Boy, I’ve been hearing about Deadgirl for almost a year, now. It seemed like one of those indies that makes the festival rounds but never comes to the masses for one reason or another. I had accepted the strong possibility that I would most likely never see it because I live in a part of the country that just doesn’t get the good times film festivals. You have to go to California, Toronto, New York or Seattle if you want to catch exotic stuff like this. But wouldn’t you know it? Deadgirl made enough of an impression to start getting out to the press. Thankfully.
Originally, I wasn’t terribly interested in Deadgirl. I saw the plot broken down in news articles and the word zombie jumped out at me and my excitement levels plunged. Then I saw something else that caught my eye and made me interested again. Trent Haaga is credited with the script for Deadgirl. Maybe you saw it, maybe you didn’t but Trent plays the lead in the Richard Griffin directed horror/comedy/musical, Splatter Disco, and not only is he a good actor, he’s funny, too. But let me make something perfectly clear:
Deadgirl is not funny.
Ricky and JT are a pair of dirtbag teenagers of the modern variety. Broken homes, no moral compass, driven by base instincts. They cut class one day and wind up drinking beers and fucking shit up in an abandoned hospital when a wild dog chases them into a part of the hospital that hasn’t been seen in some time. In a part of the complex long forgotten, they find the body of a naked dead woman strapped down to a table. Ricky is unsure of what to do but JT has plans. Things worsen when it becomes clearly evident that the woman is, in fact, dead, but somehow continues to live, driven to sink her teeth into the boys while JT plans on sinking something of his into her. It doesn’t take long for word to get around about JT’s sex slave and, naturally, things go horrifically wrong.
There is no shortage of coming of age movies out there. It’s a popular theme to explore. Some take a light hearted approach and pad the actual trauma of growing up with a heavy dose of comedy, like American Pie. Others, like Bully, try to tell it like it is and in the most realistic fashion possble, illustrate what a teenager will do with no moral guidance. Deadgirl takes a pretty unique approach and it’s something that I can appreciate, even if it’s a pretty unpleasant movie.
The Deadgirl in question has no identity and the movie never makes any attempt to tell her story, which is more or less the point. Zombies are often used as some kind of representation of consumerist hordes, standing in for us, the living who fixate on shiny objects, but Haaga’s script twists the usual formula. We, the living, are still the consumers, but this time around the zombie, being as there’s only one, stands in for a product. Because no one knows who she is or how long she has been there, it’s easy for JT to set aside notions of identity and history and just fuck her repeatedly. It makes it easier for him to start bringing other guys down there for a piece of the action as well. She becomes a product to be used up, exploited and then cast aside for something new.
Notions of amoral consumerism aside, Deadgirl explores the usual run of teenage issues, as well. There’s a heavy load of alienation, mortality, loneliness and sexuality, which is at the heart of the story. After all, this is a movie about a few dead end kids who, rather than do the right thing, more or less rape a dead body repeatedly. Which is where the movie shows remarkable restraint. There’s a disturbing trend in movies that eroticizes rape scenes but Deadgirl is already so deeply nasty across the board that they never go there. It would be a real shock, like much of this movie, and the sexuality is already pretty explicit. It’s an element of the story that is often suggested but hardly shown.
Deadgirl is further fleshed out by a capable cast that only tends to stumble on some clumsy dialog here and there. For the most part, leads Noah Segan (JT) and Shiloh Fernandez (Ricky) carry the movie’s unbearable weight with ease and chemistry. They’re not particularly likable, but this movie isn’t about absolutes. JT is particularly vile but never over the top, which could have been an easy road to travel. Feeling adrift in the real world, with no opportunities to lift himself out of his station, he makes the hospital more or less his home. JT being the stronger personality of the pair, he asserts his dominance early on while the weaker of the two, Ricky, expresses resignations. It’s very clearly patterned after serial killer team ups like Lake/Ng and Lucas/Toole. The resemblances are creepy.
What you get in the end is a dreary horror movie through the eyes of Harmony Korine. It asks the question, “It’s ten o’clock. Do you know where your kids are?” Like most good social indictments, however, it does it in a horror movie setting that paints the teenage experience as particularly bleak and disgusting. Deadgirl is peppered with moments of explosive violence and a sustained tone of grotesque sexuality that is a compelling watch thanks to a strong script and a good cast. I suppose that it’s asking what you might do in this situation and I’d hope that you would do the right thing, but there’s an underlying cynicism that suspects that most guys would just plow the deadgirl and keep it a secret among friends.