10/23/2018 – Sophia Takal: Always Shine (2016)
Directed by Sophia Takal
We again move one year closer to the present from our last installment in this section and even more so this year, we have a number of very well received titles. Besides being well received, for once I feel like I can actually speak from a position of authority on most of these films since they are prominent enough that I’ve checked them out in the past. We’ll get to Anna Biller’s The Love Witch tomorrow, but I’ve covered two others last year. Julia Ducournau’s Raw is a French-Belgian title that ties its cannibal horror to some deeply uncomfortable experiences around the female experience. Mattie Do’s Dearest Sister is very atmospheric and along with her earlier Chanthaly essentially represents the entire Laos horror film industry. Prevenge by Alice Lowe (co-writer/star of Sightseers as well as co-star of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace) takes the slasher film and makes the villain into a humorous telepathic fetus compelling a pregnant woman to kill. The one major horror film from a female director was the lousy action-horror sequel Underworld: Blood Wars by Anna Foerster while the anthology horror film Holidays featured one segment “Mother’s Day” (because of course it is the one based on Mother’s Day) directed by Sarah Adina Smith (The Midnight Swim, Buster’s Mal Heart).
After attending Vassar and then graduating from Barnard where she studied film theory, Sophia Takal would star in the film, Gabi on the Roof in July in 2011. That year, she would also write and direct (as well as co-star) in her first film, the ultra low budget drama Green. She would follow that up by appearing in a number of small movies as well as Ti West’s notoriously terrible segment of V/H/S. Her second film, Always Shine, would be made from a script from her husband, Lawrence Michael Levine which was written around the same time as her first film.
The opening card quotes actor and modeling school founder John Robert Powers, “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.” There’s a lot to unpack in that statement, but it sets the tone for the rest of the runtime that regardless of what happens, the root of so many of these problems stems from a societal view of women, especially that in the movie industry. I’ve been quite open in the past about being done with films and shows about the film industry and so I’ll admit that my expectations were incredibly low.
The first thing we see is an incredibly creepy interview of an actress (Beth played by Caitlin FitzGerald) where they keep emphasizing her beauty and the extensive nudity the role requires, the camera never leaving her face while showing enough to indicate that while she is not naked now, as you see her body practically squirming, there’s a good chance she’s still not wearing very much. It doesn’t go without being noticed that the film itself seems careful to hide her body. Beth is described throughout the movie as wilting, tieing into that intro of the flowers.
She takes a vacation for four days away from her boyfriend (who is bothered by all the nude roles she’s been doing) with her friend in Big Sur. Her friend (Anna played by Mackenzie Davis) is an actress, but a struggling one. She’s also far more bold, outgoing, and assured which repeatedly negatively affects her interactions with men. It ruins her relationship with her boyfriend when she pushes his boss in an argument, it drives away a potential older guy (to Beth) who finds her manner off putting, and it’s heavily implied that it’s the reason that she is struggling to make basic payments.
As the two travel together, the tension between them builds. Beth grappling with the insecurity over her career and ability with the constant assumption that Anna hates her causing her to lie repeatedly, and Beth’s constant lies and “phony” behavior frustrating Anna right back. SPOILERS1
Davis is fantastic in the film, called upon to play a wide range of emotions SPOILERS2, but I was also impressed by FitzGerald who in the past has to put it very charitably, not in her TV work on Masters of Sex and Rectify. It’s tense, but it’s also a film that is very thematically compelling on top of that.
Bonus Episode #33 – A – 1990s: Dead Sleep (1992)
Directed by Alec Mills
An Aussie DTV horror thriller supposedly based on a true story, Dead Sleep stars Linda Blair as Maggie, a nurse starting part time at a psychiatric hospital. The department is headed by the highly acclaimed Dr. Heckett (played by an Aussie Robert Redford knockoff) who has pioneered a form of therapy centered around keeping patients from getting too excitable and more specifically putting them in a state of deep sleep as a treatment. Dr. Heckett takes to Maggie and promotes her to the night shift. Soon though, it becomes something is up thanks to the constant attempts at filing a complaint by a young woman (who is ignored based on her past psychiatric history) and the death of an otherwise improving patient who still received deep sedation and electric shock treatment. This treatment was made even worse after he starts having kidney trouble and dies when the doctor takes his damn time coming in.
It becomes a race to investigate and fight the system to prove just how corrupt and murderous it is. Blair’s performance is terrible in the way she over reads every line and not in an entertaining Roller Boogie type way. The visual design of the deep sleep room will certainly bring to mind the Michael Crichton film Coma, but any comparisons between the two are slight. For one, Coma was actually pretty decent with some style while this one lacks any sort of mystery. Dead Sleep is nothing more than a uninspiring medical thriller which offers little of the thrills.
Bonus Episode #D-1 – S – Amy Adrion: Half the Picture (2018)
Directed by Amy Adrion
While I’m well aware this is not a horror movie, this documentary fits far too well into my theme that I couldn’t pass up talking about it. Plus, a couple of the subjects interviewed were horror directors (or at least dabbled in horror) including Karyn Kusama. Half the Picture is a far more in depth look and expansion than anything I’ve written about the subject and it’s worth checking out for those interested in the subject. It feels quite comprehensive in terms of the difficulties and systemic issues faced. It’s not one that delves too much into the history of women directing films, instead focusing more on the personal experiences of the interviewees.
This is Amy Adrion’s first film though she had directed a trio of shorts, Shoegazer, The Home of Split Pea Soup, and Surviving 7th Grade since receiving a Masters in Film Directing from UCLA.
Next up: Romania’s Domnisoara Christina