Nolan Gerard Funk
David Alan Graf
Susan Marie Keller
97 mins UK, 101 mins US
Trivia Both US and UK versions are uncut, but because of the UK frame rate the UK version plays slightly faster.
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14th Jun 11
The lives of two high schoolers turn to terror and
sexual deviance after discovering a naked girl in an abandoned mental asylum, who appears neither dead nor alive. As they fall apart and turn from friends to nemeses, those around them discover the darkness of human nature in a gorey, disturbing fashion.
There are a few things one would not expect in a zombie movie. Typically there is no torture outside of scientific experiments, while psychological fright is often jettisoned in favor of a sociopolitical message and entertaining amounts of gore. More sublime or emotionally engaging elements are often left out completely. The scenarios themselves are usually spread out as well, covering large areas of space and featuring hordes of undead ghouls, every so often occurring in claustrophobic spaces. Deadgirl is a film easily mistaken for anything but one of these living dead extravaganzas. The horror is all in the psychological impact of the demeaning torture, taking place in the darkest, tightest environment… oh, and number of zombies? One.
Ricki and J.T. (Shiloh Fernandez and Noah Segan) are two friends ‘til the end, spending their time screwing around in high school. They’re not popular in the least, but embrace their place in high school society by not fighting it and just being themselves. One day J.T. leads Ricki to the local abandoned mental hospital to put back some brews. Once there, they act like teenagers and trash the place, eventually making their way down to the basement, where they are attacked by a wild dog. Taking refuge in a random locked up room, they discover the body of a young woman (Jenny Spain) who appears to be dead. Surprisingly she moves, and J.T. proposes they use her as a sex slave. Ricki is opposed, but J.T. persists, sealing the fate of their friendship as well as the lives of those around them. What follows is a hardcore mind fuck, throwing in emotion and sex with horror grue.
Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel have crafted an interesting meditation on the cruelty of the human mind while creating a surprisingly dramatic and involving zombie flick. At no point in the film is there any real indication that what we’re seeing is a zombie, even though she plainly is: she’s definitely dead, gives no noticeable response to being shot, stabbed and strangled, yet is very much able to move, among certain other things.
The emotion conveyed between J.T. and Ricki is surprisingly touching, if in a very odd way. J.T. is definitely a little scumbag, but the connection between the two gives the feeling that he is simply a victim to his own primitive desires, and that it could be more of a tragedy for Ricki than anyone else. When others do get involved, they’re given almost as much emotional draw; even the jock, who starts out as unrealistically dickheaded, is very much a sympathetic victim. As much of an asshole as he can be, he’s still a kid (well, in the movie anyway) who simply doesn’t know better. The feeling I got was a lot like how I felt while watching Teeth, except in this case the movie knew what it was trying to be and how to gain both sympathy and shock, and worked because of it.
Shot on the Thomson VIPER FilmStream Camera (made famous by films like Collateral and Cloverfield), Deadgirl boasts some very well-done hand held camerawork that never comes across as too shaky, instead helping slide us into the crippling realism of the film. Close-ups of the gore-faced titular girl are chilling, while more open shots outside of the abandoned hospital bring refuge from the claustrophobia. The editing that accompanies all of this adds extra favorability, as it focuses more on the characters and their environments rather than meditating on the ample blood and guts. This style works magnificently, since nearly every example of gory violence is stomach churning enough in the half a second it’s viewed.
On the acting front, Fernandez and Segan are great in their roles. Oozing high school angst like a stuck emo kid, Fernandez makes a credible protagonist. His best friend has turned into a lunatic, his mom is fraternizing with an unsavory man (played by Michael Bowen of Kill Bill Vol. 1 fame), his childhood crush is dating a douchebag jock, and to top it all off the prom’s tomorrow! Except for the prom part, though I really would have liked to see J.T. bring his date to a school dance.
Segan on the other hand is more than credible as the friend-turned-monster J.T., and focuses enough hateful energy into the role that it’s really sad that there’s no Deadgirl 2 for him to return in. I could watch him being a psychotic rapist all day long and never get bored with his anarchistic sociopath tendencies. He’s drenched in nihilism, which becomes his sickness so that, in a way, he’s more of a zombie than the titular corpse, which is an enthralling possibility that only lends more intricacies to this little masterpiece.
Now, this movie isn’t perfect. There are gaps in logic you could herd elephants through, but the generally creepy or otherwise sickening atmosphere makes up for them in spades. Also, if you must have 100% pure logic in your horror movies, there are plenty of slightly contrived explanations for just about anything you might encounter. Just take the telephone pole out of your rectum and you’ll be just fine. Perhaps my biggest complaint is one I typically have for movies in general: casting twenty-somethings without the Fountain of Youth of Ellen Page to play high school teenagers. Ricki’s love interest JoAnn (Candice Accola) looks like she could possibly be a senior and maybe a junior if we’re going to stretch it, but her jock boyfriend Johnny (Andrew DiPalma) looks like he’s in his mid to late twenties. Ricki himself is in the same boat as JoAnn, but J.T. appears to sit comfortably in Johnny’s. Whatever. It’s a nitpick I know, but it bothers me. It’s kind of like how Tina in A Nightmare on Elm Street is supposed to be 15. Riiiight.
Point being, watch this movie. Now. It will frighten you, it will disgust you, it will move you, it will make you laugh and then it’ll go into that spin cycle all over again while fucking your overly-enthusiastic corpse!