Bad Reputation (2005)

Starring Angelique Hennessey, Jerad Anderson, Danielle Noble, Mark Kunznan

Directed by Jim Hemphill

We have come a very long way towards liberating the “weaker” sex since the time when I Spit on Your Grave first flickered to life upon drive-in screens across the country. Interestingly enough, the film sub-genre has evolved from being reviled for degrading women to being embraced, in some circles, as a tale of empowerment for the female species. Seldom are women portrayed as the demure wallflowers ala Sissy Spaceck’s Carrie White. In this post Grave Spitting Era, we are reminded that females are armed. Intellect, emotion, and teeth are the armory that are brought to the cinematic table. Evidenced within Lucky McKee’s meditation on longing, belonging, and seamstress work, May. The Carrie of the new millennium, May revels in her weirdness to the horrified chagrin of others around her. She is not just demure or misunderstood, she is weird to the bone. Providing a basis for her self image and gathering her enough self-esteem to carry on with any awkwardness that arises, her differing ways are the glue that coagulates May as a character. Weird means power!

Bad Reputation is a juxtaposition of these three films. It is about a quiet young girl named Michelle who is kept subdued by the cutting tongue of her Piper Laurie-esque mother sans religious overtones. Michelle does not, at the outset of the film, seem to be vying for the attention of her classmates. On the contrary, Michelle appears her happiest sitting under a tree reading Henry Miller. She shuns attempts to break into this solitude of hers. She is not interested in the goings on of others, and to her this self afflicted solitude presents a wall of protection. If she doesn’t others in to her world, then they can’t destroy it.

Yet, there is this young man, Aaron, who places his sights on Michelle and does not give up so easily. Playing her against her own self-esteem issues, Aaron feigns intelligence and warmth to connect with Michelle, and lure her to a party. Here Aaron’s true intentions are discovered.

Aaron has an on again/off again girlfriend, the ever popular Debbie, who is enraged at Aaron’s attentions to this common girl. Debbies’s inner circle is comprised of herself, a right hand bitch named Heather, and the odd man out: Wendy. Wendy used to be obese, and this former offense to conformity allows her to empathize with Michelle. Echoing the Sue Snell character in Carrie, Wendy serves at the bridge between the two worlds. Wendy is constantly on the fence, until Aaron acts out his plan.

Drugging Michelle, he takes her to his room. There he begins to try to have sex with her. Michelle struggles, enraging Aaron. Soon a few buddies join in, and a whole lot of raping happens. Heck, even the beer bottle gets some action. It’s a cold and nasty scene. Yet, for all the levels of gratuity it could have been, it reserves itself and plays it out in a more subtle manner.

Bad Reputation is a distinct separation from previous exploitation rape movies as it has little nudity in it at all. I am hard-pressed to remember any in its almost hour and a half running time. The showcased rape is done under a dress. Bodies are in motion, and we understand the horrors that are being committed, but we do not see them. Instead, director Jim Hemphill goes for emotion, and this proves to be a wise choice. What could have been dismissed as a simple exploitation film is left safely away from the defining elements, and thus is forced to evolve to a higher level.

Michelle, devastated from the attack, wants to just pull into her shell. But the vengeful Debbie and Heather have embroidered her with a scarlet letter that will not go away. Rumors from the party carry on, and keep cutting deeper into the wounds that Michelle has already suffered, never allowing them to close. Michelle’s character is constantly bombarded with hostile effects from the party, her mother, and the people at school. This forces an evolution of character. Change or die. This proof of Darwinian theories at work in high school outside the science room allows Michelle to become into the predator out of prey.

Jim Hemphill writes teenage dialogue with a verbal veracity that is natural and effortless. Permitting the actors to give more to the scenes in order of performance rather than trying to sell bad dialogue, Hemphill has created an effective portrait of high school cruelty through a raw, realistic emotional filter. The movie is brightly lit and does not hide anything that we do not need to see. Sound builds up so much of the film whether it is the words from the students, or the blood hitting the floor. Bad Reputation may pull visual punches, but never aural.

Even when the revenge portion of the film gets set into motion, the camera is very sure not to linger on any of the nastier elements of the violence. Rather, Hemphill opts to show everything in Michelle’s face, and we get a different type of pay off: an emotional one.

This is the wisest of choices, as the actress who brings this character to life, Angelique Hennessy, is a treasure all unto herself. Hennessy gives a raw, emotional performance that just will not allow Bad Reputation to sink to any form of cheese or schlock that haunts this sub-genre so badly. Bad Reputation is a roller coaster on unsentimental rails, and most of this roars quietly out of Michelle. Angelique undresses herself in sheer performance, and carries all of it off effortlessly. From her coy, shy beginning, she beams of beauty and silent reserved intelligence. This taste of intellect makes Angelique’s fall to devastation all the more heart wrenching. She should know better, but logic does not prevail, and teenage want of acceptance one again proves to be the most cunning cruelty. The colorful ultimate transformation of Michelle (ala Run, Lola, Run) is a cue that the leopard has changed its spots. No longer trying to hide, the chameloenic hunter is in the open, wanting its prey to watch. Angelique carries coolly, a deceptive potion with sex and sass.

This is a new style of killer. With a purpose, but more calculating than I Spit on Your Grave, less abrupt than Carrie, Michelle creates a new model. Hinted at in May, but seen here in full plumage. Bad Reputation comes at a time when it could come to redefine a set of films that have been ignored for far too long. The catharsis that occurs when a villain, one known for an atrocious and all to real crime, gets his comeuppance, is one of the reasons why these films have stayed popular. They are cautionary tales. Warning us of the wrongs that can and do happen, and the fate that may possibly befalls us if we are dumb enough to allow them to occur.

3 ½ out of 5

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