Monday, August 3, 2009
Deadgirl is a beautifully twisted, if not slightly flawed, exploration of how childhood innocence is so easily lost in our disillusioned world. It is easily one of the most disturbing films I’ve seen in recent memory and while it’s a more coming-of-age drama than straight-forward horror movie, this film still managed to shock and deeply perturb me.
High school burnouts Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez, who looks like a mix of Joaquin Phoenix and Johnny Depp) and J.T. (Noah Segan) cut school one hot day and decide to seek refuge in an old abandoned mental institution. After trashing the place and downing some beers, they set off to explore the dank basement where they are shocked to find a seemingly dead woman’s naked body chained to a gurney and wrapped in plastic. While Rickie decides to high-tail it out of there, J.T. has nefarious designs on the naked dead woman…except he soon figures out she isn’t dead and, more so, can’t be killed!
Rickie soon discovers that J.T. has made the dead girl into his own personal sex slave. Yet, Rickie can’t bring himself to turn his best friend in, not even after more and more people find out about the dead girl and join J.T. in his perverse necromance. As the situation spirals out of control and the line between right and wrong blur, Rickie must decide where his loyalties lie.
Deadgirl is definitely not a fun film to watch, but then again I just couldn’t tear my eyes away from the grotesqueries on display. That’s not to say that it is at all gory or bloody, but instead the shock aspect of the film comes from the seemingly moral ambivalence of all the characters. It seems that no one really cares that what they are doing is wrong, and even Rickie, one of the few remotely likable characters, seems only worried about the repercussions if they are caught by the police. This is where the real horror lies…that these teens don’t seem to have any moral compass and that the scenario seems so plausible in real life.
Though the film never explicitly shows the many rape scenes, we know exactly what is transpiring. The film never eroticizes the rape, instead making it a vile, degrading act to watch (though the characters treat it very nonchalantly). The dead girl (played bravely by Jenny Spain) is like a hunk of meat to the characters, just another thing they can use to satisfy their teenage libidos. I’m not sure if the writer Trent Haaga or directors Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel intentionally wanted to make a statement about rape victims and their attackers, but J.T. and his cronies treat her like a rapist would treat his victim…they say “she’s not even human” and act like she is just a commodity to be used explicitly for their pleasure and then discarded. You end up cheering for the dead girl (the characters never even give her a name and we never find out her back story, making her appear even more like merely an object) but her rapists never seem to get the punishment they deserve.
Another theme the film explores is the “loss of innocence”, but more from Rickie’s and J.T.’s perspectives than from the dead girl’s. The characters go from rebels without a cause to perverse exploiters of human life rather quickly, and, as mentioned above, treat the dead girl as not even being human and repeatedly rape this “object”. Though “zombie” is never used to describe the dead girl, that is what she truly is and the film really turns the zombie genre on its head. Usually, the zombies are used as metaphors for our mindless consumer society, but in Deadgirl the living lead characters are the ones senselessly and coldly using up the “zombie” just as if she is another product. It says a lot about our society and how we as consumers voraciously devour any products we can get our grubby mitts on, without thought to consequences. Kudos to writer Trent Haaga for offering a new perspective and social commentary on the zombie genre. On the more distressing side, it also speaks of how ambivalent we as a society are towards rapists and the “boys will be boys” mentality.
On the visual side of things, directors Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel do a fantastic job of capturing the angst and alienation of youth in the film (especially accompanied by the moody soundtrack that includes Iron and Wine, Radiohead and Animal Collective). The opening scenes and subsequent framing shots really depict what it feels like to be an outsider in high school. It is a poignant journey until the twisted horror of the dead girl is revealed. From then on most of the action takes place in the dark, dank belly of the abandoned mental hospital, which J.T. slowly converts to his new crash pad, complete with softly glowing Christmas lights and a Lazy-Boy. The gritty setting coupled with the despicable acts the boys perform on the dead girl really makes your stomach turn. The setting reminded me much of Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door.
Despite a few shaky instances, the actors in the film did an amazing job. Noah Segan really made us hate his character of J.T. and Shiloh Fernandez made us alternate between hating and loving his character of Rickie. Other cast members did a terrific job as well, especially the dead girl herself, Jenny Spain, who we both felt sorry for and terrified by.
The film does have a few flaws, namely some slow pacing and failure to wrap up some loose ends. The film already has a pretty languid pace, but there are a few instances where the story really gets bogged down. I thought the subplot of Rickie’s mom’s boyfriend didn’t add anything to the story and could have been left out. Also, I really wanted to see some justice and prolonged torture befall J.T. and others for their part in making the dead girl their sex slave, but their fates were rather tame. The film’s grim ending was shocking (though you can see it coming), but it never followed up on what happened to some of the characters or the dead girl herself. Had the script and/or editing been tightened up, the pacing and storyline would have flowed much more smoothly, but still would have been no less perverse.
Deadgirl is a hard film to recommend. On the one hand, it is hard to watch, has its moments of misogyny and the rapists never quite get all they deserve, but on the other hand it is beautifully filmed and is just so damn disturbing! The moral ambivalence of the characters and the objectification of women speak to a greater extent of how we as a society have a nonchalant attitude not only towards the loss of innocence, but also towards rape. And that perhaps is the most frightening thing of all about Deadgirl.
Buy it on Amazon!