Monday 30 September 2013

Sybling Rivalry (2011)

Director: Tara-Nicole Azarian
Stars: Tara-Nicole Azarian, David Topp and Carrie Marshall
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
I was a little disappointed with Sybling Rivalry, but only because it tells a simple tale without a single surprise. Young Sybelle, as outrageously capable as she apparently is, lives in her brother's shadow. She's merely insurance, nothing but 'a spare in case anything ever happened to the heir'. Whatever she achieves, it's not enough to prompt her mother to stop fauning over Kobe, who is utterly aware of the situation and smarmily plays it up, David Topp carrying the role with charm. And so, fed up of being effectively invisible, Sybelle decides to reframe her situation as a challenge. 'Solve a problem,' her mother tells her dismissively. Well, every problem has a solution, right? As you might imagine by this film's inclusion in a horror shorts set, the solution Sybelle finds is a violent wish fulfilment fantasy that many an overlooked young girl might confide to the attentive pages of her diary, but remaining afraid to take such an emphatic leap to the dark side.

From the very beginning, as Sybelle writes in her diary about fear and motivation, musing about how fear can empower a step beyond, we know she's about to do something outrageous. Once we realise what her situation is, it's clear what that something is going to be; from that point, it's just a case of watching the script already in our head unfold on the screen. It's agreeably gruesome, I'll give it that, but it isn't surprising. However, on most other fronts, Sybling Rivalry is a surprisingly capable film. For a start, it was shot in only one day, even though there were obviously multiple setups in each of four different rooms within a single house. That suggests a thoroughly effective shooting schedule and the results suggest a capable crew. While the camera is never still, it avoids the usual pitfalls of handheld filmmaking and attempts a couple of more ambitious angles to boot. The entire film is well lit and the sound is excellent, with a suitable score to back it up. Technically, it's solid.

Most obviously though, the young lady behind the film is clearly a talent to watch. She's Tara-Nicole Azarian, who graduated from high school this year at the age of fourteen. She wrote and directed this film, currently her second of five short films, and she also played the lead role of Sybelle. As befits an overdone character, she overdoes the acting, grounded as an invisible girl but clearly relishing every moment of her dastardly scheme to be noticed, all the more obvious compared to the matter of fact portrayal singer Carrie Marshall gives to her mother. It's grand guignol in suburbia and Azarian plays to the audience more than just through her narration; this could work even better on stage. This is a rare approach for her though, as the fifty plus roles she's played on screen are highly varied and her other personal films focus on social issues: My Name is Anna dealing with anorexia, Cardboard with homelessness and ROTFL with teen suicide. In such company, this is fluff but it's capable fluff.

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