Reviewed by Serena Whitney
Starring Shiloh Fernandez, Noah Segan, Michael Brown, Candice Accola, Jenny Spain
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento & Gadi Harel
My first screening at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival was the much talked about horror indie Deadgirl, a film that took years to come to life due to the fact that it was deemed far too “controversial to produce.” There had been so much talk about how shocking this movie was that I actually told my date to stay home because TIFF’s Midnight Madness’ programmer, Colin Geddes, warned everyone in advance that the film was not recommended for first dates. So what is Deadgirl about? Glad you asked...
It starts out like any “coming of age” film would; best friends and social rejects Rickie and J.T (Fernandez and Segan) decide to skip class one day and head over to an abandoned mental institution to drink beers and cause mayhem. While there they accidentally stumble on a woman’s seemingly dead and very naked body (Spain). They soon realize that the woman is not dead, and surprisingly enough, she’s also impervious to death.
Instead of calling the police, J.T decides that it would be more much awarding to have “fun” with the girl despite Rickie’s wishes. Struggling with his loyalty to his friend, Rickie keeps J.T’s secret, but unfortunately word gets around at their school about what’s happening in the abandoned mental institution and more sexually frustrated teenage boys want a piece of “the dead girl.”
If I had to sum up Deadgirl in one sentence, I would say that it is an R-rated version of Weird Science if done by Jack Ketchum. That may sound like music to any horror aficionado’s ears, but those two elements prove to mix as well as oil and water in this sub-standard horror film.
Co-directors Marcel Sarmiento and Godi Harel do their best to deliver a great looking film knowing full well that it will repulse a majority of its viewers. They knew when to use the “power of suggestion” in certain scenes, and because of the lack of pornographic shots of violence in the first act, it made it that much more shocking and jarring to watch the very explicit and gratuitous second act and climax of the film.
Now if the filmmakers had decided to keep the overall tone serious, it could have made for a very disturbing experience. However, Deadgirl tries to get as many laughs as it does scares from its audience ... and fails at both attempts. Instead of focusing on J.T and Rickie’s destructive friendship and the inner turmoil it’s causing Rickie by keeping J.T’s sick secret, Deadgirl puts the majority of its focus on delivering crude and offensive humor in the hopes of being compared to better films like Heathers and Very Bad Things. By the time the viewers are witness to an explicit rape scene that’s supposed to invoke as many laughs as Bruce Campbell’s infamous hand fight in Evil Dead 2 did, I was looking at my watch and waiting for the insulting movie to finish. Turns out slapstick humor and rape do not mix. Who knew?
Despite the fact that screenwriter Trent Haaga’s original concept was fairly creative, the script he helmed sadly is the weakest part of the film. It’s as if the filmmakers had gone straight to production from a “work in progress” first draft. Scenes dragged when they could have easily been cut down, and characters made nonsensical and illogical moves (even for slasher movie standards) simply to move the already convoluted plot forward. Sadly, even the actors suffered from the script. Shiloh Fernandez, who has proven in films like Red that he’s a capable actor, can’t even save the film due to the forced and redundant lines of dialogue he constantly has to mutter. The only actor who truly shined was in fact the “dead girl” herself, Jenny Spain. Her frightening presence essentially made the very few scary moments in the film effective. However, the main reason why I think she stood out was because she didn’t have to utter a line of dialogue…
Deadgirl should have been entitled Rape Movie for it is simply a cheap, exploitative, and misogynistic parody, rather than the controversial film it promised to deliver. Aside from an imaginative premise, a good yet thankless Michael Bowen cameo, and a few J-horror-like jump scares, this much talked about horror film unfortunately did not meet my expectations. If morbid curiosity gets the best of you and you must watch this, please take Colin's advice and avoid taking a first date along.
2 out of 5
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