Friday, August 2, 2013

FI: Deadgirl

US, 2008
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento

As the genre's name suggests, exploitation films are supposed to be trashy and squirm-inducing. The best of these movies cross lines, evoking great fear, shame, discomfort, and perverse laughter in the process, yet do so with a carefully-managed tone that lies somewhere between camp, schlock, gut-level revulsion, and absurdism. As for the worst, well, there's Deadgirl. This joyless, tone-deaf horror film about a group of teen boys who find a nude, undead woman strapped to a gurney in the basement of a long-abandoned asylum is never anything but morally repugnant and unbearable. Rather than commenting on or condemning the leery, violent rape culture that is its ostensible target, Deadgirl instead makes light of abuse while supporting the "nice guy" trope in disgusting ways.

Deadgirl's resident "nice guy" is Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez), a sullen, mopey teen who moons after longtime crush Joann (Candice Accola). He and his lowlife pal JT (Noah Segan) stumble upon the titular Deadgirl (Jenny Spain), who JT immediately wants to rape, as though that would be the first thing on anyone's mind in this situation. Rickie, for his part, is not interested, and more than once attempts to save Deadgirl, to no avail. JT and his fellow degenerate Wheeler (Eric Podnar) regularly rape and abuse her in scenes the film takes great pleasure in showing us in graphic detail, scenes it often tries and fails to play for comic effect. This sort of misjudged tone suffuses writer Trent Haaga's script, where dialogue he clearly finds funny just sounds juvenile and unrealistic instead. Segan's JT sometimes seem villainous, but more often comes across as stupid, prattling, and stubbornly free of insight, while Rickie, our "hero," is ineffective, dull, and creepy. At no point do we ever feel like we should care about either of them.

Director Marcel Sarmiento never met a scene he couldn't stretch past its breaking point, and several key moments just drag on and on even though what's about to happen is telegraphed far in advance. He aspires to something like the tone of Lucky McKee's May, but never anchors the film to anything resembling a heart or moral compass. Beyond that, the film is a structural shambles, and this disorganization hurts whatever ambitions towards scares or laughs Deadgirl may have had. Even if we forgive all of that, the bigger issue is the film's morality. As I said, we should expect transgressive content from an exploitation film. That's fine. I could accept some of Deadgirl's content were it handled better or grounded in something resembling a moral framework. But because of the casual, offhand way the film seems to laugh at sexual violence against women, Deadgirl never rises above being simply risible.

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