Directed by Isabel Bethencourt and Parker Hill, the verité-style documentary “Cusp” follows three Texan teenage girls on summer vacation. The group of friends, Brittney, Aaloni, and Autumn, ages 15 to 16, live a seemingly carefree existence. But as we partake in the girls’ shenanigans — house parties, back seat gossiping, bedroom intimacies — their recurring testimonies about sexual trauma and consent stand out.
A portrait of modern girlhood, this documentary ultimately becomes a bleak look at the normalization of sexual abuse among the very victimized young women.
The film begins on a disturbing note: Two girls laze around on a tire swing as a boy nonchalantly approaches with a rifle slung over his shoulder. Though the location in Texas is unspecified, grassy flatlands, gravel roads and isolated bungalows suggest these are rural, working-class parts. (Press materials say the filmmakers, based in New York, met the girls on a road trip a few summers ago.)
Brittney, who wears contoured makeup that adds years to her appearance, discusses her daily drinking and partying with a grin and shrug. Aaloni worships her freewheeling mother and loathes her chauvinistic father, who is never captured on camera. Autumn suffers a bad breakup, which sends her spiraling into reckless party mode. She even gets her nipple pierced by Aaloni, the one moment in the film not centered on boys and trauma.
Either in voice-over or in discussions caught on camera, the girls speak candidly to their experiences with rape or sexual abuse and the regularity with which they are approached by older men who initially feign concern about their status as minors. Their hyper-awareness of these dynamics feels all the more tragic when one of them begins dating a controlling adult man.
The film ends on a hopeful note, which feels contrived given the bottom line: that the cyclical nature of sexual abuse is resilient and yet unbroken.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. In theaters currently. On Showtime beginning Nov. 26.