Deadgirl

You may remember that I had an interview with Deadgirl screenwriter Trent Haaga back in July, and that I was supposed to host the film at the River Oaks Theatre during its midnight release run. The theatre received a bum print and I never got a chance to see it. Until last night.

So! Deadgirl…is a movie. That I watched! And also…uhm.

Okay, shit. This is not going to be easy. The part of me that loves humanity and puppies and my friends and readers wants to scream, “DON’T EVER WATCH THIS MOVIE, FOR GOD’S SAKE! You will NOT enjoy yourself! Terrible, TERRIBLE things happen onscreen and your brain will never be the same again! And your eyeballs! THINK ABOUT YOUR POOR EYEBALLS!” But, the part of me that loves horror and original ideas and audacious filmmaking and movies that have something to say, well—that part wants to give Deadgirl a spirited round of applause. And then run from the room whimpering and never, ever, EVER watch that movie again.

So, B+? I guess?

J.T. and Rickie are high school losers: lonely, bitter and horny like so many high school losers before them. (They’re also middle-aged, as is everyone else in this movie, but you have to sort of shrug that off because I don’t really see any right-minded parents allowing their teenaged children to appear in this film).

Like so few high school losers before them, however, J.T. and Rickie happen upon a naked woman shackled to a gurney in the basement of an abandoned insane asylum. A naked woman who appears to be, well, sort of undead. Pretty much unkillable. Your basic standard issue zombie.

The boys don’t realize she’s a zombie at first. She appears to be a badly traumatized victim of abuse and abduction. This doesn’t prevent Teenaged Sociopathic Fuck (TSF) J.T. from postulating: “Maybe we could keep her?”

Of course, by keep her, he means rape her. Repeatedly. Make no mistake: when J.T. first rapes her, he doesn’t know she’s a zombie. If there are any of you out there who think the fact that she’s a zombie somehow excuses the rape (and you absolutely SHOULD NOT), screenwriter Haaga wants to be very clear: J.T. rapes her when he thinks she’s simply an abused female LIVING human. The whole zombie aspect is irrelevant.

 The rest of Deadgirl escalates rapidly and abominably. J.T. and Rickie are not to be rooted for. Rickie himself never partakes in the sexual assault onscreen, and he constantly wheedles J.T. that maybe they should stop, perhaps things are getting out of hand. This does not make him a hero. He never takes any demonstrative action to resolve the situation, save the girl, call the authorities, put his TSF of a pal behind bars. J.T. may be a monster, but Rickie’s ineffectual floundering and pathetic attempts at self-aggrandizing heroics are just as monstrous. He’s no better than these boys who stood around and watched a teenage girl being gang-raped after a high school dance, and those witnesses are no better than the rapists themselves. You got it? Witnessing horrific acts and doing nothing to stop them is no better than committing the acts themselves. That’s a point that Deadgirl makes loud and clear.

But Deadgirl is more than a message. Technically, the film works. It’s shot in a lovely monochromatic way, with graceful, dreamlike editing and muted colors. The film is a little too long, but the slow, elegant pacing is admirable, even if you just want the fucking movie to end already, god, why can’t it end?! Co-directors Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel use a light touch, which is critical with this sort of material. The script is great, and while the acting is decidedly not, Shiloh Fernandez as Rickie and in particular Noah Segan as J.T. are committed. They’re courageous and serious about playing what will undoubtedly be the most abhorrent roles of their careers. And speaking of committed—Jenny Spain, aka the dead girl: I take off my hat to you, ma’am. I hope you’re somewhere out there wearing cozy pajamas, eating mac and cheese made for you by a loving, sensitive partner and watching Saturday morning cartoons.

Still, the female characters aren’t a bunch of victims. The dead girl, Rickie’s high school crush JoAnn (Candice Accola) and a random would-be target the boys find at a gas station are all strong and efficacious. They fight back in the limited capacity which their circumstances allow, and while god knows we all wish they could have done far more damage to these hateful, heinous boys, that’s not the story Trent Haaga is telling. That story would be far easier to watch.

Deadgirl is a film that has something to say. The cruelty, violence and sexual depravity are absolutely not gratuitous. Deadgirl is NOT a misogynistic film. It’s a misanthropic film, sure, but the movie turns the spotlight on the inexorable objectification of women by society, men, and most often by teenage boys. High school boys often grow out of this belief that it’s okay for them to undress every woman they meet with their eyes, that they’re allowed to see females as nothing more than walking sex toys and masturbatory fodder. Any time Rickie snivels to J.T. or their partner-in-crime Wheeler that maybe they should let the dead girl go, the response is the same: “That ain’t a real human being.” They’re not pleading this case because she’s a zombie. She’s not a real human being because, to them, she’s a woman without a name, a story, a family, vulnerabilities and fears and triumphs and complexities. She’s as inanimate as the centerfold in last month’s Penthouse, and to these boys, that makes it okay.

In light of my recent viewing, I decided to publish my unedited, much longer interview with Trent Haaga for interested readers. Check it out here if you’re curious about the man who had this really twisted, brilliant, fucked up film inside his brain. Also, guys, I’m really not kidding here: you almost definitely do not want to watch this movie.

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8 Responses to “Deadgirl”

  1. Thanks- absolutely will not watch it, Check! (But a thoughtful review nonetheless).

  2. *blows out big breath*

    Boy, I just do not know about Deadgirl. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since we watched it last night. And talking about it. Sample conversation:

    “I watched Deadgirl last night.”
    “Oh, I’ve heard about that!”
    “Don’t watch it.”
    “So, it’s not good?”
    “No, it’s really pretty good.”
    “Okay, then . . . ?”
    “Don’t watch it anyway. Trust me.”

    This movie does NOT mess around. And even though I spent two hours being horrified/sickened/traumatized, I really respect what they were doing with the film.

    I think the best thing I can say to describe how I feel about Deadgirl (I don’t envy you having to make sense of it, marla) is that, after the credits rolled, I felt like I’d been in a war with the people sitting next to me. Just, completely wiped out and horrified and sort of hating humanity. I had to go home and watch youtube videos of cats and puppies to feel better.

    For a horror movie that has very few actual “scary moments,” Deadgirl’s one of the most horrifying movies I’ve seen.

  3. Just as you persuaded me that actually, I’d probably quite like Drag Me To Hell (and I did! It wasn’t that scary at all!), you have successfully persuaded me that I am never, never going to see this film. Nope.l

  4. I don’t think I knew you saw Drag Me?? YAY!!!!

  5. I hear you on calling them out for the benefits, but really, I have to throw out there that it is really just a different version of Funny Games. A movie about violence, ‘entertainment’, and gratuity that is well made and painful to watch. Like in Funny Games, the bad guys say they don’t want to do this, but they do because you, the viewer, by watching are propelling the madness. So, we are the ricky in this movie. We want this to stop, and the movie has shown you that it won’t, yet you plead over and over again for J.T. to stop, but he won’t. Just like Ricky, you would never actually DO the thing itself, but we are both doing nothing to stop. I get the point. But someone’s already done it (Haneke’s done it twice actually), and in a genre where people are more likely to be taking that point seriously. I’m just thinking about the dregs that I went to high school with watching this and not getting it. Uffda!

    I will, of course, never watch this movie. I would rather watch Salo: 120 Days of Sodom again.

    Phew.

  6. Fantastic review for a really difficult film. I’ve had Deadgirl stuck in my head ever since we watched it – it’s so well-written and made (despite the 30-yr old high school students), and so difficult to watch, that I’m still torn on how to advise people on it. From now on, I can just direct them to your review!

    And while I was TOTALLY kidding about immediately going back and watching the extras together, I have since read several reviews mention that Deadgirl has one of the best audio commentaries anyone’s ever heard. You know I’m a sucker for a good commentary track, so now I’m wrestling with whether it’s worth another viewing with commentary on. I’m really curious to hear the director and screenwriter discussing their work.

    Don’t worry, though. I won’t make you watch it with me.

  7. Deadgirl did kind of remind me of the experience of watching Funny Games, now that you mention it.

    Oh, and nice Salo: 120 Days of Sodom namecheck! I’m convinced that Eyes Wide Shut is more or less entirely based on Salo, at least from a styitistic, scoring and editing perspective.

  8. leftyjonno Says:

    finally watched this movie last night (a little late, i know) and your review is spot on. it’s definitely not a movie i’ll watch again… but also one that i’ll be very careful choosing who to tell to watch it

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