Friday, December 20, 2013


Every once in a while I'll watch a film that I genuinely have no idea where to begin as far as reviewing.  This year, that film was MY NAME IS A BY ANONYMOUS.  Written and directed by Shane Ryan, MY NAME IS A BY ANONYMOUS is a film loosely inspired by the true crime of 15 year old Alyssa Bustamante and her thrill kill of nine year old Elizabeth Olten.  The flick follows the events leading up to Olten's death while also exploring the lives of two other girls and the sorrow that surrounds their lives.  Part POV and very much observational, MY NAME IS A BY ANONYMOUS bucks the rules of traditional filmmaking and presents an artistic and very raw experience.  Nothing about this film is conventional, but the storyline follows an extremely unconventional aspect of society - the world of teen angst in the late 2000s.  If I could compare this film to anything else that has come out recently, I'd like to think that if Harmony Korine made MEGAN IS MISSING, it would have resembled something like this film.  The film feels so real at times that it's hard to decipher how much of this was scripted and how much was improvised, but as far as capturing the day of angsty teens of the 00s, Ryan completely nailed it.  However, this film is a an enigma in the sense that I can't tell if I find this film brilliant, or complete bullshit.

The biggest weakness in this film is the actual throughline of a story.  Quite honestly, there isn't one.  Of all the characters in the film, only two of them have names; Alyssa and Elizabeth.  The rest of the girls play pivotal roles in the film but are titled "The Sidekick," "The Performer," and "The Angst."  The little brother of Alyssa's character is named Joseph, but he's a tertiary character at best.  If the film had chosen to follow one of these three girls for the entire film, it would have been much easier to follow and would have easily become a better film for the majority of audiences.  Yet, I don't think Ryan wanted to make a movie that would be easily accessible. 

By following the three girls, we see three very different and somehow very alike situations that cause teenage girls to walk down a path of self-destruction.  Alyssa and her friend "The Sidekick" are often cutting, having bathroom photoshoots with Alice Cooper-esque makeup, mimicking guns to their head with their fingers, cutting their wrists, and cursing each other out.  At no time do these girls ever show the stereotypical signs of depression, it's almost like they're doing these things for fun.  Then we see the "performer" who is also a wrist cutter and may or may not have a very unhealthy relationship with what appears to be a foster father...a relationship that is not mutual or consensual.  Finally, we see "The Angst," a bulimic girl who often saves her vomit and cuts her wrists.  This one is shown to be sexually abused by her father and her story is without a doubt the most difficult to watch.  This actress looked to actually suffer from an eating disorder due to the emaciation of her body and her effortless portrayal of self-induced vomiting.  Watching her story was heartbreaking.  Although the lens was focused predominately on Alyssa, it was "The Angst" that just ripped my heart out.

These three girls are very complex creatures and by showcasing all of them, the real "message" of the film gets muddied.  I still battle with whether or not these were separate girls, or if the unnamed characters were just physical manifestations of the different aspects of Alyssa's personality that helped "explain" why she killed Elizabeth Olten.  Some moments of the film left me completely unsure of what I was looking at (for example, the Performer has a full length music video in a foreign language) but its strangeness is also what compelled me to keep watching.  None of the characters have any real relationships developed between one another which makes the film a lot less impacting than it could be, but the lack of relationship seems to make a lot of sense with these isolated characters.

It's definitely a weird one and not something I ever see myself watching again, but I'm not angry that I watched it.  I don't know if I would ever recommend it to anyone else, but at the same time I think it's sort of genius.  MY NAME IS A BY ANONYMOUS, you're a strange bird...but I think I like you.

4 comment(s):

Spectra Ghostseeker said...

I enjoy strange and moody work, so I may check this out.
The real Alyssa was rather obviously a deeply disturbed sociopath. I was bullied throughout my school years. Did I think about killing? To be honest, yes. I though about killing myself almost all the time. I fantasized about my bullies dying horribly, but usually not by my hands. I sometimes thought about killing them, but realized that I would likely never do it.
If I had killed, however, it would have been one or more of my bullies. I would never have thought of taking out my anguish on a nine year old child, or thought of going into the school and shooting random people.
Killing one's tormentors makes sense. Killing random people doesn't. I never understood this and always found it rather cowardly.

Adam Everhard said...

In many ways, girls have a much harder time of it than boys do. Girls are expected to live up to such an impossible ideal of perfection. I am a licensed clinical social worker, and I see the anguish of so many girls who hate themselves for flaws they think they have, which I don't even perceive when looking at them.
I graduated from high school in 1985, so it was, obviously, a different era. Social networking brings a whole new element of bullying to the table. I for one think there need to be stiffer penalties for cyber-bullying. People should not be able to say horrible things about someone else just because they're in an online environment.
That being said, Alyssa is not your normal, unhappy teenage girl. She is evidently a sociopath. I do not think she could ever be rehabilitated, and, for the safety of others, she needs to be institutionalized for the rest of her life.
The film obviously takes the real story and puts it through the filter of the creator's perceptions. When I get a chance to watch this, I know I'll find myself psychoanalyzing the creator as well as the very disturbed antagonist.

Brian said...

Is this the same Shane Ryan that made the Amateur Porn Star Killer films?

BJ Colangelo said...

@Brian- Yes, yes it is.

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