There’s a difference between subverting a trope and creating something interesting by using one. From about twenty minutes forward, Always Shine fits solidly into the former statement. For about 60 minutes we get a flurry of endless anti-climaxing scenes; one after the other after the other. And by the end, I was so done with anti climaxes that I felt entirely anti-interested. And because it all feels so intentional, I can imagine that when people are defending the subversion gimmick’s price of boredom a fair few of their excuses would trickle down to: “it’s supposed to be like that” “that’s the message”… well then, I can’t argue with that, but I will argue that the message is written on the most unimaginative A4 bland piece of paper. I have no more inclination to watch this film than I do to read the back catalogue of ‘subverted tropes monthly’ (if such a magazine were to exist).
For a fair chunk of the film, Mackenzie Davis and Wilting Flower sit around doing random shit discussing lame horror movies; meanwhile nauseating flash cuts hint at a real horror showdown between the two characters in the cold dark woods. Immediately I think, ‘could all this meta talk be the red herring: could it get more meta than that?’ Tune in next week to find out.
Because, what starts with an amazing strong opening devolves into a sloppy soap opera farce. Take the first shot: an unbroken performance of Wilting Flower auditioning straight into the camera for a horror film, already the performance element is checked, it’s an unusual way to open the film, the scene is interesting and they take it to a dangerous place: when she’s unsure if she’s going to fully demonstrate the nude scene. We question the ethics, our emotions are a little muddy; we try to decide if the horror movie performance is drawing a line between her unwillingness to unclothe or if it’s the sleazy nature of film and the studio environment that makes this feel uncomfortable. It’s a dizzying pool of fourth wall breaking, self-reflective cinema combined with a Hitchcockian-DePalma-esque introduction that promises us a gripping unrelenting observation into the proceeding scenes, leading up to the horrors foretold in the whoppingly amazing title sequence. Full disclosure: I would give an extra half star for the film poster font alone. No spoilers, just skip most of the film and check these credits out; pure insane intensity.
Then we get Mackenzie Davis’ direct-to-camera performance; which was, in my opinion, much better than Wilting Flower’s; this scene played off the previous scene perfectly. Spoiler: she’s not performing, it’s her character who’s saying all these things to a real garage mechanic. I loved it’s interesting way of throwing the audience off, getting us to mistake her real character for a performance – this idea will become a major part of the plot twists; a great example of excellent non overt theme building. What sucks is that this theme is completely wasted on soap opera levels of melodrama. The whole film devolves into teenage girls bickering about shit, weak as fuck side characters and lazy, forgetful film-making.
As great a feminist as Always Shine tries to be, it can’t help but hit the nail’s head a little too hard, and a little too often. I think the partial-mumblecore scenes with Wilting and Davies (I have truly forgotten their characters’ names) chatting the shit were a great way to demonstrate how women have just as frank and as casual a conversation as men do; even as droll as their conversations were. But having your character say “they wouldn’t have said that if I were a guy” makes me think: “WHOA! WE! GOT! SOME! COMMENTARY! GOING! ON! RIGHT! NOW!” “CHECK! OUT! THIS! SISTER! TELLING! ‘THE! MAN!’!!!! HOW! IT!! IS!”. Other moments were just as obvious and palm-face inducing. All of this is without mentioning that every male plot device was just as big a wet blanket as the others. They shallowly serve to either: be talked about; offer convenience to the plot; distract the characters or ignite bickering. Once again, I honestly couldn’t tell you their names or what they wanted to do or even give you a decent description of their character (physical, personality or otherwise).
There’s a scene where a stranger in a car, male, is offering one of the lead women home; she’s stranded. This is where the film’s conflicting agendas create a problem. The film seemingly wants a small snip-bit of commentary about how a guy in a car should be able to give a girl a lift home without us immediately suspecting he’s a rapist or pervert; he literally addresses the suspicion himself, it’s clearly intentional that this is the problem at hand. Regardless, the scene subverts the trope, because that’s the gimmick: cut to her getting out the car at the cabin (no thank you, not even a fuck you. Nothing) and the anti-climax is that she’s fine, he gave her a lift and no one was a rapist. Which is fine, except that then it becomes about us feeling bad for the man. She suspects him of raping her, uses him to get a life, doesn’t say thank you and by the end it begins to feel like she’s the one in the wrong – for suspecting that a stranger might rape her – what kind of message is that?! I understand: in a utopia there would be no need to suspect him, and everyone would be kind and polite; please and thank yous and all that good stuff. But this isn’t a reality, and you can’t subvert the trope, make commentary and expect there to be no conflicting message in the offspring.
I’m not saying this is a terrible movie. I’m saying that it’s not fully thought out, is often underdeveloped and is quite frankly boring if not borderline aggravating. Wicked opening credits though.