hildie (Nyah Perkin).  Both sharing a vagrant’s life, Johnns struggles with his Tourette Syndrome as well as maintaining a steady job, while Hildie tries to keep a routine given the circumstances.  Both are also experiencing their own supernatural qualities, which Hildie doesn’t entirely understand partly due to her father’s stoic stubbornness and lack of communication.

Daughter of the Sun presents sad characters but, unlike Ward’s predecessor, the film doesn’t wallow in their depression.  Instead, the filmmaker elevates the material with the inclusion of diverse acquaintances.  Ward’s portrayal of Sonny is consistently impressive over both movies, but the character finds much more room to breathe when others share Sonny’s weight.  The same can be said for Perkin who, so early in her acting career, shows great range and professional cooperation with her cast.

When the plot becomes more complicated, the viewer is compelled to follow because of the emotional investment the production has created so well.  The story may depend too often on dreamy visuals or Hildie’s curious narration to provide the momentum but, once Daughter of The Sun hits a stride, its unpredictable ride is addictive – it’s Canada’s call to character-driven pulp like Logan.


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