Review: DEADGIRL

Posted by Peter Hall - June 24th 2009 @ 7:00 am

Directed by Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel, 2008
Written by Trent Haaga


Before watching DEADGIRL I was reading a recap at EvilOnTwoLegs.com of Fangoria’s most recent Weekend of Horrors in NYC.  Jon was recounting actors and directors across multiple panels who all lamented America’s new remake fueled industry, an industry that leaves no room for risk taking.   Well I hope someone gives the original cast of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT a copy of Marcel Armiento and Gadi Harel’s DEADGIRL, which is exactly the kind of film the industry doesn’t have room for any more, a film from the independent sector gambling for notoriety with nothing to lose.

And notoriety is precisely what DEADGIRL found on the festival circuit and is bound to find in the years to come.  What else can filmmakers expect when they make a movie about two high school aged outcasts, Rickie and JT, who find the naked and bound body of a pretty girl in the basement of an abandoned insane asylum.  Soon discovering that the pretty girl is a pretty undead girl, the degenerate boys take advantage of the situation.  Undeterred by her lack of a pulse, dead girl’s body becomes their private adolescent play ground.

I don’t think I need to explain the risks involved with such a film.  I also don’t think I need to explain that I’m having a hard time conjuring up a more misogynistic horror film than DEADGIRL.  Sarmiento and Harel have no agenda other than to push buttons, to get people talking about their manifested controversy.  I cannot fault an agenda of this sort as it cuts to the core of what all horror movies aspire to do, particularly since few recent American titles with actual talent behind the camera have yearned so deeply for the grunge and the grime as DEADGIRL.  But simply reaching the end of an agenda does not guarantee that something special has been accomplished.

DEADGIRL has an obvious strategy and a campaign to reach it staffed with admirable performances, great makeup and a measured hand to pull the wool over the audience’s eyes, but it doesn’t have a point.  It’s a well crafted but hollow repulsion, the film equivalent of chugging ipecac on an empty stomach.

The obvious obstacle is how divisive the premise is.  If you’re going to push as far into the dark as raping, and eventually pimping out, a dead girl, you damn well better have a reason outside of exhibition.  There must be a moral compass to push back towards the light, to give the sick imagery some perspective.  But there’s no perspective to DEADGIRL.  All of the men are scumbags, all of the women are victims.  Victimizing women may be misogynistic on its own, but making matters even worse is the fact that Trent Haaga’s script stages all of its feminine characters as victims due to their own weaknesses.  Even the deadgirl, whose only instinct is to eat flesh, ends up being subservient to her master JT at one point in the movie, as if to suggest even when they are literally brain dead, women will still make an effort to serve men.

For a movie working with so many strong personalities, there are no strong characters to be found.  Everyone is written to cave to weakness which shades the entire production with a boring, defeatist attitude.  Unfortunately this insults all the talent that braved being on set knowing that they were making a love-it-or-hate-it film.  The two gents leading the freak show, Ritchie and JT, played respectively by Shiloh Fernandez and Noah Segan, give impressive turns in their seedy roles, but they’re outshone by the eponymous deadgirl, played with so little as a dust mite of fear by the unknown Jenny Spain.

Truth be told there’s little to complain about the nuts and bolts of the film.  It looks great while feeling bigger than most smaller productions do these days and makes effective use of a melancholy soundtrack.  Fortunately directors Sarmiento and Harel keep what they’re putting in front of the lens relatively restrained, angling for implied imagery during some of the harder edged sequences.  The only enjoyable avenue of the script involves an impromptu bit of revenge on a bullying jock, which is a fleeting (and admittedly contrived) detour into happier territory.  Praising those elements, DEADGIRL is, to a degree, an accomplishment.  That I could find enough positive elements peppered throughout a thoroughly pessimistic and, intentionally, disgusting100 minutes is the only reason I can’t wag my finger too psychotically at DEADGIRL.

But then I remember that there’s no point to any of it, that Sarmiento, Harel and Haaga are all just exploiting emotions, often conceptually, sometimes literally.  Not unlike their two leads, the filmmakers have cornered and caged a touchy subject and are selling tickets for their poking and prodding tour.  But they’re not examining, they’re not learning or drawing any conclusions.  There is no diplomacy to their agenda, which is a brutally one sided relationship I know some people think a horror film is better off for having.  I’m not of that school.  If a horror movie isn’t going to entertain me, if it only wants to test my endurance it absolutely must have a debriefing.  There must be something in the film that shows there was reducible complexity to the test.

DEADGIRL lacks any complexity.  It’s a machine for word of mouth; a hook made entirely of bait designed only to be bitten the once.


For those interested, DEADGIRL is currently available on Region 2 DVD from Amazon.co.uk.

Tags:


rss 15 comments
  1. June 24th, 2009 | 7:00 am | #1

    Wait, so the dead girl is “undead,” as in a zombie? Huh?

  2. John LaTour
    June 24th, 2009 | 7:05 am | #2

    Yuck.

  3. June 24th, 2009 | 7:43 am | #3

    Yep, Brian. She’s a zombie which is the jump in logic the boys in movie use to do all their deeds.

    “She’s not even human, she’s just some dead girl.”

    Because that’s what men would instantly think and act upon.

  4. June 24th, 2009 | 8:03 am | #4

    boner!

  5. Kyle
    July 18th, 2009 | 9:50 pm | #5

    You missed the point. It shows men in a horrible light, how can it be misogynistic? It’s a controversial film about two bestfriends who are going nowhere fast, and realize what’s the point. The direction is much like a Haneke film in how it doesn’t judge its characters or their actions. Instead of shooting up their school after being bullied, they chose to do this… all the parallels are there. It has a great soundtrack, with an amazing score that’s oddly similar to Donnie Darko. If you are looking for something twisted, nihilistic and different from other horror films, this indie gem is worth a look. It’s supposed to divide the audience much like the amazing Martyrs.

  6. July 18th, 2009 | 11:24 pm | #6

    Oh, I didn’t miss the point. DEADGIRL doesn’t have a point to miss.

    It’s misogynistic because as a film it does nothing but exploit a viewer by proxy of how it exploits not just one but all of its female characters. Whether or not the men are good guys has nothing to do with it.

    I get that it divides audiences, but that doesn’t make it a good movie. Michael Bay can divide an audience as much as these two did. Not a big accomplishment.

  7. adam charles
    July 19th, 2009 | 12:46 am | #7

    The main problem with DEADGIRL is that at the point of developing the script they knew they were just trying to make a film that was going to try and push buttons. Films like MARTYRS, and others like it, aren’t controversial because of the material so much as their visuals. They became hard to watch, they weren’t developed specifically to be hard to watch. DEADGIRL wants nothing more than just to get you to say “that was fucked up,” and it doesn’t understand AT ALL what it takes to get you to say it; and the first thing it takes is believability that the actions are believable. I don’t believe for a second that either of those 2 kids would do what they end up doing. I find it hard to believe ANY kid would do what they do. Not because it’s immoral, but because it’s disgusting; and I ESPECIALLY don’t think that a high school jock would even consider it.

    It wants to be hard to sit through because of its content, but it’s hard to sit through because it doesn’t understand what makes good shockers good. A good shocking film is a film that’s good and has shocks. A bad shocking film is a film that wants to shock you and builds a film around it.

  8. Janice
    September 30th, 2009 | 6:05 pm | #8

    I just watched this film, I was really intrigued by the soundtrack…Does anyone know where I can get it?

  9. Matthew M
    October 5th, 2009 | 7:06 pm | #9

    I’m sorry, but I just cannot stand this. This Kyle fellow above is not the only person who saw that subtext in the movie. About half of the people who saw it did. Just because YOU never managed to grasp it doesn’t mean you can label it as pointless.
    I’ll be the first to admit that Deadgirl is not a masterpiece, it is flawed, but can you at least give it credit for trying to be an intelligent horror, that terrifies viewers by the realism its plot possesses alone?
    You’ve known people like JT. You know you have. If you haven’t then of course you missed the point of the movie; you’ve been sheltered. You don’t understand the true darkness existing within the heart of a teenage loser. That’s the entire point of the movie. The sadness and hopelessness that these characters feel, that turns them into monsters.
    After I watched Deadgirl, I was mortified. Not by anything jumping out at me, but by the film’s subject matter itself, and my own understanding of its reality.

  10. October 6th, 2009 | 1:21 am | #10

    I didn’t like DEADGIRL because I didn’t think it was well-written or well-acted. The lack of quality in those two specific ingredients was bad enough to overshadow any of the impact of the horror at hand.

  11. mia
    October 18th, 2009 | 5:13 am | #11

    this is not a horror film. this is a soft porno made for little kids who are into necrophilia, maybe vampires. zombies are pretty much the same thing; they’re both dead. this movie was in no way scary, no way was it intelligent. it’s about little kids who are so desperate that they may as well have been having sex with their pets while they were at it. i’d say incest or beastiality is one step above this movie, i’d much rather watch a movie about incest than a movie about kids having sex with something that can not hate, or enjoy the sex it is forced to have. the moment you think, “fuck yes the dog is going to own that kid” is ruined 3 seconds later when the dumb zombie whore kills the dog. this movie was completely stupid and i spent most of my time playing on the computer while one sex scene after another went by until the last 10 minutes of the film actually involved something that could be labeled as ‘horror.’

  12. Joost
    October 28th, 2010 | 8:42 am | #12

    You are definately missing the point mister Hall. The male/female relationship is a means of getting the point across, not the point itself. If you need a hero in your movie, this is just not your thing. I think you’re not in touch with reality.
    Deadgirl is a very sick and disturbing story, which is exactly why I like this better than Shrek.

  13. donovan
    June 29th, 2011 | 12:05 am | #13

    that was the most stupidest sickest movie i have ever seen. it was just simple fucking disgcusting, just a bunch of sick fucks who didnt have the chance to grow up to be rapists or some shit that movie was vile.

  14. pkd
    September 4th, 2011 | 12:06 am | #14

    Joost, it’s definitely, not definately.

    The movie had no point to it. Everything about it, especially the relationships between both genders had absolutely no substance to it, unless you feel like substance is girls being used by guys for sex and girls being shallow to go for the popular guys at school. Dumb, dumb, dumb!

  15. Joe
    October 25th, 2011 | 7:58 pm | #15

    I found it to be about the inevitability of death and some people’s need to find some level of control over death in some way. The Dead girl is a rotting corpse. If someone, say, wants to rape you when you’re dead, you have no control over that…you’re dead. J.T., on the other hand sees the dead girl as a way to control death. Death is lying on table and he’s having his way with it. However, death is nothing compared to his sex drive, but in the end, death wins…and rips his upper lip off.
    I’m not saying it’s the best or most thought out argument, but at least I made an attempt to find some sort of point to a movie. Why write you’re review if you’re basically just going to spew you’re negative opinion about the movie?
    There were any number of points the writer was trying to explore. Whether or not you like the film…they were there. Coming of age, sexual awakening, the relationship between sex and death, fear of growing up and becoming sexually active, etc. Of course it was misogynistic (especially when she bites the dog) but I found a lot of complexity to it that deserved to AT LEAST be explored by someone who’s supposed to be writing a review.

comment on this article


Recent Comments