‘Chemical Cut’: Slamdance Review

CHEMICAL CUT still 1 - H 2016
Courtesy of King Manatee, LLC
A DIY tale of L.A. ennui that intrigues more than it convinces.

Former 'ANTM' contender Marjorie Conrad makes her feature debut at Slamdance.

For those people who believe L.A. is a suburban wasteland filled with shallow, airheaded egomaniacs trying to become rich and famous, the ultra low-fi indie dramedy, Chemical Cut, will serve as adequate cinematic testimony.

Otherwise, this quirky Slamdance entry from America’s Next Top Model finalist Marjorie Conrad provides a few worthy insights into the awfulness of the West Coast fashion world, but fails to convince as either dark satire or lightweight Bildungsroman in its portrayal of a young woman trying to make it in La La Land.

With a candy-colored palette reminiscent of the work of Gregg Araki, yet without the Angeleno auteur’s sense of humor and genre, Conrad directs and stars as 23-year-old Irene, a hapless retail worker who decides to dye her hair platinum blonde and soon lands a contract as an up-and-coming model.

But of course, the modeling business is not what it’s cracked up to be, with Irene forced to endure several humiliating unpaid photo shoots at the hands of her Jonah Hill-lookalike booker, Jared (Michael Lucid). After venturing through fashion hell and falling out with her sardonic, openly hostile best bud, Arthur (Ian Coster), Irene eventually hooks up with fellow mannequin, Spring (Leah Rudick), only to discover that the girl’s passive-aggressive, New Age-y ways are far from what she needs.

There’s hardly anything that comes across as original in Conrad’s story, although the nitty-gritty details on modeling – including one gig where Irene is covered in hot wax by a so-called artist – offer up some peculiar examples of fashion’s ugly underbelly. The L.A. locations are also intriguingly explored, with the director and DP Mackenzie Mathis tracking their heroine through a nearly vacant city that recalls the one in The Omega Man, even if Irene does have a few hostile run-ins on the Metro Rail – and may also be the only person in L.A. movie history to take the train more than a car or bus.

While such tidbits help to slightly elevate the material, Chemical Cut suffers from a lack of appealing – or even vaguely interesting – characters. Irene is a flighty dreamer with nothing to say about her own predicament or life in general, her only real trait being an obsession with an artsy short film starring an aging transvestite (Vicki Marlane). Spring is a grotesquely superficial trust fund kid with major nutritional issues, while Arthur is so unpleasant to be around, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to be his friend, let alone put him in a movie.

Performances are passable despite all the grating characters, while tech credits – especially the cinematography – are above par for such a DIY effort. Music selections include the cult 80’s synth-pop track, “Polaroid/Roman/Photo.”

Production company: King Manatee
Cast: Marjorie Conrad, Ian Coster, Leah Rudick, Stephen Saban, Jane Noble
Director, screenwriter: Marjorie Conrad
Producer: Barret Hacia
Executive producer: Marjorie Conrad
Director of photography: Mackenzie Mathis
Editor: Marjorie Conrad
Composers: Alex Fleshman, Richard Harkins
Venue: Slamdance Film Festival
Sales: King Manatee

83 minutes