Cherie Priest, an author best known for The Clockwork Century, a series of interconnected steampunk tales, wrote a young adult novel in 2015 entitled I Am Princess X. Upon finishing my first read-through of it, I declared it my new favorite book of all-time. It interweaves some of my favorite themes: a coming of age story that revolves around a murder/kidnapping mystery, a webcomic, an underground resistance, budding romance, and best friends with an unshakeable bond. Great though it is, it is aimed at a younger audience. No cussing to speak of, no stealing booze from the parents’ cabinets, no smoking, you get the idea. Anthony Stabley’s beautiful feature-length debut, Everlasting, is very much in the vein of I Am Princess X, but less sanitized.
Everlasting follows goth kid Matt (Adam David), an aspiring filmmaker who is making a video diary of sorts as his final senior project. The project documents Matt trying to solve the murder of his girlfriend, Jessie (Valentina de Angelis), who dropped out of school to be a model in Los Angeles. He interviews other models, talent agents, school friends, and talks directly to the camera himself. Using what the police discovered during their investigation and newly unearthed evidence, can Matt learn the truth? Or will his obsession with solving it drive him mad?
“…quite intense with a great mystery.”
I’ll be honest, the first two or three minutes of this movie worried me. Based on the introduction of the characters, and discussions of “how everyone can be swallowed by darkness,” I was very concerned that the story was going to be about how people in the goth scene are seeking dangerous things out and that Jessie’s death was a direct result of that. Happily, the writing, also by Anthony Stabley, is much more nuanced and intelligent than that. The characterizations are excellent with all of the primary roles being fully formed, three-dimensional people with good traits and flaws. Take, for instance, how a sweet walk in the woods turns sour when Matt berates Jessie for wanting to leave for Los Angeles, without discussing it with him whatsoever. She pushes back that she doesn’t tell him what to do, who to talk to, or where to go, so he should let up. He apologizes right after, and she states that she understands his frustrations, but it is what she wants to do.
The movie does mix in the video diary moments and their found footage-esque vibe, with the more traditional, narrative (third person) camera presence. This is not the first time someone has used this approach, but it does not always work. Here, it works amazingly, as the third person, narrative element focuses on a lot of the character moments, while the video diary pulls the plot forward and pieces together the mystery. The two editors, Bryan Colvin and Brad McLaughlin, make these transitions relatively seamless while maintaining a swift, intense pace.
“…great characterizations and excellent acting.”
Stabley has been in the movie industry for quite some time, just not as a director. He has been an art and production designer on such prominent titles as Stigmata, White Oleander, and The Arrival. While he does have a few shorts under his belt, this is his first full-length film. It is a stunning start, navigating tricky, challenging subject matter and varying styles with aplomb, while being quite intense with a great mystery to boot.
Jon Bickford’s cinematography is lush, yet haunting, making excellent use of the limited budgets and the natural beauty of the California landscape. A longer lens is used to shoot the Los Angeles cityscape, visually representing Jessie’s progressive isolation, until the end. The ending confrontation is filmed in medium to close-up shots. This allows it to feel intimate without sacrificing the emotional or physical stakes.
Adam David is exceptional as Matt, conveying all the pain and grief believably. Not to imply he doesn’t deliver in the lighter, more sweet moments, as he absolutely nails it. Early on Jessie and her friends are hanging out in a cemetery while Matt films for his project. She then casually calls him out for being behind the camera to the point where she feels a tad lonely. He hands off the camera and the couple starts dancing. It is a tender moment, and, though they are high school students, you really do buy into their love for each other. Jessie has a fine line to walk in order for you to empathize with and like her, as she has a brash, wild side that could be potentially alienating. But de Angelis is a magnetic, commanding screen presence, as she balances that ambitious drive with a big heart and good intentions. Jessie introduces Matt to the other models she’ll be living with after he helps her move; it is a little thing, but she does make sure they know how important he is to her.
“…a triumph on all levels.”
Bai Ling has a small role as a model, and she is excellent. Totalling maybe seven minutes of screen time, she is understated and her genuine sadness at describing what she knows about the night of Jessie’s murder will break your heart. Robert LaSardo pops up for one brief sequence, but he is always a pleasure to watch. While there won’t be any spoilers, the person who plays the killer is incredible. He or she exudes a slimy creepiness, and the rationale behind it is disturbing and messed up. The actor or actress does a remarkable job of making the audience despise this person.
Honest portrayals of teenagers can be a bit hard to come by, but Everlasting is a triumph on all levels. An engaging story told in an original way, with great characterizations and excellent acting. Anthony Stabley has knocked it out of the park with this, and has emerged as a must watch talent.
Everlasting (2016) Directed by Anthony Stabley. Written by Anthony Stabley. Starring Adam David, Valentina de Angelis, Bai Ling, Robert LaSardo, Pat Healy, Natalie Sperl, Bjarne Hecht.