Movie: Besties
Director: Rebecca Cutter
Starring: Olivia Crocicchia, Madison Riley

Adolescent awkwardness is something that resonates with just about all of us. We were all impossibly young, eager, and impressionable once, looking to our peers and elders for inspiration on how to be accepted. To describe it as a difficult time is an understatement – impressions of self and others are often irrevocably shaped by our experiences in our early teens, and the bonds and scars formed therein will stay with you for a long time. Besties, the directorial debut of TV writer Rebecca Cutter, draws on this as it depicts a the fallout of an accidental killing on two teenage girls of differing age. Ostensibly a darker piece about a dangerous, controlling bond formed in the wake of a manslaughter, it’s an ambiguous tale, more of a fleeting character study than a narrative. On the surface, it looks to explore power dynamics and manipulation, but more accurately it’s a look at the damaging impact of hero worship and peer pressure and how these can be overcome to discover a sense of self.

14-year-old Sandy (Olivia Crocicchia) is a painfully shy teen who idolises her next door neighbour Ashley (Madison Riley). Ashley is a queen bee, with legions of friends and admirers and all the confidence in the world. When her father goes out of town one weekend, Sandy convinces him to let her stay behind and have Ashley over to babysit her. The older girl convinces her to throw a party, but when an unexpected guest shows up late and attacks the girls, they’re forced into a lethal act of self-defence. Afterwards, Ashley convinces Sandy that they must cover it up, and begins to manipulate the youngster’s obvious fascination with her into obedience.

There is a distinct undertone of female sexuality throughout Besties – to be specific, in the way Ashley makes use of hers to manipulate her young protégée. It’s heavily implied that Ashley’s relationship with the maligned Justin began in inappropriate circumstances, his gaze a predatory response to her lovelorn family upbringing. She in turn has learned to use her sexuality to influence others and bend them to her will, and she thinks nothing of turning it on the reeling youngster who has unwittingly become complicit in killing. There’s one particularly disturbing scene in the immediate aftermath of the burial where Ashley insists that Sandy help her take a shower, using her confidence and maturity to establish a false sense of intimacy and thereby beguile her into silence. In scenes like this, Besties hints at being a darker and more seductive film than it actually is, suggesting seedier connotations that are – frustratingly – never fully played out or explored.

This may be because, as the ending suggests, the film is less concerned with either girl’s actions as it is with Sandy’s view and sense of herself. The killing may be the main plot point, but the narrative is barely concerned with it. Instead, it focuses steadfastly on the psychological impact of Ashley’s errant attentions and the eventual freedom Sandy finds in shrugging her off. It’s actually a touch surprising to see how lightly it ends – blithely ignoring its darker insinuations and reverting the youngster to a sense of freedom and joviality that’s utterly at odds with the obsessive teen who opened the film. In this regard, it does feel like something of a missed opportunity, but unfortunately large swathes of Besties are lacking anyway. Crocicchia is extremely impressive as Sandy, nailing the youth’s painstaking hesitancy and insecurities. However, Riley fares less well as Ashley. She thrives as the social butterfly but is utterly unconvincing as the key figure of the piece, failing to infuse the villainous queen bee with any sense of depth or conflict. There are random acts of kindness interspersed with moments of manipulation and profound cruelty, but the character remains one-note with no real weight given to the darkness or torments at her core. Considering the film is predicated entirely on her seductive hold over Sandy, this is a glaring flaw.

The film’s near-complete lack of music also makes it suffer. The scenes are necessarily slow-burning but in the absence of something to build suspense, they often feel awkward, lacking atmosphere and momentum. Indeed, there are long stretches where one could tune out entirely, uninvolved to the point of distraction by slow build up and disengagement. The writing can tend towards the formulaic, particularly in the girls’ reactions after the killing and in the evolution of their friendship, and while the stark ordinariness of the production design makes it appropriately bleak, it doesn’t make it intimate enough to hammer home a point. Besties is something that wants to be darker and more affecting than it is, but despite a standout performance from Crocicchia it can’t quite live up to the potential of its plot.



Review written by: Grace Duffy

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.