“Always Shine” Reveals Darkness
By Samantha Anne Carrillo
Fans of feminist film have cause to rejoice with the release of Sophia Takal’s psychological thriller “Always Shine.” Centered on Los Angeleno actresses/best frenemies Anna (Mackenzie Davis, “Black Mirror”) and Beth (Caitlin FitzGerald, “Masters of Sex”), the resulting narrative composition begs comparison to auteurs like Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch without feeling derivative.
Throughout, oblique and explicit references to historic SoCal culture supplant an appearance vs. reality premise in symbolic, filmic significance. Beth’s innate portrayal of the elusive and thus completely alluring, universally wanted “California girl”—Gidget meets Stevie Nicks, borne of post-millennial starpower ethics—sharply contrasts with the film’s portrayal of Beth.
“Always Shine” opens with an extreme closeup of “wilting flower” Beth pacifying a menacing offscreen presence. A crew of male filmmakers clumsily stress their project’s need for “extensive nudity” amid recitation of painfully bland dialogue. This updated casting couch scenario functions as gateway to said slasher flick’s lead role, the perpetually underdressed scream queen aka “final girl.”
As a meta-character, Beth continually barters for both life and career with her tanned, unblemished flesh. She thrives by providing succor to system that accepts her based on a perceived physical and psychological make-up. Alternately, Anna is explained by and marked for dismissal by the same patriarchal values that inspire personas like Beth’s.
By way of contrast, Anna demonstrates epic assertiveness in a heated interaction with a mechanic over an unauthorized car repair. The thoroughly indoctrinated garage owner notes that Anna is unlikely to find relief so long as she behaves in an “unladylike” manner. This sexist conflict denotes the poisonous power driving the onscreen action.
In these essential, initial scenes, a theme emerges: demure damsels in distress like Beth succeed in attracting both love and work with soft-spoken, tentative emotional manipulation and stereotypical feminine wiles. Meanwhile, aggressive women like Anna find the objects of their personal and professional desire perpetually out of reach.
Over a weekend in Big Sur, prototypical horror movie tropes like remote location and a lack of cell reception set the stage for an unhappy ending. At this point, the action plunges into a casual examination of the forces underlying these characters’ conflict.
A Big Kahuna-like character even emerges, supplanting the notion that the fault of this tragedy lies not only in the perceptions we have of others, but also in the cultural descriptors that individuals immersed in this particular world blithely carry with them, sometimes willingly and always at their own risk.
Throughout its lengthy denouement, Takal’s “Always Shine” is loaded with allusion, symbolism and descriptors that point to a patently false culture. In a world where one thing can be so easily disguised as another, nothing can be certain except guilt and failure.
“Always Shine” screens at The Guild Cinema (3405 Central NE) from Wednesday, Jan. 11, through Saturday, Jan. 14, at 6:30 p.m. Learn more at guildcinema.com.
Samantha Anne Carrillo is a nuevomexicana writer & editor, a freelance social media consultant, a fourth-wave feminist and a devout situationist. Find her at facebook.com/samanthaannenm.
Photo credits: Oscilloscope