This film has always been one that has had an air of elusivity around it; spoken about only in the most exclusive groups online as something so distressing and disturbing that it certainly isn’t for the faint hearted. Which is why there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to experience this traumatic independent film for myself, and even though it might not be your typical extreme horror film, it has all the working elements to sit within that category.
Portraits of Andrea Palmer comes from directors C.Huston (who directed Flesh Meat Dolls which was previously reviewed on the site) and J. Lyons, who have created this horrific insight into one girl’s abusive and demeaning life. The independent film follows Andrea who works in the sex industry, but is sadly exploited by the men she encounters in this industry, leaving her broken and beat down. We got through different stages and witness the way she is treated by those around her, which is at times almost unbearable to see.
Since social media, the sex industry has become more and more accessible to those who use it for pleasure and for those who use it as their business. Andrea is a sex worker trying to make an income to support her daughter who she currently cannot see, a situation that is most likely a reality for many young women who are sex workers. Unfortunately because she is an amateur in the business, she finds herself taken advantage of by nearly every male she encounters in the film. From start to finish it’s exceptionally hard to watch the treatment of Andrea, purely because it is cruel and it is relentless.
From the way Portraits of Andrea Palmer is spoken about online, you might go in expecting a hardcore extreme movie with a lot of gore, blood and guts but that’s not what this film is about. We experience a little blood here and there, but this is a psychological horror that comes from exposing the potentially dangerous and soul-destroying side of the sex industry. It does not aim to make you squeamish with heads being decapitated, but it more aims to mentally challenge you into realising the everyday horrors that some women face whilst trying to work in a particular industry – one that is always being exploited for the pleasure of others.
Upon the first watch of this, there was something so disturbing about what I was witnessing and how bleak it is that I was upset with the time lost spent watching this. This is not a film that anyone could find enjoyment from as it is just nasty and horrible, therefore I found the viewing experience a harsh one that I wouldn’t want to go through ever again. That’s not to say it isn’t a well-made or thought-provoking film, because it is both of those, but it’s hard to recommend a film like Portraits of Andrea Palmer to someone.
All of the actors used in Portraits of Andrea Palmer are real adult film stars; Katrina Zova who plays Andrea bares all in this role which is important for us to really understand what goes into working in the sex industry. We also have Chad Alva, who has starred in over 200 adult movies, who depicts the vicious drug dealer that forces Andrea into many traumatic ordeals including the last one where she almost gets her revenge. C. Huston and J. Lyons do show that not all men are pigs towards women with the character John played by William Margold, who you might recognise from Flesh Gordon, that hires her purely to spend a day deep in conversation – which shows the other side of the business.
By using adult film stars, it allowed for the unsimulated sex to provide the audience with a very realistic feeling that is completely unflinching, which makes the film even harder to watch. One thing that I do admire is that the film doesn’t feel like ‘male gaze’, it is not gratuitous and doesn’t feel sexy, which when approaching the subject matter as it does, is very important. I do think it falters a little in this sense when showing extreme close-ups of Andrea’s bloodied vagina whilst masturbating, and also during the last act, but they are still not arousing scenes. The last act could have almost ventured into the rape revenge category, but unfortunately it ends up just as bleak and upsetting as the rest of the film. Which although is disappointing, is leaning more towards the sad truth of these situations.
To understand the impact that a film like Portraits of Andrea Palmer has on the viewer, one has to watch the film for themselves. This is not a film that I would ever want to sit through again, however, it is a piece of filmmaking that I can appreciate for the poignant message it makes and the way it does so. It shouldn’t be taken lightly and seen as something fun to watch with friends; it broaches a very serious topic that is destructive to many women’s lives.
Verdict: 3 out of 5