Every so often a film appears that’s so vile, depraved and sadistic, you feel like you need a shower after watching it. Salò, Cannibal Holocaust and the original versions of I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left openly depicted the barbaric side of humanity most of us would rather ignore, while the Laura Gemser Black Emanuelle series revealed sexual predilections that would probably never occur to most people despite their more light-hearted approach. More recently, A Serbian Film shoved the atrocities of the Yugoslav Wars in our faces with absolutely no regard for any sense of decency whatsoever. Directors C. Huston and Joe Rubin have added a new one to the list with Portraits of Andrea Palmer, a disturbing look at the sex industry.
Lonely cam girl Andrea Palmer (Katrina Zova) spends her days sleeping, getting high, eating cereal and performing solo sex shows for her online fan base. Eventually, the emptiness of it all gets to her and she has a meltdown during a performance, leading one of her patrons to offer her grand opportunities in Los Angeles. Andrea leaves everything behind and flies to LA, only to discover that the benefactor was a hoax. Desperate for money, she tries to find work in porn, but it doesn’t work out so she ends up hustling on the streets where she meets a sadistic, controlling drug dealer (Chad Alva). Her clients turn more and more twisted until a friendly older man just seeking companionship (William Margold in his final performance) gives her hope. Unfortunately, the drug dealer has other plans.
First, it should be noted that this film contains scenes of explicit sex, including penetration, so be warned. To be clear, though, it’s not porn. Instead, it’s a vicious comment on the seedy underbelly of the porn industry we pretend doesn’t exist. These sex scenes aren’t erotic, they’re degrading and sinister right down to a BDSM sequence recalling Jamie Gillis’ role in Water Power. Each encounter drives Andrea further into bleak darkness, making the startling conclusion all the more poignant.
“…she ends up hustling on the streets where she meets a sadistic, controlling drug dealer…”
Throughout all this, Zova, a former pornstar, shines as a real acting talent. She projects her internal rage and depression as she descends into depravity better than a Stanislavski graduate. Her emotionless face while performing coerced sex acts is downright frightening, though her radiant personality in her scene with Margold and frustration during a phone call to her family display an impressive range.
As for the direction and cinematography, Huston and Rubin evoke the grainy grit of Abel Ferrara and Vincent Gallo, showing the filthy side of LA that rarely gets captured on film. They keep the shots tight and the editing quick, recalling early George Romero. Each shot is perfectly framed for maximum discomfort, keeping you on edge from beginning to end. Michael Parsons’ excellent ominous soundtrack adds to the disquieting vibe with delayed and sustained feedback-laden guitar reminiscent of Lustmord and other dark experimental musicians.
Films like Portraits of Andrea Palmer are not easy to watch. They’re not here to make us feel good, they’re here to existentially remind us that sometimes life is cheap and humans can be horrible beings. Some people make poor decisions while others dig themselves so far into a hole they can no longer see the light, allowing predators to take advantage of the opening. These things happen whether or not we want to admit it and there’s nothing we can do about it. Life is not a Disney movie – it’s cruel, ugly and perverse, just like this.
Portraits of Andrea Palmer (2017) Directed by C. Huston and J. Lyons. Written by C. Huston and J. Lyons. Starring Katrina Zova, Chad Alva, William Margold, Richard Wright, Adam Trash, Sheena Rose, Lance Horton, Joe Curtis and Steve Sabo.
10 out of 10 stars