10 Jul

Coming of age at its logical extreme. Deadgirl.

Posted by Bryan White | Friday July 10, 2009 | Reviews

deadgirlBoy, 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.

7 Comments 

  1. July 10, 2009 11:36 am

    Kiarna

    I haven’t seen it and I have severe doubts if I will so (on a whole I avoid movies with any kind of rape) I’m curious about a few things. How does the movie juxtapose rape and zombie non-entity-hood? Is there a deeper inquiry into rape mentality through the zombie mythology? Most rape victims are viewed by their abusers as being non-entities and only as objects, the trailer I’ve seen lead me to believe the zombie girl is the extreme version of this. She’s a chunk of meat that has limited capacity for agency, a highly disturbing interpretation of a rape victim. I suspect the horror movie trope of vengeance is thrown in there (maybe?) but do we end up cheering for her? Does this excuse us of the vicarious thrills of abusing her to begin with?

    I’m glad to hear you say that it doesn’t eroticize rape via graphic scenes but I’m wondering in regards to your comments how the power dynamic of ownership, having a dead girl in the basement, is handled? It sounds like it’s the power dynamic that gets the focus.

    We cannot of course answer the question of What Would You Do but I’m left wondering if the filmmakers thoroughly processed what they were doing. It’s a powerful combination of mythic horror elements that could be used to explore the mechanics of rape culture but I’m afraid it sounds a lot like the kids who run up to the porch of the haunted house and dare to go no further.

    If I keep this up I’m likely to talk myself into going to see it…feh.

  2. September 17, 2009 11:46 pm

    HorrorEnthusiast

    I went into this expecting mediocrity and was pleasantly surprised by a well-crafted film. It’s rare that zombies are used to make thought provoking material anymore but I can certainly say that this was the case here. Highly recommended.

  3. September 27, 2009 7:51 pm

    Byenia

    I saw this film a few days ago and thought it sucked on virtually every level. Bad acting, bad plot, stupid dialogue, poor lighting, and so incredibly immature in its delivery that it’s difficult to keep focused on the decidedly non-thrilling plot. First off, there were no women in this film. There were female characters, but none of their personalities were developed. All were unapologetically objectified.

    I struggled with the review above because it paints necrophilia as basically expected under those circumstances, which I highly doubt. As base and cynical as we Americans may be, it’s difficult for me to believe the average low-life would even consider raping a corpse. A live woman? That might garner more interest, but corpses and zombies? While viewing it, the thought kept returning that wouldn’t most men unquestionably prefer masturbation? In no way being naive to the minds of men, I’d have a hard time believing you’d find 6 or more boys in a high school interested in necrophilia. Unless I am completely behind the times already.

    But it’s not just a film about necrophilia. Corpses don’t move around and try to bite you. JT’s interaction with the deadgirl immediately began with sexual and physical violence, before he was aware she was indeed a zombie. No concern whatsoever.

    This film didn’t scare me, but the fact that others actually liked it is a bit disturbing. The bad acting and lack of dialogue alone were maddening. The subject matter was gory, stupid, and poorly handled, making me question how much empathy young people have after growing up surrounded by porn and violence. This film was absolutely repulsive and possesses virtually no artistic value, IMO.

  4. September 28, 2009 10:14 am

    veronica

    I saw the film and it left me ambivalent. It’s now the morning after, and I’m still thinking about it. I mean, I just googled ‘deadgirl reviews’ because now I’m curious to see how other people received it. That means something.

    The film has serious strengths. I thought the editing was pretty interesting and the acting was quite good, but its greatest strength is probably its ability to dodge every cliche and end up with a surprisingly original piece of filmmaking. To me, that’s pretty significant, particularly given that it was treading some seriously cliched territory of teenagers, unrequited love, and zombies.

    It was definitely difficult to watch, but I watched it. There are one or two scenes that I’m trying to get out of my head (one involving a wound), and while I wasn’t that disturbed at the time, when I tried to sleep, I actually had a hard time shaking the images, which has never happened to me before. I don’t think of this as a bad thing – I take it as a sign that while most films fade from memory the moment I turn them off, this one stuck. It triggered something – disgust, discomfort, fascination, confusion, curiosity, nausea…

    The film has weaknesses. The writing isn’t quite there. The dialogue is a little hollow and unnatural in places, and while some praise this film as a study of the adolescent male psyche, I think it failed to pull it off. I see one character fraught with guilt, another character descend into sociopathy, but I don’t understand why. If I understood why, then I’d understand why they made the choices they did, which is fairly important, because I had to suspend some serious belief to believe a few teenage boys would be willing to fuck a putrefying zombie corpse. With its semi-developed characters, the film seems a little atonal, and the end of the film is a little hard to believe.

    So I didn’t love the film, but I didn’t hate it either. I don’t know if this film falls on any register between love and hate – rather, memorable or forgettable. It’s memorable. There are memorable moments, good and bad, and memorable characters (due less to the writing than the strong acting). And the concept is memorable. Disturbing, but strangely compelling.

  5. March 9, 2010 7:59 pm

    meatstick

    This movie is great in every way its not for pussys or people that have been abuse….

  6. July 20, 2010 12:54 pm

    aabbott

    i am so glad i found this review, elequently pulls together a lot of the thoughts i’ve had about it. i saw this movie a few months ago and it’s been writhing around in my mind since then. did i like it or did i hate it? i honestly couldn’t tell. I did not enjoy it, but couldn’t turn it off, i needed to see how it would end and when the credits finally rolled i felt ill, i’ve recommended to particularly squeamish friends that they should not watch it. yet i find myself thinking about it, about the characters and the decisions they make, their dynamic and the disheartening ending, it was disturbing, but thought provoking. the fact that i do still think about it when so many other movies slip out of my memory before they’ve even ended, leads me to believe that it was good, it’s but i wouldn’t want to watch it again.

  7. August 10, 2010 9:03 am

    day

    i watched the movie and to tell the truth it was very graphic and disturbing. i think it truly shows the way some people are and that they have very sick minds but i don’t like the fact that they didn’t tell what happened to j.t. it makes me wonder if ricky killed him or not.


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