Fantastic Fest Review: Besties

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Besties 

If Fantastic Fest screens a movie made by women with females in the lead, I'll be there. (Okay, unless it screens at midnight or is excessively violent/gory. They don't call me the Film Festival Wuss for nothing.) So Besties was on my radar from the start, and it did not disappoint.

Sandy (Olivia Crocicchia) is a lumpish 14-year-old girl, teased mercilessly by classmates, who idolizes the girl next door -- her former babysitter Ashley (Madison Riley), a senior, blonde and perfect. When Sandy's dad goes out of town for the weekend, she asks if Ashley can "babysit" so she can hang out with the most popular girl in school. Ashley agrees, because what girl wouldn't want access to an empty house for the weekend? She parties, she ignores Sandy ... and then Ashley's ex-con ex-boyfriend Justin turns up, bad news personified. Ashley overreacts, and next thing we know, the girls have to deal with a dead body.

Most of the movie focuses on the girls' relationship with one another -- most particularly, how Sandy feels about Ashley. At the beginning of Besties, she compares her to a goddess, someone she can't help worshipping, since Ashley has everything Sandy does not in terms of high-school girl clout. Their terrible shared secret changes their relationship again and again as Sandy learns more about Ashley.

Obviously the two actresses' performances are key to the success of Besties, and they are right on target. Olivia Crocicchia grabs our sympathy as Sandy, but Ashley isn't just a pretty face -- she's fascinating in her own right, and Madison Riley adds depth and nuance. Bobby Soto adds a compelling note as Jay, Justin's little brother, who shows Sandy that the situation isn't as black and white as Ashley paints it. And every woman watching this film probably wishes for a dad as tolerant and understanding as Sandy's, played by Corin Nemec.

It's inevitable that people will compare Besties with Heathers, that well known dark comedy about high-school girls and murder. But Heathers had a cartoonish aspect that Besties doesn't -- you could actually imagine Besties happening with the girls across the street. Writer-director Rebecca Perry Cutter has created a suspenseful movie -- not just about murder but the thoughts and lives of two very different young women. I don't know when/where this movie will screen next, but if you get the chance, see it.