SXSW Film Review: ‘Teenage Cocktail’

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Annie (Nichole Bloom) and Jules (Fabianne Therese) get a proposition in "Teenage Cocktail."
Annie (Nichole Bloom) and Jules (Fabianne Therese) get a proposition in "Teenage Cocktail."

Annie (Nichole Bloom) and Jules (Fabianne Therese) get a proposition in “Teenage Cocktail.”

When it picks up distribution, John Carchietta’s electrifying debut is set to strike fear into the hearts of parents across the country. What exactly are your teenagers doing when you’re not around?

Annie (Nichole Bloom) has had her life uprooted after her family relocates. The first day of school finds her as an instant target for mean girls, but her life is forever changed when she runs into a small auditorium to hide from them. There, she watches in the dark as Jules (Fabianne Therese), a beautiful young dancer, is rehearsing on stage. For the charmingly awkward Annie, it’s love at first sight and it doesn’t take long for them to become best friends.

It seems pretty clear that, up until this point, Annie has never been a troublemaker. A quiet 17-year-old, she’s been the kind of kid who still plays card games with the family and has always been around to recap the day’s events at dinner. But, after meeting Jules, everything changes. She just wants to be near her as often as possible, mesmerized by the intoxicating nature of a genuine crush. The intoxication goes further than just feelings, as Annie lies to her parents about where she’s going and ends up at a party where an alcohol- and drug-fueled evening leads to a sexual encounter with Jules, her boyfriend and his best friend.

In the hazy light of the next morning, Jules reveals her biggest secret yet — she’s a webcam model on an adult site, raising money to move to New York. She proposes that if the two of them go on camera together, they stand to make a lot more money and can leave together. For Annie, it’s a terrifying and exciting prospect, and she’s really too smitten to say no.

At this point, the film begins its fascinating turn into a provocative thriller. Without giving away too much of where the story twists and turns, the phenomenally creepy work of Pat Healy (“Cheap Thrills”) has to be acknowledged. He plays an unhappily married man who discovers the girls on the cam site and will do anything to turn fantasy into reality. The supporting adult roles are also nicely cast with Michelle Borth (“Hawaii-Five-O”) and Joshua Leonard (“The Blair Witch Project”) as Annie’s increasingly worried parents and a freshly shaved A.J. Bowen (“You’re Next”) as the doting school principal.

As a first time filmmaker, Carchietta makes bold choices, and nearly all of them pay off in spades. One of his best decisions (next to the excellent casting) was picking his cinematographer. Justin Kane’s widescreen images, especially of exterior shots, are bathed in muted yellows and browns. The girl’s bedrooms and cam shots alternately display an almost neon-like blue and pink that radiates passion. It helps the whole project eclipse what had to be a limited budget and look like a very expensive flick.

“Teenage Cocktail” isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a great ride. After its world premiere during the festival this weekend, it won’t stay undistributed for long.

Other screenings: 6 p.m. Sunday, Alamo Slaughter; 2 p.m. Tuesday, Alamo Ritz; 10 p.m. March 18, Alamo South Lamar

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