thriller, 85 minutes, not rated, 3 chiles
In this twisty psychological thriller from actressturned-director Sophia Takal, Anna (Halt and Catch Fire’s Mackenzie Davis) and Beth (Caitlin FitzGerald from Masters of Sex) play aspiring young actresses living in Los Angeles who take off for a girls’ weekend in Big Sur. They quickly discover that rivalry, various perceived slights, and repressed resentment have turned them into more frenemies than friends. The film is gripping from start to finish, thanks to jumpy editing, intense performances, a tight script by Lawrence Michael Levine, and Michael Montes’ score, which amps up the tension and dread, as the music in all good horror flicks should do. This is more than a scary movie, though: It explores Hollywood’s misogyny and our obsession with celebrity and physical beauty. (An opening title card sets the tone by reminding us, “It is a woman’s birthright to be attractive and charming. In a sense, it is her duty … She is the bowl of flowers on the table of life.”) Cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard captures the feel of Big Sur’s dense coastal forests, breathtakingly lush but also sometimes alarmingly claustrophobic. The influence of Brian De Palma and David Lynch is clear, and like the Scream series before it, Always Shine gently pokes fun at mainstream horror clichés — in particular, gratuitous female nudity, which it points to without itself revealing more than a bare back or gently toned arm, even during shower scenes. The film nearly loses its way when it moves further into meta territory, but the concise story and brief running time keep it on track. — Laurel Gladden The Screen, 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21; 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22.