Blogoween: Deadgirl (2008)

“What are you, eight?”

Written by Trent Haaga. Directed and produced by Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel.

What kind of horror movie is it? Undead social commentary

Before you read a paragraph of this review, I must warn you that it deals with very strong subject matter and, if you’re sensitive, you don’t want to read about Deadgirl, much less watch it.

Ricky (Shiloh Fernandez) and J.T. (Noah Segan) are cutting class to let off some steam, to engage in some petty vandalism and to tell sub-stupid jokes. Soon they find a condemned hospital, which they explore as much as they destroy. Meanwhile, J.T. labels everyone at school “gay” (and other variants on same while encouraging Ricky to take out his aggression on the building. J.T. has all the power in this friendship and by reminding Ricky that JoAnn (Candice Accola), the girl he’s been crushing on, is way out of his league.

After a close call with a rabid dog skulking through the hospital, the two teens lock themselves in the basement as a temporary refuge. Soon, they realize they’re not alone. But Ricky and J.T. have found something that dictate the course of their lives: There’s a naked woman chained up in the basement, either forgotten or ineffectually sealed away by whoever last encountered her.

Ricky is horrified. He knows they have to get out of the building, but as for calling the police or taking the woman to a hospital, he leaves the thinking to J.T.

J.T., being an emotionally stunted CHUD, thinks about the possibilities of keeping this discovery a secret. Well, mostly he’s just thinking “naked girl = awesome”. After all, if nobody knows she’s there and she’s restrained, semi-conscious and fully-nude, whose to stop an enterprising young sociopath like J.T. from having a bit of fun?

Ricky is disgusted, but he can’t convince J.T. not to rape the girl, and is suckerpunched for even suggesting that his friend think twice about his plans. Defeated, Ricky returns to his home not to find his mother, but her beer-swilling, seemingly unemployed boyfriend, Clint (Michael Bowen). Clint notices that Ricky’s been beat up and slurs out some cliches about “takin’ care of business” and defending one’s self. Like the rest of the adults we briefly see in Deadgirl, Clint is hopelessly out-of-touch with the current generation. Worse still, he’s just as much of an unthinking goon as J.T.

Soon, J.T. seeks out Ricky with some rather upsetting news. It seems that the “deadgirl” didn’t take too kindly to this young idiots advances and, in a rage, J.T. beat her to death. Except, she didn’t die. He later strangles her and even shoots the woman to prove a point to J.T.: the woman they found is a zombie. This changes everything. Since his victim can never starve and die, the feral “deadgirl” can now be used as J.T’s living blow-up doll for all eternity.

Cue Ricky’s renewed disgust and continued impotence in dissuading J.T. from evil. End scene.

With Ricky out of the picture for J.T.’s pathetic activities, word gets round at school that the loathsome teen has been gettin’ some. When a pea-brained jock (Andrew DiPalma) threatens to kill them unless he sees the chained woman, he ends up with a rather unfortunate bite from the undead sex slave. He retaliates by beating the “deadgirl” until her face is almost unrecognizable, but it’s too late. As per traditional zombie tales, bites are contagious and this jock’s sudden comeuppance (during class, no less) is as fitting as it is revolting.

Still, the zombie’s face has been so thoroughly brutalized that J.T. can no longer satisfy his needs with it. But, with its infectious bites offering the prospect of a new “deadgirl”, J.T. devises a plan that will not only fulfil his urges, but perhaps mend the rift between him and Ricky.

Growing from the roots of rape-revenge flicks like I Spit On Your Grave, Deadgirl is a powerful piece of feminist horror cinema. Grave and its ilk are overshadowed by unwatchably tasteless and punishingly lengthy rape scenes, which destroy any statements its filmmaker was attempting to make. Deadgirl explores new territory here by shying away from depicting gratuitous sexual — and non-sexual — violence, and crafts a masterful character piece that is as much about why rape happens as much as it is a horror story.

Deadgirl is notable for coming on the heels of the 2007 horror-comedy, Teeth. Unlike Teeth, which was largely a vehicle to show two-dimensional twerps get their penises bitten off by the protagonist’s toothy vagina, Deadgirl is interested in finding a possible explanation for sexual violence. The male characters are all driven by an irrepressible sense of self-loathing. J.T. encourages Ricky and others to commit rape because he thinks it’s the only way guys like himself and his friends could have sex in the first place. For J.T., this is the best possible alternative to trying to date. As such, Deadgirl posits that sexual violence is motivated by self-pity. That and stupidity, of course.

Furthermore, unlike the middling Teeth, JT and Rickie don’t feel like stock characters. Their relationship dynamics are very real with Ricky as the passive male and JT tending to not only set the tone of the friendship, but to be its leader and general alpha-male. At the risk of sounding like your mom, J.T. is a terrible influence on poor Ricky.

Granted, Ricky isn’t a hero or even that nice a guy. Any non-scuzzy person would’ve reported J.T. and the “deadgirl” to the police immediately. Ricky doesn’t even come close to turning in his sociopathic best bud. Nonetheless, as we can see in the way he handles the moronic Clint, Ricky’s I.Q. practically triples when he’s free of his loathsome friend.

Even J.T. is given a bit of depth. As heinous as his actions are, he genuinely thinks that “sharing” this zombie is a means to provide Ricky with what he so desperately wants. It’s revolting, but it’s plausible for someone so amoral could believe that two friends raping one girl is a rite of passage.

Though I must deduct marks for its soundtrack, which nakedly apes the masterful score from Donnie Darko, that is the sole misstep made in this unforgettable movie. Deadgirl benefits from an able cast, focused direction, and a script that refuses to follow a predictable route. It’s a ground-breaking film that marks the emergence of the first great feminist horror film, and certainly one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

One comment

  1. jeff · August 22, 2013

    something should be mentioned about jenny spain.. the actress who plays the ‘dead girl’ .. she really brings in an amazing performance .. for not having any lines and having to be tied up, bound.. gagged naked… what have you… she still gives one of the best performances i’ve seen on film.