Women's Studies (2008)
Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring Cindy Marie Martin, Tara Garwood, Kelley Slagle, Melisa Breiner-Sanders, Laura Bloechl, Mundy Spears, Tiffany James, James A. Radack
Written and directed by Lonnie Martin
Visit the official Women's Studies site
Before I launch into a tirade about what a messy missed opportunity Women's Studies is, allow me to direct your attention to the line above regarding the film's official site for a moment. I recommend checking it out. Most should appreciate its creativity and how deeply into the make-believe world of Ross-Prentiss Women's Academy it delves. Unfortunately, very little of that passion and energy made the transition from cyberspace to movie screen. While the website succeeds in holding its visitor's attention, the film falters on just about every level possible, including setting itself up for failure by touting its own intelligence. There is a nice healthy dose of ethical ambiguity throw into the mix, but it takes more than that to convince me you've got the capacity to pull off "an intelligent horror film that explores what makes one person fall over the edge into terrorism while others take a more peaceful route to change." I found nothing especially smart in Women's Studies (but do rather like the graphic they used for the title).
You might have heard that Judith O'Dea has a part in Women's Studies. To see meek and mild Barbra all these years later in a female empowerment movie -- what a treat! Ummm … not so much. She does appear in the film but has very little screen time. To her credit, Ms. O'Dea does what she can to make her character, the cancer-stricken Senator Gayle Hamlin, memorable, but the lines she's called upon to deliver would sound forced coming from anyone. And the acting from the rest of the cast goes progressively downhill from there. Martin's Mary, the person we're supposed to care about the most, frequently got on my nerves. Same with Garwood's Judith, her nemesis/wannabe lesbo lover. And Raydack as Zack, Mary's med student boyfriend, was ridiculously silly. We get he's a man and all men are scum, but no way someone with enough brains to be in med school would stay in a situation like the one in Women's Studies.
And what is that situation? In a nutshell Mary, Zack, her best friend Beth (Breiner-Sanders), and tag-along high schooler Iris (Bloechl) are carpooling from DC to Chicago. Along the way Mary's car is stolen, forcing them to accept uber-feminist Judith and her friends' invitation to hang out and wait for news from the police at the all-girls academy where they live. Of course it's out in the middle of nowhere, and of course one of the women is carrying a baby, as is Mary, but Zack doesn't know yet. Judith and her crew conspire to lure Iris and Mary to their fanatical cause of ridding the world of as many nasty, evil men as possible and then making out. Melissa (James) and Iris fall for each other and -- let's not forget this is a horror movie, folks -- go on teensy little killing spree. But don't get your panties in a bunch. It's not really murder; it's "rejecting the dogma of patriarchy." After all, doesn't everyone "want a world where men look past the length of our skirts?" Seriously, you can't make this shit up!
I neglected to mention that before all that happened there was a seemingly unrelated opening bit involving some strippers in a real dive of a bar that included a lot of slicing and dicing of some unlucky young men who were only trying to get laid. Rest assured we do get to revisit the place during one of Women's Studies multiple-choice endings, but nobody gets naked the second time either. Nothing adds gritty realism to a film more than a strip club where no one takes off their underwear, right? From there, things wrap up five or so additional times with more than one twist. We must include every single cliché possible! I'm not exaggerating either. After a reasonable time the film climaxed with a showdown wherein the winner's weapon of choice was a deadly tennis racquet. I admit I laughed and enjoyed the scene. Okay, you made your movie … and your point; now give me those 80 minutes back. What? There are 25 more minutes left to go? Lonnie, Lonnie. Reject the dogma of drawn-out, ponderous indie filmmaking.
Women's Studies could have been a lot of fun if everyone had just lightened up, and tightened up. Its basic idea was sound, but too many of the pieces failed to gel. It wasn't convincing as a serious, message drama because the script and, in turn, the actors weren't up to the task. Plus, you killed off your best actress -- and most likable character -- first thing, and then you underutilized Mundy Spears, who showed real promise as the pregnant but still feisty Sharon. The French-speaking dominatrix Diane (Slagle, who gave her all) stole the show, but considering the competition, that's a minor accomplishment. No, not even hot chicks fighting and kissing could save this tangled mass of message and morality. They spent much too much time between the action talking about their feelings and rationales. One positive thing I can say, though, is that the efforts made by the crew -- the DP, editor, camera department, wardrobe and makeup, etc., -- showed through and elevated the production value. The various overhead shots were especially effective in the context of the story.
At times I wasn't sure if Women's Studies was an example of lesbian horror, Christian horror, anti-Christian horror, or maybe a heavy-handed throwback to the early feminist movement of the 70's that tried hard but missed the boat. In the end it turns out it was just your garden variety bad horror. And lord knows we've seen enough of those! Steer clear.
1 out of 5
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