Girls Against Boys (2012)

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Girls Against BoysStarring Danielle Panabaker, Nicole LaLiberte, Liam Aiken, Michael Stahl-David, Andrew Howard

Written and directed by Austin Chick

Girls Against Boys is not about women seeking revenge against their male tormentors – that’s a premise more suited for B-movie exploitation – and although that’s its main selling point, director/screenwriter Austin Chick’s new film delves much deeper. Thankfully, Girls Against Boys transcends both its title and main selling point, becoming a story more centered around self-discovery – even if that awakening involves a little gunplay.

An extreme version of your typical coming-of-age story, Girls focuses on Danielle Pannebaker’s character, Shae, a wide-eyed, dangerously cute New York City transplant desperate to find her footing while still maintaining a paper-thin air of sophistication and worldliness. She’s an unfocused college student unaware of how many hearts she’s breaking; by night, she’s a pony-tailed bartender selling sex appeal to the douchebag masses before she quite understands her full seductive power.

Shae, meet Lu. Lu is already a force to be reckoned with, fully enveloped in a ball of sexual energy and firing on all cylinders. She’s solid in her boots, knows her place in the pack, and tolerates men who desire only to hopefully be tied up and toyed with. Together, Lu and Shae venture out into the city for dancing, drinking, and…

The sun begins to rise, and the two find themselves in a warehouse apartment (a space serving as a painful reminder of just how small my Chinatown digs are) where a couple of sleazy scenesters reside. Lu is down for whatever; Shae locks herself in the bathroom to gather her composure. The guys actually seem nice enough, and their friend Simon even offers to walk Shae home. Aww. When Shae attempts to go upstairs to her apartment alone, the mask of the shy gentleman rips off to reveal a monstrous side of Simon hellbent on ravishing our heroine.

The abuse tastefully occurs offscreen, but Shae is clearly damaged the next day, confused and violated. Lu is her only foothold in the city, and having no clear idea of how to deal with what has happened, Shae reluctantly takes Lu’s hand as they begin to track down the bastard that did this to her. Cue revenge subplot. This is where the film shifts from a young adult drama to what is essentially a horror comedy. Tonally, it’s an alarming shift, where Shae is suddenly completely on board with the killings and seems to be enjoying the proceedings almost as much as Lu, who reveals herself to be somewhat of a demented sociopath – a dark side unleashed to complement her firecracker personality. Is Shae experiencing a mental break? Does shooting twenty-something hipsters in the head offer dime store catharsis, or is Lu an offshoot of Shae’s demure demeanor – a split personality of the ideal she strives for that now, given the circumstances, has grown sinister?

That’s for you to ponder (upon a second viewing, perhaps?), but as the film stands, the horror element feels pigeon-holed in to appeal to a demographic instead of respecting Shae’s character and the physical trauma she’s been through. The snake-like Simon is eventually found and tortured in the film’s most graphic sequence, and it is refreshing to see men being abused for once, given the inherent sexism found in the genre throughout the years. Shae then seems to finally come to her senses when confronted with shooting an ex-boyfriend, who devastated Shae by returning to his wife and family, as she struggles with the prospect of killing him as Lu frantically cheers her on.

After the therapy session has ended, via flying bullets and buzz saws, Shae distances herself from Lu, a trend Lu certainly notices and is not at all appreciative of. This is where Girls Against Boys takes another turn, becoming a rom-com of sorts when Shae approaches a scooter-riding geek with a cute smile. Still in the early honeymoon stages, their budding romance is threatened on the eve of Halloween.

The ending is the strongest part of Girls Against Boys, culminating in a number of striking images and sequences involving a samurai sword and stark nudity. Although, just like Panabaker’s Shae, the film is unsure of just what it wants to be, it’s still a worthy selection in the SXSW Midnighters category this year and a film that deserves to be seen.

3 out of 5

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