What The Female-Led Thriller 'Always Shine' Gets Right About The Competitiveness Between Women
As a general rule, women and horror movies don't go together well. Typically, the female characters that exist in thrillers and slashers are either damsels in distress or "final girls," spending far too much time screaming their heads off and avoiding capture than actually being fully-realized human beings. Yet in the new psychological thriller Always Shine , the two women at the movie's center fall into neither of those tropes — instead, they're realistic, complicated individuals whose pain and fear come not from some knife-wielding monster, but each other. Always Shine, in theaters Dec. 2, is a welcome change from the norm, thanks to its focus on the darkness that can come from complex relationships between women.
"I don’t think it does women a service to present ourselves as perfect, flawless people," director Sophia Takal tells Bustle. "Part of the problem for me was that I felt such a need to be perfect, and to not feel jealous and to not feel competitive because those were ugly feelings and I wasn’t supposed to be ugly. And so for me, making a movie about how devastating the competition can be to our own sense of self and our own sense of self-worth felt like a really important thing to talk about."
For Takal, who began her career as an actor before moving to filmmaking, the movie's competition between the less succesful Anna (Halt and Catch Fire's Mackenzie Davis) and the flourishing Beth (Masters of Sex's Caitlin Fitzgerald) is all too familiar. When she started out acting, she says, she found herself surrounded by women who wouldn't question a male director's request for nudity or cause any sort of conflict, while she typically took issue with whatever she thought was unfair. "They started working a lot more than I did, and I created this narrative in my head that the reason that they were getting the jobs was because they were playing the game better than I was," Takal recalls. "And I don’t think that’s true now that I look at it. They were all immensely talented actors who deserve all the success that they get, but at the time, I was like oh, f**k you, you’re acting shy, you’re acting innocent."
"It's very much the way Anna feels about Beth," Takal continues. "Like, you’re pretending and you’re not being authentic and I hate you for it. But what was really going on was that I hated myself for not being more perfect."
Always Shine follows Anna and Beth during a weekend trip to Big Sur, in which Anna's jealousy towards Beth over the latter's success comes out in full storm. As Beth selfishly defends her career from criticism, Anna becomes determined to see her friend fail, showing a violent and dangerous side of herself previously hidden. For Takal, making her story not just an intimate story but a horror film had a greater importance than just her love for the genre.
"As an independent filmmaker, I noticed that a lot of the movies that were getting bigger audiences were genre films, and a lot of those genre films seemed extraordinary misogynistic to me," she says. "[Women] would be running around showing their t*ts, and at the service of men. I think a lot of young men watch genre movies, and one thing for me was to communicate with women, this is OK that you feel this way, but also to ask men to look at the way that they objectify women and the way that they are culpable as an audience for the expectations we set up for women both onscreen and off."
In that sense and more, Always Shine certainly stands out from the horror movie pack.
Images: Oscilloscope Laboratories; Aaron Kovalchik