Many films that center on the relationship between two women fail to grasp the depths (and depravities) of friendship, but, with a woman at the helm, Sophia Takal’s Always Shine explores a toxic friendship at its breaking point, showing audiences everywhere that horror movies can have realistic female characters.
Always Shine is about two actresses (who are, or were, best friends) going to Big Sur for a weekend away from LA. One of them is recently much more successful than the other, and there’s a poisonous jealousy between them. The less successful one, Anna (played by Mackenzie Davis), is envious of Beth’s (Caitlin FitzGerald) boyfriend, desirability, money, agent, and parts in movies, even if she has to get naked in all of them. Beth is jealous in a more sinister way. Beth is so intimidated by Anna that she doesn’t want Anna to approach her success and steal any of her limelight–she appears innocent and ethereal but is anchored by pettiness.
Both Beth and Anna want the same thing (success in every aspect of their lives) so intensely that they lose their grasp on reality and can no longer tell who is Anna and who is Beth. Each woman, in some horrific way, wants to be the other. Even while having the actresses who portray Anna and Beth trade places multiple times, Takal specifically defines each character.
Takal shows a hundred emotions at once in each character: they’re greedy, narcissistic, jealous, bitter, and cruel while also being scared, insecure, funny, and lonely. Both characters show that women don’t have to to be kind and nurturing and funny and sweet in movies–they can be every shade of nasty that there is because that’s real, too. And it’s scary. Sophia Takal shows us how friendship can warp into a menacing evil, and she makes it more real than any archetypal story with a hero and a villain. Always Shine passes the Bechdel Test, and it could pass out of your screen and into your life. That question that gets asked on TV shows after a murder: “Did they have any enemies?” Sure, each woman had an enemy. Her best friend.
Alena Schoonmaker is a major cinephile who is the volunteer coordinator and a festival programmer at SpIFF as well as an associate producer at Rogue Heart Media. She got her degree in film from Seattle University and also studied film at NYU. Alena spends her free time volunteering with cats as well as writing and directing short films.