A father and son walk through a peaceful green forest, talking and horsing around. But this is no ordinary excursion during an ordinary time. Ethan and his son Thomas are wearing gas masks because toxic mushrooms called sundowns have made the air deadly to breathe. And they're out on a dangerous mission to harvest these poisonous fungi to make more antidote -- or else suffer the deadly effects of sundown.
But just as they've found some sundowns, thieving bandits happen upon them, stealing the antidote they carry as a safeguard and exposing them to the poisonous air. With not enough antidote left for them both, it's up to the young boy to save them both.
Written and directed by Luke Asa Guidici, this suspenseful, engaging sci-fi short is set in a post-apocalyptic future where an invisible yet omnipresent danger lingers in the air. Yet at its core, it's a coming-of-age tale of a young boy who must overcome his timidity and fear in a potentially catastrophic situation, forcing him to grow up fast.
The storytelling is solid and sturdy, laying down the breadcrumbs of backstory, information and relationship in a way that draws in viewers to know and understand more. The film set up a world not unlike our own, shot with a coolly verdant yet ominous visual atmosphere that takes advantage of the forest setting. It would be almost idyllic, if not for the omnipresent breathing masks and guns.
Yet the father-son pair have an emotional relatability, and their rapport is warm, jocular and affectionate. Ethan takes his role as a father seriously, always trying to guide and teach Thomas, who is sometimes timid and scared. Actors Joshua Loren and Mason McNulty as father and son, respectively, have a strong connection, with a free flow of love and care between them. Thanks to the writing and their solid performances, we come to care about this small family in a short time.
Their relationship is the emotional core of the film, and it's what's at stake when marauders overtake them and put them in peril. Thomas now must overcome his anxieties, fears and shyness to take charge of the situation, outfoxing the thieves. But will be as ruthless as the bandits themselves? His dilemma isn't just life and death, but also the question of who he is as a person.
Taut, suspenseful and compelling, "Sundown Trail" offers the pleasures of the sci-fi and thriller genre. And with its sense of atmospheric dread, it also draws perhaps unplanned parallels with our time of global pandemic. But the careful attention to character and relationship gives "Sundown Trail" an emotional engagement and sincerity that makes it memorable and even heartwarming. We discover that even in a ruthless world of danger and threat, a father can still teach his child to be a good person -- to value mutual trust and care, think of others and believe in basic human goodness, even when it seems no one else does.