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Release Date: December 2, 2016 (Limited and VOD)
Director: Sophia Takal
MPAA Rating: NR
Run Time: 85 Minutes

From its fantastic opening credits, I knew I was going to be into Sophia Takal’s psychological drama Always Shine. It instantly evoked some sort of dread that I really couldn’t put my finger on, but those De Palma-esque scrolling letters were enough for me to know this wasn’t going to be a happy-go-lucky comedy about two friends heading to Big Sur for the weekend.

The film stars Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald as Anna and Beth, friends and actresses who are heading to Anna’s aunt’s cabin for a little R&R. Beth has been receiving more success as an actress recently and, rather than being happy and supportive of her friend, Anna slowly becomes more and more resentful of her. As the trip progresses, tensions and emotions begin to rise until they finally culminate and boil over to a possibly catastrophic end.

Drawing inspiration from her own experiences as an actress, Takal expertly explores female jealousy within Hollywood and the insecurities that can arise from having a career in the business. In the beginning of the film, we see a close-up on Beth as she attends a particularly degrading audition, something I’m afraid probably happens all too often within the industry.

'Always Shine'
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Afterward she’s uncomfortable being naked around her boyfriend, Paul (Khan Baykal). She’s embarrassed of the work she’s getting and seems to become timid and anxious whenever someone tries to speak to her about her profession. Inversely, Anna wears her emotions on her sleeve. She’s first introduced in a close-up as well, causing the assumption we’re seeing another audition, but when the camera pans out, we see she’s actually tearing into a mechanic who she felt wronged her.

With some fantastic editing from Zack Clark (White Reindeer, Vacation!), Always Shine is constantly keeping the viewer on edge, effectively knowing when to cut and when to linger on a shot in order to ratchet the tension. In what I consider to be the film’s most powerful scene, Anna and Beth are arguing on the deck of their cabin, and the camera pans back and forth between them for the entire interaction, never cutting and letting everything play out in one take.

The film reminds me of last year’s Queen of Earth from Alex Ross Perry in that it also revolves around two friends in a remote cabin whose relationship begins to crumble as jealousy and madness creep in. Not to degrade Perry’s great work, the thematic elements and character development in Always Shine are far less obtuse, making it a more entertaining watch.

With a haunting finale and two freaking fantastic performances from Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald, Always Shine is another winner from husband-and-wife team Lawrence Michael Levine and Sophia Takal. Seek this one out.