While it may not necessarily be a horror movie, Teenage Cocktail popped up on my radar due to the talent involved. Co-writer/director John Carchietta, who previously worked on the underrated The Hills Run Red, makes quite a statement with his directorial debut that hypnotically explores the dangers of Internet culture and how some teenagers’ narrow senses of judgment can have huge ramifications.
Teenage Cocktail follows Annie (Nichole Bloom), who has recently been transplanted into a new neighborhood and school, causing her to feel unsure about who she wants to be and how she fits into the world. She’s immediately drawn to her fellow classmate Jules (Fabianne Therese), a bit of a free spirit who flitters about with a sense of reckless abandon (ah, to be young!). The pair start off as friends, but over time their relationship evolves into something more intimate than sleepover buddies, and we see how Jules’ own unhampered nature influences Annie, as the usually level-headed teen begins to make one bad decision after another, much to the alarm of her parents (played by Michelle Borth and Joshua Leonard).
The duo decide their dreams are bigger than the small town they’re stuck in, so they hatch a plan to do some “Internet modeling” to earn some cash and make a break for the Big Apple. But when the cash doesn’t come in as quickly as they hoped, Jules decides to take things to the next level: meeting strangers for sexual encounters. A reluctant Annie gets roped in by her enigmatic soul mate to meet a man named Frank (Pat Healy) for an unforgettable night of passion, all for the price of five thousand dollars, which they think will be enough to help them escape their mundane existence. This, of course, ends up disastrously for everyone involved as we see how one night of sex, when some of the parties have less than admirable intentions, can end up ruining lives forever.
What I really appreciated about Teenage Cocktail is how the script smartly explores the dangers of the Internet in a way that feels a bit different than the usual Lifetime “everyone else is evil” approach. Characters aren’t villains here, they’re normal people who get mixed up in a horrific chain of events, which is something all of us can relate to on most levels. Frank isn’t a “pervert” because he meets younger women for sex; he’s just a married guy who feels a bit invisible and, like Annie and Jules, puts on a persona so that he can feel like someone successful (we learn early on that his wife is less than thrilled by his pool-themed profession). Teenage Cocktail doesn’t make apologies for its characters’ decisions, but instead makes a great case for how these three could possibly get mixed up in the horrifying predicament that follows their encounter.
Both Bloom and Therese shine in Teenage Cocktail, conceiving their characters in ways that feel wholly authentic to the teenage experience. Driven by her sense of abandonment and Annie’s confusion about her purpose in life, the somewhat manipulative Jules is given the opportunity to make sure her best friend never leaves her side. There’s a real sense of honesty to both Bloom and Therese’s work in this film and their affection feels genuine. After appearing in movies like The Aggression Scale, John Dies at the End, Starry Eyes, and Southbound, Therese is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses right now and she delivers another stellar performance here. There’s a really great moment when she second-guesses herself right before meeting Frank that perfectly demonstrates how teenagers sometimes have a “brave face” when they’re about to do something stupid, but are still aware of the fact that what they’re about to do is incredibly dumb.
Bloom’s character, on the other hand, feels like a bit of a blank slate, but there’s nothing bland about the actress’ work in Teenage Cocktail by any means; she’s engaging, warm-hearted and endearing, even when her character is being less than pleasing, and I hope that her work here puts her on a lot of folks’ radars, because she is incredible in Carchietta’s cautionary tale.
We spend the least amount of time with Healy’s character, Frank, but there’s one scene when he’s having dinner with his family, and he gives a look after his wife scolds his son for not wanting to achieve a bigger dream than going to work with his dear old dad. In that very quiet moment, you learn everything you need to know about Frank and that’s due to Healy’s brilliant subtlety. Teenage Cocktail also features brief appearances by AJ Bowen and Morgan Peter Brown—two actors I’m always excited to see show up in movies—and they’re fun additions to the overall cast.
Teenage Cocktail once again shows us that being a teenager is awful and being around a teenager can be just as awful. It’s a beautifully made and intoxicating experience that explores the dangerous scenarios that can arise when sex with strangers goes too far. It’s an incredible feature film debut from Carchietta, who perfectly captures the intimacy of Jules and Annie’s affections for each other as well as the often troublesome and confusing experience of being a modern teen.
Movie Score: 4/5