I always appreciate a film that has the audacity to explore the narratives of what it’s really like to be a woman living in a man’s world. However, Chris O’Neill’s upcoming HEADSHOTS— which explores the potential threats for actresses trying to make it in Hollywood in a post-#MeToo era— feels like a missed opportunity.
We meet Jaime, (Nika Khitrova) a woman who crossed the pond from England to the City of Angels to pursue an acting career. As she finds a roommate and mingles with other talents during a couple of acting classes, she runs into creepy men lurking around every corner— from her weirdo neighbor to photographers that try to entice her with alcoholic substances before shooting with her. As Jaime is starting to feel the blows of rejection and misogyny from her new Los Angeles-bound life, a serial killer is simultaneously killing and Maniac-style scalping actresses left and right during their headshot shoots. Khitrova gives one of the stronger performances amongst other secondary performances that feel over-the-top and campy.
HEADSHOTS kept my interest for the first third. Watching the sympathetic Jaime navigate her way through a new lifestyle and a bevy of new acquaintances, and then beginning to crumble a bit felt relatable and natural. (With the exception of director O’Neill) a film created by many women behind it does accurately depict the interactions of a group of female friends/acquaintances. From a jealous/competitive woman who spews backhanded compliments at the meeker Jaime, to a birthday girl who feels bummed at the lack of guests that show up— we’ve all encountered characters and situations similar to these, especially in the ruthless world of the entertainment industry.
However, what begins as a Jaime-central story turns into something unexpected that— while I commend the story for going into directions that I wasn’t quite anticipating— did not always work for me. The narrative takes a nod from Psycho and changes the perspective from one protagonist to different ones in the middle of the film, and the results feel less gripping. At this point, much of the dialogue falls short of realistic and the pacing begins to drag.
Without getting into spoilers, HEADSHOTS started to lose me within its second act, in which the identity of a particular female antagonist is revealed. Not to say that there aren’t horrible women in Hollywood— working as personal assistants and just general enablers and such, for example— who are just as guilty as their male Weinstein-like counterparts, but I feel like the film’s choice to set up a bunch of creepy, detestable men within its first act led to nowhere, therefore defeating the purpose of a seemingly well-intentioned feminist film. HEADSHOTS admirably acknowledges weighty themes such as ageism and sexism for women, but then sort of backtracks on these issues.
I partially understand the reasoning behind including one particular flashback scene of Jaime’s sister trying to convince her not to go to LA to save her the heartbreak of the pitfalls that she is confident will befall her there, however, I don’t think it’s entirely fair to turn the narrative into a fable of sorts, about the possibility of danger that comes with a woman moving somewhere on her own and chasing her dreams. Sure, as women, we are always more likely to fall into the hands of danger than our male counterparts, but I still find this messaging to be problematic. I felt like HEADSHOTS was telling me to stay home, to not be independent, and to not pursue my dreams, when the real blame should be placed entirely on the antagonists at hand here in this story. A film with somewhat of a similar through-line, 2014’s Starry Eyes, I feel tackles these themes with more artistry.
Working with what I would imagine to be a very low budget, the film suffers from lack of believable effects. The practical effects of the head scalping victims don’t translate as believable. I noticed a lack of squishing sound effects for knife stabbings into bodies, and the knives visibly do not actually touch the victims’ bodies. Perhaps the editors could have cut the camera away here to hide this out of sight to the viewer— the transitional editing is poor.
I will say with certainty that the film’s conclusion is pretty satisfying. After some strange choices throughout much of its runtime, HEADSHOTS gives you the satisfaction of witnessing certain individuals get what they deserve by its conclusion, which ultimately left a sweeter taste in my mouth. Had the bulk of the second act been tighter and as focused as the conclusion, HEADSHOTS could have redeemed itself more. The potential for an interesting horror film is there, but ultimately falls short.
HEADSHOTS will be available on Amazon and other VOD platforms on October 1.