Sundance 2021 – Cusp (2021)

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The directorial feature debut of filmmakers Isabel Bethencourt and Parker Hill, documentary Cusp follows three teenage girls during the summer break in a small Texas-based military town.

When the film opens, we see two girls pose for their phones while two older boys shoot machine rifles in the background. As they laugh, drink and smoke, there is someone missing – an adult. This sets the tone for the documentary’s rebellious tone and its subjects’ aimless natures.

Amid evocative shots of sunsets, bonfires and house parties, Cusp focuses on friends Autumn, Brittany and Aaloni, who are either on their phones or hanging out with boys. Put simply, they don’t know what to do with themselves. Although their summer sounds pretty mundane, things become serious when the topic of rape arises as a point of gossip.

The girls talk openly about being abused by boys, relatives or their parents’ friends but they seemingly downplay the severity as their assailants walked free. There is also a latent fear of saying no that highlights a lack of respect towards women, which implies that the girls misconstrue the seriousness of consent so they treat the topic lightly. Although this suggests that it may be a common occurrence in their social circle, it may just be a coping mechanism of repressed trauma. Despite their honesty, the directors wisely stop themselves from delving any further and just capture the girls living their life.

Bethencourt and Hill also explores the deeper emotional impacts of boys – or men, in general, as the summer nears its end. Autumn breaks down after her ‘perfect’ boyfriend dumps her, Aaloni clashes with her military father, and Brittany discovers that relationships are more than kisses and cuddles. All the while, there is no-one on hand to guide them. In fact, Cusp doesn’t hear from any adults until the last few moments, when they expose the fears of failing their children and being strong. Although their presence is necessary, it ultimately feels too little, too late.

Seeing Cusp‘s subjects bare their souls on camera can be hard to watch but in their debut feature, Bethencourt and Hill sensitively highlights the tough journey towards adulthood while offering a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

Film Rating: ★★★☆☆

Director: Isabel Bethencourt, Parker Hill
Runtime: 92 minutes
Country: USA

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