Monday, October 17, 2016
Always Shine (2016)
DIRECTOR: Sophia Takal
WRITER: Lawrence Michael Levine
Lawrence Michael Levine
Two actresses who are also very close friends have started to drift apart in recent years and decide to take a weekend away to Big Sur. They hope that this weekend will allow them to catch up and re-establish their strained friendship due to years of competitiveness and jealousy with their careers. The weekend away will go from bad to worse when secrets begin to unearth and an inevitable confrontation changes both of their lives forever.
I remember hearing all of the positive word of mouth about Always Shine after it had played at the Venice Film Festival. I had read that Always Shine was an impressively dark, slow-burn thriller that had a substantial amount of tension as well as fantastic performances from both the film's two leading actresses. After watching the movie myself, I can confirm that everything that was said about the film out of Venice was spot on. This is a taut experience.
From the opening frame of Always Shine, we are made to feel uncomfortable. We are first introduced to Beth, the more successful actress of the two friends. She is in the middle of doing an audition where two pervy producers are hounding her about not going back on her word about being comfortable with doing onscreen nudity. Almost straight away, the film makes a pretty big statement and is pretty clear throughout about how women are seen and treated by men in Hollywood and what type of roles they have available to them. In today's current climate, this scene would play even more topical.
In the next scene, we are introduced to the more outspoken and dominant Anna. She is not shy or very reserved at all. She is being ripped off by her mechanic, and she is not about to stand down when she thinks she is being taken for a ride. Once the two women come together for their trip to Big Sur, the movie wastes no time in getting things rolling. Things don't take long before the movie starts to head down a darker path and things turn incredibly sour between the friends.
What Always Shine does so successfully is that as soon as these two girlfriends come together, you can cut the tension with a knife. Every single conversation or exchange between the two has this horrible sense of foreboding uneasiness, and it never lets up throughout the entire movie. At times the exchanges become so uncomfortable that I was actually on the edge of my seat. These two women are venomous, and it's done in a way that's never gratuitous.
Always Shine is never in your face with gore, blood or violence. Instead, the movie slowly builds the exchanges between these two friends that reaches a breaking point. The tension in the film is close to masterclass. I can't talk enough about how much I enjoyed the dynamic of these two women. Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald are both fantastic here. Whatever awards they receive for their roles in this film, I think they deserve them. Both are outstanding in Always Shine.
The film has a few problems, but it's not enough to derail my enjoyment of it. The most significant issue that Alway Shine faces is the fact that the film builds towards what I thought was going to be a really dark and disturbing final and the movie sort of builds to not much of anything. While the movie indeed ends on a sour note, it just felt more like a whimper than a bang. All the tension that is happening between the exchanges of the first and second act is lost in the third act.
In the third act, I also found a few other issues with the film. There is a twist-of-sorts that takes place, and it's one that has been used in a few different movies. It throws into doubt if what we have just witnessed actually happened. It plays like a battle of split personalities. I think I would've preferred merely that the movie built to a really bloody and dark final where the tension became too much and our two actresses went head to head.
Visually, I think Sophia Takal has crafted a superb indie thriller. The movie is mostly set in the wilderness, and I think overall the movie looks lush. The film has a lot of quick cuts and frantic editing with shots showing what appears to be a brutal murder that is interconnected with sex. I thought all the scenes in Big Sur gave the film this beautiful natural look to it all. Even the dark tonal shift in the third act was well done. A great looking film overall.
DEATH TOLL: 1
BLOOD AND GORE:
- We see quick flashes of a bloody murder.
- Two women fighting and choking each other.
- A body is shown being carried out in a body bag.
The gore in this film is all implied.
Always Shine is a movie that from the very first frame will get under your skin. It is so successful at making you feel uncomfortable, and it's all based around and on the two women conversing. It's a testament to the two fantastic performances from both Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin Fitzgerald. The movie falters towards the third act, but it's not enough to ruin the overall film for me. I highly recommend that you check this psychological thriller out. It's worth investing an hour and half of your time.