Sunday, 28 July 2013

Deadgirl - review

2008 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

Lets not mince words; Deadgirl written by Trent Haaga and directed by Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel is a dark film.

Ask yourself what would you do if you found a beautiful naked girl (Jenny Spain) bound and gagged in a hidden room deep under an abandoned psychiatric hospital? On inspection you discover the reason she's shackled and locked away is because she's incapable of being killed and also given the opportunity she'd quite happily attack and eat you. If you answered anything other than keep her as a personal sex-toy for you and your friends to use and abuse of course, then you can breath a sigh of relief knowing that you're a better person than high school senior J.T. (Noah Segan).

J. T. and best friend Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) are bunking off school to hang out and drink beer. It's a hot day so where best to get some shade that the towns old ramshackled nut house. A little drunk and scared by a loose threatening looking dog, that's never quite explained, they run, get lost and find themselves in the moral pickle I've just laid out. While clearly from the start you're expected to question the ethical veracity of these two, I mean they're 17 year old testosterone fuelled high school drop outs happy to break into and vandalise a private building but the speed in which he concludes they shouldn't immediately do the right and obvious thing is something to behold. Now I've watched people make questionable decisions, whether well intended or not, and I've watched films where people drunk on power or whatnot go seriously off the rails so to speak, but J. T. and later his friend Wheeler (Eric Podnar) descend to levels of douchebaggeryness on a scale and at a pace I've never witnessed before. Despite protests from Rickie J. T. is clear from the off, that the bound somewhat foetid piece of meat laid out in front of him is an opportunity and not something he's willing to part with easily.

Rickie's moral battle knowing what he ought to do, but putting himself very much at odds with his oldest bestest friend is the main narrative drive of the film and it only works if you can accept J.T.'s extreme sadistic ethically bankrupt narcissism but it's a close thing. As you watch Rickie squirm and wrestle his internal demons you also realise it's a coming of age story and, albeit under slightly more forced and extreme conditions than normal, that battle all adolescents face when they realise they're now ultimately responsible for their actions and they are able to challenge the world view as provided by friends and parents.

Now what she is and how she ended up getting like she is, is never explicitly explained but we can deduce quite a lot. She's definitely dead and her body is capable of sustaining the sort of damage that would certainly smart without batting an eye lid. She's feral and very much interested in biting people and when bitten, like Johnny (Andrew DiPalma), boyfriend of Rickie's ex and teenage obsession Joann (Candice Accola), she passes something fatal on making them like her. There's enough on display in my book to say she's a zombie though it is with a few caveats. She seems to consciously spare Rickie at the end with an apparent understanding that he meant well implying some kind of moral rational thought process, and she survives what looks like J. T. stabbing her through head. With her location, it's kind of implied she could be the product of some mad scientist experimentation but it's all left very deliberately ambiguous though the look and feel definitely made me think more of Rec and demons than viruses or anything natural.

Despite being a bit of a one trick pony with a story driven by a simple single controversial idea and something that could have easily been wrapped up as a ten minute short, it manages to play around with it enough and add new characters and ideas to hold up for the full hour and a half. Constantly uncomfortable viewing it builds the tension and feelings of dread nicely to reach a pretty lively, gory final fifteen minutes just at the right time wrapping it all up with a flourish. For a low budget indie film with a host of characters that are utterly unlikeable the acting is strong, the dialogue punchy and the production never amateurish. Also despite the controversial and twisted story things are never presented quite as gratuitous or graphic as they could have been and camera work is full of subtlety and restraint.

Sarmiento and Harel weren't scared to take a pretty disturbing idea and run with it. It's dark, it's deviant and has a fundamental central thread that many would argue is in such bad taste it probably shouldn't have been made. This being said I do like films that question just where the edge is, and push taste, decency and boundaries to raise debate and challenge conception. The deadgirl, naked, mute, and bound is woman as totally objectified and reduced as possible. It's powerful and shocking imagery but is handled relatively responsibility and none of the male characters come out of the film with a shred of honour or respect. Whether intended or not Deadgirl is a complex film. On the surface it's a decent horror film, look deeper there's social commentary on the modern teenage male dealing with the moral and sexual ambivalence and dissonance born in the age of easy access porn and detached reductionist/ objectification imagery. Gripping, thought provoking but not something I'd want to watch with my parents, 8/10.


1 comment:

  1. Great social commentary, well filmed, well acted... truly horrifying. I just didn't enjoy watching it. Great example of a movie that I sort of respect, but absolutely hate.