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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 12.05.17] Canada thriller drama

Evan Rachel Wood is not one to shy away from difficult performances and subject matter and A Worthy Companion is only the latest in a string of roles which continues to cement the young actress as one to watch.

The debut feature from writer/directors Carlos and Jason Sanchez, A Worthy Companion stars Wood as Laura, a beautiful young woman with relationship issues. The movie opens with a sexual encounter gone wrong but it's not until we see Laura speaking with William, her boss, that it becomes clear there's more to her story than simply kinky sex.

The story really begins to take shape when Laura meets Eva, a bright 16-year-old girl caught in the middle of a fallout with her mom. Laura steps in to offer comfort and advice and what begins as a casual friendship quickly escalates to become something far more nefarious.

From the first time Laura and Eva meet, there's a feeling of unease. It's clear she's making advances at the teen which Eva either doesn't see or pretends not to see but when the two women end up at Laura's house, the predator/victim dynamic slowly begins to emerge. And the key word here is slowly.

Sanchez and Wood carefully peel back the layers on the character and the result is that we see Laura as more than an evil predator. She's clearly tortured and dealing with some deeper trauma and as she and Eva become closer, Laura comes to dependent on the young woman both physically and emotionally. With every action, Laura becomes more controlling and manipulative and soon, she has, figuratively, beaten Eva into submission.

And yet, sympathy for Laura never fully dissipates. With every manipulative move she makes, she does something or is the victim of something that sheds new light on her actions and as the movie progresses, we start to see a fuller picture of Laura's past and how it has turned her into the broken woman she is.

Wood is tasked with a difficult role which tasks her with being both villain and victim, sometimes in the same breath. Laura is not likable but she's a character we can sympathise with. I couldn't help but wonder if the movie would be as effective if Laura's character was male but one of the things that makes A Worthy Companion so interesting is the fact that these themes are not often explored from a female perspective and Wood is more than capable of the heavy task of the performance.

Unflinching and often difficult to watch, A Worthy Companion never feels exploitative or unnecessarily gruesome though it also doesn't shy away from difficult scenes and moments. Instead, it feels like an intimate and necessary exploration of abuse and how it can easily turn into a cycle that is difficult to break from.

A Worthy Companion is an exceptional debut feature.

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