Friday, December 1, 2006

Bad Reputation (2006)

Anyone who has been through high school has experienced the nasty, vicious and often untrue rumors that ruin reputations. We all know a girl who was labeled a “slut” or a “whore” seemingly overnight and we most likely believed the rumors, no questions asked. We automatically believed that she was the one to blame and we didn't consider that she could actually be the victim. Bad Reputation looks at this ugly side of high school with an unwavering eye through its rape-revenge story.

Michelle Rosen (Angelique Hennessy) just doesn't fit in. First off, she's new at her high school which already spells social doom (take it from me – I moved between my sophomore and junior year and it sucked!). Second, she comes from the wrong side of the tracks. While her classmates all have rich parents and well-to-do upbringings, Michelle lives in the city in a tiny apartment with her alcoholic, verbally abusive mother and they barely scrape by. The only reason Michelle can attend the high school is because she received a scholarship. Third, she would rather spend her lunch break sitting under a tree reading Henry Miller than discussing the latest hot gossip. Still, she envies the popular clique and gazes longingly at them as they wordlessly pass her by in school. One day, things seem to take a turn for the better as Michelle is approached by handsome star football player Aaron (Jerad Anderson). At first, she thinks it is all a joke, but she is soon charmed by his wide grin, seemingly intelligent conversation and generous compliments. Aaron invites her to a party he is having that night and Michelle excitedly accepts, all the while Aaron's on-again, off-again girlfriend Debbie (Dakota Ferriero) stares jealously at Michelle.

Later that night, Michelle arrives at the party wearing a cute black dress and grabs the attention of Aaron, along with his buddies Steve (Chris Basler) and Jake (Mark Kunzman). Debbie and her popular clique, including Steve and Jake's girlfriends Wendy (Danielle Noble) and Heather (Kristina Lauren), look on enviously and start making up rumors about Michelle. Debbie and Heather talk the most trash, with Wendy actually defending Michelle, feeling sympathetic because she too used to be an outcast. Meanwhile, Aaron sweet talks Michelle all night, all the while giving her more and more alcohol to drink until he finally slips a Rufie, a date rape drug, in her drink. She sluggishly follows him to his room, stating she feels sick and insisting on going home. He tells her she needs to sober up first and puts her on his bed. Soon his buddies join him in brutally raping the virginal Michelle. To keep her quiet they stuff a dirty sock in her mouth, each violently raping her while the other two hold her legs and arms. When she passes out they shove other things, including a bottle, inside of her. This scene is brutal, cold, painful and will leave you feeling like you need a shower.

When they are done, they re-join the party, leaving Michelle passed out on Aaron's bed. Heather sees them all leave the room and goes to investigate, sharing her findings with Debbie and Wendy. Heather and Debbie blame Michelle for anything they think has happened. In retribution for messing with their boyfriends, they haul Michelle out into the backyard and duct tape her to a tree with the word "SLUT" written on her forehead. Not only was she just violated by three drunken jocks, but now she must face the degradation of being displayed to all her peers as a whore.

Michelle just wants to crawl into a hole and find what little comfort she can, but she finds no repose from what happened. Debbie and Heather take it upon themselves to spread the rumor that Michelle is a slut. When Michelle arrives at school, she sees posters plastered all over the campus proclaiming her "Michelle Rosen is a Slut." She goes from nobody to school slut overnight and everyone refuses to listen to her side of the story. Her mom is no help, blaming her for "panting after boys like a bitch in heat" and her counselor makes a pass at her rather than helping her. Debbie and Heather also continue to harass Michelle, telling her this is what she gets for messing with their boyfriends. With no justice for the crimes perpetrated against her, Michelle decides to take matters into her own hands. She takes on the persona of “school slut,” fully embracing it to entice the clique to their violent and bloody ends.

Bad Reputation is a strong and powerful first feature film by director and writer Jim Hemphill. While it follows a basic rape-revenge plot, it still feels fresh. As it begins, it feels like a teen romantic comedy, much like She's All That (which is cleverly referenced by Aaron in the beginning of the film), but it progresses to become something much deeper and more terrifying than your average teen romp. The mood changes when Aaron and crew drug Michelle. From here on out, it's a horrifying, painful and downright satisfying film to watch. The strong points in the film are the writing, acting and directing. The dialogue is realistic and intelligent, never insulting the viewers' intelligence. I love how clever references are featured, including an obvious nod to Jason of the Friday the 13th series in Michelle’s revenge scenes. The characters are also developed quite well, and they never fall into the trap of becoming caricatures of high school students. You can actually make an emotional connection with each of them, which really affects how you view the film. You care about Michelle and want to see her get her revenge on all who have wronged her as much as you want to see those in the clique suffer.

Each of the actors does an excellent job portraying each character, especially Angelique Hennessy as Michelle and Jerad Anderson as Aaron. Hennessy flawlessly portrays a range of emotions, from ecstatic to devastated, with ease. And Anderson can go from sweet to asshole in .05 seconds flat. The rest of the cast portray their characters realistically and truthfully. I felt like I was right back in high school (scary thought, huh?).

As a director, Hemphill definitely knows how to film unobtrusively. The careful and intimate set-up of each scene made me feel like I was right there alongside the characters. I also appreciated the fact that he avoided any exploitative shots that would have ruined the horror and emotional impact of the rape scene. The direction ensured that the subject matter was not cheapened.

As other reviewers have noted, this film has elements of Carrie, I Spit on Your Grave and May. Yet, Bad Reputation never rips these films off. Rather, it takes the humiliation and unbearable mother figure suffered in Carrie, the revenge angle from I Spit on Your Grave and a similar bloody ending to May’s and manages to make something different and much stronger. Plus, it features Michelle reading Carol Clover’s great book Men, Women and Chain Saws, which makes it that much more awesome!

If you choose to look deep enough, this movie offers a lot of social commentary and asks a lot of questions (which I could write countless pages on), while still offering an engaging storyline. For you gorehounds out there, there is blood and even a decapitation to keep you satisfied, though most of my satisfaction came from watching Michelle’s expressive face as she did away with her victims. My favorite demise was Debbie’s. While in the bathroom puking, Michelle holds Debbie’s hair back before proceeding to repeatedly slam it into the toilet. She then drowns her in her own vomit. Ahhhh…revenge!

A stunning entry into the world of horror, Bad Reputation is one of the best independent films I’ve seen in a long time and proves that revenge is most definitely sweet.

Order it on Amazon!

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