(director: Sophia Takal; screenwriter: Lawrence Michael Levine; cinematographer: Mark Schwartzbard; editor: Zach Clark; music: Micharl Montes; cast: Mackenzie Davis (Anna), Caitlin FitzGerald (Beth), Lawrence Michael Levine (Jesse), Khan Baykal (Paul), Alexander Koch (Matt), Michael Lowry (Vic), Colleen Camp (Sandra), Julian Tolentino (Jack), Jane Adams (Summer), Marissa Takal (Violet); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Pierce Varous/Lawrence Michael Levine/Sophia Takal; Oscilloscope Laboratories; 2016)

“A twisty psychological thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A twisty psychological thriller stylishly directed by former indie actress Sophia Takal (“Green”) from a script by her husband Lawrence Michael Levine, who also acts in the film. The dramatics are modeled after Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona,” but can’t reach the same depths of that masterful chamber piece. After a fine start it retreats into a gimmicky surrealist conclusion and in the process loses the brilliant character set-up over the failure of the attractive career women to deal with a controlling patriarchal society and their inability to form friendly female alliances.

Two best friend LA actresses, Beth (Caitlin FitzGerald), with mostly lousy horror flicks on her resume, and Anna (Mackenzie Davis), the struggling, sarcastic and embittered unemployed actress, go on a week-end vacation to Big Sur to see if it’s possible to revive their flagging friendship. Beth is the angelic looking helpless sweet type, who is passive-aggressive. Anna is the argumentative, acerbic and opinionated aggressive type, who is jealous of Beth’s small success and irritated she receives no career help from her through her vast contacts. Their cautious relationship is no longer warm and fuzzy, if it ever really was, and their get-together seems forced and awkward.

In the beautiful setting of the cliffs of Big Sur, in a secluded luxury modern home owned by Anna’s absent aunt, the ladies between sips of wine show how distant they have become by their chilly reactions to each other. The forward Anna increases the intensity by relating poorly to several perceived slights from Beth and shows how jealous she has become that Beth could possibly be on her way to stardom even if such a limited actress.

Their mutual hatred builds throughout. By the conclusion things get recklessly weird, and the really fine performances by the two actresses incredulously into a disappointing shocker.

ALWAYS SHINE -still 2 - H 2016

REVIEWED ON 12/13/2016       GRADE: B-