Edgy, creepy, thrilling, manic; all of these words come to mind when viewing the new trailer for Sophia Takal’s second feature film, Always Shine, which debuted Wednesday morning. The scariest part? Takal tells EW a healthy portion of the film’s disturbing material reflects her own experiences as an up-and-coming actress in the film industry.
Always Shine follows best friends Anna (Halt and Catch Fire‘s Mackenzie Davis, who won the Tribeca Film Festival’s Best Actress award for her work here) and Beth (Masters of Sex star Caitlin FitzGerald) as they retreat to Big Sur for a weekend getaway, hoping to heal old wounds and quell mutual resentment after years of competing with each other as performers in the entertainment industry. What begins as a relaxing vacation quickly spirals into a tension-filled clashing of bitter personalities that culminates in a fiery confrontation that will alter the course of their lives forever.
“We wanted to make a story about that type of performance at a career level and also at a gendered level, where people are ‘performing’ their own gender, and the images they receive from actors and models in the media teach them how to behave within a certain rubric,” Takal says, admitting the alluring art of becoming a different person for a role in a film or on a TV show is a “bit of a mindf–k.”
Takal says she specifically wanted to tell a story about two actresses in Always Shine because, to her, the profession often presents an unrealistic, idealized standard for female physicality. It’s that alienation from one’s sense of self she felt at the beginning of her career, when her own actress friends were booking more jobs than her, that finds a home in Always Shine‘s tantalizing screenplay, which was written by Takal’s husband, Lawrence Michael Levine. Takal feels the industry landscape is now, more than ever, ready to accept a complex cinematic take on the gendered issues she grapples with every day.
“Gender roles are expanding for women and for men, though there’s a less stringent idea of what we’re supposed to be as women. It’s still certainly something that haunts me and haunts other women that I speak to on a daily basis. It affects our relationships; it affects our relationship with ourselves,” she says. “I don’t want to speak for all women, because maybe some women don’t struggle with that… Mackenzie and Caitlin also felt a similar sense of alienation from this perfect ideal that was hoisted upon us ever since we were really little. But it also feels like it’s a time when people are more willing to talk about it and break those ideas and examine them, so I’m hoping this movie joins the conversation everyone is having about gender roles and hopefully adds something to it.”
Still, if the film’s heady themes regarding gender and identity don’t register with audiences, Takal thinks the film’s merits as a genre thrill ride more than warrant your attention, as its subject matter is as inherently entertaining as it is unsettling.
“I think it’s really scary and creepy and fun,” she says. “Even though it’s dealing with these issues of gender, it’s also, at its core, a fun psychological thriller.”
Oscilloscope will release Always Shine to select theaters on Dec. 2, and it will premiere exclusively on Feb. 2 on the streaming service Sundance Now. Watch the film’s tense new trailer above, and check out the film’s blood-red poster below.