Dir: Marcel Sarmiento, Gadi Harel. 2008. Starring: Shiloh Fernandez, Noah Segan, Michael Bowen, Candice Accola. Horror.

I checked out Deadgirl as an experiment. There was no way anyone could make a film about a zombie sex slave and elevate it beyond an unbelievable, exploitative sleaze-fest of misery the trailer painted it out to be. At best, I would walk away from it knowing how NOT to make a horror film; at worst, I'd say "yuck" and take a long hot shower afterward. But I also had to see it because it was the first movie idea I heard in a while that actually made me think I could say "yuck." As horror fans, we're all trying to find the next high--the next stomach-churning gross out, or even better, a story that might actually send a genuine chill of fear down our spines after we thought we've seen it all. Deadgirl delivers the heeby-geebies more effectively than I predicted, but probably not in the way the filmmakers intended. Underneath an odd attempt to create a coming of age story, there's a social commentary being made on how terrifyingly clueless teens might be today on what it means to be a "man."

Unpopular, more likely to smoke a joint than pick up a football, and too inept to talk to girls, Rickie and J.T. at least start the story off as ordinary teenage misfits. When cutting school for a day for some old-fashioned beer-drinking and petty vandalism at the local abandoned insane asylum, however, they find something that proves to be a right of passage neither quite imagined for themselves: a naked girl strapped to a table in the dank and decrepit basement of the hospital. Rickie wants to run away and pretend they were never there, but J.T. gets a more deviant idea. "We could keep her," he says. What's the moral thing to do? Well, that question gets hazy once they realize the girl is sort-of-but-not-really dead. The real trouble begins, though, when word gets out to more boys at school. I'll just say that a whole lot more gets lost than friendship (and virginity).

Zombies have been handled many different ways in cinema, but Deadgirl might be the first to use one as a concubine, and definitely the first to give the idea enough context to where it almost works as both horror and tragedy. Screenwriter Trent Haaga paints a world in which parents aren't around, teachers have no strong influence, and the line between right and wrong is all the murkier when the bullying jocks somehow win the hearts of seemingly sweet-natured girls. These are the same problems teen boys have been facing in America since at least Rebel Without A Cause, but the days of knife fights and running away from home seem innocent, and even admirable given Haaga's suggestions for what could happen today. Whether or not any of it is plausible remains a fair debate, but I find the characters just realistic enough in their confusion about manhood and the treatment of women to keep the film grounded in an eerie reality.

Despite directors Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel's attempts to make the characters more relatable by keeping the camera close (and the musical score bizarrely dramatic), I still felt like I was watching something more akin to a documentary. The script feels like it would have been more appropriately handled by a director like Larry Clark, who found just the right amount of distance and natural light to make Kids the powerful realist statement it once was. Sarmiento and Harel seem more interested in ripping off David Fincher's stylishly dark cinematography and creating something like a twisted re-make of John Hughes' Weird Science. They almost succeed, but this story is just skin-crawling no matter how it's told.

Posted by:
Paul Losada
May 19, 2010 12:19pm
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