NOVEMBER 14, 2009
“Brilliant”, “Classic”, and “Cronenberg[ian]” are among the many words used by critics to describe Deadgirl, and they’re not even all from horror sites (who eat up anything indie out of fear of looking like the corporate shills many of them are). So I was expecting something more to it than the synopsis (two guys find a zombie girl chained up in a basement and use her as a sex slave). Unfortunately, while it’s a pretty good movie, that really is all there is to it, and as it progressed I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I was wondering if they were ever going to kick it up a notch.
And they do, sort of, but it’s the type of thing that should have happened earlier, with the final third (or more) of the film about the repercussions. In other words, the first two acts should have been compressed into one, allowing more time for the far more interesting developments that occur when the film is just about finished. For example, throughout the film our heroes (for lack of a better term) are being menaced by a couple of jock douchebags, and they eventually discover the girl. And since once of them is stupid enough to think that this obviously diseased girl chained up in a basement would like to give him a blow job, he gets bit, and later turns into a zombie. This gives the most insane (or just plain horny) guy of the group the idea to “make” a new “deadgirl” to enjoy, which to me is far more interesting (and horrific) than the generic “two best friends who have taken different paths in life find themselves at odds over something” storyline that I’ve seen a million times, including in the recent Cirque Du Freak. But that’s a plot point that only surfaces in the film’s final twenty minutes, which doesn’t give it a lot of time to be explored. And the film’s final SHOT is an event that has been telegraphed practically since the film began, instead of being the start of a climax.
It’s also a film that only works if you accept that a. everyone’s an idiot and b. everyone knows exactly where people are at any given time. Even a quick shot of someone opening a condom before going to town on this thing would have added a dash of intelligence to these goons (especially when they are taking turns - ew), but the film offers no such thing. And a major plot turn occurs only because the person in question, for no reason whatsoever, apparently walks to the gas station on the outskirts of town where our now-villains are waiting to kidnap their new plaything. Why would they think to find the guys there?
But all of the problems I had were based on the script. As directors, Marcel Armiento and Gadi Harel do their job, which is elevating an uneven script into a good movie. They are a little too fade/cut-to black happy (I’d say at least three full minutes of the film are comprised of a black screen), but they bring a wonderfully uneasy tone to the proceedings right from the start, and, on the flipside, manage to make the scenes outside of the basement seem idyllic (particularly in the haunting final scene, which actually benefits from its predictably in this case). I also LOVE the scene where they find the door to the room where the girl is being held (one credit to writer Trent Haaga’s script - he never bothers to explain why she was there/how she turned zombie/etc. Who cares?). Whereas most directors would treat it as an action scene - they have to bang and pry the door open - they instead present the entire sequence in one slow tracking shot that begins a few hundred feet away (and finishes before it reaches the actors).
I also liked the leads. In this case, the “one bad/one good best friends” dynamic that reminded me of Cirque Du Freak paid off, because the actors in that film were so shitty in comparison to this one, playing similar roles. Noah Segan was particularly impressive; his work here (as the “bad” one) is a complete 180 from his lovesick loser turn in Cabin Fever 2. And even though his 90 second role could have easily ended up on the cutting room floor for all the good it did, I liked seeing Michael Bowen as a sort of loser character. He’s played so many hardasses and villains over the years, it was nice to see him take on a “gentle” role. It’s even more impressive that the role - alcoholic would be step-dad - is a cliché, yet he manages to turn the guy into the film’s most sympathetic male character. He may not be perfect, but he’s trying to be a good dad to this kid (whose mom is clearly no prize either), instead of smacking him around and treating him like shit like most horror movie step-dads (William Forsythe in Halloween, anyone?).
With another few drafts I think the film could have been really great instead of pretty good. The idea of the bullies I think is what ultimately sinks the film - everything that they are NOT a part of is pretty great. I would have taken their characters out entirely, which would allow the late developments to come a bit earlier (no reason why the stoner kid couldn’t have been the one to get bitten anyway) and result in a film that was consistently as interesting as its premise. Remake!
What say you?
P.S. My DVD was the R Rated one. There is an "Unrated Director's Cut" that is also available, however the runtimes are identical which means that I doubt any of my issues with the storytelling would be resolved. That version of the disc has a scant extras as well, but no commentary, so it's not worth seeking out, methinks.