Andrea Palmer (Katrina Zova) spends her days working as a cam girl. After having an online breakdown, she receives an unexpected and too-good-to-be-true offer to come to Los Angeles and work full time as an erotic model. Jumping on what seems like a perfect opportunity for financial independence, Andrea immediately travels to LA but no sooner than arriving, discovers that she’s been conned and finds herself stranded and alone. Relying on what she knows best, she begins working as an escort, losing a bit of herself with each new client and becoming more and more willing to perform the most vile of sexual services; a decision which can only end in tragedy and violence.
Portraits of Andrea Palmer is a gritty, no-holds barred, nihilistic film that delves into the life of a somewhat troubled woman who wants nothing more than to make ends meet. The title character, Andrea (played by independent model/adult film actress Katrina Zova; Grindhouse XXX 2), struggles not only with her own issues and addictions, but also with a variety of wolves in sheep’s clothing, people who appear to offer her help only to end up manipulating her in the hopes of making money off her. It’s a story that we’ve heard so many times throughout the years, in movies, on TV, in songs on the radio, but the writer/director duo of C. Huston (Flesh Meat Doll(S)) and Joe Rubin (primarily a documentary film maker; see also early work I Live for Sex and Like a Moth to a Flame) manage to take the familiar subject matter and put it on screen in a disturbing and uncomfortable manner.
Everything seems to start out fairly normal, as we open on Andrea Palmer waking up and getting ready for work, but any complacency the audience might be feeling is quickly shaken and discarded by a rapid-fire series of scenes depicting drugs, violent anger, and self-inflicted harm. Whether these are flashbacks or hints of things to come we’re not yet sure, but we now know that these filmmakers aren’t afraid of pushing it to the limit – flashes of a bloody vagina penetrated by a toothbrush guarantee that. Having gotten the audience’s attention, the film continues with Andrea at work as a webcam model. We get a glimpse of her fragile state of mind when she has a minor meltdown after being trolled by some “followers.” We also see her desperation and fluidity in life when she’s offered a job by someone online and she goes for it, packing her things and heading out for hopefully greener pastures.
Portraits of Andrea Palmer puts the audience on the same roller coaster as its protagonist, setting us/her up for success only to pull the rug right out from under our/her feet again. Andrea is offered a job by someone who claims to see her great potential, but soon after she makes the trip to Los Angeles she realizes she’s been tricked and, having little money, has to look for work elsewhere. She auditions for a modeling job, and the supervisor asks her to sit in and watch the current shoot – Sunni (Li Dekker) and Sheena (adult film star Sheena Rose) getting sexy together – then asks her to join in, only to refuse to pay her and then literally push her out the door. She meets a dude and brings him to her place for some drugs and some sex, and he steals her laptop on the way out. This disappointment and degradation will carry on, right through to the very end.
Huston and Lyons put on screen a very realistic depiction of the fate of so many young women (and men as well) who are attracted to the idea of “stardom” and go looking for the bright lights, but instead discover the seedy side of the business. If the vultures just looking to use you up and throw you away don’t get you, the drugs and addiction and emotional turmoil are waiting just around the next corner. A major key to the grim realism on screen lies in the fact that there are no big names in the cast, but instead adult film stars and first-time actors. In addition to Zova in the lead role, Portraits of Andrea Palmer also features Chad Alva (star of nearly 200 adult films, including numerous parodies like Skanknado and Ten Inch Mutant Ninja Turtles) as a vicious drug dealer who manipulates Andrea for his own needs. On the brighter side is John, played by the late William Margold (70s and 80s adult film superstar; Flesh Gordon, Dracula Sucks, Carnal’s Cuties, etc). Andrea meets John when, while she’s working as an escort, he hires her for the entire day, not for sex, but to talk. This gives Andrea a chance to be herself, and it gives the audience a much-needed look into what she’s all about and what drives her to do what she does.
The other key element that enables Portraits of Andrea Palmer to take on a very real feel is the fact that most everything in the film is real, i.e., unsimulated sex. This is still a rarity in non-adult films, but the sex, as well as the scenarios and conditions in which it happens, pushes the film across the line. This isn’t just another uncomfortable story of a doomed starlet, this is real, uncensored, and uncomfortable. At no point does it feel gratuitous, but instead honest and ugly and anything but titillating. There is an almost tangible desperation on the screen, definitely a credit to Zova’s brave and unflinching performance. And while it’d be difficult for any audience to think there will be any kind of happy ending, the finale will still no doubt shock more than a handful of viewers.
What Huston, Lyons, and Tomorrow Productions have done with Portraits of Andrea Palmer is to create a film that pushes the envelope, that shows they’re not afraid to make audiences uncomfortable, and that adds a new chapter into the (short) book of films blending sex and horror. (Another Tomorrow Productions film, Flesh Meat Doll(S), appears to be in a similar vein, but is currently floating in the otherworld of unreleased films). These are films for people who want their horror a bit more extreme (with a capital X), who wish there were more films like Baise Moi, Ken Park, Forced Entry, and the like. Portraits of Andrea Palmer is a must-see, and hopefully it is only the beginning from a new cutting-edge film studio and a couple of young filmmakers.